Heart rate and power are the two most popular ways of measuring effort when cycling, but which is the most accurate way of measurement, and which should you use for race pacing? We put the two head to head in different categories.
As numbers geeks, accuracy is probably the number one concern when choosing between the two. In this scenario power easily comes out on top simply due to the data range we have available to us. While an athlete’s heart rate will very rarely fall outside of 40-180BPM, an athlete’s power figure can range from 0-1000W and beyond in the case of exceptionally well trained athletes. This gives us a much greater insight into an athlete’s effort by default, so it’s 1-0 to power at this point.
Power meters are incredibly powerful pieces of equipment, but they do require a certain degree of maintenance. Once you purchase and install your power meter they require an initial calibration followed by periodic re-calibration, especially after travelling with your bike. Heart rate monitors are cheap and simple, as long as they have a good connection they will very rarely let you down.
Application of data
This is the power meter. Hands down. As a coach, when athlete uses a power meter it gives me a goldmine of information to trawl through. I have a piece of software developed by TrainingPeaks called WKO4 which I use to analyse athlete’s power files to within an inch of their life. It also gives a much better insight into an athlete’s form over time, and due to the huge amounts of data the power meter harvests athletes will find their CTL levels increasing quite sharply as the power meter gives a real insight into every detail of a workout. Even more data can be collected when using a dual sided power meter that collects data from both your left and right side. Most power meters function by taking the power data from your left hand side and doubling it.
This one is easy, heart rate wins hands down, a heart rate monitor will set you back around £40, with power meters costing £300 at the very least. If you purchase a triathlon watch it may even come with a wrist based optical heart rate monitor as standard. For the athlete on a budget, heart rate is the winner on practical grounds.
One of the major downsides with heart rate is how long it takes to react to changes in effort. Your heart rate will often take several seconds to respond to an increase/decrease in effort, as we can see below.
The above is a short excerpt from an athlete’s workout. As the power (purple) dips and rises we can see the heart rate takes significantly longer to react, it reacts less evidently (which goes back to our initial point on accuracy), and is still increasing in response to the surge to 350W 30 seconds afterwards. If I only had heart rate data to go off, this graph would tell a very different story.
Effect on Performance
Everything comes at a price, and the same is true with power meters and heart rate monitors. A power meter will add a small amount of weight, but we’re only talking about a handful of grams here, with some brands coming in much lighter than others (for a price!). Meanwhile heart rate monitors will obviously add a small amount of weight by virtue of wearing them, but the main issue athletes worry about is the chest strap. While I’ve never had a problem, some athletes do and find that it uncomfortable. For those who can’t stand the chest strap there are now various optical heart rate monitors available which sit on your wrist or your arm, however these are not as accurate as standard chest strap versions.
Most heart rate monitors use a standard coin cell battery which can last for many years, where power meters will normally only last a matter of weeks, or even hours if broadcasting data via bluetooth.
This is a slam dunk for power meters, most will have a sampling rate (the rate at which they measure the power output) at around 50HZ, which is higher than basic heart rate monitors. The exception in this case is heart rate monitors which are used for heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring which have a higher sampling rate and a price tag to match.
Suitability for pacing
Both methods are very useful for pacing, but for very different reasons.
Power data is very useful as it is an objective measure of what is coming out of your legs. Using Best Bike Split we help our athletes create a bespoke plan that tells you what power to hold at which section of the course. 180W on the flat, 190W at is starts to kick up a bit, 210 on the steep section, it gives us a blow by blow plan to ensure you pace your bike leg to perfection.
Heart rate is affected by a huge variety of factors such as temperature, stress, any infections your body may be fighting, fatigue, you get the picture. While this is its weakness, it is also its strength as it tells you exactly what your body is going through at the time. If your heart rate is sky high your body is trying to tell you something, and you’d do well to listen to it.
This brings us to the underlying point behind this article, and the answer is that they are best used in conjunction with each other. Relying solely on power but with no insight into how your body is coping with the effort can lead to burn out, while only monitoring your heart rate lacks accuracy. This is a subject I will cover in more depth in a future article on aerobic decoupling which I will link to here when completed.
The products that promise to make you faster in triathlon are literally endless, every trade show or press release that comes my way promises free speed for a price. Whether this is in the form of miracle nutrition supplements, super aero bike components, advanced cycle clothing or running specific underwear, they all claim to be great value for money, and promise to solve all of your problems. Having worked in triathlon retail for two years I have helped hundreds of triathletes put together the right package for them and their budget, so I wanted to share with you the advice I have picked up and shared with customers over the years. Obviously I can’t cover every single piece of equipment, but I’ll do my best to cover the most common purchases.
It’s worth mentioning that for each item listed there are cheaper options as well as more expensive options available. Just because something isn’t listed as good value doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it, I’m the proud owner of many of the items that I list here as being poor value, however for the new athlete there are a other purchases which should come first and will offer your more bang for your buck.
Probably the single best investment you can make in your fitness, especially if you are working with a coach who can use the data to monitor your fitness closely. The power meter not only records data, but displays it as you ride to help you pace your rides effectively. Heart rate also helps with this but as it’s so easily affected by other factors such as fatigue, illness and stress, power is useful as an absolute measurement of what’s coming out of your legs. The savvy athlete/coach closely monitors the relationship between heart rate and power to track fitness and fatigue.
Heart Rate Monitor
If you can’t afford a power meter then a heart rate monitor is the next best way to monitor your effort levels. A chest strap gives you much more accurate readings than the optical heart rate monitors found on newer triathlon watches, so are recommended for serious training.
High Quality Clothing
Invest in high quality clothing which will keep you warm and comfortable when riding and racing. Cheap clothing is a false economy as it will be uncomfortable resulting in unenjoyable training, chafing and it will likely fall apart quickly.
This covers all bike maintenance tools, chain lubes, grease e.t.c. If you learn to fix your bike yourself this will give you confidence and save you lots of money on workshop labour fees. High quality tools are important if you plan to do a lot of work on your bike, but there is no need to spend money on workshop quality tools if you are occasionally tinkering with your own machine.
There’s no excuse for this one, these will save you lots of time in transition and allow you to get running sooner. Tying laces with cold hands after a chilly ride is near impossible, a problem solved with a £5 pair of elastic laces.
Good Quality Goggles
Swimming isn’t much fun if you can’t see where you’re going, you’re blinded by the sun or your goggles keep taking on water. A good pair of open water goggles can be picked up for cheap and will provide you with a far more enjoyable experience in the water. All goggles have a shelf life, so treat yourself to a new pair ahead of race day.
Dumb Turbo Trainer
Is the weather too cold to conclusive riding? Too windy? Not enough time? Throw your leg over a turbo trainer and get a good quality workout in from the comfort of your garage. The fitness you will gain from getting rides in when you’d otherwise be forced off of the bike results in enormous gains in fitness.
Some people struggle with the concept of paying for coaching as they want to walk away from a transaction with something carbon fibre in their hands. But when you consider a year of coaching with Phazon Triathlon costs less than a rear wheel, the expert guidance and support you will receive from a coach will help shave hours, not minutes off of your finish time.
As covered in a recent article, a good set of tyres will help prevent punctures, provide extra grip and reduce rolling resistance. Because nobody likes to end up in a ditch or standing by the side of the road trying to wrestle a tyre off the rim as other stream past.
Appropriate Running Shoes
A pair of running shoes that fit you well, are comfortable and not too worn are essential to your performance ,by running in ill fitting and/or worn running shoes you vastly increase your risk of injury. You also need to ensure the shoes you wear are suitable for he distances you’re running and the terrain you’ll be running on.
Investing in a modest collection of swim toys (pull buoy, fins, paddles, tempo trainer e.t.c.) will vastly improve your swim if used correctly, shop around and you’ll find some good deals going.
Clip On Aero Bars
Using a set of clip on bars can save you time hand over fist by lowering and narrowing your position on the bike. It’s very difficult to get a comfortable position on a road bike with clip on bars, but the good news is you’ll be able to revert to the hoods if they prove to be too uncomfortable.
If you feel niggles or tightness appear from training, be sure to get them seen to by a professional. Sports masseurs can help you treat the symptoms of the pain and advise on the potential cause, but sometimes it takes a full screening with a physiotherapist is essential to address the cause of the injury.
Ride your bike in more comfort and produce more power. It doesn’t take an awful lot, just a high quality bike fit. The free fittings that shops provide aren’t worth much at all, make sure you visit a bike fitting specialist who uses their experience and knowledge of biomechanics rather than relying on technology
With smartphone apps that record your rides and runs for you, the real benefit of a triathlon watch is for recording swims, talking to ANT+ sensors and keeping an eye on your pace as you run or your metrics as you cycle. If you are following a training plan, a triathlon watch becomes an essential for following workouts.
The ability to lean forwards and take a drink saves you a lot of time and effort, reaching behind your saddle or to your downtube every time you need a drink is feels cumbersome after using one of these. Most come with a mount for a GPS computer as well which solves the tricky issue of attaching computers to aero bars.
Premium Tri Suit (£150)
A more expensive tri suit will provide aerodynamic gains and dry quicker, but these are both luxuries, and for longer events many people will drop the tri suit in favour of sports specific kit anyway. The most important factor is one you feel comfortable in. If the difference between a well fitting or ill fitting suit is £50, then splash the cash. You won’t regret it on race day.
