Triathlon Cycling Knowledge


Triathlon Disciplines: Triathlon Cycling

Cycling is the second discipline in triathlon—after swimming and before running. It has a special role in triathlon, as about 50% of the total race time is spent on the bike, making it the largest part. Another special characteristic of cycling in a triathlon is that, unlike in pure bicycle races, in addition to a good cycling performance great attention must also be paid to the management of leg effort. It is important to minimize the straining effect of cycling on the legs in order to have enough power left for the running part to really be able to achieve a good triathlon time. Because of the importance of cycling and its position in the order of disciplines, proper triathlon cycling training often makes a big difference in overall time. You could win (or lose) the race on the bike. Your triathlon bike training should therefore be carefully adapted to the specific requirements in order to achieve optimal results and to avoid unwanted surprises during the triathlon itself.

Cycling Training for a Triathlon: Bike Workouts for Each Skill Level

Triathlon bike training, as mentioned earlier, is one of the most important components in your training for a triathlon. For beginners as well as for intermediates and advanced triathletes, regular cycling training adapted to your fitness is essential. As with swimming and running, in cycling training, you should primarily train your endurance on the bike. Very simply put, we can divide training into three types of intensities:

1. Extensive Endurance (EE): Also known as low-intensity training. This describes the kind of workouts where you train with little effort but over a long period of time without being very exhausted at the end.

2. Intermediate Endurance (INE): Also known as moderate-intensity training. This is the kind of workout where you don't push your body too hard, but the intensity should be adjusted so that your body is under constant effort.

3. Intensive Endurance (IE): Also known as high-intensity training. In this type of workout, your body and your endurance ability are heavily challenged and after a short time you feel exhausted.

Using these three types of training will help create your optimal triathlon cycling training, improve your endurance on the bike and have help you perform as well as possible in a triathlon. And: Your training has to be composed based on your individual fitness level.

Cycling Training plans and workouts for beginners

For triathlon beginners, it is often difficult to find the right intensity and duration of cycling endurance training. An efficient triathlon training adapted to your fitness level is key to success. Since a false distribution can be counterproductive it is also very important for every triathlete to assure that the chosen workouts are purposeful regarding the length of the triathlon race they are training for. To monitor personal fitness and align training intensity,  one way is to work with gadgets like a heart rate monitor or even laboratory testing for more ambitious athletes to determine personal parameters. However, this can quickly lead to confusion for beginners in triathlon and can do more harm than good, especially in the beginning. For this reason, you should definitely first aim to learn to interpret the signals of your own body correctly. A very simple starting point for a beginner is to learn to distinguish between the aforementioned Extensive Endurance, Intermediate Endurance and Intensive Endurance. A mix in your triathlon bike training consisting of long and constant rides (EE) as well as slightly more intense intermediate rides (INE) will begin to ideally prepare your body and mind for the challenges of a triathlon.

Cycling Training Plans and Workouts for Intermediates and Advanced Triathletes

For intermediates and experienced triathletes, self-assessment and knowing your exact current fitness level is the key to effective training. Depending on the triathlon you want to participate in, you should adjust your training plan and ensure the training intensity is specific to your triathlon race distance. For example, if you plan to compete in a sprint triathlon, a combination of mostly Extensive Endurance (EE) and some Intensive Endurance (IE) is sufficient. Conversely, for a long-distance triathlon, Intermediate Endurance training is also important, as this intensity is very close to the intensity of the race. This principle of specificity is key. In order to find the perfect mix of endurance intensities in your triathlon bike training, two aspects need to be considered:

1. Know your level of fatigue. Wearables and monitoring can be useful here (e.g. heart rate variability and resting heart rate). The aim should be not to complete intensive endurance training if your fatigue levels are high or you experience too much soreness.

2. Train specifically for the distance you want to ride. The principle of specificity is key, so ensure your training plan includes sessions where you specifically target the training intensity of your race day.

Remember: Self-assessment of your abilities and endurance is especially important since you still have the running course ahead of you after the bike ride.

