Illustration by Andy Mora
Most road cyclists are just a turn of the screw away from a new tri bike.
In the sport of triathlon it is easy to get caught up with the latest bike trends. Many purchase tri bikes just because their friends have one. The fact is, to get into a perfect tri position you don’t necessarily have to be on a tri bike. Your perfect tri position conforms to three points in space: hands, pelvis, and feet. The way these three points are oriented for your optimal position is specific to you, not the bike you are riding. It’s about the bike conforming to your body rather than your body conforming to the bike. To get into a good tri position on your road bike is easy. Of course, getting your bike into a tri position starts with proper road position.
Step One: Aligning the EngineResearch shows that, compared to road position, the tri position should be slightly more forward over the pedal axle. An ideal road position should have the muscular stress evenly balanced between your glutes and your quads. A tri position will shift that delicate balance forward. Consequently, your quads will bear slightly more load and your glutes less. The research has shown that shifting forward helps triathletes adapt to the run more easily. The question is, how much do you move your seat forward on the rails? This varies from one athlete to another, but generally the move is no less then one centimetre and no more than three centimetres. A word of caution: moving too far forward will only make you slower and less powerful.
Step Two: The CockpitAerobar selection can make or break your new tri position. Find yourself a set of aerobars that has adjustable pads. Preferably, you want the pad independent of the handlebar clamp. My favourite bar for this application is the Profile T2+ or T2 Cobra. If you have a carbon road bar, make sure it allows you to clamp aerobars to the bar. Loosely fasten the aerobars to the handlebar, keeping them level with the ground. Adjust the width so your elbows are slightly narrower than your hips. Once you have the width set, tighten the bars down.
It’s now time to get the pads set both fore and aft. Take a moment and lean on your kitchen counter with both elbows. Notice how your elbows sit about one to three centimetres forward of your shoulders. You’re trying to find this relaxed position while in aero. You should be square in the sweet spot of the saddle, and not reaching at all to the aerobar pad. To be safe, install all the risers that come with the aerobars. It’s better to be slightly high rather than too low. Next, try standing with your hands on the hoods; be sure your knees don’t hit the pads. If they do, move the pads forward until your knees are clear. Your aero position should be comfortable, relaxed, and just as powerful as your road position.
Step Three: Tri AccessoriesRoad shoes are great for long rides, but slow in transition. The last things you want in transition are straps, laces, and buckles. Find yourself a set of tri shoes that fit well and have one to three Velcro straps. You want to be able to put them on in less than fifteen seconds. Remember you’ll be breathing hard and dizzy when you try to do this, so simplicity rules!
Step Four: Training and TrialsFasten your newly set-up tri bike into your wind trainer and try it out. You should feel powerful and relaxed. Your aero position should not hinder your lung capacity, and your upper body should be completely still while spinning.
Next, it’s time for the road test! Find a stretch of open road and get up to a comfortable speed. Slide into your new aero position and see how it feels. Things to remember: relax your upper body and keep your neck aligned with your spine. You should be looking through your eyebrows at the road thirty metres ahead. Your helmet and glasses should allow you to do this. Good posture on the road is important for maintaining a relaxed position.
By following these four steps, a well set-up tri position is totally possible on your road bike. Adjusting a few key components can have you ripping it up on the bike course of your next triathlon. For any questions, or for help achieving your optimal position to maximize power while preventing injuries, consult your local certified bike fitter.
Triathlon Training• A critical part of your triathlon training and racing is having feedback on your performance. I recommend hooking up a computer with cadence. The computer will tell you your speed, riding time, and—my favourite—cadence. Cadence is how fast your pedals are rotating, like the RPM in your car. This will tell you when you need to change gears. The optimal RPM is ninety. For example, if you are turning at one hundred RPM, it’s time to shift into a harder gear; at eighty, it’s time to shift into an easier gear.
Nutrition in Triathlon• Nutrition in triathlon is like the fourth discipline. You need to make sure you keep up with the calories you are burning out there. One of the easiest ways to keep the fuel flowing is to use an aero bottle. This bottle will fasten between your aerobars and keep your liquid fuel close to your mouth. Fuelling yourself during the swim is incredibly difficult, and a lot of people cannot absorb very much on the run. The bike is the time to fuel because you have the time to ingest and process calories. A good rule of thumb is to consume one bottle for every hour you’re on the bike.
Helmet and Sunglasses• Assess your helmet and sunglasses. Avoid glasses with thick rims and helmets with visors. To test your glasses look up through your eyebrows. If you can see the rim of your glasses, they won’t work. Find a set of glasses that either sit high on your face or are rimless. The same can be said for your helmet: if you can see the rim, it’s obstructing your view.
About the AuthorLuke Way is a consistent top-ten finisher in the Xterra US Series, third in the 2007 Canadian off-road championships, 2007 Alberta Long Course Athlete of the Year, 2006 National Long Course Triathlete, and 2005 Alberta Triathlete of the Year. An SICI Certified Bike Fitter, Way owns and operated Tri Way Bike Fitting and Coaching in Calgary, Alberta.