Becoming competitive again! Part 3. The longest part of a triathlon is the bike ride. That means a lot of time in the saddle and cycling is actually pretty damn technical. I made a few rookie errors and some wise decisions.
I was in a bit of hurry to get my ‘bike legs’, so I decided to buy a cheap ‘fixie’ or single speed bike. I bought a Quella single speed and thought this would help me get used to life on 2 wheels until I properly researched the best race bike for my budget. My Quella in baby blue came within a couple of days and after a few minutes work with a spanner and allen key, I was road-ready.
Now although I looked cool with my funky bike, Bern lid and wild face hair (or at least I thought I did), the realisation hit home pretty quick that I lived on a hill and bikes tend to have numerous gears for a reason! The notion of swapping the car for the bike to pop to the shops was quickly dismissed as my maiden voyage to the shops ended with what felt like an inferno in my lungs and stretched ankle ligaments from poor form and incorrect bike set up. Brilliant. My first set-back and reminder that injuries are always lurking around the corner. Oh and no one looks like cool in any guise when you’re panting in distress, grimacing and barely moving forwards.
I don’t regret buying the Quella and I now enjoy going out on gentle rides in the opposite direction to the nasty hills.
After some decent research and taking advice from an old pal and new GB triathlete, Paul Suett, I bought my race bike. I went for a Specialized Allez Elite. It’s an attractive and slightly aggressive road bike. I was never going to know the difference between this bike and another, but I would certainly notice a hole in my wallet if I had gone shopping for a bike to use in a triathlon. A proper triathlon bike will set you back the cost of a tax’d and MOT’d VW golf with a decent service history! With my wife’s company discount I got kitted out with the bike, lid, gloves, bottle, repair bag/ kit, pedals and triathlon cycling shoes. I opted for cleats as it’s what the pros use and it is the correct choice, though they take some getting used to and things get interesting during transitions!
With a newly purchased 2-piece tri suit in my ruck sack I collected my new bike and accessories and rode back from Hendon, North London down a notoriously fast and, as I nearly discovered, treacherous stretch of road. Apart from my hipster cruises on the Quella I had not been on the open road since I was a teenager and self-titled fastest kid on the block. It was a dicey ride home to say the least. The thin tyres and lightweight frame are not very forgiving and neither is the light padding of a tri suit (proper cycling shorts are far more cushioned but running in them would be like watching a man baby learning to walk again). What are also not very forgiving are other road users. I must apologize to any cyclists that I have not given adequate room to when passing. Now I have been known to get a little hot under the collar when using the road, but my first trip on the bike had my blood boiling. I also realised why cyclists don’t always like to stop at lights etc…it’s those damn cleats. I didn’t exactly fall off when clipping my shoes in and out, but it wasn’t an elegantly executed procedure and had me take to the pavements on a few occasions to get straight before tearing up the tarmac again.
Once again I learned the lesson of a poorly set up bike. I aggravated my ankle ligaments on both sides. After taking my bike into the Giant store (not just a big establishment, but a bike manufacturer) I had the bike set up including the cleats on the shoes which had been wrongly fitted putting extra force through the outside of my ankles. Money well spent and now I’m happily powering through without injury.
The last and most recent piece of cycling kit I purchased is a turbo trainer. It’s a means of transforming your bike into an exercise bike so you can watch Netflix and get a work out in simultaneously. If Netflix wasn’t worth the subscription before, it sure is now. I think you get what you pay for with these, but they can be noisy, hot and difficult to store so chose well. It’s a tough work out and you get a good sweat on whilst giving you the feel of the bike you’ll race with. Plenty of towels are needed to mop up and make sure those bottles are filled up. I chuck a NUUN tablet in there too in order to replace salts etc.
These days I look forward to riding my bikes. I really want a mountain bike now so that I can go off road and properly hurt myself on uneven surfaces and bang into trees! Bikes are a very eco-friendly way of getting around too, so you’re ticking that box. Peace!
As for biking in triathlons, it gets more technical. The transitions are tricky and the actual motion of peddling needs attention. No longer are you pushing your foot down, you are apparently wiping the shit off the sole of your shoe and trying to transfer equal(ish) power through the 360 degree motion of that big ring. Since being aware of this I have noticed an improvement on the hill climbs, but more work is needed. A watt meter/ wattometer/ wattever…a device that can help you monitor how much power you are pushing through the pedals will help you work this real time. Apparently this should be tried using just one leg (and probably best to stick to the turbo trainer) and then swapping over to the other leg. Then when you have two legs working in perfect balance, you’ll be ready for that yellow jersey!
As regards the swim to bike transition, I watched lots of YouTube stuff and thought I’d do what the pros do at this early stage of my triathlon journey so that I’m not learning new stuff later on. This involves climbing onto the bike with the cycling shoes already clipped into the pedals and suspended by elastic bands that keep them level rather than grounding out as you run to the mount/ dismount point. On the bike to run transition, once again you leave the shoes clipped in and remove your foot whilst in transit and pedal on top of the shoes to the dismount point. If you are following this, you will understand that you are therefore running barefoot from through the transitions. Now the YouTube clips I watched were in Australia, Hawaii and the States….places where the sun shines and the ground is favourable. Not in the UK where it’s cold, it rains loads, the ground is muddy and then there are lots of stony paths! I should have taken Paul’s advice and got mountain bike cycling shoes (and pedals), which have enough grip to allow you to run in. My experience so far has meant I have tried to squeeze my size 12 foot into a cycling shoe, covered in a cocktail of mud and stones, which renders it a good size 13. This has made for a rough transition and dirty cycling shoes. And lets face it, if you can’t race well at least look the bollocks whilst competing!!
I’m yet to suffer a dreaded puncture during a race (or even a ride for that matter), but I have got a pouch with 2 spare tubes and a CO2 canister to keep me going. There would be nothing worse than not getting to the finish line, so the added weight and even the added time if a puncture occurred are a small price to pay. When looking for self-improvement, you could always pause the stop watch and minus off the repair time to see where you might have come if the universe were more kind on that day.