Clip In Pedals
The words that strike fear into the hearts of many, this system allows you to put power down quickly and also increases the power you gain on the upstroke, especially on the hills. They also keep your feet locked into a (hopefully) efficient position reducing the risk of injuries.
High End Bike Shoes
This assumes your existing shoes provide relative comfort. Upgrading into a more lightweight shoe with a stiffer sole will increase performance, especially over longer distances. If your current shoes are ill fitting then a new pair of shoes are very important.
A good aero helmet will save you a lot of energy, sometimes as much as a set of aero race wheels. Spend your time trying on different brands until you find one which fits like a glove and is appropriately ventilated for the conditions you’re racing in. Taking a helmet with no vents to Lanzarote is just asking for trouble.
I’m a big believer in triathlon bikes, the additional comfort they provide and access to gear shifters from the aero bars save you a lot of time, but you could buy a decent car for the same cash. I recommend people get a couple of seasons under their belt on a road bike before they take the leap and upgrade to a TT machine.
I love my smart trainer, but if you already own a basic turbo trainer, you will be paying a lot of money for luxuries such as ERG mode and variable resistance. If you’re buying your first turbo trainer and have the money to spend, absolutely go for a smart trainer, but if you’re already running a dumb trainer, look at items further up the list before you upgrade to a smart trainer.
Deep Section Wheels
Not quite as essential as some people would have you believe, a nice set of wheels will save you a lot of time, but you need to be going quite fast to get the most out of them. If you’re new to triathlon you’ll barely be able to get up to speed to make the most out of them, and the weight penalty may offset the aero benefit. Save these for when your times start to plateau.
High End Wetsuit
Upgrading to a top end wetsuit is a lot of money for not a lot of benefit. It will be more flexible, and *slightly* more hydrodynamic, but simply putting on a more expensive wetsuit won’t help your technique. If you struggle in the swim, that money is better spent on swimming tuition. When you start knocking on the door of the top 20% in the swim, that is the time to start looking at performance wetsuits.
High end components sure look good, and yes they’re marginally lighter but on TT bikes components are the last thing we should be worrying about as once you get to Shimano 105 level, the only tangible benefit beyond this point is weight saving, and bike weight is the last of our concerns for most triathlons. The best time to upgrade your groupset is when your current one wears out, as they’re very expensive to purchase as a standalone item.
Sports Specific Nutrition
Buying specially branded energy gels and energy bars only really provide you with a convenience. An energy bar is nothing you can’t make in the kitchen yourself and many people choose jelly babies over energy gels anyway. If you find that these products really hit the spot for you and you can’t imagine yourself racing without them then by all means stock up, but the costs can add up very quickly.
GPS Bike Computer
GPS head units such as Garmin Edge or Wahoo ELEMNT units are great for cyclists as they provide routes you can follow, display your data clearly as you ride, and can even be used in conjunction with your smart trainer. However this provides very few functions that a high end triathlon watch can’t, so this falls down the list.
You may have noticed a pattern here, items which improve your fitness and comfort are high on the list, where equipment based purely on race day speed lower on the list. Investing in yourself is far more important than investing in your bike. Yes top end bikes are sexy, but at the end of the day it’s what’s in your legs that matter, and the ability to put out big watts far outweighs aero/weight.
Nutrition is the single most complex issue in long course triathlon, and the most subjective from individual to individual. While less of a concern for the sprint and Olympic distances, by the time you look at half Iron and Iron distance events it can be the difference between finishing strong and not making it off of the bike. Many marathon runners talk about “Hitting the wall”, a point in the race where you are suddenly blindsided and unable to walk. In triathlon we normally refer to this as bonking (pipe down at the back), but by the time you reach this stage you’ve already made a mistake by letting your energy reserves become depleted. The bad news is that you can’t simply “push through” the wall, your body is literally empty and will start breaking down muscle fibre in search of energy. The good news is that it’s completely avoidable with the right fuelling strategy.
During any event over 90 minutes you need to take on extra calories to maintain performance, let’s take an Ironman as an example. We normally start around 6:30AM, and most people are on the bike by 8:30AM when your body is already expecting the calories from Breakfast. We need to keep topping up our energy stores throughout the day, and the only way we can do this is by taking on calories in a way that won’t upset our stomach. If we pull over to enjoy a Sunday roast halfway through the bike and then jump back on our trusty steed to put out 200W our stomach will be less than cooperative. We need to find a way to take on calories in a consistent and measured manner that is easy for our digestive system to process.
Fuelling slows us down, that much we can’t deny, and when you’re feeling strong tearing up the bike course, you don’t want to slow down by reaching into your back pocket/bento box to extract and unwrap our fuel source of choice. Our heart says to keep pressing on, but our head tells us to be smart and take on food, guess which one we should listen to?
There are various different ways to take on calories, each with their pros and cons which we’ll look at here:
A sweet semi solid substance that you slurp up, these provide a (nearly) instant injection of energy, breathing life back into tired muscles. If you’re wobbling all over the road and shaking, nothing will get you back in the game quite like an energy gel, it achieves this by containing very simple sugars that are easily absorbed. However as soon as you start to get back in your rhythm you will start to crash again as they quite simply put you on a sugar high, followed by a predictable crash. I wouldn’t want to fuel any event longer than an Olympic triathlon solely on energy gels, something that releases energy in a slower, more sustainable manner is essential for success at middle and long distance.
Pros: Easy to digest, give you an instant boost
Cons: Can be sickly, some require water to wash down, only give a short term pick up
All nutrition manufacturers will have their patented energy bars, these vary from brand to brand but are generally oat based, very dense and energy rich. These are a much more sustainable way of replacing depleted energy stores than energy gels, and are a much more natural way of taking on energy which will appeal to many simply out of principal. The oats will release energy slowly, and the bonding agent is normally sugary, as a result these can still be fairly sweet and are normally very chewy. This is all well and good if you’re rolling along at 70% of FTP chatting to friends, but I’ll never forget the time I came across a 20% gradient in Yorkshire with a mouth full of an apple and blackberry energy bar.
Pros: Sustainable energy release, individually wrapped for easy transportation
Cons: Can be very expensive, difficult to chew, still quite sweet
As time goes by and I see past the marketing that brands push, I have found myself moving towards real food over branded energy products. This is a personal choice as I have very low fat reserves so my nutritional demands are quite unique, but I find myself craving something substantial to line my stomach, items such as pistachio cookies, crisps and ginger cake to keep my stomach from turning itself over and protect against stitches and cramps. This is also the cheapest way to fuel yourself, a batch of homemade flapjacks will cost far less than half a dozen branded energy bars and allows you to control the texture, sweetness and portion size to taste.
Pros: cheap, more satisfying, enormous variety
Cons: Can be difficult to transport, preparation time for homemade food
I use this as an umbrella term to cover various branded products that contain carbohydrate in the form of sugars and electrolytes to replace lost salt. This is a fuel source favoured by many long distance athletes due to its easy consumption and transportation, some (very successful) athletes even manage a diet of nothing but sports drink and energy gels. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse but we’re all individuals and need to find what works for us.
Pros: Very easy to digest, take on fluids and calories at once, less likely to neglect hydration
Cons: Has to be mixed (difficult mid race), slow absorption into bloodstream, easy to take on too many calories.
It’s worth mentioning here the role that course nutrition plays, for most middle and long distance races fuel stations will be provided for athletes to get a drink and something to eat. I encourage my athletes not to rely too heavily on these stations and to be as self sufficient as possible, it’s not unheard of for feed stations to run dry, and the products there may not be to your liking. Aim to be self sufficient, but do your research on the nutrition that will be available at the feed stations, the brand and the products they will be stocking, if this information isn’t available on the race website, E-mail the organiser and ask. If they are only carrying peanut and vanilla Powerbars, then buy some and try them while training, if you find one of them really upsets you, then you know to avoid it on race day. Many races will also provide you with a special needs bag at the halfway point, make use of this and ensure you have enough nutrition in there to comfortably get you to the end of the race, just in case you previously hit a pothole and jettisoned all of your nutrition in the process.
Electrolytes is simply a fancy sounding word for salt, but if they tried to sell salt tablets they’d probably sell an awful lot less. As I alluded to earlier, replacing salt is critical for endurance athletes, especially if you’re a heavy sweater, we work with all of our athletes to create a bespoke hydration plan to improve performance and avoid a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia where the blood becomes so diluted that it starts to affect brain function. Luckily getting your electrolyte balance right is a lot simpler than food, and there are four ways to keep yourself topped up.
Yes, sports drinks again. The vast majority of sports drinks will include electrolytes required for peak performance without having to worry about taking on extra supplements. If unsure, check the ingredients and look for potassium, sodium and/or chloride.
There is such a thing as too many calories (more on that later), so electrolyte tablets in water allows us to keep our levels topped up without excess calories. These will often be mildly flavoured, and are more palatable than sports drinks although personally I find myself craving good old plain water when I hit the 4/5 hour mark in an event.
If you don’t take to the taste of dissolvable electrolytes you can use a small oral tablet at regular intervals instead. These are easy to swallow and tasteless, although easier to forget to take, and can be fiddly to transport, if you lose your stash of tablets you can find yourself in big trouble.
