IRONMAN UK Race Guide

First things first, this is not the official Ironman UK athlete’s guide with all the information you’ll need on the day itself. That all important document can be found on the Ironman website in the last couple of months before the event. This is a piece written by me, Simon Olney, professional triathlon coach and Ironman UK finisher, here to share some pragmatic advice with you ahead of race day. The information provided here is based on the knowledge I have acquired over the years of training athletes for this event and racing myself. The race changes every year in some respect, so always trust information from the race officials over anything you read here.

Secondly, I have written an in depth article on generic race day tips for Ironman events, which can be found here. For the purposes of this article I will assume you have read the other article, or already be familiar with other Ironman branded events, as combining the two would be unwieldily.

With all that taken care of, let’s dive in.

About The Race

A cyclist receiving a high five from a Mexican wrestler
Image credit Ironman

Ironman UK is one of the hardest Ironman races in the world. It may not have the brutal winds of Lanzarote, the humidity of Kona, or the mountain ascents of Nice; but the relentless steep climbs, unpredictable weather and hilly run course gave the race a DNF rate of over 20% in 2019. That means that for every five people who collect their number from registration, at least one will have gone home without a medal. 2019 was a particularly difficult year with 2500M of elevation gain on the bike, but the race traditionally has a high DNF rate.

The support from the locals is pretty outstanding, with the population of the local area taking to the roads with signs, banners and musical instruments to cheer athletes on. At a couple of points it can feel like you are riding up a mountain in the Tour de France, with spectators filling the road either side of you.

Ironman UK has a traditional 17 hour time cutoff. You have 2:20 to finish the swim, 10:30 to finish the bike and the swim, then 17 hours to cross the finish line. All times are taken from the time you cross the timing mat at the start of the swim, so don’t think you’re at a disadvantage by starting at the back.

Long Term Planning

You are best off booking accommodation in the centre of Bolton if you can. This is so your room is only a short hobbling distance from the finish line. A minibus service runs from the city centre to the Pennington Flash on race day, as well as parking being available in the nearby Leigh Sports Village. You’ll need to book well in advance to get a spot in the centre though, so don’t put off booking a room.

You may also want to check whether they’re serving breakfast early at the hotel you’re looking at. Many do, to ensure you can get some proper food ahead of the start.

I highly recommend travelling up on the Friday if at all possible, as registration closes midday on Saturday, and if you’re delayed on the Saturday morning you won’t be racing, or eligible for a refund. You also have a busy schedule on the Saturday, so need all the time you can get to avoid a panic.

On the Weekend

Once you arrive, the first thing you should do is register, as this is time sensitive. Once you have your race number and wristband, it’s time to head back to your hotel to pack your bags. This is covered in depth in our main article (link at the top of the page), but pay close attention to the forecast on the day, and pack anything you think you might need in your bike bag.

Once your bags are packed, it’s time to head to the Pennington Flash to rack your bike. Parking is available on the Saturday, but there is a one way stretch of road coming into the venue so it can be a bit sticky at busy times. Once you re-build your bike, take it for a quick ride around the car park, trying all the gears and brakes, to ensure everything is working as it should. If it isn’t, or you need some last minute spares, mechanics are available in T1 who can help you. Mechanical tweaks are normally free, but you will have to pay for any parts.

Once you rack your bike, it’s time to head into the marquee to collect your timing chip. Protect this like your firstborn child, as getting a replacement in the morning will not be easy, and you’ll be charged for a replacement. It’s a level of stress you can probably do without. In the marquee you’ll also be hanging your bike bag on a hook for collection once you exit the swim. Make sure your bag is hanging on the correct hook, as they will be numbered.

After everything is in place, take the time to walk down to the swim exit (the left most of the ramps as you look at the water), and walk to T1 tracing the steps you’ll take on race day. In previous years, this has always ran to the left of transition. From here head into the marquee, over to where your bag is, then outside to where your bike is waiting. This will help it become second nature on the day, and save you getting confused. It’s also a good way to check your bag is on the correct hook!

Once T1 is setup, it’s time to head to T2 which is a much simpler affair, simply hanging your bag up in the marquee, though a walk through is still a good idea. Take the time while you’re here to find where your bike racking spot is, so you have one less thing to think about on race day.

The most difficult part of preparing T2 is parking, as the traffic wardens will be out in force ticketing cars which are parked on pavements or left on double yellows, so it’s worth finding somewhere legitimate to park. Contrary to the demands of many, Ironman will not refund your parking fine.

At this point, you should be ready to go, all you need to do is turn up tomorrow in your wetsuit and perform one of the single greatest single day challenges in the world. You’ve got this.

Race Morning

In an ideal world you would have breakfast around 3 hours before the start, however this just isn’t practical for the most part. That being said, you ideally want to avoid eating within 90 minutes of the start, so try to get something down you early if you can. I recommend you change into what you plan to wear for the swim before you leave the hotel, as there are no changing facilities at Pennington Flash and you don’t really want to be changing in a portable toilet.

If you’re driving and parking in Leigh Sports Village, it’s a five minute walk. You will need to load special needs bags and your streetwear into the waiting trucks which normally close up around 45-60 minutes before the swim start. You will also want to pop into transition to check your bike and pump up your tyres before the start, so I recommend arriving 90 minutes before the start, as this time will disappear very quickly, and you don’t want to be stressed on the morning of your big day.

Once you are in your wetsuit with goggles at the ready, it’s time to take your place in the starting pen. This takes the form of a long line of barriers running from the swim start all the way back to transition. There will be boards placed at intervals along this, which designate estimated swim times, ranging from 50 minutes all the way up to 2:20.

It’s imperative you place yourself in the correct area of the swim start. Your time is taken from when you start the swim, not from when the gun goes, so there is nothing to be gained from starting further towards the front of the race. All that will happen is you’ll get swim over by faster swimmers coming from behind, vastly increasing the chances of you having a panic attack as you are pushed under the water.

Once the race starts, it may take up to 30 minutes for you to enter the water as the swimmers slowly shuffle forward. Once you get to the edge of the ramp you’ll hear two beeps in short succession as your timing chip registers on the mat. You are now on an Ironman race course.

Swim

The swim start of Ironman UK with spectators lining the shore
Image credit Ironman

Enter the water very carefully, as the water is shallow, and the entry point is wet. I’ve seen plenty of swimmers fall into the water here, so take it steady.

Once in the water, I recommend you swim slightly to the right, unless you are a confident swimmer. As the course is a series of left hand turns, those looking to put in a fast time will be staying as far left as possible, and if you’re a novice swimmer you don’t want to get caught up in the brawl. Swimming off line will add a bit of distance to your swim, but in my opinion it’s worth it to avoid being half drowned.

The first turn buoy will be just over 1KM away, which is the equivalent of 40 lengths of a 25M pool. It may look like a long way, but your training should have prepared you well for this. After a couple of hundred metres the adrenaline and fear should have receded and you’ll find yourself in the state of mind you’ll find yourself in all day, which should be a calm, controlled mindset.

At this point, check in on your pacing. Can you sustain this effort for the duration of the race? This isn’t an Olympic distance race where you want to find some fast feet and sit in, this is an all day adventure and your pacing strategy starts now.

Once you reach the far end of the course it’s a pair of left hand turns before you head back to shore. These turn buoys really are a pinch point, so give them a wide berth if you don’t want to risk getting dragged under. Once you have navigated these, it’s back to the shore to complete your first lap.

As you approach the swim exit, it’s worth sighting more regularly to ensure you’re on track for the arch. Kicking a bit more will help your legs wake up here, and make you less prone to dizziness when you come out of the water. You will run (or walk) a short, left hand loop back to the a jetty next to the swim entry ramp to start your second lap, but be aware of potentially feeling light headed as blood starts rushing around your body. Lap two will be largely the same as the first, but with more in the way of traffic in the water. Be prepared for some very slow swimmers you may not expect, so sight a bit more often. As there will be fewer swimmers around you by now, you should be able to swim slightly closer to the buoys without incident, should you wish.

T1

As you come out of the water, you’ll be making your way to the marquee, just like your walk through the day before. Grab your bike bag and don’t rush your transition like you might in shorter races. It’s worth taking the extra 15 seconds to get yourself in a good place, rather than rush out and realise you left some food in your bag. On your way you your bike, stick your blue bag into the big crate of bags to be delivered to T2 later.

As you make your way towards the bike mount line, give other athletes plenty of space. Some will be disorientated from the swim, others will not be in control of their bike, and you don’t want to be part of a clash of bikes before you’re even in the saddle. Mount your bike in your preferred method (nothing you haven’t practiced extensively) and get ready to take on the 180Km bike course.

Bike

I wish I could give you a blow by blow account of the bike course, but the course changes every year, so instead I’ll offer some general advice which is applicable every year.

There is no Flat
An image of the very hilly bike profile
Profile of the 2019 event

You may laugh, but I’m being serious. There is next to no flat on the bike course, the only the exception of the run back into town after Sheephouse Lane. You will spend the entirety of the race either going up or down, which plays havoc with your pacing. It’s easy to get carried away passing people on the hills early on, caught up in the atmosphere and generally having a great time. However you have a long way to go, over a lot of hills, and with a marathon waiting for you at the end. Keep the heart rate reasonable on the hills, and don’t go tearing up them like a road cyclist attacking on a mountain stage.

The Road Surface is Terrible

In the UK, we are not known for the quality of our roads, and it’s especially bad north of the Watford Gap. While the local authority does make a point of repairing the worst offenders from the course in the runup to the event, you still need to keep an eye out. Ironman highlight most of the holes with spray paint in the runup to the race, but you need to keep your wits about you. There is also a lot of debris on the roads, so don’t carry 60KPH into the corners and expect to stay upright.

Lots of Corners Tighten

In the UK we have a habit of planting hedgerows along our roads. These act as a boundary for farmers and are great for wildlife, but terrible for visibility. What you may think is an innocent left hander may actually be a long, sweeping corner which then tightens. I’ve seen lots of bikes in hedges, and ambulances collecting riders from the other side of drystone walls on the course, so do yourself a favour and take it easy out there, especially if you haven’t driven or ridden the course before.

Dangerous Descents

I don’t use this word lightly, but some of the downhill sections in the past have been nothing short of dangerous. Steep gradient, poor road quality and restricted visibility combine to create some testing downhill sections. These sections are signed well by the organisers with instructions to slow down, but it’s worth developing your confidence riding downhill in the runup to the event if it’s something you struggle with.

Changing Conditions

In the past three editions the event has both had an edition where the bike was nearly shortened due to wildfires, and another edition where a rainstorm appeared out of nowhere, causing dozens of DNFs due to hypothermia and crashes. This isn’t a course you can prepare for by sitting on a turbo trainer all year round, you need good bike handling skills and resilience to the elements to succeed here.

The bike will be between two and three laps depending on the year, with a cutoff for each lap if you’re not moving at a pace fast enough to finish the course within the time limit. In recent years transition has moved into Bolton city centre where you will dismount your bike, rack it in your spot, and head into the marquee to don your running gear.

Run

A runner during the marathon
Yours truly at the halfway point

If you make it out of T2, you already have one hand on the finishers medal. Even if you power walk large sections of the course you should have enough time left to make it across the line within 17 hours.

To start with, you run through a rather uninspiring industrial area, before finding yourself in the pedestrianised area of Bolton City Centre. This is the spectating hot point, so be sure to lap up the support and keep an eye out for loved ones. The road will winds its way through the streets until it takes you past the finish line. You will have to run past the finish line no less than three times before you can finally turn right and run down the chute. Better get a wiggle on then.

Once you have passed the start/finish line you will find yourself in Queens Park, which is the steepest section of the course. It’s tempting at this point to run up the hill, but unless you’re confident in your ability to run the entire marathon nonstop, you’re probably better off walking this section to save your legs for later.

You will turn left onto Chorley New Road, somewhere you will become very familiar with for the next 3+ hours. The road is a long false flat (slight uphill) for 3KM, followed by a U-turn, and 3KM of a slight downhill. Once you finish the downhill, you will collect your marathon band. This will be green for your first lap, blue for your second lap, red for your third, and yellow for your fourth. It’s imperative you collect a band, and the right coloured one at that, to avoid having to get into any “discussions” with the race director after you finish.

Just like the bike course, the organisers will pull athletes with no chance of finishing off the course. If you’re worried about finishing within the cutoffs, but are collecting marathons bands at the end of each lap, you are on course to finish within the time limit. Keep your head down.

After this you will turn back into another section of Queens Park where you can admire the swans, and make your way back towards the town centre for another tantalising peek of the finish line.

The lap based nature of the course may mean that as you start your run, you will be seeing people finish, or at the very least with lots of bands on. Try not to think about this, and simply focus on your own race. Don’t be lulled into panic and increasing your pace, as this will almost certainly backfire.

