riathletes spend hours and hours on our bikes but mostly going in a straight line getting our miles in on a country road somewhere or we are on a bike trainer pedaling to go nowhere. Triathlon races are different from bike races in that riders are entering the course at different times, as they exit from the swim. Triathlon courses are also different because race organizers are limited to the roads surrounding a body of water. There are not a lot of triathlon race courses ensconced almost entirely within a city limits – Nation’s Tri is now one of the few. TriRock Philadelphia also has a similar course – all within the city limits with some fun technical turns. This type of course requires a few bike handling skills that are easy to master but do need a bit of practice if you have not been cycling for many years. This should not be scary, but athletes should take the time to practice a few basic skills that will come in handy on race day.
Mount lines in a city triathlon can be a bit more congested than usual, since it’s typically just a 12’ – 15’ wide section. There can be up to 50-75 athletes approaching the mount line at any one time and getting on your bike safely and peddling away can be a bit scary if you are not prepared.
First, do not attempt to mount bike till you cross the designated line – this causes undue congestion and can even get you a penalty. Once you have run over the mount line – move to one side, tilt bike slightly and swing leg over top – look around and be careful that you don’t hit someone with your foot in the process – causing you or the other athlete to fall over. Very embarrassing! If there is a crowd, and everyone is stopping right at the mount line, run outside/around and past them – you can mount 10 yards past the mount line if necessary but stay to the side so you don’t get run over. Once on the bike – hold a straight line and start to peddle nice and easy. Do not grab for a bottle or gel, do not look down, do not adjust gears, do not pass Go until you area well underway and away from the chaos.
180 Degree/U- Turns
As you approach a U-turn on the bike you should be at a moderately slow speed. Look around and be aware of other athletes in close proximity. You need to slow to a speed that you can safely maintain all the way around the arc of the turn. Enter the turn from the far outside with the inside pedal up, you should be up on your bars (not in drops or aero), gently enter turn, glide around cone or marker and start to peddle away. The scariest thing I see at turns (right or left) is leaving that inside pedal down. What does that mean? That means leaving the left pedal at the bottom of the stroke when making a left turn or leaving the right pedal down when making a right turn. This can cause the pedal to snag or catch on the ground and send the athlete head over heels in the middle of a very congested area. Bad for everyone involved.
Most importantly, with several hundred athletes also on the course at the same time – there will be others making the turn at the same time – HOLD YOUR LINE!! Stay steady and calm and others will hold their lines and everyone makes it through the turn safely.
Starting and Stopping
Practice starting and stopping. Stopping correctly and safely involves the precise delivery of front and rear brake while at the same time safely unclipping one foot from the pedal and putting it down to support the now stopped bicycle . Go to a parking lot and practice stopping quickly, unclipping, and putting a foot down. Practice clipping in and out over and over again until it feels like opening your front door. It should become something so mundane that you don’t even have to think about it – even in a panic situation – like a squirrel running out in front of you, a dog or a person steps into the bike lane… it should become an automatic reaction.
Spending just a bit of extra time practicing a few skills like these will make your triathlon more fun and a safer experience for you and all the others racing.
Good luck to all this year’s Nation’s Triathletes and Aqua Bike racers – safe riding!