Some athletes simply prefer to take some pretzels with them, providing calories and electrolytes in one tasty combination. The only issue is how you plan to transport them, although salty snacks will be available at most aid stations.
Now we have an idea of how we are going to replace our calories and electrolytes, we need to understand how much to eat and when, there are two main problems people can run into, eating too little, or eating too much.
When you bonk, it’s not something you can push through, it is your body quite simply breaking down like a car spluttering its way to a halt with an empty fuel tank. This can come almost without warning, and is often preceded by a feeling of strength as you throw yourself out of the saddle and hurl yourself up a hill, before your body starts to shake and you start to weave around the road. Once this has happened to you a few times you don’t take any chances out there and always make sure you have a spare gel or bar to fall back on, picking a cornershop flapjack up on your way through the next village when you use your last bar up. You can also find yourself in big trouble if you get lost and have to ride/run longer than you were expecting, nobody ever regretted taking extra food on a ride.
While the effects are less dramatic than under fuelling, taking on too many calories poses a risk in itself. Once you’ve bonked a couple of times you find yourself taking all precautions to try and prevent it happening again, which can present other issues. The primary issue is stomach emptying rates, your digestive system can only work so fast, especially when exercising hard as it’s diverting the vast majority of its energy to the muscles. Think of how long it takes to digest a big Sunday Roast, now imagine trying to digest that while running an Ironman marathon rather than in front of the Antiques Roadshow. If you keep pushing food down your throat when your body is already full it will protest violently, and this is often the cause behind the gastronomical distress that athletes experience during a race. This can result in stitches, stomach cramps, violent bowel movements and/or vomiting, which you want to avoid at all costs.
The easiest way to avoid over fuelling is to ensure your carry some water without any carbohydrate content. A lot of athletes know they have to keep hydrated throughout a race, but if all they have is sports drinks they will start taking on 500ml+ an hour of sugary liquids along with energy gels, bars and real food, a recipe for disaster as the stomach simply can’t keep up with the calories you’re filling it with.
One point I’ve tried to hammer home is that what nutrition is incredibly individual, and you shouldn’t try to copy the nutrition plans of your training partners or favourite pro athletes. There are more factors that affect nutritional needs than I could possibly list without boring you all to death, but it’s important you experiment in your training. Standing at the side of the road draped over your handlebars struggling the find the energy to clip back in is a rite of passage in triathlon, and you have to get it wrong a few times to find out what works for you. It’s important you make these mistakes in training rather than on race day, so play around and find what works for you. Unfortunately the chances are you will experience GI distress to a greater or lesser extent during a long distance triathlon, which leads me onto arguably the most important piece of advice in this entire article.
Tyres, how much can be written about those pieces of rubber that sit on your wheels? Have you ever given a second thought to these since buying your bike? If not then you really should, they’re the contact patch between you and the road, and spending a few pennies on upgrading them can reap huge benefits, being the difference between you smashing a PB, sat on the side of the road fixing a puncture with everyone else streaming past you.
There are three types of tyre available to the cyclist, and not every type of tyre is compatible with every wheel, so pay attention to the wheels you have and the type of tyre you pick off the shelf. If in doubt, pop into your local bike shop for advice.
Far and away the most popular choice and what I’d currently recommend for the vast majority of my athletes, the standard tyre that you most likely have on your wheels. It holds a butyl/latex inner tube in place under high pressure, and if a sharp object makes its way through the tyre then this will pierce the inner tube, resulting in a puncture. This is relatively easy to fix and you’ll be back on the road in no time at all.
There was a time when clincher tyres were heavy with poor grip, and the racing cyclist used tubular tyres, also known as tubs. These work in the same way as a non tubeless car tyre, the entire tyre inflates rather than a replaceable inner tube which means that if you get a puncture you have to change the entire tyre. This involves gluing the tyre onto your rim, so not only would you have to carry a spare tyre, you’d also have to carry the kit to affix it to the rim. As the glue takes 72 hours to set fully, you can’t even roll home safely, so very few cyclists will use them for training. They still have a place in racing when you’re followed by a team car, or in a time trial where a puncture is essentially a DNF and their marginally improved grip, ride feel and weight saving can pay off, but now that clinchers have come so far, there’s very little reason for the amateur triathlete to run tubs.
These work in a similar fashion to clinchers in that they are held in place by your rim, the difference being that there is no inner tube, with direct inflation of the tyre pinning itself in place. Tubeless tyres have improved rolling resistance (more on that later) and are more lightweight than clincher tyres with tubes, as well as providing unparalleled puncture resistance. Before inflating the tyre the majority of people then insert a sealant into the which will immediately seal any holes that appear as the result of a stray nail or shard of glass. If your tyre rips or you experience an especially large puncture then the tyre may not seal itself
So why isn’t everyone running tubeless? If you get a puncture which the sealant fails to repair as it is too large then, you’re up a famous creek without a paddle. Another problem is the historic lack of choice in the tubeless market, manufacturers like Hutchinson have been making tubeless tyres for years, but it’s only recently that the heavy hitters in the tyre market have been making tubeless tyres, and even more recently that wheel manufacturers have started bringing out a bigger range in tubeless ready rims. There is also the difficulty in getting them setup which is an art in itself, and unless you know what you’re doing is probably best left to a bike shop.
However I believe that these problems will be overcome and in five years time most of us will be running tubeless setups. The cycling market is traditionally very superstitious, however markets like triathlon are pushing innovation forward at an increased rate and bringing old fashioned cyclists around to the benefits of new tech.
So which system should you run? At the time of writing (early 2018) I would recommend clincher tyres to most for their ease of use and the large variety of compounds available. Most of us know how to change a puncture and tubeless would likely involve a reinvestment in wheels, something not appealing to many.
So which compound should you go for? What’s the difference between the tyres that came on your bike and the tyres that cost £50 a pop? Let’s look into the factors that make tyres such an important consideration.
Let’s start with the big one for many new triathletes, the dreaded puncture. If you are unlucky enough to ride over a sharp object it will try to make its way through your tyre and pierce your delicate inner tube, resulting in a flat tyre, which for some is as good as a DNF. However don’t think that more expensive tyres have better puncture protection as that’s just not the case. The more puncture proof material that you place between the tyre and the inner tube, the heavier the tyre becomes, and the more sluggish the handling, so it really is a balance between performance and puncture protection. You can even get solid tyres which are obviously completely immune to punctures, but handle like an absolute turd. This is acceptable for your hipster commuter making their way through Shoreditch, but for the discerning road cyclist is nothing short of heresy.
The biggest factor for most cyclists is the grip that a tyre offers, which allows you to corner faster and can be the difference between making a corner or ending up on the side of the road as your bike washes out from underneath you. Upon upgrading to a nice grippy tyre you’ll feel confidence in the way it sticks to the road, reducing the amount of speed you need to scrub off before cornering. Grip and TPI (threads per inch) tend to go hand in hand, so look for a tyre with a high TPI for improved grip.
Without wanting to get too wrapped up in science here, this refers to how well the tyre rolls on the tarmac, and the energy which is saved from having a tyre with improved rolling resistance. This comes down to the rubber used and the friction that is created between the tyre and the road, using the same principle as fuel saving tyres that you see advertised for cars. Think of the difference between riding a mountain bike tyre on the road compared to a slick racing tyre, that’s an extreme example of rolling resistance.
Well it wouldn’t be an article on road cycling kit without discussing the weight of the item in question would it? Choosing high end tyres is a very economical way of saving weight on your bike, and it also on the most important area (the wheels) which allows for faster accelerations.
How wide a tyre is dictates the amount of grip it offers, the pressure it can be run at, and how aerodynamic it is. The industry has made a huge lurch towards wider tyres and rims in recent years as testing suggests that a wider tyre run at a lower pressure provides much improved rolling resistance, comfort and grip. The only scenario where you may want to run a slimmer (under 25mm) tyre is in triathlons or time trials, which provides the triathlete with a bit of a problem.
A slimmer tyre will provide us with improved aerodynamics, but this may be outweighed by the improved rolling resistance of a slightly wider tyre. In years gone by 19mm tyres were the norm, where now it’s very rare to see a 23mm tyre as most roadies move towards 25s and 28s. I don’t have a silver bullet answer as everyone is different, however personally I advocate comfort and grip over aerodynamic performance. The differences will be incremental either way so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.
One word of caution is that many older road and even some newer TT frames, are designed to run 23mm tyres, and may not be able to run anything wider. This is dictated primarily by the clearance around the frame, although your brake calliper will also play a part in dictating how wide you can go. To add another variable into the mix, some tyres will balloon up larger than others, with some brands 25mm tyres coming up closer to 28mm. This can even be affected by the width of the rim you are using, it can be a real can of worms, however Schwable have created the below table to help people calculate what they can and can’t run on different rims. This is designed for their own tyres, however as long as you’re not at the extremes of the range you should be fine.
