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Transitioning from a Cyclist to a Triathlon Cyclist

by Tricia Davis

Triathlon is a complex sport with many variables to account for. You’re already a great cyclist with good power, endurance and pack riding skills. Fortunately for you, the bike portion of triathlon makes up the largest proportion of the race. Some believe if you are good at time trialing, then triathlon will be an easy adjustment. But, there are other factors outside of the obvious swimming and running like transitions and other racers on course that need attention in your training as well. There are specific skills that are unique to becoming a great triathlon cyclist. Read on for changes you can make to really excel on the bike in a triathlon. 

One of the biggest mistakes triathletes make is starting out too hard on the bike. The excitement and adrenaline of racing changes your perceived exertion, forcing you to expend too much energy too soon on the bike. A triathlete with a strong bike background will often celebrate surviving the swim with an overly aggressive ride, ruining their chances for a solid run. Practice makes perfect with pacing. Know exactly what effort you are able to sustain over your racing distance. If in doubt, hold back a little at the start of the bike leg and build slowly. Your running legs will thank you. 

An aerodynamic position on the bike will save plenty of energy. The benefits of being as aero as possible climb exponentially the faster you are going. So, it makes sense to train in this position. This is especially important if you are taking full advantage of an aerodynamic set up with a time trial bike or using aero bars on your road bike. Flexibility, range of motion and positional specific strength all take time to develop, especially for those of us with previous injuries, so get out there and snug it all in. Slip through the air like a little bullet so you can target a faster run. 

Maintaining a high cadence throughout your ride will be less fatiguing on your legs. Practice riding with a smooth, fast, even spin to train your neuromuscular system to fire efficiently while racing. The high cadence during your cycling split will make the transition to running much more efficient. 

There is nothing like racing to really help you push your limits. Work on positive self-talk, focus, breathing and tricks like emulating your favorite athlete to get you a fast bike split. Incorporate long time trial efforts in training to see what mental strategies work for you during racing. Never underestimate the power of the mind to propel you to an amazing performance, not just on the bike. 

During shorter races like sprint and Olympic-distance events, increased time in transition can make or break your race. Being able to get on and off the bike and start your ride and run quickly and injury free is key. Learn from cyclocross racers and practice on the grass getting on and off your bike while still moving forward. Plus, this skill will earn you major kudos from spectators in the transition area. 

Unfortunately, triathletes have a bit of a reputation for not being great bike handlers. They are often handicapped by equipment that is specialized for being aerodynamic and fast riding in a straight line. These specialized bikes requiring excellent skill to maneuver and corner. If you are not a particularly good swimmer you may need to safely pass less skilled riders on course. Keep your head up and anticipate others mistakes before they happen, to avoid mishaps. 

Tricia Davis is a hyperkinetic, Canadian-trained physiotherapist, USA Triathlon Certified Coach and athlete. Co-founder of, she enjoys coaching athletes with limited time by providing evidence-based training and focusing on skill and efficiency in sport.