Triathlon training app - Get the Best training plans and Workouts for your individual skill level

As already discussed in the previous text, there are various types of triathlon training and workouts that promise you optimal training success depending on your skill level. We at TRIQ have made it our mission to develop a triathlon app that really does that and goes even further. With our intelligent training engine, all data about your current training status and recovery is evaluated and your individual and optimal triathlon training plan is put together, adjusted and reviewed—dynamically and 24/7. With the help of our triathlon training app you not only have all your progress in view and see the exact status of your triathlon training, our app exactly calculates—based on the latest sports science—which next steps and workouts are optimal for you to improve towards your goal in the most effective way. All in all, the TRIQ app should be a training companion, motivate you, save a lot of time, outline the way to success, protect your health and help get the most out of you to maximize your triathlon performance.

Triathlon Bikes for the Different Triathlon Distances

An important question that every triathlete must ask themselves is what kind of bike they want to participate with in the triathlon. This question can not be answered in general, because it depends on whether you want to complete or compete and on which kind of triathlon you participate in regarding distance and terrain. Last but not least, your own preference on which type of bike you feel comfortable on also plays an important role. Special triathlon bikes are often very expensive. This simply makes purchasing them not worth it for every triathlete. A good road bike with suitable specifications is often recommended as a more affordable alternative that will also allow for good results. In the following, we will discuss which bikes are suitable for which type of triathlon. For all triathlon distances bike choice is based on weighing multiple factors: Regulations, aerodynamics, safety, weight, price, comfort and more.

Triathlon Bikes for Sprint and Olympic Distance

Generally, bike choice in triathlon is very dependent on the type of event. For elite ITU athletes, drafting is allowed, which means athletes are allowed to cycle in large packs, wheel to wheel. For safety reasons, a road bike is compulsory in these races as it is easier to control than one with a time trial handlebar, for example regarding brake access. In most triathlons, where drafting is not allowed, time-trial bikes are usually the “weapon” of choice, as they provide a significant advantage in terms of aerodynamics saving significant amounts of time. However, such time-trial bikes do not just come with added financial cost, as compared to road bikes they are generally also much heavier. As such, for very hilly triathlon courses athletes may choose road bikes to help with the power to weight ratio. Beginner and recreational athletes (where finishing is the primary goal) may also choose road bikes as the frame angles are less steep and allow for a more comfortable ride.

Triathlon Bikes for 70.3 (Half) and Full Distance Triathlons as Performed in IRONMAN® Events

By the time athletes take on long triathlon bike distances as in IRONMAN® events, they generally have already had some racing experience. In half (70.3) and full distance races, due to the sheer duration of the event, the best triathlon bikes with good aerodynamics provide a substantial advantage as they can shave several minutes off the finish time. Nearly all athletes competing over longer distance triathlons will pick time trial bikes for this reason. That said, spending 5+ hours on a bike certainly requires comfort, so working with a specialist to ensure the optimal calibration of both speed and comfort is important. Last, it must be kept in mind that water and nutrition can be carried whilst racing, hence enough space for a little luggage should be included in the bike setup.

Bike Fit: How to Customize Your Triathlon Bike Correctly

Bike fitting is one of the most important things to consider before triathlon bike training and also the race. A perfect bike fit not only prevents injuries but also increases efficiency and improves performance, which is why we’ll explain below what you need to consider for a bike fitting to achieve optimal results. The most important components of a bike fit are the correct seat or saddle position, the correct adjustment of the pedals and cleat position as well as a suitable alignment of the handlebar.

Bike Seat Position: The Right Saddle Height and Angle

The perfect bike saddle height mainly influences the power your legs can produce. With a properly adjusted saddle, your knee angle should be around 140-150 degrees when your leg is at the bottom of the stroke. If the saddle is set too high, you will have to move your body from side to side to pedal properly, losing a lot of power as well as stability and posture. If the saddle is too low, you will start bouncing up and down which will lead to a strong loss of power and you will neither reach your top speed nor save your strength efficiently. Furthermore, your bike seat angle in combination with your bike seat position plays an important role in your aerodynamics and power distribution but more on that in the following paragraphs.