Finish

An athlete running down the finishing chute
The finishing chute

After you collect your yellow band, you should feel unstoppable. It’s now a simple case of making your way back to the finish line, turning right, and down the red carpet. Make the most of the crowd and savour the moment.

Once you collect your medal and assume your new title of Ironman UK finisher, you will return your timing chip and make your way through to the finisher’s area. Here you will find massage, food and a finisher’s T-shirt for you to proudly wear in the gym. From here it’s time to make your way back to T2, collect all your belongings, and bask in your achievement. You are now one of the 1% of the world who has crossed an Ironman finish line, and not only that, you did it at one of the toughest events on the calendar.

Looking for some help to get you across the line? Check out our selection of Ironman training plans here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/my-training-plans/Ironmanplans

Turbo Trainer Vs Smart Bike

For the cyclist or triathlete looking to train in a more structured way, indoor training is a must. It allows you to ride hard without interruption, worrying about road surface or other road users.

There are two primary options available for indoor training. One the one hand we have the ubiquitous turbo trainer. This is a device you mount your existing bike onto, providing resistance and power readings. Most modern turbo trainers are also what we call “smart” turbos. These change the resistance for you based on both manual input and that from a 3rd party app.

Next up we have the smart bike. These are a relatively recent invention, with the first Wattbike released in 2008, designed for use primarily by track cyclists. This was updated more recently with the Wattbike Atom, a bike designed for integration with modern training apps. In recent years other manufacturers including Wahoo, Stages and Tacx have launched their own smart bikes to rival this, seeing a gap in the market.

So, which option is superior? A turbo trainer or a smart bike? Of curse, it’s not quite as simple as that, but there are definite pros and cons to each. Let’s start by looking into each in a bit more detail.

Turbo Trainers

Wahoo Kickr Turbo Trainer

When you purchase a turbo trainer, you will be choosing between one of two options, wheel on or wheel off.

With a wheel on trainer you can simply mount the whole bike onto a trainer using a clamp, however there’s a bit more to it than that. You have to make sure the drum the tyre presses against is at the correct tension and the tyre is at the correct pressure. The trainer will also place a lot of wear on your tyres. To get around this many cyclists buy a second wheel to place an indoor specific tyre on, which they will swap out when they ride indoors. As many cyclists will look at wheel on trainers to avoid having to remove their rear wheel, this removes much of the appeal.

Most turbo trainers are wheel off trainers, where you remove the back wheel and place the bike on the trainer itself. The advantages provided by these trainers are a greater potential for creating resistance, quieter operation, improved accuracy, more realistic ride feel and smaller unit size. The only real downside is if you plan to share the trainer with another rider whose groupset isn’t compatible with yours, as the cassette lives on the trainer. A cassette swap is a five minute job with a bit of practice, but it’s a barrier to getting your workout done, especially if you’re not feeling motivated that day.

One downside of all turbos is that by riding your bike indoors, you are putting wear on it. All components have a shelf life, and riding a turbo trainer will place wear on your components. Making sure your drivetrain is clean before placing it on the turbo trainer, and regularly checking your chain length can help with this.

Some frame manufacturers don’t cover turbo use under their warranty, so you may find yourself out of pocket if your bike is damaged on the turbo trainer. Damaging a bike on a turbo trainer is incredibly difficult, and as long as you attach it to the turbo tightly, the chances of damage are incredibly low unless you do something silly.

Pros

  • Cheaper
  • Smaller
  • Correct position every time
  • Minimal setup or fussing
  • Can take with you when travelling

Cons

  • Slightly noisier
  • Places wear on your parts
  • Potential frame warranty issues

Next up, we’ll look at what you can expect from a smart bike

Smart Bikes

The Wattbike Atom Smart Bike

There are two very noticeable differences between turbo trainers and smart bikes. The size, and the price tag.

While many turbo trainers can fold up and fit behind your sofa if you are tight on space, a smart bike needs a dedicated space, perhaps even dedicated room to use. They also come in at over twice the prize of a top end turbo trainer. So, what do you get for your money?

Smart bikes are almost silent, due to the absence of a moving parts. While the latest turbos are whisper quiet compared to classic trainers which would give jet engines a run for their money, you still have the mechanical nose of the chain, which smart bikes remove. There will still be some humming as you put down the big watts, but if you have a sleeping baby in the house or live somewhere with thin walls/floors, this could justify the purchase of a smart bike over a turbo trainer.

Smart bikes also require less calibration, due to not only their ability to self calibrate, but the fact they don’t get moved around as often as a turbo trainers do. This means your power readings will be more accurate, if you are using the Smart bike’s power meter. I encourage everyone who uses a power meter outside to also use it inside, overriding the power meter on your turbo/smart bike for more consistent readings, so this won’t be as much of an issue for many.

The big downside to smart bikes for me is adjustability. While you generally have a great degree of freedom to get yourself in the right position with smart bikes, 1mm can be the difference between a great ride and a painful one for some cyclists, so replacing your position fully on a smart bike is an ongoing battle for many. A little higher, a little shorter, try a little lower again, the tweak are often endless, especially if sharing with another rider and you have to adjust each time you ride. One client I’m working with was using a smart bike, but the fixed crank length on his model meant it exacerbated a hip issue. As a result, he had to sell his smart bike and buy a turbo trainer.

Getting the basic measurements (reach, saddle height, frame size) right can take a bit of work, but once you look at replicating a TT position on a smart bike, you’re in a world of pain. TT positions are incredibly difficult to get comfortable in at the best of times, let alone replicate on another piece of machinery. Getting the stack height, length of bars, angle of bars and gap between the bars millimetre perfect on two separate bikes is maddening. Some smart bikes allow you to use your own handlebars, but the front end of triathlon bikes are not cheap, you’d be looking at around £500 minimum to replicate the cockpit of your aero bike onto your smart bike. When you consider you’re already paying a premium to be riding a smart bike in the first place, any extra expense to get comfortable on it seems difficult to justify.

Some bikes will also have features such as showing your pedalling technique, and automatic adjustments to gradient or road feel. If a manufacturer develops both smart bikes and

Pros

  • As close to silent as you’ll get
  • Some models have intuitive features
  • Save wear on your components
  • Less calibration issues

Cons

  • Very difficult to replicate exact road position, especially for TT setups
  • Expensive
  • Bulky

Next up we answer the question you came here for. Turbo trainer vs smart bike, which ones wins out?

Conclusion

For my money, the downsides to a smart bike do not outweigh the cost. You may save yourself money on components, but if you consider a chain costs around £20, and you’re paying a premium of around £1000 to upgrade to a smart bike, it’s probably something of a false economy. Getting the position right on them can be incredibly difficult, and they just don’t feel as good to ride. The purchase of a smart bike should come down to the following question:

Will it make you a faster triathlete?

The answer here, compared to to a turbo trainer, is an emphatic ‘no’. Smart bikes have the potential to provide some convenience, but their features don’t justify the price for my money. If you’re primarily an indoor cyclist, are a road cyclist less sensitive to position, or are just looking to get fit at home, smart bikes may well be the product for you.

None of the professional triathletes I know have switched to a smart bike and they’re not aggressively marketed in triathlon media. You may see lots of triathletes on Instagram riding smart bikes, or hear your club mates taking about their flashy new indoor bike, but the root of this is the assumption that the most expensive option is the best option. If money is no object and you want to be the best athlete you can, the £2500 option must be better than the £1000 option. That’s how it works, right?

If you’re torn between a turbo trainer and a smart bike, make the decision that’s right for you, your budget, goals and lifestyle. I don’t want to tell you what to do. However if you’re a happy turbo trainer user, wondering if a smart bike will take your training to the next level, the chances are it won’t justify the investment.

I hope this article doesn’t come across as too negative, I have a lot of love for all the manufacturers of smart bikes, I think they’re great products which do the job they’re designed to do incredibly well. However, the demands on triathlon just don’t line up with the functionality of the bikes, and it won’t be an easy problem for manufacturers to fix.

If you had already justified a smart bike to yourself, you could instead consider some race wheels, an aero helmet, or some coaching. All of which are almost guaranteed to provide more bang for your buck.

Why Is Cycling so Expensive?

It’s the question that has crossed the mind of every aspiring cyclist or triathlete, why is cycling so expensive? You may have had a budget in your head of £100 (or regional equivalent) for your bike, but it seems even that is unlikely to leave you walking away with a bike. Let alone a road bike. That’s before you even get to the clothing and accessories.

Why is cycling so expensive? Is the whole industry a rip off? In this article we’re going on a deep dive into the cycling industry to find out. We’re going to be focusing on road cycling as this is the area I’m mot familiar with. The majority of the points here apply to off road as well.

Why Shouldn’t I Buy a £100 bike?

These bikes are what I have seen fondly referred to as “bike shaped objects” by mechanics. This may come across as snobbery, but there’s logic here.

These bikes are designed to be taken out for a short ride on flat terrain a couple of times a year. The quintessential family bike ride. They’re heavy, sluggish and will break very easily. When it does break, you will probably pay 30-40% of the value of the bike to fix it. The tyres will puncture easily, the chain will probably fall off without much encouragement, and you’ll struggle to get spare parts.

What Should I Buy Instead?

In contrast, let’s look at the classic starting bike, the Specialized Allez. Like many cyclists, I started out on one of these dream machines. Other brands are available.

A Specialized Allez Road Bike

So, what does this bike offer which our bargain basement bike doesn’t?

Lighter

For many cyclists, a lighter bike is a better bike. If you get passed on the hills by those on much lighter bikes, this is very demoralising as you feel powerless. An entry level road bike like an Allez could be twice as light as a cheap bike. It still isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of road cycling, but it’s a big step up.

Lasts Longer

I’m probably not exaggerating by much when I estimate that this bike will last 100 times longer than a cheap bike. I rode mine for the best part of 15,000 miles without major issue. Yes I needed to replace some parts, but when you consider you’re lucky to get 100 miles out of a cheap bike without needing to take it to a mechanic, the difference in longevity is remarkable. It’s actually cheaper to pay more up front in the long run.

More responsive

The Specialized pictured above uses a Shimano Sora groupset. This refers to the brakes, gears, shifters, chain e.t.c.

When you shift a gear on this bike, it will jump to the new gear less than a second. When you shift a gear on a bike shaped object, it will make a slow, clunky shift. If you’re lucky it’ll end up in the gear you wanted to without jumping around. If you’re not changing gear much this doesn’t matter. But if you’re on rolling terrain and want to use your gears to make life easier, this can be frustrating.

In addition, when you turn a corner, the steering will feel silky smooth for a long time. Meanwhile, a cheaper bike’s bearings will wear quickly. Especially when it gets wet.

Upgrade Potential

Once you’ve been riding for a year or two, you’ll probably find yourself looking at some upgrades for your bike. This could be more gears, better brakes or a new saddle. These upgrades are designed to fit traditional road bikes. Cheaper bikes often have non standard fixtures, as they don’t expect to be upgraded.

When you can be looking at £80 for a comfortable saddle, you will very quickly get to the place where you’re almost spending as much on single components as you did on a cheap bike.

Inevitable Regret

If you buy a cheap bike and get bitten by the cycling bug, you’ll end up regretting it. Whether you ride with friends who leave you for dust, or it breaks down yet again at the furthest point from home and you need to call for a pick up; you’ll end up having to sell it for a fraction of what you paid for it, and buying a more expensive bike anyway.

So, where does my money go?

The Specialized Allez starts at £650, which is a lot of money to spend on a bike. So where does the money go? And why would someone look to spend £5000 on a bike?

Quality of Materials

A bike being build in the Colnago Factory, Italy
Image copyright Sigma Sports

The biggest factor which makes cycling expensive is the materials used in manufacture of the parts. If you want a cheap steel frame, you can get this for a song. However, it will be very heavy. There are Chinese factories which manufacture counterfeit bikes, which they sell on for a fraction of the cost. However, there’s a good chance these will break, potentially injuring you in the process.

When looking to purchase something it can be cheap and light. Or strong and cheap. Most bikes need to be both light and strong, but this doesn’t come cheap. For a bike to be able to withstand thousands of miles on the road without damage the materials have to be carefully chosen. They also have to be treated in a specific way to ensure performance and safety.

This extends beyond the frame materials to everything on the bike. Wheels are notoriously expensive because they have to both be incredibly light, and withstand huge forces from hitting potholes without buckling. There will always be a cheaper option out there, but this will come with a penalty to performance and longevity.

Research and Development

A bike in a wind tunnel for aerodynamic testing

If you want to create the lightest and fastest bike on the market, this involves a considerable amount of research and development. This involves paying designers and engineers to build prototypes, time spent in a wind tunnel, stress tests on the frame itself, and dozens of other steps between concept and the bike appearing for sale at your local bike shop. These costs are passed onto the consumer when they purchase the bike, to help the bike manufacturer stay in business. And help them keep pushing the boundaries.