A tyre manufacturer has to weigh up its options between how soft and grippy they want their tyre to be, and how many miles you’ll get out of it. Think of Formula 1 tyres which only last for an absolute max of an hour, or even the moto GP qualifying tyre which will start to go off after a single hard lap. The gripper a tyre is the shorter its lifespan, which means there is no perfect tyre for every situation. Some cyclists will use a very high mileage tyre such as the Vittoria Zaffiro for their training and a softer compound for racing. Personally I prefer to use a softer compound all year round as I like to get a feeling for how grippy my tyres are before I race, and I’m passionate about keeping it rubber side down.
Yes, colour can have an effect on the performance of the tyre, why do you think the vast majority of tyres are black? Rubber is black in it natural state, and to add pigment to a compound manufacturers have to reduce the silicon content. This is only marginal, but worth bearing in mind as you don’t want to find yourself climbing out ofa ditch and wondering if you’d be in a less compromising situation had you gone with plain old black.
While it is a subject that warrants another article in itself, when choosing tyres it is worth checking the pressures you can run them at. Running tyres at a higher pressure gives a firmer ride and is preferred by those riding on smoother roads, however there is increasing evidence that running lower pressures actually reduces rolling resistance unless you are riding on roads that resemble glass. The graph below should give you a rough idea on what pressure to run, but some trial and error is involved to help you find a ride quality you feel suits you.
So as you can see there is an awful lot more to the humble bike tyre than first meets the eye, and by now you are probably starting to realise there is no one tyre that is perfect for everyone. A city commuter will have very different demands to a time trialist, and someone who is riding on gravel paths will choose a different tyre to someone riding the perfectly smooth roads of Switzerland. Let’s look at some of the notable tyres on the market and what they provide:
Continental Grand Prix 4000s
My go to tyre since I started cycling, I’ve never received a puncture or dropped it on a corner while running these, they have a solid puncture protection strip combined with a nice grippy compound that works well in all weathers. Traditionally I switch to their 4 season compound in the winter but just never got round to it this year and haven’t had any problems. These tyres are a staple choice of many road cyclists and it’s hard to go wrong.
Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons
This is an evolution of the GP4000 tyre, using a harder compound that works better in the wet and at lower temperatures. This is combined with an increased puncture protection strip which increases weight and slightly affects handling slightly, however you’re unlikely to notice until you start giving it some real gas. These tyres also last longer than the GP 4000s, so many people choose to run them all year round.
A staple of the city cyclist, these tyres are pretty much bulletproof. They’re an absolute nightmare to get on and off, but as the chances of anything making it through the thick puncture protection strip are so minimal, there’s a chance that once you’re attached them they’ll never need removing. All of this comes at great compromise to the grip of the tyre, and they are affectionately known as “Skaterskins” in some circles, after the number of riders who lose it in the corners trying to follow someone on superior tyres, especially in wet conditions. For the cyclist who simply wouldn’t be able to repair a puncture themselves or for a pure commuting bike they are an appealing choice, but unstable for the performance cyclist.
Specialized S-works Turbo
I dabbled with these for a few months after picking them up on the cheap a couple of years ago. They rolled well, but didn’t inspire the confidence in the corners I had become accustomed to, not due to outright grip so much as the balance of the tyre. A perfectly functional tyre, but when I swapped them out for my 4 Seasons come winter, I wasn’t in a hurry to switch back to them come the following summer.
Specialized S-works Turbo Cotton
This is one of the grippiest tyres on the market, boasting an impressive 320 TPI this tyre corners like it’s on rails, however is quite prone to punctures. An out and out race day tyre, which you’ll want to swap for the non-cotton version for training.
Pirelli P-Zero Velo
The last name in vehicular tyres, Pirelli returned to the cycling scene last year with their velo series which have arrived to critical acclaim. While I have not tried them myself (as an F1 fan it’s on my to do list) I have heard great things from those who have tried them, although anecdotally they are not as resistant to puncture as similar tyres.
Pirelli P-Zero Velo 4S
The winter version of Pirelli’s standard velo tyre, this tyre is the lighetst and highest performance winter tyre available, well suited for winter races such as duathlons. It is lightweight compared to other winter tyres and makes compromises with puncture protection to achieve this, however if you are looking to push hard in cold conditions, this tyre provides the highest level of grip in cold and wet conditions.
Pirelli P-Zero TT
An out and out performance tyre it only comes in 23mm which is something of a shame as for longer events many prefer a wider tyre. However it is ultralight and boasts one of the lowest rolling resistances on the market, although this comes at the expense of puncture protection, making this the ideal tyre for PB hunters for who a puncture is as good as a DNF.
Vittoria Corsa G+
Vittoria are interesting as they are at the forefront of graphene technology, an ultralight yet strong material used by frame manufacturer Dassi to reinforce their frames and by Vittoria to provide puncture protection. Many riders I know have moved to Corsa tyres in recent years, but given my six years of no punctures with Conti tyres I haven’t had a reason to join them myself. They also look the part with a tan sidewall on the tyres.
These are the tyres I’m currently familiar with, there are more manufacturers out there, and many more tyres available from the manufacturers above, however I would only be lifting information from other websites to include them here. Each manufacturer has a website which includes a wealth of information on each tyre and the technologies involved, so are a good place to start for more information.
To summarise, tyres fall into four main categories, all rounders, race specific, heavy duty and winter specific. This is the one component of the bike I’d always encourage people to maximise their budget for, as they can be the difference between a fast bike leg and sitting at the side of the road waiting for a lift home.
If you’re reading this the chances are you have just started using TrainingPeaks or are thinking of opening an account, so I will start this with a brief introduction and rundown of the benefits of using TrainingPeaks.
First and foremost it is a completely different ballgame to Strava, and a huge step forwards from Garmin Connect. Strava is a social platform where people give each other a slap on the back and compete against each other over segments, where TrainingPeaks is a piece of industry data analysis software. Thankfully it is only as complex as you want to make it, and has the potential to be very user friendly. It helps you monitor your fitness, form and fatigue levels to make educated decisions about your training, or if you’re working with a coach such as myself, it allows them to analyse the data, make educated decisions about your training, and set workouts for you to follow.
There are two types of athlete account, basic and premium, the benefits of a premium account are:
-Advanced workout data, access to a seemingly endless list of customisable charts, and insights into your fitness.
-Notifications from your coach, and ability for your coach to receive notifications from you when activities are uploaded/comments added
-Ability to plan future workouts
-Sync your calendar with Outlook, iCal and Google
-Tracks peak performances to allow you to see your best efforts
-Data editing allowing you to edit your fitness files by removing/editing erroneous data and using elevation correction
As you start with a 7 day premium trial when you open an account, for the purposes of this article I will write this article with premium users in mind
To get yourself started you need to create an account, which is very straightforward. Once you log in you will be taken to your calendar screen where you will see an empty calendar just begging to be filled with workouts, there are three ways of filling this calendar.
Firstly there is manual data entry, click on a date on the calendar view, select a workout type, and you will have the option to simply input basic data such as time, speed, pace, average HR and many more as shown below.
As you start entering data it will calculate values for you as long as the box in the bottom left is selected. The more data you can provide, the more data it provides you in return, such as Training Stress Score (TSS) and Intensity Factor (IF). However if you are entering data manually the odds are you don’t have elevation or heart rate data, which is normally associated with GPS devices which brings us onto the next option.
Most athletes sync data directly from their GPS device to TrainingPeaks, often through a service such as Garmin Connect or Map My Fitss. This takes the GPS and associated HR, power, cadence e.t.c. data and uploads it as a GPX file, seamlessly giving you data within moments of finishing your workout for full analysis by you and your coach.
The final option is for those who use devices that don’t sync automatically or are temporarily refusing to for whatever reason. You can upload most fitness files to TrainingPeaks and it will do the rest for you.
Now your data is on TrainingPeaks, what’s next? First of all the initial workout screen looks quite different, if we uploaded a fitness file most of our data fields will be filled, like so:
Also there are boxes on the right for description as well as pre/post activity comments. The description will normally include information from your coach, where the pre and post activity boxes are for you to fill out and engage with your coach through. Even if you’re not working with a coach they can prove useful for reference in future.
As an example I’m going to pull up a ride I did recently to Windsor and back with the club. It was a headwind on the way out with a lengthy cafe stop and a more spirited ride home.
To get into the nitty gritty of our workout we click on the “Analyze” tab at the top right of the page, which takes us to a screen where we can view a map (if GPS data is present), and a selection of graphs, let’s take a look at the most popular charts.
This chart is simply referred to as “graph” by TrainingPeaks, and hopefully your GCSE maths will kick in to help you decipher the information. When you first open the chart there will only be limited data, sometimes just the elevation profile (greyed out area running along the bottom) and heart rate(red line). To start number crunching , we need to click on the data values in the top right of the graph. By selecting a data field we’d like to see, such as RPM (cadence), we simply click on the tab and select “show”
Now we have our cadence data, we can review it and look for relationships in our RPM and HR. However looking at such a large amount of data it’s difficult to make out exactly what happened, there were lots of points where I was freewheeling which causes the data to jump up and down erratically. To help us get some quality data we can use the smoothing bar (top left of the graph) to remove some of the erroneous data and give us a clearer picture.
There we go, much better, and I can now see that as expected, my heart rate increased when my cadence increased, no surprises there. However what if we wanted to look at an area that interests us? We can select an area by clicking and dragging the mouse to draw a shaded section over an selection of data, and click zoom at the top of the page to punch in for a better look.
