“The bike” is by far the longest part of any triathlon, with about 50% of your time being spent cycling. Being prone to crashing while clipped in, it is not my favorite 50%. And I know I have spoken about my hate for the trainer in the past. Over these last two years however, I have developed more of a love-hate relationship with the bike than a pure hatred. The bike can make or break you. If you have the proper training and equipment you can easily gain ground; if not, you can find yourself totally miserable and falling behind with each passing mile.
The first time I rode my hybrid bike at a sprint triathlon I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I am sure that my tires were not filled to the recommended PSI, the bike was not properly fitted, and the back brake did not work at all. Not to mention my lack of cycling shoes. Two years, three bikes (I would soon like to make it four), and numerous races later (from sprint to 140.6 distances), I think I finally have a better understanding of how to be successful on “the bike.”
The right equipment is clutch. Riding 40 miles on a hybrid is not fast, comfortable, or even sane (I have been there and do not recommend it). Start with the basics. A road bike or a tri bike is a great start. Perhaps the biggest advantage however, is the addition of cycling shoes. Cycling shoes allow you to pedal more efficiently. Being able to both push down and pull up generates more power than just pushing down as with traditional pedals and athletic shoes. While clipped in, you are also able to use both your hamstrings and gluteus maximus which together are powerful muscles. The stiff design of the shoe allows you to transfer power to the pedals and provides extra support to help prevent cramping during long rides. Having mastered the task of clipping in and out, one can easily increase speed by 1 mph or more.
With more than a few crashes under my belt, I consider myself a crash expert, and recommend practicing a few times before hitting the open road. I do not recommend the over-the-handle-bars wipeout; it hurts. Although accustomed to many types of falls, I first experienced this type of wipe out this past weekend—partly my fault, but mostly the fault of the asshole who almost hit me. I was cycling at my normal snail’s pace of about 17 mph minding my own business, and acutely aware of my surroundings as construction was consuming the entire stretch of highway on which I was riding. Suddenly, an older gentleman pulls out to make a left hand turn. I slammed on the brakes, forgetting that I was clipped in and that I recently changed my tires to racing tires with no tread whatsoever. With this, I flew forward over the handlebars while my feet remained securely in my pedals, and down I went. Not the best feeling. Luckily I walked away this time with only a small scratch on my knee and a moderately-bruised pride. My bike however always seems to suffer a bit more.
Cycling is definitely rapidly growing on me. With each new tri season I fall more in love. This love may be consummated later this spring with the purchase of a new Blue steed to carry me to T2. And the addition of quality cycling shoes has certainly stepped up my game. If only I can remember to unclip at the first hint that a crash may be heading my way!