Pro Team Sponsorship

A bike sponsor will provide a World Tour team with hundreds of bikes over the course of a year. When you consider many manufacturers will sponsor multiple teams, you’re looking at companies spending hundreds of thousands over the course of a year to support professional teams. They hope to recoup the cost by inspiring customers to buy their bikes via the team. If you think recreational cycling is expensive, wait until you see the costs involved with running a professional team!

Running of the Business

Smaller bike manufacturers will only really make money from selling frames. The sale of bikes cover everything from the receptionist’s salary to the van they use for deliveries. If companies did not make a profit from each sale, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business, offer warranties or provide any customer service. While some products provide manufacturers and retailers with a large profit margin, bike frames are not one of them, and the whole industry relies on bike manufacturers staying in business.

But What About Expensive Cycling Clothing? Some Kit Costs As Much as Cheap Bikes

A Castelli Idro cycling waterproof

It’s true that you can get a cheap bike for the cost of some waterproof jackets, but it all comes back to performance. When cycling you build up a huge amount of heat. When you cover yourself with what is essentially a plastic bag, this traps the heat and causes the rider to overheat. You may keep the rain off you with cheap jackets, but you’ll get soaked with sweat, losing a lot of sodium in the process which hurts your performance in itself. A high end waterproof jacket will be far more breathable, while still keeping you dry.

Expensive cycling jerseys may be incredibly lightweight for summer riding, aerodynamic for use in time trials, or windproof for riding in poor weather. However, they may also be expensive simply for the sake of fashion. Where bikes themselves are all about performance, clothing is far more susceptible to trends, and you can get away with spending a bit less here. Cheaper kit will be heavier, not as breathable and won’t fit as nicely, but this will have far less of an effect on your ride than a bike which is constantly breaking.

Do I Need to Spend a Lot on a Helmet?

A Kask Mojito cycling helmet

All of the helmets for sale will meet basic safety standards, so you don’t need to spend a lot on a helmet to keep you or a loved one safe. Money spent on an expensive cycling helmet can make it more aerodynamic (faster), lighter and more breathable. Cheaper helmets will feel like a block of polystyrene on your head, where you won’t notice you’re wearing a more expensive one. There are safety systems such as MIPS available on some models, which is suggested to improve safety for a small price increase.

Fit is more important than cost when it comes to safety. You shouldn’t be able to fit more than two fingers under the chin strap, and it shouldn’t be too tight, or too loose on your head.

Manufacturers Will Charge What People are Willing to Pay

This is true in many industries, but is especially true in cycling. Many people will walk into a bike shop, ask for the latest bike, and price won’t even be discussed. They might not even look at the total. Manufacturers will push the very limit of what current technology permits, because they know someone will buy it and justify the investment in developing the product. It will also win professional races, building their brand.

The good news is that these customers help keep manufacturers in business, which allows them to keep the price down on their entry level bikes. Top end bikes will rarely be discounted in a meaningful way, but many components and accessories will be discounted within a matter of months following their release.

Conclusion

There are many factors which make cycling expensive, but you don’t have to remortgage your house to get started. A budget of £1000 will get you up and running with a setup that lasts years, and prove to be more economical than going for the cheapest possible option.

If you’re looking to get started, check out our article on choosing a road bike

Taking Your Triathlon Training to the Next Level

Once you’ve completed your first event or two, you’ll be riding the high of achievement, yet also slightly downbeat. While you’re proud as punch of your performance, you can’t quite get over why you got dropped so quickly at the start, how fast the cyclists who lapped you were going, or quite how it’s possible for the announcer to be calling in the winner as you come into T2. You make a vow, it’s time to take your triathlon training to the next level.

But what does this mean? The intention is clear, you want to get faster, but how do you plan to achieve that? There’s a lot of information out there, but much of it is conflicting. What you may think makes you faster just exhausts you for no tangible improvement to your times.

What follows is a list of recommendations to help you improve how you train, and therefore your performance. We cover the very basics first, the low hanging fruit which will provide the greatest benefits, before we start digging in a little deeper.

The focus here is on improving the training process, rather than the best way to improve your performance. While there are all sorts of products, gadgets and tips to help you race 1% faster, consistent, considered training needs to be the foundation.

Follow a Structured Plan

This doesn’t have to be a complex paid for plan from a website such as TrainingPeaks, but having some structure to your training will really help you develop as an athlete. This could be as simple as knowing you will have a long ride and a long run on the weekend which gets progressively longer each weekend, with two swims in the week and other workouts dotted in as and when you can fit them in. Alternatively, it could be an incredibly specific plan, tailored for you as an individual with specific targets on each day.

The benefit of a structured plan is that it holds you to a kind of accountability, and if you follow the basic principles of periodisation, will help ensure you’re doing the right kind of training at the right time of year. There are plenty of free, basic training plans available online, the race organiser of your event may even have one on their website.

Consistency is king in triathlon, and following a plan ensures you stay consistent. This is a guaranteed way to take your triathlon training to the next level.

Take Rest Days and Recovery Weeks

white and tan english bulldog lying on black rug looking tired
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Training breaks your body down, recovery makes it stronger. You may think that training for seven days a week proves your dedication and will propel you to greatness, but the chances are this will just result in non-functional overreaching and long term exhaustion. When we back off and allow our body to recover, we reap the benefits of our training, and are able to go hard at the next time of asking. One day of complete rest a week, and an easier recovery week every 3-4 weeks is recommended for the vast majority of athletes.

Get More Sleep

A woman sleeping
Photo by Ivan Oboleninov on Pexels.com

Most of us don’t get enough sleep. Between work, family, training and the desire for some “me” time in front of the TV, we can slip into the habit of getting less than six hours sleep per night. While rest days allow our body a break from training, adaptation to the training stimulus itself happens primarily during deep sleep. Ever wonder why you can do a hard session in the morning, feel fine for the next 12 hours, then upon waking the next day feel like the tin man? It’s only when we sleep that our body sends the signals to repair the muscles and generate more mitochondria. If we’re stingy with our sleep, our performance will suffer, and we increase the risk of burnout. There’s no point taking your triathlon training to the next level if you’re not receiving the benefits.

Eight hours may not be achievable for everyone due to work/family, but heading to bed at 10:30PM and waking at 6:30AM isn’t unreasonable for most people, and ticks the box of the magic eight hours.

Work on Your Weaknesses

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not the world’s greatest swimmer. In fact the mere smell of neoprene may initiate a fight or flight response in you. I struggled with this for many years. I overcame this not by hiding from it, but by getting in the pool three times a week and slowly chipping away.

It’s human nature to focus on what we’re good at, however if we really want to succeed in triathlon, we need to focus on where we can make the most time. If I spent an eight week training block focused on running with weekly hill reps, track work and long runs, I might be able to save a minute over 5K. This is a huge amount of time, and I’d feel very satisfied. But I’m not a runner, I’m a triathlete. If I had spent the time swimming instead focused on my running, I could have saved 2-3 minutes over 750M, resulting in a much greater improvement to my overall performance.

Get Some Swim Coaching

Swimming is the most technical sport by a long way, and you can only improve so much by ploughing up and down on your own. Whether you want to hire a coach on a 1to1 capacity or join a swim squad where the coach provides intermittent feedback, having an experienced set of eyes look at your stroke will work wonders. Coaching for cycling and running is also very valuable if you feel you struggle, but swimming provides the most gains for the majority of athletes.

Introduce Strength and Conditioning

Strength and conditioning for triathletes? Sacrilege! Well, it may not be your idea of a good time, but an effective strength and conditioning plan will provide you with a number of benefits to take your triathlon training to the next level, including but not limited to:

  • Reduced chance of injury
  • Improved muscular force
  • Greater range of motion
  • Reduced rate of technique breakdown
  • Moving better in day to day life

This doesn’t have to mean taking out a gym membership and tackling the free weights if you don’t want, but taking the time to strengthen your core, improve your balance and stretch/roll your tight muscles, even if only for 10 minutes a day, will provide an invisible yet important benefit to your training.

Get a Bike fit

A rider taking their triathlon training to the next level with a bike fit. A fitter gesturing to an image on screen
Image copyright Sigma Sports

Hopefully when you bought your bike they helped you choose the right size bike, and may have raised/lowered the saddle for you to get it in the right ballpark. However there’s much, much more to being comfortable on a bike than this. From choosing the right saddle, right handlebars and right shoes to getting these setup millimetre perfect, a professional can really help you get dialled in. When we’re comfortable on our bike we can put out more power for longer, and run better off the bike. Visiting a fitter based in a shop comes with benefits as they have lots of different components on hand for you to try out. Expect to pay £200 for a comprehensive experience, before parts or labour installing them.

Take Your Bike Training Indoors

An athlete taking their triathlon training to the next level by riding indoors
Image copyright Wahoo

Chances are we took up triathlon because we love the outdoors. But if it’s February, raining, and we only have an hour available, by the time we’ve bundled up and head out the door, we’re not going to get much of a session in. Combined with the risk of ice and low light levels in winter, training indoors becomes a very efficient alternative. The benefit of riding hard without worrying about traffic is not to be underestimated, which combined with software such as Zwift can provide an engaging experience.

Riding inside help maintain consistency, and consistency breeds success. This combined with the ability to ride intervals is essential when taking your triathlon training to the next level.

Monitor Training Intensity

PMC

Swimming, riding and running to feel will get you a long way. However if you really want to get fitter, you need a gauge to tell you what’s easy and what’s hard. Whether you use heart rate, power or pace isn’t of huge importance at this stage in your triathlon journey, but measuring your data, understanding it and reviewing it is key to high level triathlon performance. I recommend picking up a book on training to help you understand the data and decide what to do with the results.

Get Race Specific With Your Training

You’re swimming in open water on the day? You’d better get to your local lake once a week. If you’re planning to ride 180KM on a triathlon bike, you need to be doing your long rides on it. If the on course nutrition is a brand you’re not familiar with, you’d do well to try training with it ahead of race day to see if it works for you. When training for a hilly race, you’d better get some climbing in your legs. Once you get within a few months of your event, you need to start thinking about your workouts and how they help prepare you for race day.

Work With a Coach

Triathlon is an incredibly complex sport where we have a lot to fit into our training schedule, and need to learn to pick our battles. Working with a coach who understands you, communicates well with you and knows how to get the best out of you is the best investment you can make in your triathlon training, and will help you race much faster than spending thousands on fancy wheels for your bike. There are hundreds of coaches out there, offering different levels of service for different budgets, so don’t assume you can’t afford it.

We offer very comprehensive training programmes, as well as consultations for athletes looking for someone to point them in the right direction. Take a look if you’re dedicated to taking your triathlon training to the next level.

How To Prevent Punctures

We all want to prevent punctures. The dull thudding sound, sluggish steering and sensation you’re riding through treacle is all too familiar to anyone who has ridden a bike for a prolonged period of time. You have a flat tyre, which will need attention if you’re to continue your journey. If you’re lucky this will be on a warm summer’s morning and you’ll have a puncture repair kit with you, armed with the knowledge on how to repair it. If you’re unlucky it’ll be dark, cold and a long way from civilisation with no obvious way to fix it. Even worse, this could be during an event.

This experience can be traumatising for some, I’ve even hear multiple people tell me “I used to love riding to work, then I got a puncture, and my bike lives in the shed now”. While we can never 100% guarantee you’ll be puncture free, unless you run solid tyres, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent punctures. Saving you money on tubes and a lot of time in the process.

Buy Better Tyres

This is the biggest single thing you can do to prevent punctures, buy a tyre with better puncture protection. Some tyres can be purchased which a gel inside of them (such as slime tyres), but they are so heavy and slow you’ll want to steer clear of them for serious cycling, so you should instead be looking at tyres with a protective bead.

Most brands will have a nigh on bulletproof tyre (such as the Continental gatorskin) and a super minimalist tyre with no very little or no puncture protection (such as the Continental Grand Prix Supersonic), and many shades of grey between. Many novice cyclists will want to go for the most puncture protection they can their their hands on, which is completely understandable, but it does come at a cost.

The cost comes in weight and rolling resistance. Weight is quite obvious, a 32mm Gator Hardshell weighs in at 445g, so 890g for the pair. Meanwhile the aforementioned Supersonic weighs in at 140g, or 280g for the pair, that’s a whopping 610g difference, or the equivalent of carrying an extra water bottle on your bike. While this won’t have a huge effect on your times, you’d definitely notice the difference if you rode the two back to back.

The second price you pay is rolling resistance, this is how much resistance is created as the tyre rolls down the road. Sticking with our two examples, you lose 19.5w through the Gator Hardshell and only 10.2W through the Supersonic. If someone offered you 10 extra watts to your FTP, you’d probably bite their arm off, so this loss is not to be sniffed at.

