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Fit, Form and Fast: A Speedy Cycling Split is Closer Than You Think 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine.

bikerBy Matthew Clancy

Walking into transition areas these days has become quite a fashion show. The amount of “bling” and carbon is spectacular. Truly. The beauty of these aero frames, carbon component groups and aero wheels can be mesmerizing and maybe even a little intimidating. Each year, cycling manufacturers tout the latest and greatest in comfort, stiffness and aerodynamics. Each year triathlon bikes become sleeker, pricier and, supposedly, faster. Will a Cervelo P4 or a Felt DA give you a faster bike split? They just might. Will they make you a better cyclist? Probably not. Before you go out and drop $5,000 on a bike, know that you can get sleeker and faster, too. So, if you want to save a few dollars and still go faster, here are three ways to improve your cycling split.

Cycling Fit

Find a cycling shop that specializes in triathlon bike fits or find a certified triathlon coach in your area that has experience fitting. Why is a bike fit so important? First, comfort. Most triathletes look uncomfortable, and if you aren’t comfortable on the bike, you are not going to ride well no matter how much carbon you are steering. Second is aerodynamics. A good position on the bike will help reduce your drag and allow you to cut through the wind. Last is power output. Positioned correctly, you can optimize your strength and endurance to ride farther or faster at your current energy expenditure. These three factors will go a long way to helping your bike split and can ease your transition off the bike to running.  

Cycling Form

Everyone knows how to ride a bike. We’ve been doing this since we were 3 years old. Honestly, it doesn’t change much whether riding a tricycle or a triathlon bike, but there are things you can do to improve the experience.

With better form you can achieve greater power output with less input. Here’s how. Start at the pedals and move up from there. If you don’t have a pair of cycling shoes and clip-in pedals, go get some. They will allow for a full stroke while pedaling and give you better power transfer from your feet to the bike. When pedaling, you want to keep your feet relatively flat around the circle of the cranks. Keep your ankles still. Avoid toeing down at the front of the pedal stroke and pulling up with the heel. Pedaling in circles lessens the “dead spot” – where there is no power being transferred – in one’s pedal stoke. Also, one leg is almost always stronger than the other. When riding, work to push the pedals evenly with each leg. Your weak leg will gain strength and ultimately work better with your dominant leg. Keep your knees in line with your hips on the down stroke, and straight, or inside, as your drive upward on the back end of the pedal stroke. Lastly, engage your core. Don’t pedal lazily. Feel your abs when you ride, keep your spine straight and lessen the tension in the upper shoulders, upper back and neck. This opens your hip angle for a stronger and more balanced pedal stroke.

Cycling Fast

There are a three key ways to train and get better or faster on the bike. You can ride more often, go farther or ride faster. Most of you are riding as much as you can during a training week, and depending on the racing you are training for, riding farther doesn’t always equate to better results. With the time you have to train, it is essential to get in quality rides.

You have some options. Join a faster group ride. Be sure to warm up before departing with this new group, stay toward the back of the group and hold on as long as you can. Secondly, find a spin class led by a local cyclist. The workouts will better resemble real road riding and you may find yourself riding harder than you would on the road alone. Lastly, determine your maximum heart rate, and do interval training at 85 percent of that max heart rate. Allow for equal rest or two times the rest compared to the interval duration. Be sure to consult a coach or more experienced rider when beginning an interval training program.

Add these three elements to your cycling, and you will find a new and improved bike split. Your bike may not turn any heads in transition, but you will definitely get a few double-takes on the bike course when you go flying by all that “bling.”

Matthew Clancy is a USA Triathlon Level II certified coach with a master’s degree in sport psychology. He is the founder and head coach for Compass Elite, LLC based in Greensboro, N.C. For more information on Coach Matt and Compass Elite, please visit www.compasselite.com or atcoachmatt@compasselite.com.

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