Header Image - Information for Triathletes Over 50

Category Archives

2 Articles

Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

How does training for the bike leg of triathlon occur when you can’t ride outside? There are more opportunities than you might imagine.

It’s Getting Cold Outside

I woke this morning to an outside temperature of 11°F (-12°C) and new snow. On top of this, the fitness centers are closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

I don’t have, nor do I intend to purchase, a fat tire bike for riding in the snow.

Fat tire bikes with studded tires are preferred for a winter triathlon.

So, how can I maintain fitness for the bike leg of triathlons in which I hope to compete next spring?

There are plenty of options. While these may not be as good as going to a warm climate where I can ride outside, they still take away any excuses.

In this post, I will highlight the training I intend to use over the next several months to prepare for my next races.

Bike Trainer

The most common way of developing bike fitness without riding outside is to use a trainer. In most cases, you connect your road bike or triathlon bike to one of many styles of trainer.

One benefit of using a trainer is that you develop and maintain a familiarity with the bike you will use for your next triathlon.

Trek SpeedConcept triathlon bike connected to a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer for bike training when I can't ride on roads or trails.
Trek SpeedConcept on a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer.

When the fitness centers re-open, I will also use their stationary bikes both for individual sessions and classes. I prefer the latter.

My trainer session, usually one hour, is divided into a few periods. Each segment is designed to work on a different goal. Breaking up the session also helps to prevent boredom. (Trainer sessions are also a great time to catchup on one of my favorite podcasts.)

A common one hour trainer session involves:

  • Warm up – 10 minutes at a moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.
  • Single leg drill – 5 repetitions of 1 minute per leg at 80-90 rpm cadence – 10 minutes total. (NOTE: This may not be advisable for some trainers, but is for the Saris CycleOps Fluid2.)
  • Intervals – 5 repetitions of 4 minutes in the highest gear in which I can maintain 60 rpm cadence followed by 2 minutes easy at 80-90 rpm cadence – 30 minutes total.
  • Cool down – 10 minutes at moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.

You can find many workouts to match your current fitness level and specific goals on-line or in books like “The Big Book of Bicycling” by Emily Furia and the Editors of Bicycling.

Advantages

  • Safer than riding in traffic or in the aero position on winding trails shared with pedestrians, especially in the winter but really any time of the year.
  • Efficient – A rule of thumb is that one hour on a trainer represents two hours riding on the road because you aren’t (or shouldn’t be) coasting on the trainer.
  • Some training, such as single leg drills, are best done on a trainer.
  • Accessible within your house or apartment.

Disadvantages

  • Static trainers don’t help to develop stability and coordination or bike handling skills.
  • Can be terribly boring. Some call these sessions the ‘purgatory’ of bike training.

Strength and Endurance Exercises

Strength training throughout the year should be a regular part of a triathlete’s training. I recommend Mark Allen’s program, especially if your fitness center is open.

However, if it isn’t or you want to give extra attention to strength training for the bike leg, look at the TrainingPeaks routine.

Except for the row, the exercises that involve weights can be done with homemade alternatives such as a weighted backpack (kettlebell) and plastic jugs filled with water (8 pounds per gallon/1 kilogram per liter) or other materials (beans, sand, coins) depending on the desired weight.

Advantages

  • Allows you to focus on strengthening the weakest areas for the greatest improvement.
  • Can be done from the convenience of home or at a fitness center.

Disadvantages

  • The only disadvantage of which I am aware is that doing exercises without the benefit of a coach or training partner can lead to less than optimal results because of poor form.

Cross-Country Skiing

cross-country skiing is effective cross training for cycling
Cross-country skiing is a great way to cross train for cycling while enjoying fresh air and sun. It also helps prepare for a winter triathlon involving running, biking, and skiing.

In the northern USA state where I live, Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, and ice skating are popular winter sports. I enjoy both skiing and skating, though have not skied for over 20 years.

Nearly every county park in our area has groomed cross-country ski trails. Larger parks also rent ski equipment (skis, boots, and poles) and offer group and personalized instruction.

Cross-country skiing produces endurance and strength for both the large muscles and the smaller muscles that support the larger muscles. Brett Sutton, coach of world champion triathletes, calls cross-country skiing “the hardest overall body workout out there”.

Downhill skiing is also good for building lower body and core muscle strength and for improving balance and coordination. However, downhill skiing does not yield the endurance benefits of cross-country skiing. Also, it much less accessible and more expensive than cross-country skiing.

“Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, is also great cross training for cycling. While downhill skiing brings more strength gains than endurance, Nordic skiing brings more endurance gains along with the added development of supporting muscles.”

ILoveBicycling.com

Classical vs. Skate Skiing

Today, there are two types of cross-country skiing – classical and skate-skiing.

Classical cross-country skiing involves a kick and glide motion. Skis remain parallel to each other, unless ‘snow plowing’. The classical cross-country ski courses are characterized by the parallel ruts in which the skis glide.

Cross-country skiing can also be done on fresh snow, that is, without a groomed trail. Most snow covered walking or bike paths are a candidate for classical skiing.

In contrast, the side-to-side motion in skate-skiing is like that of ice skating. Therefore, it uses muscles even more similar to those for pedaling.

One disadvantage of skate-skiing is that it requires a groomed trail. This makes it less flexible in where it can be done. Skate-skiing is also more difficult because it requires greater balance and coordination. However, it is faster than classical skiing.

Advantages

  • Provides both endurance and strength benefits.
  • Accessible – classical cross-country skiing can be done at your nearest park, golf course, or snow-covered lake. (Be sure the golf course is open for skiing and the ice on the lake is thick enough.)
  • Relatively inexpensive, especially compared to downhill skiing.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air and, hopefully, the sun. Think Vitamin D.

Disadvantages

  • While cross-country skiing uses many of the same muscle groups as cycling, you may put more strain on certain muscles and tendons than when biking. To avoid injury, start slow and increase distance gradually.
  • A beginning skier is likely to fall. Expect it and try to relax as you fall to avoid significant injury.

Note

From the reading I did in preparing this post, I have taken the first steps in scheduling cross-country ski lessons at a nearby county park. I am hoping to learn to skate-ski.

Ice Skating

Most cities in the northern climates, large or small, have an outdoor ice skating rink. Elsewhere, given the popularity of ice hockey, many of the more populated areas in the USA and Canada have indoor ice arenas.

Ice skating, like skate-skiing, is great for working smaller muscles that are often overlooked but valuable for biking performance. It is also great for improving balance, flexibility, and coordination.

Ice skating is an effective way to strengthen small muscles often overlooked in strength training yet important for cycling performance.

Advantages

  • Great for strengthening leg and abdominal muscles. Skating is also reported to increase the flexibility of more joints than cycling and running by strengthening ligaments and connective tissue around these.
  • Low impact, unless you jump or spin (or fall often).
  • Relatively inexpensive, often free (after purchasing or renting skates) if you live in a climate where outside temperatures are consistently below freezing. Even small towns typically have an outdoor ice skating rink open to the public.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air.

Disadvantages

  • Ice skating requires good ankle strength (which you probably have as a runner). However, you may put more strain on some muscles and tendons of the feet and ankles than when biking. As with any new sport, start slowly and increase gradually.
  • Expect to fall, especially as you begin. At least that’s my experience. However, since I am usually bundled up for the cold, I have seldom been injured and then only with a bump or bruise to my ego.

No Excuses!

None of us has an excuse related to weather for not continuing to train for the bike leg of a triathlon throughout the winter. Even if I stay in the north part of the USA, there are plenty of opportunities inside and outside my house.

Some may actually be better than riding outside.

How Do You Train for Triathlon Biking When You Can’t Ride Outside?

How do you continue training for the bike when you cannot ride outside? Share your comments below.

Five Factors For Selecting a Bike For Triathlon

Five Factors For Selecting a Bike For Triathlon
A triathlon specific bike, or tri-bike, puts the rider in an aerodynamic position

Selecting a bike for triathlon, especially for the beginner triathlete, can feel overwhelming. However, considering a few factors will make the process simpler and less stressful.

In this post, I will summarize the factors I used to choose the bikes for my first sprint triathlons.

Factors in Choosing a Bike

If you have visited a bike shop recently, you will find a mind-boggling number of bike styles. The many options target a range of budgets for different riders, terrains, and activities.

Selecting the bike you will you use for your triathlons is an individual decision. The following five factors can be useful for making this selection.

  • Cost
  • Comfort
  • Construction
  • Course
  • Commitment

Why Ride in the Aero Position?

Compared to other activities involving bike riding, the conventional (swim/bike/run) triathlon involves the triathlete completing the bike leg, getting off the bike, taking off their helmet, putting on running shoes, and setting off for a run of at least several miles (kilometers).

The amount of work done by the running muscles, primarily the quadriceps and hamstrings, during the bike leg and the time that it takes for the running muscles to adjust to running is key to the run speed and one’s overall performance (time) in the race.

For this reason, the triathlon specific bike, or tri-bike, is designed to be ridden in an aerodynamic (also known as “aero”) position as pictured below. 

The aero position is one which the rider is in a forward position with forearms resting on pads mounted to the handlebars. Riding in the aero position minimizes the work required of the main running muscles during the bike leg.

Ironman-Wisconsin-bike for selecting a triathlon bike post
The design of the triathlon-specific bike places the rider in a forward, aerodynamic (“aero”) position to reduce the work required of the muscles most required in the run leg.