Finally, we have grip. Many tyres boasting high levels of puncture protection will be made with a hard rubber compound to make it harder for sharp objects to penetrate the rubber, before it even gets to the protective band under the tyre. This comes at the cost of grip, and you’ll have less confidence going into wet corners as a result. I’ve ridden with people who call Gatorskins as “skaterskins” based on their lack of grip in the wet.

If you are a new cyclist looking to compete in your first event and the thought of puncturing during the race keeps you up at night, then the gatroskins will be fine. You won’t be leaning into the corners fast enough to worry about grip, and an extra minute or two onto your finishing time isn’t going to be a concern, so this might be the right tyre for you.

Even Tour de France riders aren’t immune. Image credit Cycling Weekly

If you are a high level cyclist looking for every possible gain, and will take your risks with the puncture gods for the possibility of a new PB, then the supersonic is probably the tyre for you.

However, the vast majority of us sit between these to categories. We want to avoid punctures, but not at the expense of performance. Over the course of a 180KM Ironman bike leg the chances are you’ll ride over something which will try to penetrate the tyre at some point, so don’t let the promise of low rolling resistance tempt you away from the pragmatic need for puncture protection. This is one of the few areas I recommend it’s worth spending a premium. Data on rolling resistance for individual tyres can be found at: https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/road-bike-reviews

Most bikes roll off the shop floor with very poor tyres on them, so I always recommend someone buys new tyres when they purchase a bike to avoid that inevitable puncture and frustrated trip back to the bike shop.

Replace your tyres when they wear

Like most parts on a bicycle, a tyre will wear and need replacing after a time. The rubber will be slowly worn away after hundreds of thousands of revolutions, and the compound itself will start to harden, creating small cracks which pieces of flint or glass can find their way into. Many tyre manufacturers have a wear indicator on their tyres, so make sure you replace them before they reach the limit. If not for puncture protection purchases, to stop the tyre failing dramatically on you at speed, which could result in injury,

Pull debris out of your tyres

Many sharp objects will find their way into the rubber, only to be stopped by the protective bead. This isn’t the end of their journey though, as there they will sit for the foreseeable future until you pull them out. Left unattended they may make their way through the protective bead slowly over many weeks, months or even years until they reach your inner tube and spoil your Sunday.

To keep on top of this, I recommend you deflate your tyre and check it over very carefully by eye, pinching it wherever you see a hole in the tyre to check if anything is wedged in there. If there is remove it gently with a small flathead screwdriver and fix the hole with a dab of superglue to prevent anything else making its way in there.

Avoid riding in the gutter

When starting cycling it can be tempting to push yourself as close to the kerb/verge as possible to stay out of the way of cars. I recommend against this for a number of reasons, partly because it makes you more likely to ride through pieces of broken glass, wing mirror or thorns which can cause punctures. As anyone who has ridden through Clapham early on a Sunday morning can attest, a lot of obstructions can find their way into the gutter so a wide berth should be given where possible.

I’m not advocating riding in the middle of the lane, but don’t be afraid to move a bit further out. It also prevents you getting squeezed by motorists, and gives you room to swerve if something appears in front of you.

Keep an eye out for hedge trimmings

In Britain we are lucky to have many of our roads lined with hedgerows, which local councils and farmers will maintain to ensure they don’t cause problems for traffic. This is normally achieved by driving a tractor with a special attachment along the road, leaving the trimmings on the road. This is necessary work to keep the road safe for all traffic, but the chances of thorns finding their way into the road are very high.

If you see lots of greenery on the ground next to a rather pristine hedge, it’s worth riding further out into the lane in an effort to avoid thorns where possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but it’s a sensible precaution to take where possible.

Be careful in wet conditions

While I don’t want to put people off riding in the wet as I think it’s an important part of a rider’s development, the likelihood of a puncture is increased. This is not only because the water can act as a form of lubricant helping a sharp object penetrate your tyre, but heavy rain also washes sharp objects onto the road in the first place.

There isn’t a huge amount you can do here except make extra sure you’re prepared to fix a puncture, and maybe take an extra spare tube.

Run Tubeless

Image credit Cyclist magazine

Tubeless tyres do a great job at preventing punctures. They work without a tube (as the name suggests), instead simply using pressure to hold the tyre to the rim, with a thin layer of sealant inside.

This helps prevent punctures as if the tyre is nicked, the hole will fill with sealant (normally spraying some around for a couple of seconds in the process) allowing you to continue your ride as if nothing had happened. This is the perfect solution for many, so why don’t more people run them?

They require special wheels. While most manufacturers now provide a ‘tubeless ready’ wheel of sorts, if you bought your bike before 2018 the odds are it isn’t tubeless ready. You’ll also need special tubeless tyres. If you have a perfectly good setup and don’t have issues repairing punctures, it’s probably not worth the investment.

Tubeless is fiddly, no-one can deny that. You will need a special kind of pump which stores up air to blast into the cavity at high pressure and help the tyre sit on the rim. While an experienced mechanic can get them setup pretty quickly, the rest of us can spend a lot of time and curse words, on getting a tubeless tyre installed. You have to remove the tyre, scrape off the sealant and apply fresh stuff intermittently as well, so it’s not a fit and forget solution.

If the hole is too big to be sealed, you can find yourself in real trouble. If the hole punched through your tyre is too wide for the sealant to form a new seal, air and sealant will continue to pour out until there is nothing left inside the tyre and you’re left helpless at the side of the road. If you have an inner tube and the kit required you can install the tube as a get out of jail card. It’s worth pointing out that clincher tyres can fail on you in a big way mid ride as well, it’s just less likely.

Top up Your Tyre Pressure

When you hit a pothole your tyre is compressed dramatically. If you are running a low tyre pressure, this can result in your tube being trapped between the rim and the road. Thus will normally result in the rim puncturing the tube itself, giving you two large, parallel cuts in your tyre, known as a snakebite (or pinch) puncture. If your tyre has a good amount of pressure inside it, the chances of the rim making contact with the road (or the bottom of the pothole to be more precise) are drastically reduced.

This means topping the pressure in your tyres up at least once a week, to a pressure which works for you. Deciding on the correct tyre pressure for you is worthy of a lengthy article in itself, but it’s a tradeoff between an overly harsh ride from a high pressure, and the risk of snakebite punctures from a low pressure.

Remove the Source of the Puncture When Changing Tubes

If you suffer a puncture, it can be very easy to make the swap, hop back on your bike, then in a matter of minutes find yourself with another flat tyre. There is a tiny chance you’ve been catastrophically unlucky, but it’s more likely that you forgot to remove the cause of the original puncture. If a thorn has made its way through your tyre and pierced the tube, but you fail to remove the thorn, it’s only going to do the same thing to the next tube you put in.

To prevent this, when you remove the tyre, take the time to find the sharp implement. If you can’t see it by eye, you can try very gently running your finger over the inside of the tyre to see if you can find it. Every now and then we have phantom punctures where there is no evidence of the sharp object, but more often than not it will still be stuck in the tyre.

Ensure your Rim Tape is Sitting Properly

Image Credit Park Tool

The rim tape is what sits underneath your inner tube, and protects the tube from being pinched by the spoke holes, which sit on the rim itself. If the rim tape isn’t sitting as it should be, this can expose the inner tube to the sharp ends of the spoke hole, which will inevitably result in a puncture sooner or later.

Conclusion

While I would dearly love to be able to provide you with a way to guarantee a puncture free cycling experience, it’s just not realistic. If you follow the above tips then with a bit of luck this should dramatically reduce the chance of you picking up punctures. If you suffer with repeated punctures, it may be worth taking the wheel to your local bike mechanic and ask them to check for any abnormalities, but more often than not, it’s simply the cycling gods taking exception to you.

Triathlon Race Day Success

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this your training has gone well, you’re excited, and feel nervous, yet unstoppable. However, a few mistakes on your triathlon race day can really put a spanner in the works. Maybe even result in your failing to finish. All of that fitness isn’t much use if you can’t apply it onto the course, so we’re going to walk you through the confusing and stressful world of race preparation. This will reduce stress and confusion on the morning itself.

It’s worth clarifying that every race has its quirks and differences. There are races which start at 7PM, are pool swims, end with a run up a mountain, mix up the disciplines and more. Don’t see this as being a guide to your race specifically as it can’t cover all possibilities, Make sure you always read the pre race information on the organiser’s website. Don’t make assumptions that what you read here will happen on the day.

Two Days Before

This is the best day to organise your kit. As most triathlon race days are Sundays, by packing your kit on the Friday is a good idea. Not only to make it a less stressful experience, you make it more likely you’ll remember something you forgot to pack. This also gives you time to replace anything missing/broken.

Here’s a recommended packing list:

  • Bike
  • Wetsuit
  • Running shoes
  • Cycling shoes
  • Trisuit
  • Goggles
  • Spare goggles
  • Second swim cap/neoprene cap (for cold swims)
  • Bodyglide
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Socks
  • Race belt
  • Tools for bike (tyre levers, spare tube (unless running tubeless), multi-tool)
  • Running cap/visor
  • Nutrition
  • Bicycle pump
  • Photo ID (for registration, normally a passport/driving license)
  • Plus anything that you specifically may want to take

Use this opportunity to read (or re-read) the athlete guide for your event.

The Day Before

Unless you race is very local, I recommend travelling up the night before. A traffic jam, cancelled train, or dead battery could be the end of your triathlon race day before it’s even begun.

List of Jobs
  • Rebuild bike and take it for a very short ride to check everything is working ok
  • Organise nutrition, attach it to bike/place it in clothing where applicable
  • Drive the bike course (if you own a car)
  • Walk to the swim start to get an idea of the swim course
  • Register, if possible
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat a nutritious, easily digestible meal
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get an early night

Race Morning

Wake up at least 2 hours before your start time, allowing more time if the venue is further away. You want to arrive with at least an hour between arriving at the venue and your start time. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during your triathlon race day. Give yourself as much time to deal with these as you can.

Before Leaving

You’ll probably want breakfast before you leave for your race, but hotels can make this difficult, unless you are staying at a big hotel close to a big race, who will often put an early breakfast on. Breakfast is a personal choice, but I’ve had more success with gastrointestinal issues since I cut down on the lactose on race morning. We’re all lactose intolerant to a greater or lesser extent, and the emotions of race day combined with the exertion of racing can cause that big bowl of porridge to sit very heavy on the stomach, or even make a reappearance in the swim if you’re very unlucky.

This is also a good time to put your trisuit, or whatever you’re wearing for the swim on. Races don’t normally have a dedicated changing area, and I doubt you want to get changed in a portaloo.

Leave your accommodation with plenty of time to make it to the start. It’s better to be sat around in your wetsuit for another 15 minutes than to miss your start because you hit the snooze button.

Registration

If you haven’t registered yet, that should be your first port of call. You should receive the following, unless they arrived via post in the preceding days:

  • Race number
  • Wristband
  • Race number stickers
  • Timing chip

Contents may vary from race to race

Your timing chip will normally be in the form of a plastic chip on a band with a velcro closure system. This is placed on your left leg, to prevent it from interfering with the bike. Make sure you do not put this over the top of your wetsuit as not only does this increase the chances of it getting knocked off in the water, it also makes it a pain to get your wetsuit off.

The wristband allows you access into transition and will normally include your race number so marshals can check it matches the number on your bike.

Your race number usually needs to be placed on your back when cycling and your front when running. A race belt is the best solution and prevents you messing around with safety pins through your expensive tri suit.

Your race stickers belong on your bike and your helmet, and are used to identify you both on course and in race photos afterwards. They are also used to identify your bike in transition when the marshal will cross reference it with your wristband, to stop someone walking off with your pride and joy.

Setting up Transition

Your next port of call will be heading to transition where you will rack your bike, unless you did so the evening before. On your way into transition officials will check your bike’s brakes work and that you have bar plugs on your dropped handle bars, if applicable.

Some races have stickers denoting your race number on the racking, others it is a free for all. If you have the choice, rack your bike near the end of a rack to make it easier to find. Another benefit to getting there early!

To start with place your bike on the rack, which normally takes the form of a scaffolding tube. The jury is out on which way it should face, just make sure you have a plan for removing it swiftly without clouting your fellow competitors. Use this opportunity to mark sure it’s in an appropriate gear. If the bike course starts with a hill, don’t leave it in the big ring.

Next up you need to place the following items on/in front of your bike

  • Running shoes
  • Cycling shoes (if not attached to bike)
  • Race number
  • Helmet
  • Eyewear
  • Anything else you’ll need on the bike/run

Many athletes place their race number over the handle/aero bars with their race belt underneath so they have a simple system to work through, and prevent the brain fog. After 9 years of triathlon I was so stressed after the swim I forgot my race number on once. It helps to lay things out in an order which makes it hard to get things wrong.