From here we can take a closer look at any data which interests us. It may be that you want to look at your data on a climb or if you see a particularly high/low reading and want to know what caused it. Here we can see a few gaps in the data which are likely the result of traffic lights, or perhaps data dropout.
However interesting cadence and heart rate are, we probably want to see the bigger picture and all the data available to us. To achieve this we click on another value we’re not seeing, such as speed (shown here as KPH), and click “show all”. This gives us a much more comprehensive graph as shown below. I also selected “show zones” on BPM to give us some extra data. This is represented by the red horizontal bars, the lightest shade representing zone 1, and the darkest red zone 6.
If this is a bit busy for you, you can start to remove irrelevant information. While I appreciate the fact that my device recorded temperature, it’s not really providing me with any useful data aside from the fact it was warmer in my house than in the Berkshire countryside. To remove the data I can click on the C (celcius) button at the top and select “hide”. If I wanted to focus on a singular data field such as speed, I could even select it at the top of the page and click on “hide others”, which would isolate my speed reading. There’s hours of fun to be had here, hours I tell you.
The final area worth highlighting is the relationship between the graphs and the map. If I look at the huge peak in speed, cadence and heart rate, I can hover my mouse over it on the graph and it will also highlight the point on the map where I went guns for glory through the Waterworks. Standard.
Next up is a selection of graphs which you can choose from the graphs button at the top of page (bar chart icon to the right), giving us a visual representation of peak HR and speed, along with time spent in each zone.
There is a huge library available for you to look through, some far more useful than others (second by second breakdown of your ride anyone?). You can organise your data page to include the graphs and charts that matter to you and this will be saved for future workouts of the same type. Swimming and running charts work in a similar fashion, but using different data.
So that’s the basic features of workout analysis, now we move onto the “dashboard” view where we find the most powerful tools in TrainingPeaks, those that summarise our total fitness and fatigue. Before we start, let’s have a look at the PMC (performance management chart)
Here our TSS is displayed as red dots, our IF as blue dots, CTL as a blue line, ATL as a pink line and TSB as a yellow line. But what does this mean? I’ll explain each of these metrics in detail. I recommend you get comfy.
Training Stress Score (TSS)
This is the most important metric used by Training Peaks, it gives you an insight into how much stress was placed upon the body during the session.There are various versions of TSS which I will go into shortly. True TSS only requires power and duration to calculate, as these are two very objective ways of measuring your effort. This is perhaps a subject for another day, but all other methods of measuring exertion; pace, elevation and speed by weather/bad GPS data, and HR by other physiological factors such as illness or stress. By calculating the amount of exertion in a workout, TrainingPeaks calculates how much it will have improved your fitness, and how long it will take you to recover from the effort.
At this point it is worth giving you some context for your TSS figures, 100 represents an hour flat out, or it could represent two hours at 50% effort, maybe even 4 hours at 25% effort. It could also represent half an hour at 200% of threshold, but if you manage that your thresholds probably need updating.
Although running power meters are starting to become available, most people still use a trusty GPS watch to track their runs, and rTSS will help you calculate an estimation of fatigue in absence of accurate power data. To calculate rTSS more data is required, namely speed (pace), duration, elevation gain and elevation loss. Using this data TrainingPeaks is able to estimate the level of exertion during the workout. This is not as accurate as using a power meter, but is understood to be the second most accurate way of measuring TSS.
This is used to calculate TSS for swim workouts, and is less accurate than rTSS and pure TSS. This simply looks at the distance you covered over time to give you a number. TrainingPeaks still consider sTSS to be in beta so may be subject to change in the near future.
This simply uses your HR data over time to calculate a TSS value, however this is considered to be one of the less accurate ways of measuring your exertion. This is because heart rate takes much longer to respond to increases or reduction in exertion than other methods, and as a result is more suited to longer, steadier workouts than interval based workouts.
This catchy little number is an experimental version or hrTSS which takes into account your resting heart rate to calculate TSS, however is considered to be the least accurate way of measuring TSS as it is still in an experimental stage, and will only be used where insufficient data is available to give you any other TSS score.
All of these values require threshold data to give you a value.What is an all out effort for you may be a leisurely Sunday morning jog for Mo Farah, and TrainingPeaks needs to know what your threshold values for each sport are. This is functional threshold power for TSS, threshold pace for rTSS, threshold swim pace (normally calculated over 1500M) for sTSS, threshold HR for hrTSS, along with resting and threshold HR for tTSS. Anybody who has trained with me will be aware of the initial onslaught of fitness testing early in the programme to give us the numbers we need to train to, and calculate fitness.
Phew! That was tough work I know, hope you’re still with me. Thankfully it’s all downhill from here. The next metrics we need to look at are CTL, ATL, TSB and IF, apologies for all the acronyms, it shall all become clear soon.
Critical Training Load (CTL)
This is represented as a thick blue line in the PMC and represents your long term training load. TSS can vary wildly throughout a week, shooting up on tough days and then dropping to 0 on rest days,CTL averages this value and measures your training load over time. In an ideal world this would be gently increasing for the majority of the season, with ebbs and flows along the way as we recover from tough weeks of training and/or races. However we don’t live in an ideal world and this line will raise and fall as work, illness and family get in the way of structured training. On weeks like this the line will drop slowly though, and is there to ease your anxiety at the prospect of seeing a week of zeros in there TSS column following a period of illness or work commitments.
This number averages your TSS over the last seven days to give you a figure to represent fatigue as. If this number is high your are promoting a change in your fitness, if this number is low you will likely perform better during workouts and at events. This line needs to ebb and flow more than others to ensure you are getting enough rest.
This stands for Training Stress Balance and is a mirror image of fatigue, representing how well you will perform at an event. You want your fatigue to be low and your form high when you take the start line at an event, and this can be achieved by using the dotted lines at the end of the PMC to calculate what form you will be in come race day. You can use this line to maximise your form on race day by adding and editing workouts in the days running up to your race to try to perfect your taper. This is trial and error for the most part, but you’ll get a feel for what works for you over the years.
Represented by blue dots on the PMS chart, this shows us how intense a workout was, short and sharp sessions will give a high value, with longer/easier workouts giving a much lower number. These blue dots at a glance can give you an impression of how intensive your workouts have been, and whether you need to increase or decrease the intensity of workouts given your goals and point in the season.
Along with the PMC are a number of other, more self explanatory charts available on the dashboard, such as pie charts denoting time spent training in each discipline, bar charts listing elevation per week, time spent in HR zones, pretty much all the data you could wish for.
That’s the very basics of TrainingPeaks, how to analyse a workout and how to analyse your overall fitness. Well done for making it this far through all the acronyms, I’ll reward you with a few top tips for getting the most out of the software.
-You can add target events by clicking on the day the event is held on in calendar view, and selecting events from the list of activities that appear. Here you can not only add the race type and targets, but it also gives you a countdown to your event on the home screen view, including predicted race form to keep you honest.
-If you upload an activity from a generic fitness file, or from devices that don’t recognise certain sports, click on the small logo (normally defaults to a stopwatch if unsure), and it will allow you to change activity type, ensuring it goes towards your totals.
-The data range on all charts can be changed, allowing you to evaluate your progress outside of the default 90 days. Settings for charts can be found by clicking the three horizontal lines found when you hover your cursor over the chart in question.
-All charts can be made full screen by clicking on the two arrows in the top right hand of each chart when your cursor hovers over it.
-Ensure all your data is up to date, threshold pace/power values should be updated every two months, along with your weight, threshold heart rate, and any other data TrainingPeaks asks you for, this will all help with accuracy of the data.
-TrainingPeaks can be used to track your equipment, allowing you to keep up to date with how many miles have gone on your shoes, wheels or tyres. These can add up rapidly without you realising and it’s important to replace them before it’s too late, in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
-TrainingPeaks can also be used to track calories, weight, sleep quality, hydration, steps, and many more values. Click on the appropriate day, select metrics, and input as much or as little data as you like. This can all be tracked via graphs on the dashboard.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, listen to your body over the numbers. TrainingPeaks is a fantastic tool and when used correctly will go a long way to improving your performance on race day, but at the end of the day you are the only one who really knows how you’re feeling. If TrainingPeaks is telling you to push but you feel exhausted, listen to your body.
As road cyclists/triathletes we generally pride ourselves on being hard. Riding up a mountain for 90 minutes? No problem. Dropping down a hill at 50MPH? Hold my beer. 12 hours straight with no break? Walk in the park. However there comes a time when cycling is simply not very sensible and has a high margin of risk associated with it. Never is this more appropriate than in cold weather, but not wanting to comes across as being a bit soft can make it difficult to make the distinction between it being a bit chilly and dangerous. Here’s an overview of different factors and how they should affect your decision on whether to ride or not.
You don’t need snow for ice to appear, and it can be invisible in the form of black ice. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had very few crashes on the road, but one time did involve dropping it in Richmond Park on black ice. It’s impossible to spot until it’s too late and your front wheel will simply disappear from underneath you, giving you no chance to react or avoid a crash. To reduce the risk you can lower your speed, giving you more time to react in the unlikely scenario you spot it before it’s too late, and reducing the likelihood of injury/bike damage if you do hit the deck.
