Best Bike For Completing Your First Triathlon???!

Triathlon training - female athlete rushing out of the water towards her hybrid bicycle

She came in with an extremely nice hybrid bike. The bike was probably 10 years old, but I could tell it had been garage kept. One of the gears was sticking, and she wanted to know if we could get it going again.

Hers was a classic story: her kids were starting high school and she wanted to try to get back in shape now that she had a little more time on her hands. We chatted pleasantly while I worked. Having grown up in this town, there is always plenty of memories and stories to rehash with any customer. She had purchased this bike across town from another shop where one of my friends used to work.  We tried to figure out if he might have been the one to sell it to her.

I had her out the door shortly. Just a little strategically applied lube to the cable and she was on her way.

Before she left she bought a water bottle and picked up a map of the local bike rides and a couple of flyers for local cycling events.

A week or so later she came in to look at new saddles. That’s pretty normal. Cycling can be a brutal glute workout. I showed her padded shorts and she tried on a few pairs while I swapped out her saddle. She settled on a classy Pearl Izumi Skort and was back out in time for an evening ride.

As the spring progressed into summer so did her fitness level. Nothing amazing, but she was becoming a frequent customer.

One afternoon she was in to get a bike computer for tracking her mileage when she saw a flyer for one of our local Sprint Triathlons.

“What’s a triathlon?” she asked.

“They are pretty intense events where you swim, bike and run in rapid succession,” I replied.

“I used to swim in college…” she mused.

She asked a lot of questions. “Will I need to buy a new bike?” that was one of her biggest concerns.

“Not unless you are trying to win,” I replied.

Do You Need A Triathlon Bike?

Triathlon bikes offer two huge advantages. For one, they are designed to be as Aerodynamic as possible. For the competitive rider, this assures that every ounce of their power is being applied towards helping them place as high as possible.

The other advantage — and one that I think is often overlooked — is the seat positioning relative to the pedals.

Where most bikes — including most road bikes — have a 72-degree seat tube angle, these triathlon bikes have closer to a 76-degree angle.  All of this means that your seat is now closer to being on top of the pedals.

You are no longer sitting behind the pedals. You are now on top of the pedals.

This distinction is important because of the muscles you activate in these different positions. When you are riding on a road or time trial bike, you are using both your hamstrings and your quadriceps to propel the bike.

By moving to a more forward position, the cyclist is able to isolate his hamstrings and use those during the bike portion, while saving the hamstrings for the run portion.

During shorter distance triathlons, this does not matter nearly as much. When you start running those half-Ironman and Ironman distances, through…

You want every advantage you can get.

Can You Do A Triathlon On A Hybrid?

The shorter answer is “yes”. I’ve even converted mountain bikes to skinny tires so they could do the sprint distance tri. There are a couple of tricks listed below that can help make your triathlon experience on your hybrid bike more rewarding. The most important thing, however, is to make sure you are a using a bike that properly fits you.

The first customer in our story went on to do 3 sprint-distance triathlons, and to this day I believe she is riding the same hybrid bike.

However, if you plan on doing a tri, you will be spending more time on your bike as you train. So here are a few suggestions to make it more enjoyable:

  • Skinnier Wheels – If you followed our advice and bought a bike with 700c wheels, you will have an advantage; those taller wheels tend to go a little faster, and you can buy skinnier tires. Now you likely won’t be able to go with the skinniest on the market, but if you can get 28c tires on your wheels, you will find the pedaling to feel faster and slightly more effortless.
  • Triathlon Bars – One of the neatest inventions are clip-on triathlon “aero” bars. These bars are designed to help you find a more aerodynamic position, while also letting you rest your arms, upper body, and lower back on longer rides. They are very popular with triathletes who often found themselves on long flat stretches with no end in sight. By being able to get lower on the bike, they are able to avoid the wind resistance and ride faster.  These come in three clamp sizes, so you will want to figure out your handlebar size. If you measure the circumference of your handlebars with a flexible tape measure and then divide it by 3.14, that should give you the diameter. Most handlebars are either 25.4, 28.6 or  31.8 (sometimes they just use shims so they can fit all handlebar types). Because hybrid bikes often have curves and bends in the handlebars, I recommend buying a clip on triathlete bar like this one that comes in two separate pieces so that you can adjust them to fit your bike. (You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t get the ones that are too long as those will stretch you into an uncomfortable position)
  • Gels and Energy Bars – One of the most challenges for myself is switching from the swim to the run. I feel like I breathe too much water on my swims. I realize it is probably just a sensation, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have a hard time transitioning from my swim to my ride. However, the ride is an ideal place to recharge with energy for the next portion. Eating a power bar while I’m already having a hard time breathing just doesn’t work well. What I discovered were power gels. These power gels are a life saver. They go down easily and then I follow them with copious amounts of water. With a little bit of experimenting, I discovered that I need 1 gel packet for every 40 minutes of hard riding. It is the perfect solution to the hard race that keeps me fresh until the end.
  • Brick Workouts – The challenge with a triathlon is switching between workouts. Since you are using so many muscles, it can become absolutely brutal (and, when you finish the race, ultimately rewarding). The first time my friend did one of these races with me, he proceeded to nap for the next 18 hours.  It truly taxes your body in new ways. One of the training tools you can use to prepare is brick workouts. This where you focus on transitioning between the different portions. Perhaps one day you practice by riding for 15 minutes and then running for 15. Or you swim for 15 and then ride for 15. Or you do drills where you go as hard as you can in 5-minute sprints. These types of drills can yield huge dividends on the mental game and make race day a lot more enjoyable.

A triathlon can be extremely challenging. But it shouldn’t scare you.

And don’t wait until you can afford all of the “right gear”. The equipment you have now will work just fine.

Just find a race and dive in. And if that means riding your hybrid bike, do that. In the end, the reward is well worth it.

In the end, the rewards of finishing — and telling your friends that you are a triathlete — are well worth it.