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/
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.
Ahead of your big race have you invested in a triathlon bike? Are you surprised, confused or disappointed at the lack of improvement in your speeds, or are you even slower on it than on your road bike? Here we’ll delve into the reasons this may be, and hopefully offer some solutions.
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.
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 end of the aero bars 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 doesn’t have much of an impact, but if you find yourself on an undulating course when you’re used to a featherweight road bike it can come as a surprise. Not only does a tri bike increase weight when climbing, but it makes the bike less stable on the descents due to the short wheelbase and deep section wheels, 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 relentlessly hilly, such as Ironman UK, 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 valuable minutes off of your bike split, but they’re not always the right choice. If you are new to riding your triathlon bike, I recommend you use the stock wheels for a few rides, and if you plan to upgrade to deep rims for race days, make sure you get plenty of practice riding these on your long rides, and learning how they handle on the downhills/crosswinds.
You also need to be going at a fair rate of knots for the aerodynamic benefit to really kick in, around 30-35KM/H. 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. The reason for this is that as you get faster, your encounter more wind resistance and aerodynamics become more important, this is why you see Formula One teams doing everything possible to improve air flow, but racing trucks still look like their road counterparts, they’re simply not going fast enough for aerodynamics to be an issue. A triathlon bike will always be faster on the flats than a road bike, but how much faster depends on how hard you can push those pedals round.
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”. The simplest way to improve this is to develop your core strength with exercises such as planks, but you can also look at adding some spacers to bring your bars higher up.
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 and those long off season miles, 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 ride with confidence on race day. If you keep your race bike locked up in your shed all year and only break it out for race day you’re going to struggle to convert your training into speed on race day.
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! It is also important to re-index your gears when you re-build your bike when you arrive at your race. 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 super 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’ll probably end up 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 closer 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 high performance athletes will take a triathlon bike even on a very hilly course. This is because they’re exceptional athletes who live on their triathlon bikes and can throw it down a hill or round a corner at speeds that makes my eyes water, and the time they gain on the flat sections more than makes up for the time they lose on the hills.
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 the drawbacks of a full aero bike, but when using clip ons we have to reach away from the bars to the shifters to change gear, increasing our profile against the wind and slowing us down. You also have to make some changes to saddle fore/aft and your handlebars to get completely comfortable, so they can be tricky to setup. 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.
Your triathlon bike may even be the wrong size for you, if you picked it up off a friend or from Ebay then there’s a reasonable chance it’s the wrong size for you. As the saddle sits further forward over the bottom bracket, the bike has a shorter wheelbase and you generally don’t reach as far forward, many people (myself included) ride a triathlon bike a size smaller than a road bike so if you simply went for the same size as your existing bike you may find you’re overreaching, and run the risk of developing lower back pain. Unfortunately even if you go to a bike shop for a sizing not many sales staff are trained to get you setup on the right bike, so if you’re spending a lot of money and really want to get it right I recommend getting a fit before you buy the bike to make sure you buy the right one.
So to conclude, if you’re disappointed with the speed of your triathlon bike, you can try the following:
-Get a bike fit
-Improve your core strength and flexibility
-Spend more time training with it
-Reconsider your wheel choice