-Watch out for frost on grass/pavements as you leave. If there was a frost last night there is also a reasonable chance black ice will be around
-If there was standing water on the roads the day before a frost, this will likely translate into black ice come morning
-Avoid areas that are shaded by trees/buildings. Most frosty nights will be followed by a clear morning which helps to clear the ice as the sun rises, but dark lanes will be exposed to less sunlight and more prone to icing over. If you’re desperate to get outside try to keep on more exposed roads which will be more likely to warm up in the sunlight
-Roads with a camber will be more likely to collect water, ride further away from the kerb than normal
-Avoid bike lanes. This may attract the ire of drivers, but there’s a very low chance that your bike lane has been gritted, where the road adjacent likely has
It’s pretty obvious when it’s snowed, and just because of the endless pictures of people’s gardens on social media. However when it snows the bicycle is the preferred mode of transport for many, with lots of ‘fair weather’ cyclists breaking the mountain bike out of the shed when all the trains fail and the roads are gridlocked. Where cars will likely lose grip and end up involved in an expensive accident, the correct bicycle tyres will have a good level of grip and any crashes will be far less dramatic/expensive. However once the snow becomes more than a few inches deep it is far safer and quicker to walk, unless you happen to own a fat bike…
-Stick to bike paths and/or quiet roads, you don’t want to run the risk of sliding out on the snow and falling into the path of a car, or being collected by a driver which has got it wrong and lost control of their vehicle
-If you live in an environment with frequent heavy snow, consider fitting snow tyres to your wheels. These are wider tyres with studs/spikes in to help you gain purchase
-Slow it right down, leave more time for journeys and don’t try to use the ride for training
-You can gain extra purchase in the snow by wrapping cable/zip ties around your tyre (disc brakes only)
Low air temperature
Sometimes the fact that the air temperature is below -5 can be enough to put you off of cycling. The air will be so cold it will be difficult to inhale and exposed skin will sting, making for a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. The correct clothing will go a very long way to making the experience more bearable, but keeping your extremities warm is a real challenge, and if you are unable to effectively operate your brakes you are putting yourself at great risk.
-If you are experiencing cold hands invest in high quality winter gloves and a pair of merino wool glove liners, these will make a world of difference
-Invest in a pair of winter shoes or some overshoes, and use a layer of tin foil underneath your sole to reflect heat back
-A cycling cap/skull cap will make a big difference, some even include ear flaps which will benefit those whose ears resemble pork chops after a ride
-Layers, layers, layers. Using a base layer, a short/long sleeve jersey and cycling jacket is far more effective than simply putting on a big coat or the thickest jacket you can find. Each layer traps warm air, resulting in a very insulating effect. It is also very flexible if you feel start to overheat and you can start to remove/undo layers without exposing bare skin
-Don’t stray too far from home, try to ride laps of an area rather than a huge out and back ride in case you start to develop the early signs of mild hypothermia. These can include shaking, confusion and slurred speech. If you or one of your riding partners goes from excessive shaking to feeling surprisingly warm, call an ambulance immediately. For more information on hypothermia symptoms and treatment visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Hypothermia/
-Exercise extreme caution when exerting yourself in extremely cold temperatures where capillaries shrink and it becomes harder to pump blood, vastly increasing the risk of a cardiac event.
Strong, constant headwinds that you battle into are one thing, but a strong sideways gust can immediately displace you into the middle of the road or a ditch. These are normally associated with gales and hurricanes, so think very carefully before riding in these conditions. Even Geriant Thomas ended up in a ditch during Ghent Wevelgem 2015, and if it can happen to Geriant Thomas, it can happen to any of us.
-Use weather forecasts to check the direction, intensity and gust factor of the wind before riding
-Ride in a position that will give you the chance to react to any gusts to give you time to react. If they are trying to blow you into the ditch, ride slightly further out than normal. If you are riding in a group, single up to reduce the risk of getting taken out by another rider
-Don’t risk high winds in an effort to bag your local KOM, not only are you putting yourself in great danger, you’ll also have the nagging feeling that you didn’t really deserve it
-Avoid exposed roads, and favour quiet lanes with buildings/hedges that will act as a buffer
-Don’t run deep section wheels in gusting winds, particularly in coastal areas (read: IRONMAN Wales) unless you are very experienced in handling them
We’re not talking a quick shower here, more a constant, torrential downpour that can result in flash flooding. While top coaches are often quoted as saying “Don’t worry about the rain, skin’s waterproof!”, and this is true to an extent, there is a point at which heavy rain can put you in more danger than it’s worth. Firstly there is the obvious lack of grip and increased stopping distance in the wet, especially when running rim brakes. There is also the risk of flash flooding which can leave you no choice but to ride through deep puddles with no idea of what lies below the water; there are a variety of videos you can find on YouTube of cyclists riding through a puddle and disappearing over the handlebars as they hit a pothhole. Mixing cold temperatures with heavy, consistent rain is a fast track to hypothermia, so I recommend you turn around and head home if the heavens open on a cold winter’s day.
– Avoid riding through puddles
-If riding in a group allow extra space between you and the wheel in front. This will give you extra time to react to any crashes and reduce the spray from the wheel in front
-Allow for an increased stopping distance, brake earlier into corners and when approaching junctions
-Run lower tyre pressures to improve grip, 10-20 PSI should do it as running them too low will put you at risk of pinch punctures
-Invest in a high quality waterproof jacket such as the Castelli Idro to protect yourself from the worst of the rain, and keep you warmer for longer
So with the worst that winter can throw at us, how do we decide when it’s too dangerous to ride? We’re all individuals who love the open road and want to get out there as much as we can, but there comes a point when you have to put things in perspective and ask if it’s worth it. How likely is it that you’ll come off? How much will it cost you to repair damage to your frame? How much fitness will you lose if you break a bone? Will you lose income? And ultimately, what do you stand to gain from heading out in the foul weather? If the risk outweighs the reward, it’s probably time to jump on the turbo trainer, find our introduction to turbo training here: https://phazontriathlon.com/2017/09/26/introduction-to-turbo-training/
Or if you are in the southern hemisphere and more worried about the scorching summer sun, fund our tips on hot weather training/racing here: https://phazontriathlon.com/2017/06/21/training-and-racing-in-hot-conditions/
Turbo training, or indoor cycling, is becoming increasingly popular among cyclists and triathletes of all abilities, allowing for incredibly focused and specific training with minimal fuss. As the winter approaches and brings with it strong winds, freezing temperatures and rain, indoor riding becomes all the more appealing.
I strongly advise all athletes I work with to purchase a turbo trainer to allow them to get specific and focused training sessions. An hour on the turbo is generally worth two hours on the road, and is worth even more when you you include all the time prepping your bike and getting changed for an outdoor ride, and if you live in a city, the distance you need to travel before you can get riding properly. I have athletes ride the turbo not as a last resort in bad weather, but all year round to allow us to fit more quality hours of training in every week. You can also train with specific metrics and monitor power closely, rather than simply going out for a ride to get some miles in the legs. Using Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing you can accurately monitor your improvements and use the data to train at intensities specific to you.
The words ‘turbo trainer’ strike fear into the hearts of most old school cyclists, and hark back to the days where indoor training involved staring at a wall or watching a video of other cyclists racing while you pedal into nowhere using a heavy, expensive trainer that kicks up enough noise to make a jet engine blush. Turbo training has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, so let’s look at the new generation of training options and what they offer
Smart or dumb?
You’ll hear the phrase “smart trainer” thrown around on various websites, blogs and bike shops, so you can understand people’s hesitation in asking what exactly makes a bike trainer smart. A smart trainer will talk to electronic devices, broadcasting power data to them and changing their resistance based on the feedback they receive from the training software. If you’re riding a virtual course and reach a hill, the trainer will increase resistance, decreasing it when you reach the summit. This makes your indoor riding experience far more immersive and valuable with specific metrics such as accurate power and in build cadence sensors.
Direct drive or classic?
The term direct drive refers to when a cassette sits on the trainer itself which you mount your bike onto (after removing the rear wheel) and start riding. Wheel on trainers work by taking the bike in its entirety and bolting it onto the trainer. A metal drum is then pressed against the rear wheel to provide the resistance.
So which is better? You’d be hard pressed to find someone who chooses a wheel on trainer over a direct drive trainer. Wheel on trainers will rapidly wear some tyres necessitating the use of a specialist turbo training tyre, and the tyre/wheel change that comes with it before every indoor ride. Wheel on also tends to be noisier, and it feels very unnatural to ride compared to the smooth, progressive resistance of the direct drive trainers. Direct drive trainers are coming down in price, so I’d recommend looking at them as they’re so easy to use. If you have to change the wheel/tyre every time you want to ride indoors, it’s a barrier to you getting the workout done and you’ll find excuses not to ride.
The vast majority of those training indoors will use training software to maximise the accuracy of their ride and stave off the boredom. Here we look at some of the options available to athletes.
The benchmark in training software, Zwift has exploded in the last couple of years, edging itself towards the world of mainstream fitness. The premise is simple, by turning the pedals you power your rider around a virtual course, providing not only a challenge in the undulating courses they create (including a full mountain climb), but a visual distraction from the monotony of indoor training. Several hundred riders can be found online at any given time varying from weekend warriors to professional cyclists, either participating in races, battling over the various jerseys that can be earned on course, following a workout or simply pooling round the course.