I like to place a small, coloured towel in front of my transition area. This way when I’m disorientated after the swim I can find my bike easily.

Once your transition area is setup, it’s time to think about using the toilet. I don’t think I’ve ever had a triathlon race day without a nervous wee. It may be the first of many visits between now and the start. Arriving at the start line absolutely desperate for the toilet does not set you up for success!

After your comfort stop, it’s time to walk the transition area. Start by finding where you’ll enter after the swim, and head over there. Picture yourself coming out of the swim. Where is your bike? Are there any landmarks you can aim for such as a tree or catering truck? After you get to your bike, which way do you run with your bike towards the start of the bike course? Repeat this for the bike in and the run out, so you can map it out in your mind, and reduce the chances of you losing time as you run the wrong way.

Final Preparations

Once your transition area is ready, it’s time to look at the details if you have time, such as your tyre pressures. It’s best you stick with what you used in training as we don’t encourage you to try anything new on your triathlon race day, but if rain is forecast for the bike section, and you normally run your tyres at a very high pressure, it’s probably worth lowering them slightly to give you more grip in the corners. Try not to obsessively check your pressures, as every time you open the valve there’s a small chance of snapping it, so be careful here.

Next up we need to get our wetsuit on. Leave plenty of time for this if you are new to the sport, as it can be very time consuming, and you don’t want to be panicking that you’ll miss the start. You can find a guide on how to put your wetsuit on here: Choosing a Triathlon Wetsuit

Just make sure you ask someone else to do your suit up for you, as the last thing you want is for your zipper to break in your hands on race morning.

The Swim

What happens next depends largely on the kind of swim start bring used on your triathlon race day.

Deep Water Start

This involves lowering yourself into the water and swimming over to the starting area, which is normally two buoys or some kayaks. You will then wait for the starting horn/klaxon to go, after which the large group of swimmers will all start at the same time. If you are a weaker swimmer, I STRONGLY suggest you place yourself at the back or the sides of the group. Don’t place yourself in the middle or front of the group, this will only result in you getting pushed underwater by other swimmers. If you are especially nervous, after the klaxon sounds, count to three in your head before starting your swim.

Self Seeded Rolling Start

Increasingly popular in the age of Covid 19, these swim starts involve swimmers forming a long line based on their ability. This is normally marked with small signs denoting predicted swim times, to help ensure swimmers start in the right area. The start here is much less pronounced than deep water starts as the first swimmer enters the water on the signal of the race director, but the adrenaline will still be pumping as you slowly shuffle your way towards the water’s edge.

Beach Start

These are very rare, but it’s worth covering them nonetheless. This involves a small group of athletes lined up on a beach with a short run into the water. The athletes will wait for a starting klaxon which signals the start of the event, and a very technical, potentially dangerous entry into the water.

When the first participants reach the shoreline they’ll be able to run a short distance, before it becomes too deep to run normally. From here many athletes will run and swing their legs our to the side to avoid the waves until the water gets too deep. At this point athletes will do one of two things, they will start with a slightly awkward front crawl in water that’s too shallow, or they’ll break into a dolphin kick, potentially with butterfly arms to match if they are proficient. This is the most effective way to move your body through shallow water, and is the choice of top swimmers. Once you are in deep water, it’s full steam ahead to the closest buoy.

Pontoon Start

This is the start you are least likely to encounter as an athlete, I am yet to see it used outside of a pro race, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You will line up on the edge of a pontoon ready to dive in. Athletes will be told to take their marks, before a horn sounds signifying the start. I have participated in races where I started holding onto the pontoon used by the pros, waiting for the signal to let go and start my swim.

In the Water

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re new to open water swimming, and it will be the most intimidating part of your triathlon race day. You will want to stay clear of other swimmers where you can, allowing you to focus on your own race without worrying about swimming close to others. However, you also need to be aware of slower swimmers you may be about to swim into, so you can’t afford to swim in your own little world without the risk of injury or going very off course.

You may be very new or unfamiliar with freestyle (front crawl), and after a matter of minutes or seconds, you may feel panicked and need to revert to breaststroke. This is fine, you can breaststroke your way around the entire course if you need to. You can also hold onto a kayak for a rest if you want, although it’s best to ask the kayaker where the best place to hold onto is, as you don’t want to capsize them. Not only is this unpleasant for all involved, this affects the level of safety cover they can provide, and may distract from a swimmer in trouble.

Your primary goal is to make it to the first buoy, which you should have scouted out at the start of the race, and which everyone else will be heading towards. This does create a pinch point however, as everyone wants the best (closest) line to the buoy. If you are surrounded by other swimmers, it may be more beneficial to add an extra 5M onto your swim by going wide rather than swimming close to the buoy itself and risking a kick or being swum over.

You will then swim to the next buoy, then the next, and so on until you reach the swim exit. If you’re unsure which direction you should be swimming in, take a moment to do a spot of breaststroke to get your bearings rather than carrying on regardless, as this can result in your swimming way off course. I will normally sight by lifting my eyes out of the water before turning my head to breathe every 20-30 seconds to make sure I’m still on course, but this is an advanced technique, so do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Swim Exit

When you reach the swim exit, normally indicated by an inflatable arch, it’s time to stand up. This can be tricky if the ground is rocky, slimy or deep mud underfoot. Don’t rush this, and take your time to get out of the water, there will often be volunteers to help you.

Once you are out of the water you can either run to transition if you’re feeling ok and want to be competitive, or you can take it at more of a walk if you feel very disorientated coming out of the water. Better to take it slower and make it to T1 than to rush, fall over and potentially injure yourself.

The run to T1 can be long and uphill, so don’t let the adrenaline get the better of you and shred your legs before you even get on your bike. If you can, now is a good time to remove your swim hat and your goggles. I like to unzip my wetsuit and roll it down to my waist so that when I get to my bike I only have to remove the legs.

T1

Short for transition 1, this is where you change out of your swimming gear and into your bike gear. Most athletes will be wearing tri suits on a triathlon race day, which allows them to wear the same one piece suit throughout the race, and simply add the required elements for each sport. For cycling this will be your helmet, race belt, shoes and anything else you wish to wear on the bike.

In midsummer, you’re unlikely to want to wear anything else, but in spring or autumn races it can pay to have an extra layer on standby in transition in case you need it. This could be a cycling jersey, gilet, waterproof jacket or anything else you feel would offer you desired insulation. Hypothermia is no fun and will likely result in a DNF, so take the time to dress appropriately instead of rushing your transition to save a few seconds.

Next up is the question of shoes. You can wear trainers on the bike and trainers for the run which is completely fine, or you can wear special cycling shoes. If you have not trained extensively with these, do not try them for the first time on race day! Cycling shoes have a very stiff sole and clip into the pedals using a cleat (piece of plastic/metal) on the bottom of the shoes which makes them cumbersome to run in. To counter this, many athletes will leave their shoes already clipped into the bike, and mount their bike by jumping onto it while pushing it.

This is known as the flying mount, and is a very high risk manoeuvre. Getting it wrong can be incredibly painful (especially for the gents) and potentially the end of your race if you fall hard enough or damage your bike. I recommend first timers affix their shoes next to their rack and run in the shoes awkwardly. The time lost will be pretty negligible over the course of the whole race, and most transition areas are on grass which makes it less ungainly.

After you exit transition you will approach the mount line. This denotes the point from which you can ride your bike. If you are mounting your bike in the traditional fashion, pull over to the left to mount your bike. Don’t stop in the middle of the race course to slowly mount your bike as you’ll block the course.

Bike

There are two main kinds of bike course, closed road and open road. Most organisers can’t close a road for the sake of a triathlon race day, so you will share the road with traffic. There will most likely be points where you do not have priority or come across traffic signals, and it’s imperative that you give way in these situations. Not only is it a very bad look for the race organiser and the sport in general, it’s dangerous and will result in you being disqualified by the marshal which will inevitably be on that junction.

Each race has their own drafting rules which must be followed. Drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist to use their slipstream as a competitive advantage. Many races will have different rules regarding this, make sure you familiarise yourself with them. Don’t get sucked into drafting because everyone else is, or you could find yourself landed with a penalty. If you are overtaken by a faster athlete, it’s your job to fall back outside the drafting zone.

The bike will be the first time during your triathlon race day that many of you will feel comfortable. Don’t make the mistake of pushing hard on fresh legs. You may feel you’re a third of the way through after finishing the swim, but the reality is that you probably still have at least three quarters of the race ahead of you.

While on the bike route, it’s important that you stay to whichever side of the route you are racing on, unless overtaking. This not only means faster athletes can pass you, but it also means you’ll be able to pass athletes who are slower than you without issue. Whenever you are riding, always look over your shoulder before overtaking. You never know if another cyclist or car could be in that space, or about to move into it. If in doubt, hang back until it’s safe to take the move.

There will be hills on the course, and pacing these will make a huge difference to our bike split. If you are riding on the flats at a heart rate of 140BPM, then you sprint up a hill at 170BPM, that will be a huge effort and take several minutes to overcome. Make too many of these big efforts on the hills and you’ll end up exhausted before you start the run. Instead, it’s smarter to use your gears to ride up them with the minimum effort required to get over the hill. This will still increase your heart rate, but allow you to get straight back to racing once you hit the bottom of the descent. Those who push too hard will lose time on the other end.

If your race is going to take you over the 90 minute mark, you’ll want something to eat on the bike. This is to replace the energy stores depleted from racing. This can take whatever form you wish, but energy gels are popular for being a small to carry, calorie intensive solution. They are easy to digest in most cases, but can sit on some athlete’s stomachs, so make sure you try these before the big day.

Don’t take any risks in the corners unless you know your tyres well, and consider the rest of the race when determining your pacing strategy. Are you a confident runner who can pull a fast run leg out of the bag even on tired legs? Or are you dreading the run, unsure if you’ll be able to finish? These will help determine your pacing strategy, as will your overall goals. Just don’t let your ego get in the way, those around you may be making mistakes, so don’t feel you need to follow them.

T2

As you approach the end of the bike, it’s time to think about your dismount. There will be a dismount line in the same manner as the mount line, which both your feet must touch before you cross. Failure to do so would result in a penalty. For most athletes, this will be a case of pulling over a few feet from the line, dismounting as normal and running to your rack.

Once you locate your racking you can return your bike and remove your helmet. If you are still wearing cycling shoes you’ll need to remove these and replace with running shoes. Elastic laces are a must have here, they generally cost under £10 and save you a lot of time, especially if your hands are slightly cold following the bike.

Once your shoes are on, you can put a running cap/visor on if you wish, then make your way towards the start of the run course which should be marked “run out”.

Run

Now it’s a footrace to the finish line, and the simplest of disciplines in many ways, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

However, there’s a difference between a run, and a run at the end of a triathlon, as you’re about to find out. The chances are your legs will feel a bit wooden and your stride length may be shorter after the bike. Hopefully this will pass in time if you’ve done enough brick sessions in your training, but if running isn’t your strong suite anyway, it could be a slog to the finish line.

Along the way there will probably be at least one chance to take on fluids, maybe even some snacks at some races. Many athletes will walk these sections, allowing them a short break as well as a chance to eat/drink in more comfort. If it’s an especially hot day, you can use this as an opportunity to cool yourself by dousing yourself with water.

Many run courses will have distance markers which dictate how far you are into the course. This may not align with your GPS watch, but if in doubt you should listen to the markers on course. GPS data gets confused if lots of watches are in close proximity, and the course will have been measured manually with a wheel, so is more likely to be accurate.

When they going gets tough, make sure you’re standing upright, looking ahead, and picking your feet up. If you have to walk, you have to walk, and there’s no shame in this. You’re still doing better than everyone sat at home.

The Finish Line

At smaller events this could be a collection of cones. At larger events it will be a big showpiece which funnels you into a finishing area with an announcer.

After you cross the line you will be presented with a medal, and hopefully some water/snacks to help you refuel. You will need to remove the timing chip around your ankle and return it to avoid being charged for a replacement.

At larger events you may be taken into a marquee with T-shirts, massage, food and benches to help you recover. At smaller events you’ll simply be able to walk out and back to your transition area. Here you will collect your bike and make your way home with a medal round your chest and heart full of pride. Congratulations for getting fit enough, and handling the pressures of a triathlon race day to achieve your goal. You may have noticed we used the phrase triathlon race day rather than triathlon. That’s because we believe triathlon is a lifestyle, not a single day. We hope you’ll continue to swim, bike and run in some capacity.

If this has inspired you to have a go at a triathlon, check out findarace.com where you can find listings for most triathlons in the UK.

