Get into triathlon from cycling

How to use your cycling legs for a new challenge in 2015

If you’re a cyclist looking for a new challenge this year, dusting off your running shoes and maybe even your speedos could be a great way to test your athletic prowess in 2015.

That’s right – we’re talking multisports. Don't hate us.

Why tri?

Events such as triathlons (swim, bike, run) and duathlons (run, bike, run) are fun, competitive ways to test yourself against fellow racers and use your bike power in a new way. If you’re a strong biker, you’re already off to a good start, as a much greater distance is covered on the bike than either the swim or run.

In fact, we have it from our own US editor-in-chief Ben Delaney – who took on his first Ironman in 2014 – that “cycling against triathletes is fun”. Make of that what you will. Think about it though – surely your lithe, steely strong legs from conquering gran fondos, road races and time trials are already primed to allow you to ease your way past all the part-time cyclists to the front of the bike leg.

On top of that, there’s also the chance to justify the purchase of a whole load of new aero gear.

You’re already tempted aren’t you?

Triathlon or duathlon?

Transition is a great chance to check out a load of lovely bikes:
Transition is a great chance to check out a load of lovely bikes:

Expect a manic transition zone in any multisport event

First, you’ll have to choose between duathlon or triathlon. If you can already swim something resembling front crawl, then ‘tri’ (as the jacks of all trades call it) could be the one for you.

If you sink like a stone or are out of breath after one length in the pool, you’ll need to decide whether you want to commit to swimming lessons and a lot of hard work, or concentrate on your biking and running with duathlon instead.

Either way, as a non-swimming or running specialist, you’ll have the pleasure of doing a lot of overtaking on the bike. Just be prepared for other athletes to return the favour on the run.

Triathlon

Swim, bike and run events go back to the 1970s. Over the years, several distinct distances have become established. The good news for cyclists is that the longer races have a greater proportion of cycling to swimming and running.

Here are the basic distances you can choose to tackle:

  • Super sprint: 400m swim, 10km bike, 2.5km run
  • Sprint: 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
  • Standard / Olympic: 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run
  • Middle-distance / half-iron / Ironman 70.3: 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run
  • Iron-distance / Ironman: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run

You’ll find a handy beginner’s triathlon section on our sister website 220 Triathlon. Or, if you're in the UK, why not visit the 220 Triathlon show, which takes place at Sandown Park Racecourse, from 27 February to 1 March, 2015.

Duathlon

Duathlon forgoes the swim in favour of a second run. The two runs are usually the same length and take place on either side of the bike leg. As with tri, there are plenty of distances to choose from, though exact discipline lengths can vary from race to race:

  • Super sprint: 2.5km run, 10km bike, 2.5km run
  • Sprint: 5km run, 20km bike, 5km run
  • Standard: 10km run, 40km bike, 10km run
  • Powerman: 10km, 150km, 30km

Swimming for cyclists

Swimming can help build core strength, which works wonders for cycling:
Swimming can help build core strength, which works wonders for cycling:

Swimming offers much-needed core strength

While there’s always the fear of swapping your skinny arms for new pair of weighty muscle-bound ones, the benefits of swimming can outweigh the negatives for any cyclist.

Swimming freestyle (front crawl) gives a great full body cardiovascular workout and while it’s all about technique (just ask the fat fellow going three times your speed down at the pool), it also helps develops a strong core.

The stomach out, curved back posture of many cyclists is evidence of a strong back and weaker abdominals, but balancing the front and back of your body through swimming can help correct this and aid stability and on the bike. Particularly while climbing, you can quickly become more efficient with less upper body movement.

If you’re taking up swimming for the first time, or need help with your stroke, consider joining a triathlon club or checking out the wealth of information on triathlon swimming at the 220 Triathlon website.

Cycling in a triathlon

You don't need to have a full-on aero bike, clip on tri bars will see you through:
You don't need to have a full-on aero bike, clip on tri bars will see you through:

You don't need a full-on triathlon bike – clip-on extensions will see you through

Of course, the cycling bit’s what you’ll really be looking forward to, a chance to show your strongest discipline and flash by all the swim, bike, run blasphemers (even though you’d kind of be one of them at this point).

Triathlon and duathlon bike legs are like time trials but without the timed starts. As soon as you hit the transition after the first discipline, you grab your bike and away you go. There’s no drafting in triathlon bike legs – you’ve got to stay 7m behind any other athlete except when overtaking (check each race’s rules as regulations can vary).

Don’t get too ahead of yourself by smashing the bike section though – if you really want to prove yourself better, you’ll have to be able to survive the run afterwards.

We’ve got loads of bike training content on BikeRadar, but you’ll also find some more triathlon-specific guidance here.

Running for cyclists

You'll have to hold back on the bike if you want to succeed on the run:
You'll have to hold back on the bike if you want to succeed on the run:

Running after cycling is a tricky task, but the finish line feeling is worth it

Running is great for cyclists, giving a fantastic cardiovascular workout for the time-crunched athlete and allowing fast fitness gains. Impact sports are also key in helping to maintain bone density, something that lessens if engaging in only impact-free activities such as cycling and swimming.

Be wary though, there’s always the risk of injury when taking up running and there’s more technique involved than simply lacing up your trainers and heading out the door. Progress slowly, listen to your body and get some expert running advice.

Gear you’ll need

Taking up triathlon will help you justify pricey aero bike kit:
Taking up triathlon will help you justify pricey aero bike kit:

Yes, it's expensive, but aero gear looks cool

For a pool triathlon, you won’t even need a wetsuit, so the cost of trying the new sport is limited to goggles, a pair of speedos or a tri suit, some decent running shoes, and running shorts or tri suit. If you’re looking for tri-specific gear reviews, check out 220’s test archive.

Naturally, you’ll soon be hooked on this freak sport you once ridiculed, and will be looking to get ever more aero in pursuit of perfect pace. For that, you’ll need a shiny new triathlon bike, aero helmet and deep section wheels. It’s a hard life, being a triathlete.

The 220 Triathlon show takes place at Sandown Park Racecourse, from 27 February to 1 March 2015.

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