Bicycle Handlebars - How to Adjust and Position Your Triathlon Bike Handlebar Right

Adjusting your bike handlebars and aerobars is primarily about finding your perfect position on the bike. This is largely determined by your so-called hip angle. This describes the angle between the collarbone, hip and bottom. This angle is influenced by your saddle height (and tilt) as well as your distance to your aerobars and their height. Optimally, this hip angle should be between 95 and 105 degrees to allow for a perfect combination of aerodynamics and power development. On the one hand, if you sit too upright, you lose aerodynamics and your efficiency decreases. On the other hand if you lean down too far, your legs can no longer build up power properly and your speed and endurance decrease rapidly. Therefore it's very important to develop some expertise regarding adjusting your handlebar angle and setting your aero handlebars into the right position before your triathlon training and race day.

Regulations for Triathlon Handlebars


(i) For draft-legal races the following rule on handlebars apply:

  • Only traditional drop handlebars are permitted. The handlebars must be plugged
  • Certified clip-on handlebars will be permitted if they are not longer than the foremost line of the brake levers. Certification guidelines can be found in Appendix H
  • Straight forward clip-on handlebars must be joined with a standard bridge piece
  • Brake levers must be mounted on the handlebar, not on the clip-on and may not face forward
  • No forward-facing bar or gear shifters are allowed on the end of the clip-on handlebars

(ii) For draft-illegal races, the following rules on handlebars apply:

  • Only handlebars and clip-on bars not extending beyond the leading edge of the front wheel will be permitted. Clip-on bars in two pieces don’t need to be bridged. All tube ends have to be plugged.

(Quelle: ITU Competition Rules 07/02/2011 Edition)

The Right Cleat Position

The cleat position is another complex area of cycling and for triathletes is slightly different from that of cyclists. A pure cyclist usually positions their cleat so that the pedal spindle is about 1 cm behind the metatarsophalangeal joint of the foot. For triathletes, however, it is recommended to place the pedal further back towards the heel to shorten the lever arm and save power (move the cleat as far forward on the shoe as possible). While this position is less optimal for high-speed sprints it minimizes unnecessary muscular work and increases efficiency which overall fits the physical requirements of performing a triathlon better.

Indoor Cycling Training: Smart Bike Trainer for Your Home Workouts

For most triathletes, home indoor bikes or rollers are an important part of the triathlon bike training. On the one hand, it is not possible to train outdoors at all times of the year on the other hand there are regions that are less suitable for good triathlon cycling training if the terrain conditions are very different from those at the triathlon event itself. In order to always be able to perform a good and efficient triathlon cycling workout despite these circumstances, smart trainers and spin bikes are excellent options. Also, on these devices efficient technique can be refined and, for example, endurance and power tests can be carried out easier as the conditions are constant.

Indoor Cycling With a Smart Trainer

Indoor trainers or smart trainers from brands like Wahoo or Tacx offer triathletes and cyclists a perfect opportunity to train at home. With this type of trainer, the rear wheel of the bicycle is usually removed and replaced with the indoor trainer. This design allows the athlete to train on their own bike. Resistance or even inclination is then usually automatically generated through an app or a control panel. Thus, with this type of trainer very real conditions can be created and a workout on your personal triathlon bike is possible in your own home. Tablets or televisions are also usually connected to the indoor trainers to simulate roads or certain routes with most smart trainers having the option of connecting to Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy or other virtual ride services.

Indoor Cycling Training With Spin Bikes

Traditionally spin bikes were mostly found in conventional fitness studios, where they are used for general fitness or group workouts. Nevertheless, there are many models, especially among the more expensive ones, that have more and more smart functionality, bluetooth and internet connectivity and can be optimized for bike athletes and provide a quite realistic experience of riding a bike. The advantages of spin bikes are that they are permanent, require no extra bike or disassembling the road bike and use up a bit less space. More expensive models are also almost soundless and much more quiet than smart trainers. Nevertheless, a smart indoor trainer setup is generally recommended instead for experienced triathletes as training on your own bike brings a few big advantage over the spin bike: Shifting gears is something to practice that spin bikes don’t provide, you gain physical adaptations to the actual bike used in the race and most smart trainers have integrated automatic resistance that adjusts dynamically in accordance with virtual inclines and declines making the rides much more realistic. So far hardly any spin bikes provide this feature.

For more insights on indoor cycling with TRIQ, explore our detailed blog post here.

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