Gift Ideas for Triathletes

Triathletes need a lot of equipment to participate in their races, and the costs can get out of hand quickly. There’s always something else they could, or feel they should have, but gift ideas for triathletes can be tricky as there is so much to choose from. What would they appreciate, and what would end up stuffed at the back of their kit drawer? We’ll take you through the options available for various budgets, starting with items not to fall into the trap of buying.

I have included images of products here to help non triathletes identify the products in question. These are not endorsements, simply the brands and products most readily available and most likely to be found in stores.

Items to avoid

This isn’t to say you can’t but they these items at all, but you’d need to communicate carefully with your partner before purchasing

Replica Cycling Jerseys

You’d be forgiven for thinking that someone who spends a lot of time on their bike would appreciate a replica yellow jersey or the strip of his favourite cycling team, but this is generally a no no to be seen wearing. Unless you ride for the team or are currently leading the Tour de France, it makes you look like a bit odd, so it may be resigned to the wardrobe indefinitely. Think of it as the equivalent of someone who turns up to a local 5 a side game with friends in full Manchester United kit.

If you want to treat them to a jersey, pay attention to the brand and sizing of the jerseys they wear most often.

Shoes

This includes both running shoes and cycling shoes. The fit of a pair of shoes is paramount, with different shoes fitting different feet. If they have a wide foot, narrow foot, need more space in the toe box, have issues with their Achilles or require a certain level of support/cushioning, these all have to be taken into consideration. The running shoes you found online may look nice and snazzy, but the last thing you’d want is for them to pick up an injury because of the shoes you bought them. It’s unlikely they’d hold it against you, but you’d probably feel guilty.

Even purchasing a like for like replacement for a worn shoe may be problematic, as models can change slightly from year to year.

Helmets

An aerodynamic helmet is at an appealing price point for many to get as a ‘big’ present for their partner, often coming in around the £100-£200 mark. However, different helmets fit different heads, and when we’re looking at a piece of protective equipment, we want to make sure it’s doing its job.

I know from experience my head is a narrow shape, so certain brands of helmet work very well for me. Other helmets on the other hand sit on my head like a pudding bowl and move around a lot, compromising the protection in the event of a crash. This is nothing against any specific manufacturers, it’s just that they can’t all make helmets which fit everyone’s head.

Cycling Safety Products

This helmet cover is a good way to get very hot, very quickly

This is a controversial one, but bear with me here. You obviously care about the safety of the athlete you’re buying for, but the majority of cycle safety equipment isn’t very good, and is aimed more at cycling commuters who ride short distances than athletes who will be in the saddle for several hours. Whether it’s a mirror attachment for their helmet, an oversized daylglo yellow jacket, high visibility helmet cover or a set of indicators for their bike, they’re unlikely to want to wear these while out training unless they have expressed an interest in these products before. I have a very high quality high visibility cycling jacket (worth £180), four very powerful lights I run on my bike and numerous reflective details on my my person to make sure nobody misses me when riding in the dark. I take my visibility seriously, but many of these products are low quality and won’t last very long.

Bikes

If you have the budget, you could be forgiven for thinking a bike would be a great gift idea for a triathlete. However, choosing a bike is a very personal and very complicated process as you can see in my article here. If you would like to treat the triathlete in your life to a new bike, work closely with them on making the decision, don’t just wrap one up, stick it under the Christmas tree and hope for the best.

Wetsuits

The fit of a wetsuit is even more personal than that of a bike, so as above, make sure you work closely with the athlete before you take the plunge here. You don’t want them to struggle to breathe due to a high neckline, or get pulled out of the water because their suit has filled with water.

Cycling Themed Oddities

In the past I have received gifts based simply on the fact it has a bike on it, is bike themed, or is supposed to be used by cyclists. In some cases these have been amusing, interesting or useful, but in most cases they go straight to the back of the cupboard. An especially memorable example was being gifted a tin of “cycling mints”, which were just a small tin of mints, with a sticker of a bicycle on the top. I don’t even like mints.

Stocking Fillers

Next up are cheap, small items it’s hard to go wrong with. This is a mixture of one size fits all or easily sized clothing, expendable items and more that every triathlete will appreciate. These are a good shout if you don’t know the athlete that well or you want to supplement larger gifts.

Socks

Who doesn’t love socks? As these sizing here is much easier than other items, you can buy thee with confidence. Running socks, cycling socks and even compression socks come in a variety of fun designs and colours. As these will be on high rotation, an athlete can never have enough.

Cycling Cap

Perfect for the winter months, this keeps the rain off your head and retains the heat at the same time. One size fits all so you can’t go wrong here.

Cycling Lubricant

The chain on a bicycle requires regular lubrication to ensure optimal running and to extend the life of the components. Triathletes can get through this pretty quickly, especially in bad weather, so make a note of the brand they use and buy them a top up. There’s a small chance they could wax their chain instead of using lubricant, so this might be worth investigating first. I recommend wet lube in all but the driest of conditions.

Bike Cleaner and Degreaser

These are standard expendables which every triathlete will be using to keep their bike in good working order. If they don’t need it now, they will in the coming months. The gift set pictured would go down very well with most cyclists, as even the brushes will wear over time.

Inner tubes

Assuming the athlete in your life uses inner tubes (and not tubeless or tubular tyres), a few extras are always welcome, though hardly the most exciting gift so make sure you already these with something else. Avoid latex inner tubes unless they have expressed a preference in the past.

Black Witch

It’s impossible to use a wetsuit without accidentally nicking it with your nails at some point. This damage is largely superficial, but there’s always the chance it could be made worse with time and cause real damage to the suit. A spot of this will repair the damage, but it’s unlikely a triathlete will ever use more than one tube in a lifetime, so make sure they don’t have any before you buy.

Cheaper Presents

These are generally presents between the £20 and £50 mark. These should definitely put a smile on their face

Multi Tool

These are compact tools cyclists take with them to fix mechanicals out on the open road. You can get them for cheap, but a more expensive, lightweight multi tool with added functionality (such as the one above) is a great gift.

Goggles

Goggles are very personal, so make a note of the pair they currently use, and look to replace them with a like for like pair. All goggles have a limited lifespan due to the lenses fogging up over time, so there’s never a bad time to replace them.

Triathlon Books

Buying someone a book on training, the history of triathlon or the biography of a prominent athlete is a great way to help them engage with the sport. Many triathletes are more kit focused, so may not consider spending money here.

Stock Training Plan

If your athlete is currently making things up as they go alone, they will probably appreciate a structured training plan to follow. We have a small (but growing) collection you can view here, you can also head to the TrainingPeaks webstore to find a plan to suit them and their needs. Plans for shorter events are generally cheaper than those for longer events.

Torque Wrench

This is an expensive bike tool that is used to ensure athletes don’t damage their bike when performing maintenance. They set the torque setting to the number denoted on the component they’re tightening, and tighten until the wrench won’t let them tighten any more. This can save athletes hundreds of pounds in damaged parts from over tightening.

Pool Toys

This is a broad category including pull buoys, fins, hand paddles, ankle bands, snorkels and more. Ideally you don’t want to duplicate items they already own, so have a look in their swim bag to check what they already own, as long as you don’t think they’ll mind.

Running Shorts

Athletes will accumulate a large collection of race T-shirts over the years, so they won’t be wanting for anything to cover their upper body, but they’ll probably only have a couple of pairs of running shorts on rotation.

Swimming Costume

Whether it’s a full costume, jammers or a pair of speedos, all of our swimwear is damaged over time by the chlorine in the pools we swim in. There are lots of fun designs out there and sizing is fairly easy, so these make a good gift. Make sure these are performance items however, rather than loose fitting or revealing, designed for days lounging at the pool rather than hard swimming.

Mid Range Gifts

If it’s you want to spend a bit more, these gifts should really stand out and show how much you care. These are between £50 and £200

Stryd Footpod

For the data driven triathlete this is a great investment to help them improve their running. An understanding of mathematics and time available to invest in learning how it works are required for them to get the most out of it, but it’s a great investment in them and their training rather than simply buying lighter or more aerodynamic kit.

Phazon Triathlon Consultation

For £75 we can look at the triathlete in your life’s training history, help them create a long term plan for their training and make recommendations on the best way to help them achieve their goals. If they’re new to the sport and don’t have much of a training history we can instead use the time to answer questions, recommend kit to suit their needs and otherwise assist them with their triathlon journey.

Running Vest

For longer runs it’s important to stay hydrated, and the best option for most runners is a vest with soft flasks attached which allows you to run without having to hold bottles. There’s also pockets for your keys, snacks and a waterproof so it’s a good all rounder.

Waterproof Jacket

Cycling jerseys and shorts are pretty personal, but waterproof jackets for cycling and/or running are normally relatively expensive and easier to size, as they don’t have to be skintight. The more you pay, the longer it will keep the rain off for and the more breathable it will be. Cheaper jackets are known as “boil in a bag” for a reason. Jackets for running and cycling aren’t generally interchangeable, and their everyday waterproof will be too bulky.

Bike Lights

When cycling in the daytime it helps to have a couple of small lights blinking to ensure drivers spot cyclists, but at night these become an essential. I recommend a small set of blinking lights to grab the attention of drivers, and two larger steady lights to allow drivers to gauge the speed of the rider. If they’re planning to do riding on unlit roads a big, powerful light is important to allow them to see the road (or trail) in front of them. A decent set of lights isn’t cheap, so would make a nice gift.

Coached Session

Many coaches like myself offer one off coached sessions to help athletes improve their technique, skills or help push them harder than before. This could be in the pool, on a running track or even held virtually in some cases.

Premium Gifts

If it’s a big birthday or you simply have the disposable income, you could consider the following gifts that tend to come in over £200.

Sports Watch

Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Wahoo all produce high quality sports watches which are used to record your workouts and provide meaningful insights. Their range is normally updated every year or two, so if they don’t have the latest model it could be a nice upgrade for them. Expect to pay north of £300 for their latest top of the range model.

Turbo Trainer

These are all but essential for the serious athlete, allowing them to ride their bike all year round in a time efficient manner. Prices start around the £600 for a direct drive smart trainer, which I highly recommend. Alternatively, if they have the space, a dedicated indoor bike could be an option, thought these tend to come in at closer to £2000 and there can be some fiddling around involved to get it to match the setup of your race bike.

Race Wheels

The wheels that come on bikes are heavy but generally quite durable. You can get lighter, more aerodynamic models which improve speed on race day quite considerably, for a price. These are a very complicated subject, so I recommend you communicate closely with the athlete before purchasing. Expect to pay north of £800 for a half decent set.

Custom Training Plan

We provide training plans based on an athlete’s strengths, time available, target event and equipment available to get them into the best shape possible. For £15 a week we can build a personalised plan delivered via TrainingPeaks to help get them to the finish line. Overall price depends on the length of the plan, you can find details here

Bike Fit

Buying a state of the art bike is all well and good, but if you can’t ride it comfortably you’re not going to enjoy it. A good bike fit helps you ride faster in more comfort, and is worth its weight in gold. Make sure you go to a dedicated bike fitter, and expect to spend at least £150 for a full fit. If someone spent 20 minutes setting a bike up when it was purchased this is better than nothing but does not constitute a proper bike fit.

Conclusion

Shopping for triathletes can be difficult, but if in doubt I highly recommend you talk to them about your planned purchases. You may not get to see the surprise and joy on their face when they open their gift, but you will avoid any awkward moments or the disappointment that comes from seeing the gift you went over budget on collecting dust in the garage.

Introduction to Running Power

Often the butt of many jokes on Twitter and dismissed by many experienced athletes. I believe running power is a misunderstood technology which can provide an athlete with unparalleled insight into their training. Here I want to give a more balanced introduction to running power for those considering it.

The running power meter was inspired by the bicycle power meter, which collects data from a strain gauge in a pedal, crank arm or wheel hub to calculate how much force is being applied by the athlete. This allows them to pace and race better on hills, into headwinds, at altitude and in the heat. The running power meter is not a true power meter in the respect that it is based on an algorithm, using accelerometers rather than a strain gauge. Combined with the pace at which an individual is running to generate a number measured in watts, this gives the athlete an insight into how much energy they are expending to achieve forward momentum. 

As a runner, I would put money on you having trained with pace, heart rate and RPE in the past. So to start with I’ll break the pros and cons of each method down to help you make the right decision for your training.

RPE
A runner participating in a race

Rate of perceived exertion is how hard you feel you are running, whether you are going eyeballs out in a race (RPE of 10) of gently jogging along on an easy run (RPE of around 4). It’s an important skill to develop for runners of all abilities even if they also use technology, as data doesn’t have all the answers and can fail at any point.

Pros:

  • If you are having a bad day, RPE will make sure you don’t over exert yourself and push you towards exhaustion or overtraining
  • It removes the risk of setting targets that are too high/low for an event
  • Free

Cons:

  • Newer runners will struggle to understand what their bodies are telling them, and may be based on what they perceive as “getting a good workout” rather than achieving the goals of the session
  • Will cause most runners to head out too fast when fresh, then fade as they didn’t pace themselves well enough 
  • Difficult to accurately measure training load, fitness or fatigue
  • Requires many years of experience to dial in, and even then the best of us make mistakes
Heart Rate
A pair of heart rate monitors

Pros:

  • Heart Rate gives us an unparalleled insight to how the body is performing, if your heart rate is outside of normal parameters, your body is trying to tell you something. This helps us avoid overtraining by pushing too hard
  • Relatively inexpensive, most modern running watches will come with a heart rate monitor built in or come with a free chest strap
  • Tracking your heart rate over time provides a valuable insight into how well your body is adapting to exercise.

Cons:

  • There is a large delay between your body’s exertion and and an increase in heart rate, so it is difficult to use it to pace races with lots of hills/surges as the feedback isn’t immediate, and your heart rate may continue to rise for up to 30 seconds after a tough section
  • Lots of factors outside of training can artificially inflate our heart rate. A lack of sleep, high levels of stress, temperature, altitude and mensural cycle to name but a few will all affect our heart rate and may result in us running faster/slower than we should
  • Prone to dropouts or false readings. Where 10BPM is a huge difference, battery or connection issues can leave you vulnerable
  • Sticking to heart rate based training can be incredibly frustrating for new athletes as they feel they need to walk to keep their heart rate in the correct zone
Pace
A Garmin wristwatch displaying a pace field

Pace is probably the most popular method of measuring running intensity, and is still the most important. Let’s assume I put a running power meter on the foot of every athlete starting a 5K run. The winner wouldn’t be the one who put out the highest number of watts or the best horizontal power. It would be the one who ran the fastest. However there are issues when using a GPS watch to measure pace

Pros:

  • Cheap, comes with all fitness tracking devices, or you can use you phone
  • The winner of the race is the athlete who runs the fastest, so it’s the purest way of tracking intensity

Cons:

  • GPS watches can lose signal, or struggle to find it in areas such as woodland or around high rise buildings
  • Large events place so much strain on GPS systems that they cannot keep up. This resultis in athlete’s watches giving false readings, and getting out of sync with the race organiser’s distance markers. This can result in widespread confusion and frustration
  • GPS watches are very sensitive to changes in direction. They expect you to continue running in a straight line. Making a U turn or sharp corner can leave the GPS struggling to catch up
  • It does not take gradient or headwind into account. If you are running up or down a hill, pace data is of very little use
  • Susceptible to headwinds
Power
A Stryd footpod

Finally, this brings us onto the running power meter. For my money, this goes a long way to correcting the flaws of other methods:

Pros:

  • Takes hills and wind into account (new generation Stryd only)
  • Provides advanced running metrics such as stride length, ground contact time, running efficiency, form power and leg spring stiffness
  • Reliable data in all situations
  • Measures distance precisely using the accelerometer inside the power meter, giving you an exact pace rather than GPS estimate
  • Allows you to track improvements easily
  • Unparalleled treadmill accuracy

Cons:

  • Can be confusing at first, requires time investment
  • Expensive, at £200 for a Stryd unit, on top of a compatible watch, it’s a definite investment in your running
  • The data can become all consuming, and athletes run the risk of losing sight of the bigger picture (running faster)
  • Any long term changes in athlete weight require re-calibration and redundancy of previous data
  • Can be tricky to use if you are aiming for a specific finish time

The biggest benefit for running power for me is consistency and the low margin for error. While the algorithm behind running power is up for scrutiny, as long as the data that is outputted is consistent that’s the most important thing. Whether an athlete is running on a treadmill, up an alpine pass, a road marathon or simply on a jog with friends, I know I have good data which represents their effort, using it to track improvements and calculate fatigue.

Hopefully that has given you an insight into the advantages of using running power over other methods. Next up I’m going to delve into a bit more of the science:

What is running power?

Running power is measured in the arbitrary measurement of a running watt. This is a combination of force (in newtons) and speed (metres per second), with higher numbers translating into faster running. When you hit a hill the power meter will recognise this and increase the power to represent the additional effort you are using to fight gravity. On the downhills it will recognise the gravitational assist and lower the power number to represent the reduced level of force you are having to generate yourself. This helps us pace our runs much more accurately.

Training with Running Power

Hopefully by now the concept sounds appealing at the very least. So how do you get started? First off you need a running power meter. I would recommend against any power meter which generates numbers based on speed derived from a GPS signal. This will normally involve an algorithm which looks at your cadence and your speed to generate an estimation of power. For my money though, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Running power in itself is an algorithm. So an algorithm that is required to generate another algorithm has a large margin of error. I use a Stryd footpod which is easily the most popular running power meter available currently. I will be writing the rest of this article on the assumption this is what you are using.

These numbers, like those from a cycling power meter are fairly meaningless without a benchmark. Is 250W a lot? What should you be hitting in your intervals? Is there a number you should be staying below during your event? When is your run too easy? To find the answer to these questions, we need to find a threshold, a point where an effort becomes unsustainable. The simplest way to use this is to use the Stryd auto CP (critical power) calculator. This harvests the data from all of your runs to give you an estimation of your ability. It’s important you feed it a variety of data points, from sprints to 5Ks and long runs. Don’t expect an accurate number after a few easy runs.

A graph illustrating a runner's personal bests across various timeframes, used to calculate a run power threshold
The WKO5 power duration curve informing us that this runner’s threshold is 231W

Zone training is nothing new as we have zones for pace and heart rate. What’s different here is the fact that threshold is calculated by looking at thousands of data points rather than a single point. This means our threshold is much more accurate. It also updates automatically with time. Smash out a big hill session which included your best two minute power? Your threshold may improve by a couple of watts. Absolutely storm that cross country race? You may see a nice big boost to represent that. It’s important to note that these are based on a 90 day rolling average, so any data older than 90 days will disappear. This can result in sudden increases/decreases to your threshold power even if you’ve spent the day on the sofa.

The way our power threshold updates itself automatically reduces the need for formal testing every 6-8 weeks. For me this is arguably the biggest benefit of running power. Ensuring your threshold is always up to date.

Indoor Running

I don’t like running on a treadmill, however, sometimes it’s a necessary evil. This can be due to the weather, or when we’re in a country where wearing sports clothing in public is not appropriate. One of the frustrating issues I encounter as a coach is accurately recording treadmill workouts. Treadmills vary significantly in accuracy, and the indoor running mode included on sports watches leaves a lot to be desired.

You may be lucky enough to have access to an indoor running facility such as a sprint track or even a full 400M. The lack of GPS signal can be a issue if we want detailed information from our session, but a running power meter provides us with all the information we need, without the GPS accuracy issues which plague even outdoor tracks.

Running with power is the perfect way to record your indoor runs as we get meaningful figures that can be directly compared to your outdoor runs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re a serious runner who trains indoors regularly, a running power meter is an essential purchase.

My preferred way to train on the treadmill is using Zwift. This is software which takes you through a virtual world as you run where you can also join races and complete workouts. It’s free for runners and pairs with your power meter, so download it and give it a go.

A runner on a treadmill in front of a screen displaying Zwift, which she is using to record her run
Image copyright Zwift

Post Run Analysis

A graph depicting various data points during a run
Fatigue Indicators Chart developed by Steve Palladino, available on WKO5

Once you get back from your run your watch will upload your data to an analysis platform of choice. Most software now supports running power, however the level of support varies considerably. If you are a basic user the Stryd Power Centre will offer enough information for you, with the bonus of being free. TrainingPeaks offers some basic functionality, but if you are a serious runner only looking to analyse data, and have little to no interest in purchasing a TrainingPlan then I recommend using WKO instead. It costs the same as a year of TrainingPeaks premium with far greater support for running power. There’s a steep learning curve however, so if you’re a new runner this is probably overkill.

Assuming your threshold is accurate, you will be able to see in detail how hard you ran. This data will be far more insightful than pace or heart rate, and pick up small, rapid changes much better. This could be jumping over a fallen tree or sprinting for a couple of strides to make it across the road before the lights turn green. While these aren’t necessarily actionable data points, the power meter ensures that these efforts are recorded and reflected in your training load calculations. 

If you are so inclined, you can take a real deep dive into your data looking at the advanced metrics offered by WKO. Here you can see your leg spring stiffness, duty factor, percentage of power generated horizontally or vertically, and all manner of other metrics, which I’m not going to go into here.

Two metrics that are worth paying attention to however are running efficiency and horizontal power. 

Running efficiency (RE) looks at how effective you are at turning watts into speed. As you may remember, higher speed means higher watts. But you can also create power simply by jumping up and down on the spot, so this metric looks at how efficient you are. Running efficiency is quite a finite metric, but when running at threshold, anything below 0.97 requires improvement, 1.0 is a good score, and 1.03 or above is likely the realm of elite runners. An improvement in RE over time at the same pace/power suggests that you are improving as a runner.

Percentage of power generated in a horizontal plane (or horizontal power) tells you how much power generated is transferred into forward momentum. As mentioned above, you can create power by jumping up and down on the spot, which would create 0% horizontal power, and 100% vertical power. You can’t create 100% horizontal power, but if you can get it up to around 75-80% this suggests you are moving fluidly.

These metrics will vary from run to run, and will be lower on easy or hilly runs so make sure you’re only comparing these with like for like runs.

The real danger here is getting lost in the numbers and over analysing every single data point. Or believing you aren’t capable of more than the software’s predictions. We should still be runners at heart, hitting the roads/trails for fun and the challenge of pushing our limits. Running power data is so in depth we can run the risk of becoming data analysts first instead of athletes.

Running Power for Triathlon

So, if you’re a triathlete, how does this fit into your training? How can you use it to run faster off the bike? The answer is in form power.

When we run off the bike we’re never going to run as well as we will at a standalone event. Depending on your event and ability you may be up to ten hours into the race at this point. Your legs will be tired and stiff from the repeated pedalling action on the bike. Your mobility may be impaired and your legs will be fatigued. This can mean you find yourself not running as quickly as you’d like. Add to this the accumulation of fatigue over the rest of the run and pace isn’t as useful.

Running power takes this into account. It recognises that you’re putting in the effort, even if you’re not travelling as quickly as you would normally. This is form power, it looks at the vertical and lateral movement from the foot compared to the horizontal power which we touched on above. While generating a high amount of form power is bad news for our running, what’s worse is not taking this into account and pushing harder because we feel we’re slacking off.

This becomes imperative to our pacing. We may know we can hold 5:00 for a marathon when fresh, but after a hard 180Km on the bike this may be 5:20, maybe even 5:30. If we stick to our guns (and pride) aiming for 5:00 per KM we could well be slowly running ourselves into the red. Aiming for a power target instead takes our loss of form into account, ensuring we focus on what our body is doing, as opposed to what we think it should be doing.

Conclusion

So, you may be wondering why more people don’t run with power at this point. I’ll break down a few most common issues people have with running power

Elite athletes don’t use it

It’s true, not many professional runners use Stryd. There are some notable exceptions such as Ben Kanute and Olympic Triathlon Champion Gwen Jorgennson. More often than not this is the choice of their coach rather than the athlete, who will adapt an “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Truth be told, if I had an athlete who was winning races training with pace and/or heart rate, I probably wouldn’t suggest they switch to running power. Elite athletes are often training at a level where they can’t afford to try something new, especially going into an Olympic year, so they stick to what they know.

Technophobes

Some very successful coaches out there won’t even want their athletes to wear watches. They’ll stand next to the start/finish line of a track with their stopwatch, barking splits out to runners as they complete every lap. While this is an extreme example, many coaches who qualified in the 20th Century aren’t interested in opening their minds to new training methods. There is nothing inherently wrong with this if they’ve been coaching for 30 years and had great success with their current methods, but they may not be getting the most out of their athletes.

This also extends to athletes who may not understand what running power is, how to set it up, or how to use it to make themselves faster. To them it’s just a number that appears on their watch. I hope to demystify it in more detail with more articles in future.

Just not appealing

For some, training with heart rate and pace is enough, or even too much in some cases. If you live a very busy life and don’t have the time, headspace or inclination to look through your numbers after a run. For some, running is a time for them to switch off, lose themselves in nature, or blow off some steam. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s not a “mature technology”

It’s true that our understanding of running power is accelerating at a rapid pace. In fact it could be argued that the entire concept is in beta testing with rapid developments and new interpretations of the data on a regular basis. The concept is based on an algorithm and it’s hard to see how that could be changed currently, so it’s hard to see it becoming as reliable as cycling power any time soon. That being said, look at the way Team Sky and British Cycling advanced the knowledge of cycling power, first developed in the 80s, to emerge as a dominant force in 2012. There is a lot of potential in running power, and early adopters with the right guidance can capitalise on its benefits.

