Biking—the middle of a multisport event—makes up about 50 percent of the race. That means it’s well worth the training to improve your bike time. Much of that improvement will come from putting time in on the bike, making sure you’re comfortable, and working on your physical fitness.
It’s a common misconception that you need a certain bike to do a multisport event. Cool tip: you don’t. All you need is a bike, helmet, shoes, and a water bottle. “A lot of people buy all the gear and then train for triathlon,” says professional triathlete and Olympian, Dirk Bockel. But that’s all wrong. For beginners and most experienced amateur athletes, expensive gear won’t make much of a difference. Those aero helmets and carbon wheels are nice, but they’re made for shaving off seconds — we’re not quite there yet. (That being said, if you have $7-$10,000.00 to blow, by all means, buy the fun toys.)
If you already have a road bike, great, use that. If not, just find a bike that fits. “A road bike or mountain bike will get the job done,” says D3 Multisport’s Founder and Director Mike Ricci, a Level 3 USA Triathlon Certified Coach and USA Triathlon Coach of the Year. Especially if you’re new to the sport, most coaches recommend starting off with an entry-level road bike. It won’t break the bank, and you’ll have a lot more versatility when it comes to riding.
Your main concern: “Bike fit… being comfortable is the most important,” says Ricci. You’ll be spending a good chunk of time on the bike, so make sure that you feel good on your bike, and if possible, invest in a bike fitting.
Look for a trusted, certified bike shop in your area to do the fitting. You’ll want to wear your race-day gear when you go.
Other than a good bike fitting, the number one thing you can do to improve is ride. And ride some more. The more time you spend in the saddle the better. All that time spent biking will help to build up mental and physical stamina. When you’re prepared, you’re relaxed.
What are some things you can work on while you’re out there riding? For starters: bike handling and understanding cadence and shifting.
Bike handling is basic, but important. “Work on breaking and corning,” says Ricci. Get familiar with how your bike handles in different conditions like rain or heat. It can and will rain on race day, and you want to know your bike. I’ve seen duathletes crash out on rainy bike courses because they’ve pushed too fast into a corner. For your safety, be okay with sacrificing 30 seconds to make it through a corner or steep downhill.
Another good-to-know skill that you can learn out there cycling: basic bike maintenance. “It takes experience to figure out how to take care of your bike. Ask other experienced cyclists for help when needed and look for tips online. Definitely learn how to change a flat. It’s daunting at first but once you are good it takes five minutes. Always get well clear of the roadway when fixing a flat,” says Eric Schwartz, elite multisport athlete, a USA Triathlon certified coach, and multisport author (his writing includes the duathlon training sections in USA Triathlon’s Level 1 and 2 certification classes).
While you’re out there on your bike getting comfortable, start playing around with different gears and cadences. Cadence is the number of rotations per minute of your pedals. It’s typically recommended that you pedal at a rate of at least 90 rotations per minute. That will seem oddly fast at first, but you’ll get accustomed to it quickly. Test out different cadences on your rides to figure out what’s most comfortable for you.
Likewise, work on shifting. “Understanding your gearing is huge. Those are things that come with experience with riding,” says Ricci. Most beginners make the mistake of cranking out in a big gear for their entire ride; that’s inefficient and zaps energy quickly.
If you’re struggling
If you’re having a hard time, try getting some expert advice. “Work with a coach. All the mistakes clients have made or I’ve made; we can get rid of that right away,” says Ricci.
If you’re new to biking, even one session with a coach will do wonders. If that’s not a possibility for you, try to go on group rides. There will be more experienced riders that will (hopefully) be more than willing to give pointers.
Your training is the bedrock of a successful race. Bockel emphasized: “Planning and execution of training” are the most important predictors of a solid performance.
Much like other athletic endeavors, nutrition for multisport events is highly individualized. You need to be aware of both calories and hydration. “Nutrition will depend on several factors like distance or heat. Practice nutrition during training,” says Ricci. “And remember, as you lose water, your performance drops.”
Working with a coach or dietician can be helpful, but all athletes would do well to eat a clean diet. “The longer the race, the more complex it [nutrition] gets. Eat healthy, eat fresh, eat green,” says Bockel. Some athletes do better eating whole foods on the bike, while others like bars or gels. It will greatly depend on your digestive system.
What if you have to pee?
That’s always the big question newcomers want to know. Most likely, you’ll want to just stop to use a restroom during your first race(s). Urinating on the bike will save you time, but not everyone can get comfortable with the idea.
Assuming that you’ve put in the time training, biking on race day should be pretty straightforward. Drafting is not allowed during the biking portion of a race. Follow all the road rules, and pass other cyclists respectfully. It’s nice to give a heads up when you’re passing. For example say “on your your left” when you approach. Have your helmet on at all times when you’re on your bike. Most importantly, try to relax and have fun. Take in the scenery, and stick to what you’ve trained.
“Have a plan, and execute it,” says Ricci. “It’s all about patience. Know your threshold and heart rate effort. If you train correctly and assuming you execute your plan, you should get off the bike feeling okay.”
Wondering how to make it through the swimming portion of the race? We’ve got you covered!