Zwift is an incredibly detailed topic which deserves an article on its own, but can be summarised as the most social and iadvanced platform.
Pros: social, being continually developed, incredible visuals
Cons: only three courses currently available
If Zwift is the excitable 10 year old of the indoor cycling world, TrainerRoad is the surly uncle. It’s been around for longer than Zwift and focuses more on performance. It works on the premise that you are given a series of power figures to hit, and you have to hold the correct power and/or cadence/heart rate for each effort. There is no visual representation of your efforts, it is more of a no frills experience than Zwift, instead focusing on its library of workouts and training plans designed by coach Chad Timmerman. It also has the unique feature of allowing you to minimise the software to watch your favourite film/TV show with essential workout information at the bottom of the screen. Athletes training with me are provided with turbo workouts, so the appeal of TrainerRoad is limited.
Pros: Extensive workout library, ability to minimise workout
Cons: Represents poor value for money compared to other software, no visualisation or social aspect
Bkool are the underdog here, and something of an anomaly as they produce their own trainers as well as software. The Bkool software is unique in that is allows you to ride a huge variety of routes with video/google earth images to keep you engaged, rather than relying on the somewhat limited course offerings on Zwift. This can prove especially useful for those who have a big race abroad and want to preview the major climbs.
It has social elements like Zwift but with far fewer people using it, the scope for racing and training with friends is somewhat limited.
Pros: replicate courses from around the world
Cons: less social than Zwift, not many people use it
Tacx Training Software
I am including this one as something of a warning more than anything. While Tacx were early adopters of training software, their involvement seems to have fallen by the wayside and it now their software exists as little more than a legacy product. Interestingly it can be used with the Tacx steering column to allow you to pick your way around virtual courses, but this is a pricey accessory that is only compatible with Tacx software. As they seem to have stopped marketing the software or including it with their latest trainers, they have either accepted that their efforts are better spent of manufacturing trainers, or they are planning a complete reboot of their training software (unlikely). While doing a bit of research for this article I noticed on the Tacx website they are now advertising their trainers using Zwift, so it seems the writing is on the wall for Tacx Training Software.
Pros: may have come free with your turbo trainer
Cons: dated, large one off payment to purchase
So you have your trainer and your software, do you need anything else? Some of these are optional, some necessary depending on your setup
Turbo Quick Release
A bona fide essential for anyone riding a quick release bike (so 99% of you) on an indoor trainer. This is a heavy duty rear skewer that can withstand the rigours of indoor training. A standard lightweight QR skewer can be damaged by being pinned in place with huge forces going through it. which can result in failure out on the open road. Every trainer recommends their use and will come with one to use, so please ensure you change your skewer everytime you move your bike indoors to avoid serious injury out on the road.
A black grippy mat that sits under your turbo trainer, you’ve probably seen them in marketing materials for trainers and at demo stations. Their purpose is two fold, to protect the floor from sweat, and to reduce noise, especially important if you’re using it on anything but the ground floor. They roll/fold up nicely and look the part, but it’s nothing that an old piece of carpet won’t do…
Hopefully you have one for your normal riding, but some workouts use heart rate as a metric for you to ride to, so they can prove to be especially useful on a turbo trainer. You can closely monitor your heart rate on a turbo to see how it reacts to different intensities, something you can’t afford to do out on the road.
You can use a speed sensor on your rear wheel to give you a virtual power reading even if using a dumb trainer or rollers. Not necessary if using a smart trainer.
This little beauty sits on the inside of your non drive side crank and registers how often it passes the seat stay to give you a revolutions per minute (RPM) figure, also known as cadence. While not essential, it is very useful information when riding as it will help you realise when you’re pedalling too slowly or too fast. Some of the sessions that come with Phazon plans specify cadence figures so they’re an item we recommend. Currently the Tacx Neo is the only trainer with an unbuild cadence sensor.
When you’re pushing hard indoors with no wind to chill you, it’s pretty inevitable you’ll get a sweat on. This becomes a problem when sweat starts dripping from your face onto your headset, stripping the grease and leaving a salty residue which isn’t conclusive to smooth steering. A sweat guard will protect these sensitive areas from becoming damaged from indoor training. To reduce sweating and make your indoor ride more bearable, consider setting up an fan to keep you cool. I’m sure I won’t need to do a separate entry for this one…
With Zwift and TrainerRoad offering mobile apps (Zwift is releasing an Android version very soon), many people will choose these over setting up an entire computer and monitor rig every time they want to ride, unless they have a permanent “pain cave” setup. Products are available to hold your phone or tablet either on your handlebars or freestanding in front of you. If you’re running aero or non rounded handlebars you’ll likely need the free standing version
If you’re planning to run ANT+ then this will be a necessity unless your computer comes with an ANT+ chip built in. If you already own a Garmin watch that comes with a USB ANT+ stick you can normally use the same one to save a bit of cash as an additional ANT+ stick will normally set you back around £30-£40. If you’re using a tablet or smartphone there are legacy products from yesteryear which can make your mobile device ANT+ compatible, but many of these will need expensive adaptors to make them work with modern devices so I suggest you invest in Bluetooth instead.
For more information on ANT+ vs Bluetooth see the section below
Most turbo trainers will lift your bike off of the floor slightly, so to accommodate for this manufacturers provide a small block for your front wheel to sit on. Most trainers that require one will come packaged with one. Some people looking to replicate his climbing will often use a pile of books or similar to raise their front wheel more
Wahoo Kickr Climb
Specific to the Wahoo Kickr series, you remove your front fork and slot your forks onto the notches provided, the climb replicates inclines of up to 20% and downhills of up to -10%. While it is easily dismissed as an expensive gimmick, it recruits different muscle groups to better replicate climbing, especially useful for those training for mountain events who will spend prolonged periods riding in this position.
Turbo tyre/spare wheel (wheel on trainer only)
“Do I need a turbo tyre?” Is one of the most common questions I’m asked. The truth of the matter is it’s hard to tell, but if in doubt better to use one. They are an extremely hard rubber compound designed to withstand the rigours of being pressed against a metallic drum and spun around for hours on end. Some people report that they ride on the same tyre indoors and outdoors with no problems, while some find pieces of rubber being flung around their living room as soon as they start riding their road tyre on a trainer. It depends on the combination of your trainer and on your road tyre, but even if it doesn’t start delaminating visibly, you’re still putting a lot of wear on your expensive tyres and will have to replace them sooner. If you use a turbo tyre it it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to replace it.
With regards to the spare wheel, this is vital for those of us who don’t want to change a tyre every time we want to ride indoors. This is not only very time consuming and tricky, but it risks damage to your rim and increases the risk for blowing inner tubes by botching a tyre change. Drop a message on the forum of your club asking if anyone has any old stock/worn rear wheels they never use and can be donated for a good cause.
Bluetooth or ANT+?
The question on the lips of many newbies to indoor cycling, which protocol should they use? I’ll run you through the basics of each.
The connection everybody has been using for many years, it has been slowly improved over the years but is still not especially long range or reliable. However most computers and devices can read Bluetooth signals so will be able to talk to Bluetooth trainers, making the process nice and simple.
The ANT+ connection is generally longer range and more reliable than Bluetooth, however requires an ANT+ USB stick to communicate with your device, which is an additional expense. It is also slower to react to changes in resistance than Bluetooth, with up to 2-3 seconds delay between reaching a hill on Zwift and the resistance increasing. You can also attach the dongle to a USB extension lead to get it as close to your trainer as possible, minimising dropouts.
There’s no real right or wrong answers, I’ve used both over the years and not had major problems with either, it may be worth checking your trainer/sensors before deciding. If you own Garmin sensors which only tend to be ANT+ then it makes sense to use them rather than reinvest in an entire new set of Bluetooth sensors. My advice is to start with what is easiest for you, and try changing if you encounter issues.
I’m not going to start comparing brands here, but simply compare different kinds of trainer and the advantages/disadvantages of each style
Cheap wheel on magnetic trainers
Examples: Tacx Blue Matic (pictured), CycleOps mag|
These trainers are somewhat dated and likely to be discontinued in the next 3-4 years as smart trainer become more affordable. The resistance changes using magnets in the rear drum, controlled, by a trigger that is attached to your handlebars. They are loud and feel very unrealistic, but for the triathlete on a budget their are better than no turbo
Cons: clunky, unrealistic road feel, no data transmitted to software
Examples: Kurt Kinetic, CycleOps Fluid 2 (pictured)
These trainers do not change resistance in the traditional sense, but instead follow a set power curve that increases the resistance the more power you put down. This makes for a more realistic riding experience, but a less controllable one. I can’t really recommend them for use with training software
Pros: more realistic ride feel, no need to worry about changing resistance
Cons: very little control makes interval work difficult
Semi smart trainers
Examples: Tacx Satori Smart (pictured), Kimetic Rock and Roll Smart
These are magnetic wheel on trainers, but unlike their cheaper cousins they broadcast power to Zwift, giving you a much more accurate reading than the Z power that Zwift calculates using speed sensors and power curves. However they do not change resistance depending on where you are on course, although people will often manually increase the trainer resistance when they reach hills to replicate the slower cadence associated with going uphill.