Early versions were poor

Running power meters first arrived on the scene back in 2015 with the Stryd chest strap. By the company’s own admission more recently, it left a lot to be desired. New generations have improved the accuracy and the stability of running power significantly.

The best thing of all though? Just because you record running power doesn’t mean you can’t also run with pace, heart rate or RPE. You can record all four at once, and choose whichever you want to dictate the intensity of your workout. Following a MAF plan? Increases in power can reassure you the training is working.

It may be you want a running power meter simply to record your pace more accurately, or you’re only interested in a single metric such as leg spring stiffness or horizontal power. As with everything in our sport, you only need to take it as seriously as you want. If you have the cash I recommend you give it a go though. It may be just what you need to take your running to the next level.

Further Reading

There are limited resources out there for running power, but I have a few recommendations:

Palladino Power Project

Steve Palladino is an accomplished running coach who has invested heavily in running power, and has created a Facebook group to act as an open forum to discuss running power. With up to date information and good discussions, I recommend you join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PalladinoPowerProject

Run With Power by Jim Vance

Unfortunately this book is slightly out of date now and I’m hoping for a second edition. However it’s still the primary source of information for running power.

Cover of "Run with Power" book

The Secret of Running by Hans van Dijk and Ron van Megen

This is a more up to date book which includes useful information on Running Power

Cover of "The Secret of Running book"

Stryd Materials

As a company, Stryd have done a good job of creating a number of resources for runners. This includes articles on their website, their podcast and their Facebook group where runners can ask questions and discuss training with Stryd staff https://www.facebook.com/groups/strydcommunity

I hope this has opened your eyes to the potential benefits of running with power. If you have a running power meter and are struggling to understand your data, why not book in a coaching consultation with us here where we can talk you through the process and help get your training on track.

Choosing a Road Cycling Cassette

Also known as a sprocket or rear block by newer riders, choosing a road cycling cassette is probably one of the most underrated ways to improve your riding, especially on the hills.

So, what are the most important factors here? We’ll look at the following factors:

  • Range of cassette
  • Size of biggest/smallest cogs
  • Cassette weight

Range of cassette

A cassette will either be described by cyclists as wide or narrow. A wide cassette has a large range, meaning the differences between your biggest and smallest gears will be large. This allows you to ride fast on the flats and still ride at a sensible cadence on the hills. Meanwhile a narrow cassette will make it much harder to ride up hills, as the rings tend to have fewer teeth.

If a cyclist is looking for one cassette to use in all situations I recommend a cassette with a wide range. You never know when you might find yourself at the bottom of a leg sapping climb on tired legs with no gears left. A narrow cassette is generally only used for specific events like flat triathlons or time trials. The small gaps between gears helps you find your “Goldilocks” gear while wide cassettes can make it hard to get comfortable if you’re forever in a gear slightly too hard or too slightly too easy.

As an example, an 12 speed 11-23 has rings with the following number of teeth: 11/12/13/14/15/16/17/18/19/21/23. In comparison a 32-11 has 11/12/13/14/16/18/20/22/25/28/32. If I was riding on my 11-32 at a power which suited a 15 tooth cog gear on the back, I’d have to choose between a 14 tooth or a 16 tooth, where if I was riding an 11-23 I could ride in the 15 tooth cog I was after. If you’re riding on rolling terrain this isn’t such an issue as you’ll never be in the same gear for long enough for it to be noticeable. But if you’re taking on a flat course such as Ironman Barcelona, you don’t want to spend 180KM unable to find a comfortable gear.

Range is intrinsic to the size of your biggest ring, which we’ll look at next.

Size of biggest/smallest rings

Cassettes are expressed numerically, such as 12-28 or 11-32. The first number refers to the smallest ring, the larger number to the biggest ring.

If choosing a road cycling cassette for a series of punishing climbs you’ll want to take a 28 at the very least. Potentially even a 30 or 32 if it’s an especially hilly ride.

23 is the lowest number of teeth you’re likely to find on the biggest ring of most cassettes. This is only recommended for strong cyclists riding on flat courses. 25 is traditionally what a lot of professional riders will use, dropping to 28s on mountain stages. For us mortals however 28 is a sensible all round cassette as we don’t have the power to push round a 25 tooth cog on a steep grade without wobbling all over the road.

The smallest rings are generally 11 or 12t (the t denoting number of teeth). These won’t make an enormous difference to your riding unless you’re planning to ride hard on the downhills.

Weight of cassette

Some cassettes cost £50 and some cost well over £300 (Campagnolo we’re looking at you). So what’s the difference? Assuming it’s the same brand and has the same number of gears/teeth, it’s just the weight. You can buy an expensive cassette to shave off a few grams, but that really is it. Shimano’s cheapest 11 speed 11-28 cassette, the 105, weighs in at 284g, with their top of the range Dura-Ace equivalent topping the scales at 192g. The 105 cassette retails at £50, the Dura-Ace at £199, so this is a very expensive way to save <100g. There may be minute differences in shifting performance, but you’re unlikely to notice them if your gears are indexed properly.

Weight data courtesy of https://ccache.cc/blogs/newsroom/2019-road-groupset-weight-comparison

Conclusion

If I were to advise a new road cyclist, I’d recommend an 11-28 at the very least to help them up the hills. As they get stronger or if they live somewhere with very few hills they might consider a 25. I would only recommend a 23 for competition day, or race simulation rides, as the ability to get up a hill efficiently far outweighs the benefit of the smaller jumps in gears for me.

Most road cyclists will acquire a collection of cassettes over the years. This gives them the flexibility to choose the right cassette for different rides. I wouldn’t necessarily swap between a 30 for my hilly training rides and my 25 on flat training rides, but if I had a big ride (100 miles plus) or a race, I’d take the time to choose the right tool for the job.

Technical info

Hopefully we’ve enlightened you to the benefits of choosing a road cycling cassette. But before you go and place your order, some really boring stuff. It’s easy to buy a cassette incompatible with your bike, so make sure you avoid the following pitfalls

Manufacturers are generally not cross compatible. Some Shimano and SRAM products will work with each other, but check with your bike shop before buying. Campagnolo is not compatible with any other manufacturer.

Make extra sure you’re buying a cassette which has the right number of gears. As both 11 and 10 speed cassettes are still expressed as 12-28, this is an easy trap to fall into. To complicate matters, older versions of group sets have less gears, so make extra certain it’s the product you’re after before ordering. Each generation of a groupset will have a code (such as Shimano R7000), so make sure you’re getting the right kit. It’s worth checking with your bike shop if you’re unsure what you have on your bike. As long as you order it through them, they’ll be happy to help.

The cassette that was on your bike when you bought it is often the largest it can take. If you want to go above this you’ll need to upgrade to a long cage rear mech. This isn’t an expensive upgrade, but it’s best to order and install the parts together to save on labour costs if you’re unsure how to do it yourself.

Finally, your cassette is a consumable part and will wear over time. The best way to prevent this is to keep your drivetrain clean. Find out how in our article here

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How Much Faster Will A New Bike Make You?

New bike day (or NBD) is one of the greatest feelings a cyclist can experience. You have saved up your hard earned pennies to splash out on a new two wheeled piece of joy. The frame is in mint condition, the handling is smooth, and the gears are responsive. You immediately imagine yourself achieving great feats, confident that PBs are on their way.

But, are they? How much faster will a new bike genuinely make you? Or does it just feel faster? Was the purchase really necessary? We’ll start by breaking down the advantages of a new bike, and what they can offer you.

Lighter

The Trek Emonda, one of the lightest mass produced bicycles available.

This is easily the biggest reason for most people purchasing a new bike, they want something lighter. If you are currently riding a cheap hybrid you’re replacing with a £1500 road bike you’ll notice a huge difference in weight. However, if you’re upgrading from a £500 road bike to a £1500 one, the weight gains may not be as great as you may think. You might save a kilogram or two, but that’s not enough to make any significant gains on the hills. This is known as diminishing returns, once you are at a certain level of quality you have to spend an awful lot of money to see any improvements beyond that point. 

So yes, a lighter frame might shave a few seconds off your favourite climb, but you could easily make the same improvements through training.

Aerodynamics

The Cervelo S5, one of the most popular road aero frames available

Road aero frames have become very popular in the last five years, primarily as a result of amateurs watching professional riders winning prestigious sprints on gorgeous aerofoil frames. The idea is that they make you faster as they cut through the air easier, reducing resistance encountered. Unfortunately they also slow you down on hills due to increased weight due to additional frame material. This is why you’ll see professional riders swap aero frames for the traditional rounded tubing on hilly stages. The majority of aerodynamic drag is created by the rider, with the frame only accounting for around 10%.

If you rarely go above 30KPH on the flats without riding behind someone (rendering the aerodynamic advantage redundant), then a more aerodynamic frame will do very little to make you faster.

Improved Groupset

Shimano Dura-Ace R9120 disc, one of the most advanced groupsets available

You may be tempted to upgrade to a new bike by the latest and greatest groupset. You’ve rightly noticed that a new groupset can cost the best part of a new bike, so why not go all in?. This is thrifty logic in itself, but we also have to reflect back on the title of this post. How much faster will it makes us? The differences between mid range and top end groupsets is marginal for the most part (under 100g in weight savings), and the smoother shifting promised by the marketing will be barely noticeable. Electronic shifting can provide benefits, but not significant enough to warrant a new bike.

This may be especially appealing to those who find their current groupset is being a bit of a nightmare. You may have lost the ability to shift into the smallest gear, the gear changes rattle, and it sounds like you’re riding a bag of nails around. Buying a new bike is an obvious way around this, the current bike has clearly just had its day right? Well, most of your shifting problems could be fixed by turning the barrel adjustor on your rear mech a quarter turn to the left. Even if it’s more complicated, paying a mechanic £15 to index your gears will probably solve most of your problems. 

As far as time saved goes, upgraded groupsets offer truly marginal gains for a hefty price tag. 

Stiffer frame

Cannondale SuperSix Evo, one of the stiffest frames out there

Good quality carbon fibre bike frames are very stiff and responsive. When you put the power down they leap forwards with you, screaming to go faster. Compared to an old steel frame which will flex and feel more pedestrian, this definitely feels racier. This is most beneficial when putting down sudden bursts of power such as those encountered in a race scenario. This can include launching a surprise attack or lunge for the line in a sprint. Realistically, the vast majority of cyclists will never take part in an event where this is important.

It will feel nicer, but few riders will see a tangible difference in performance from a stiffer frame. 

Riding the Latest Bike

You may be an individual who wants the latest and greatest of everything available to you. You’ve convinced yourself that you need the same bike your favourite professionals are riding, that it must be faster than last year’s. The truth is that most years the only difference is the paint job, and potentially the groupset if it’s been updated in the last 12 months. Every five years or so a manufacturer will overhaul most models in its range, but even these “all new” versions can be very similar with only a few minor tweaks to geometry or the carbon layup.

Manufacturers need to keep their range fresh and interesting to entice new customers into their range, but if you’re an existing customer with a recent model, there is very little to be gained by upgrading.

Smoother riding, better braking, just feels nicer

When you roll a new bike off of the shop floor it will have been inspected by a professional mechanic. The tyres will be pumped up, the brakes will be tight, the chain will be lubricated and the bearings box fresh. As you ride these parts will start to wear if you don’t perform basic maintenance on them. The simplest way to get this “new bike” feeling is by booking it in for a service with a mechanic who will tighten everything up for you, replacing worn parts (at an additional cost) and making simple tweaks to help it ride better. 

Putting your bike in for a service can replicate that new bike feeling for a fraction of the cost.

Conclusion

So, am I advocating hanging onto the same bike forever? Not at all, although we all know someone who has been riding the same frame for twenty years so it’s certainly possible. Personally, the only time I look at buying a new bike is when all of the components have come to the end of their life at roughly the same time and the frame is old/damaged enough that it doesn’t warrant spending several hundreds pounds on fixing.

However, there is more to buying new bikes than just getting faster. You may be looking for a different kind of bike entirely (TT bike, mountain bike, cyclocross, downhill e.t.c.), may want a cheaper bike for winter, one to keep in a second home, one that you use for racing, one with disc brakes or one that just fits you better. Maybe you just love the look of a bike you’ve seen or simply don’t like your current bike. These are all valid reasons for buying a new one, but the main point I wanted to convey was that spending large amounts of money on a new bike won’t necessarily make you that much faster.

 Things that will probably make you faster than a new bike include:

A turbo trainer for structured training

A training plan/coach

Improving your diet

Keeping your bike well maintained

Better tyres

A new bike will probably make you faster while it’s still in perfect working order and you’re motivated to ride it hard. Realistically however, it may only be a matter of months before you find yourself in the same position you’re in now, so think twice before you feel the need to blow the budget on a new bike.

If after reading you still see a new road bike if in your future, make sure you choose the right one by following our guide here