Despite this, one will see many types of bikes in a triathlon, especially for shorter races. After all, most of us take part in triathlon to remain active and fit, not necessarily to set race records.

So, with that background, let’s review the factors in selecting the bike.

Cost

The good news is that you probably have access to a bike for your next triathlon. If you do not already have a bike, you may borrow one from a friend or family member.  

For my first triathlon, I used an existing hybrid bike. Truth-be-told, I had never seen a tri-bike before this race. I had also never ridden a road bike.

Giant hybrid bicycle
A hybrid bike is a suitable alternative to a triathlon-specific or road bike for triathlon, especially for shorter distances. However, expect to be passed by many racers.

If you decide you want to compete seriously to win a race or place within your age group, then you will want a triathlon bike or at least a well-outfitted road bike with aerobars.

In this case, the bike will easily become the most expensive piece of race gear. Price tags for new triathlon specific bikes generally start at four figures. In fact, it is easy to find bikes with five-figure prices.

Comfort

In my experience, riding a triathlon bike is not nearly as comfortable as riding a hybrid bike. I can say the same for the road bike compared to the hybrid.

I have changed the seat on my triathlon bike from the one with which it was first fitted. This has made the ride more comfortable (less numbness in the seated area).  However, it is still not as comfortable as the seat on my hybrid bike. I often joke that riding the hybrid is like biking while sitting on the couch.

Getting comfortable riding in the aero position can be a challenge. For a triathlon bike, riding in the aero position is, for practical purposes, required since the shift levers are at the far ends of the aero bars. For this reason, I rarely ride my triathlon bike on winding trails and never on trails with pedestrian traffic.

On the other hand, the triathlon bike is much faster than a hybrid bike and saves the legs for running.

Construction

As summarized in the table below, factors such as distance of the bike leg or ride, rider weight, and riding frequency can influence the optimum material for construction of the bike frame.

MaterialStrengthsWeaknesses
Aluminum or aluminium1 Light and stiff—ideal for shorter distances and hill climbingLighter weight riders and anyone with aches and pains, such as a sore back, will feel roughness in the road.
SteelStrong and elastic (flexible) – good shock absorbency, ideal for long rides.Relatively heavy, though in the context of the weight of the rider plus bike, this is a minor weakness.
Carbon fiberBest shock absorbency – good for long distance rides and riders with sore backs.Flexibility can result in loss of power being transferred to the bike, a more important factor for hilly rides.
Expensive to repair.
TitaniumGood shock absorbency for rough roads and stiffness for efficient transfer of power to the bike.Expensive.

1 This is the spelling most non-American English speakers will recognize.

The construction of the wheels and drivetrain and brake components can also affect the performance of the bike through their weight and reliability.

Course

The previous section highlighted how the smoothness (or roughness) of the race course affects the optimum material. For a typical spring/summer/fall triathlon with the bike course on roads, the next variable in selecting a road or tri bike for triathlon is the size of hills included in the course.

The ideal bike for hilly courses is low weight and has gearing ratios consistent with the grade of hills. Without the correct gear ratios, one can quickly ‘run out of gas’ when climbing steep hills. (In my experience, this also occurs even sooner at a higher elevation.)

For races with off-road courses, a mountain bike or fat tire bike (‘fat bike’, for short) are best. If the bike course is on sand or snow, the ‘fat bike’ is the best option.

You can see fat bikes in action at the 2016 USAT National Winter Triathlon Championship. While fat bikes were best for this course, some racers still used road bikes.

Fat bikes have grown in popularity for their comfort and all-terrain, all-weather use. At an open house of my favorite Minnesota bike shop, I was told that nearly everyone working in the store now rides a fat bike year round.

Commitment

Buying a triathlon bike represents a commitment to the sport.

After my first triathlon, I decided to get a different, faster bike. During a training ride before shopping for the bike, I spoke with a person from my local bike shop. His advice – which I am convinced is correct – is that if you are looking for a general purpose bike (triathlon plus rides with the family), get a road bike. If however, you want to get the best performance in the bike leg of a triathlon, get a triathlon bike.

Make Sure Your Bike Fits

Selecting a bike for triathlon that fits properly is critical. Having an expensive triathlon bike without the seat, aerobar rests, or other main components adjusted for your specific body proportions will be frustrating.   Riding a bike that does not properly fit the rider can even be painful.

As I have gained experience and flexibility, I have also had the bike fit checked and adjusted.

What Questions Do You Have About Selecting A Bike For Triathlon?

If you are considering a new bike, what questions do you have?

If you are an experienced triathlete, what bike do you use for triathlons? What do you recommend for those starting the sport?

Leave your comments below.

Originally published on March 19, 2016 and updated on March 17, 2021.

error

Enjoy this post? Please spread the word :)