A smart wheel on trainer is ideal for those who want the full functionality of a trainer without the cost associated with direct drive. They tend to be less accurate and can’t create as much resistance as the big boys, but if that doesn’t really bother you then I can happily recommend one of those trainers. They tend to be much quieter at this price point, something which is worth the extra alone. Even if you don’t have neighbours, it’s nice to be able to hear yourself think when training.
Don’t let the word budget fool you, you’re still looking at the best part of £700 for these trainers, but this is still a significant saving compared to the big boys. They can’t quite replicate the resistance of the top end trainers, but the road feel is vastly improved compared to wheel on trainers and the changes in resistance are smooth. I’d recommend most people invest a bit more and go all in for a top of the line trainer personally, but for those who can’t justify the extra expense these are a solid option. They can replicate a reasonable gradient and are more accurate than wheel on trainers, along with the buttery smooth feeling that comes with direct drive trainers.
These are the top dogs of indoor training, the five star experience for the cyclist who has it all or will be spending vast amount of time on their trainer. They are the most realistic indoor riding experiences available, extremely quiet and able to accurately replicate the inclines on training software and give extremely accurate power readings.
You won’t get much change out of £1,000 if you’re looking at one of these, but if spending a bit more will make the experience more enjoyable and encourage you to ride where you might not otherwise, then it’s money well spent.
The differences between each are pretty minimal, so the best way to make the decision is simply to try riding each to decide which you prefer the feel of.
Ergonomic (or ERG) mode works by capping your power at a certain level during structured workouts. Once you exceed the target power for an effort it will lower the resistance to spin your legs out. This is incredibly useful as it allows you to focus on riding rather than staring at the screen trying to keep your power within the set parameters, and is favoured by many (including myself) for following structured workouts as it allows you to focus on your pedalling technique, audiobook or TV show rather than staring at numbers. The only problem is if you decide to stop pedalling or slow your cadence considerably as the ERG mode will whack the resistance up to full to compensate.
Which bike should I ride indoors?
Many people have a ‘turbo bike’ that has been retired from regular service and now sits on a trainer in their garage. This makes sense from a ease of us standpoint, you don’t need to worry about changing tyres or swapping bikes on and off the trainer, but at the end of the day we want to ride our race bike fast, and riding a different geometry on the trainer won’t give us the specific strength we’re looking for. This is especially true for people who have a road bike on their turbo but race on TT bikes, the muscle groups recruited and the demands put on them are quite different so train specifically for the kind of riding you’ll be doing. Many people will do a lot of turbo training over winter when you probably won’t be using your race bike on the roads, so consider bolting it onto your trainer for winter.
And finally… Can I use my carbon frame on a turbo trainer?
It wouldn’t be an article about turbo training without the contentious carbon frame question. The answer is that if your carbon frame is properly attached and you do not throw it around while training on it, you’ll probably be fine. If the quick release or thru axel is done up super tight you increase the chance of damage, but the biggest mistake you can make it doing it up too loosely as this will allow for the bike to rock around, vastly increasing the risk of damage. I know it can feel wrong to bolt your new carbon frame tightly into a static object before riding it, but if the frame is built to withstand the rigours of road use, it can survive being pinned into a trainer.
It’s worth mentioning that some companies such as Specialized currently void the warranty of a product if damage occurred while riding on a trainer. As indoor training increases in popularity you hope they’ll change their stance, but for now it’s worth checking the details of your manufacturer’s warranty if you want total peace of mind. Most of the time a bike suffers damage on the trainer it’s because the frame was already cracked and the turbo training was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the world on indoor training and allows you to make informed decisions of what setup to run. I’ll be wiring more in depth articles on specific aspects of indoor training over the coming weeks to make sure you subscribe or like our Facebook page to be kept up to date.
The title of this will confuse many, how could a triathlon bike slow you down? They’re more aerodynamic, which means they’re faster, and all of the pros race them in non draft legal races, how could a triathlon bike slow you down?
If a triathlon bike was the outright fastest and most comfortable way to get round, why wouldn’t people ride them all the time? The answer is a triathlon bike involves a lot of compromises in the way of bike design, and they can be difficult to get comfortable on, something those of you who have ridden one can likely attest to.
For those who need a basic explanation, a triathlon bike makes you faster by lowering and narrowing your profile against the wind. The bike frame itself is also tapered to make it cut through the air as fast as possible, but as the least aerodynamic thing on the bike is you, the focus is on getting yourself lower and narrower. Most have shifters on the bar ends and electronic models also have shifters on the bullhorns to make it easier to change gear when braking, climbing or descending.
The compromise is that to improve airflow around the bike the frame, more material is needed to reduce turbulence, which results in a bulkier frame, increasing weight. On a pan flat course this isn’t a problem, but if you find yourself on an undulating course this can become an issue. Not only does this increase weight when climbing, but it makes the bike less stable on the descents, which combined with the fact that brakes on triathlon bikes are normally less efficient than on road bikes, can lead to you handing over minutes to those on the road bikes on the hills. If you can make that time back on the flats you’ll be faster overall, but if a course is especially hilly you may be better off going for a light, responsive climbing bike.
There is also the question of wheels, most stock triathlon bikes will come with a very basic set of wheels to make the price point more appealing, but most triathletes will upgrade the wheels into something more aerodynamic such as a rear disk wheel or deep section rims. These are not only heavier and slower to accelerate but are a handful in crosswinds, to the extent that certain courses especially prone to strong winds ban them. If you are on a flat piece of road in good conditions they can shave minutes off of your bike split, but they’re not always the right choice.
You also need to be going at a fair rate of knots for the aerodynamic benefit to really kick in, around 30-35KM/H depending on the course. Can you maintain that speed for the duration of the bike course? Chances are that on shorter distances you can, but over half iron or full iron distances you really need to be able to ride a bike well to reap the rewards of a tricked out triathlon bike.
Along with ability to maintain speed is also the question of core strength. While properly setup aero bars can be very comfortable as your weight rests on the elbow pads, you need to make sure you have the core strength to maintain that position for the duration of your race, as you will be in a plank like position. If your core collapses in the bike leg your run will likely be a disaster as your can’t support your body in an economical position, adopting what many call the “Ironman shuffle”.
If you race on your triathlon bike you really need to train on it. That’s not to say that you should bin your road bike, as it is important for group riding sessions (which I believe are an excellent way of building bike fitness), but you should stick your race bike on your turbo over winter and take it out at least once a week in the spring to get used to handling it on the road. You should get used to riding on all conditions in all terrain on your race bike, whether it’s descending down a steep hill in the rain or threading it through a series of fast corners, you need to be confident in your handling ability to minimise time loss in the hills.
You should also put it in for a full professional service at least once a year, clunky gear changes will not only frustrate you but lose you time hand over fist, not to mention the possibility of pieces falling off! I it is also important to re-index your gears when you re-build your bike on race day. Whether your flew it halfway round the world or stuck it in the boot of your car for the local sprint race, it doesn’t take much for your gears to take a knock and play havoc with your race.
Most importantly, make sure to get a proper bike fit to get yourself into a comfortable and economical position. Your aerodynamic position may save you 25W, but if you’re putting out 50W less than on your road bike because you’re not used to the position (which engages your hamstrings and glutes far more than a road bike position) you’re actually going slower than on a road bike. Your position doesn’t necessarily have to be as far forward and as low as possible, look at the picture below of the Great Britain men’s team pursuit squad at the 2016 World Track Championships.
Notice the variation in width of the aero bars and the height of the stack, there’s no ideal position as it’s very individual. Of course not all of us can afford £2500 to spend in the wind tunnel finding our optimal position, but notice how they’re not as low and as narrow as possible. I personally find having my bars close enough for the knuckles of my thumbs to rub actually makes me more stable than having them wide, but it’s very individual, and comfort is king. If you’re comfortable you’ll be able to put out more power for longer, if you’re scrunched up and can’t breathe properly, you’re just handing advantage to your rivals.
Just to add to the confusion, a lot of professionals will take a triathlon bike even on a very hilly course. This is because they’re exceptional athletes who can handle a bike better and put out more power than most of us ever will, allowing them to still put out some serious watts on the flats where most of us would struggle as our legs are trashed from the hills. Just because Daniela Ryf can pull it off, doesn’t mean you can.
In the Tour de France where they use both road and aero bikes in competition, some will even put clip on aero bars onto their road bike to offer the best of both worlds in mountainous time trials. This offers a sizeable advantage without any of the drawbacks of a full aero bike, but when using clip ons we have to reach away from the bars to the STI shifters to change gear, increasing our profile against the wind and slowing us down. They’re a great option for hilly races or for trying an aero position without buying a whole bike, but it involves a number of compromises so should be carefully considered before taking to a big race.
So to summarise, a triathlon bike will take minutes off of your triathlon time if you are accustomed to riding in an aero position, it is perfectly setup for you, you have the core strength to maintain the position, the course is flat, and you have the strength/endurance to hold high speeds for the duration of the bike. If however a triathlon bike is just something you throw your leg over on race day, the benefits will be much smaller than you expect, and in some cases may even slow you down compared to your tried and tested road bike.
If you have a triathlon bike and are looking to unlock it’s full potential, organise a 1 on 1 coached session with me for only £30. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest