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Triathlon Guide:
The Bike

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No matter the length of the race, the bike portion of the triathlon is always the longest. It ranges anywhere from around 13 miles for a super-sprint triathlon to 112 miles for an Ironman race. Cycling will also generally be the most costly of the three sports in terms of equipment. But don't let this deter you; you can get quality cycling products at reasonable prices at Sierra Trading Post.

Bike Product Pic

As in any sport, there are triathlete purists. While these pedants may insist that you must race on a tri-specific bike to be a true triathlete, you don't. Unless you plan on racing competitively at Kona, all you need is a road bike.

Road Bike Materials

Most road bikes on the market today feature an aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, or an alloy frame. Aluminum and alloy frames are lightweight and affordable and often use carbon fiber for the fork, seat stays and even the chain to further decrease overall frame weight.

If you are a more experienced cyclist, you may want to invest in a titanium or carbon fiber frame. These materials are seemingly weightless and are generally more expensive. However, if the frame is well-made, it can last a lifetime.

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Choosing the Right Size Bike

When choosing a bike, you will want to know enough about size, symmetry, and materials to get a frame that fits your body, riding style, and purpose. A comfortable, perfect-fitting bike means your skills will improve immeasurably on each ride. And it all starts with the frame. Handlebars, stems, and saddles can be swapped out or adjusted to create a better-fitting bike. But getting the frame right is the important first step.

The most basic means of sizing a bike frame is its "height," which is actually the length of the frame from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the top tube.

Tip: Bike measurements for triathlon and road bikes are often in centimeters because of cycling's European history and because centimeters are generally more precise than inches.

The geometries of bike frames will differ slightly, even between bike models from the same brand. Because of these differences, the most accurate way to fit a bike is to research the specific model you are considering and find its exact dimensions. However, there are some general guidelines you can follow. Use the standard chart below to get an idea of the bike size you'll need. To use this chart, you will first need to get an accurate measurement of your inseam. Follow these steps:

  • The easiest way to get a good measurement is to hold a hardcover book between your thighs with its spine horizontally straight and snug against your crotch in the same way a bike seat would be.
  • Have a friend make a mark on a wall at the top of the book's spine. Step away from the wall and measure the distance to the floor. This is your inseam length.

Look at the chart below to determine your best bike fit.

Size Guidelines for Road Bike Frames

Your Inseam in InchesBike Frame Size in InchesBike Frame Size in CentimetersTop Tube Size in CentimetersYour Height in Feet and Inches
28.519.349515'3"
2919.750515'4"
29.52051525'4.5"
3020.552535'5"
30.7520.953545'6"
31.2521.35454.55'7"
3221.755555'8"
32.522.15655.55'8.75"
3322.557565'9.5"
33.7522.95856.55'11"
34.2523.259576'
Conversion:1 inch = 2.54 cm1 centimeter = .394 inch

Remember to apply these measurements with some leeway. If your inseam measurement or height falls within a range, round up if your number is closer to the higher number in the range or round down if your number closer to the lower number in the range. If you are shorter or taller than the heights in this chart, you will have special requirements with your frame size so contact our customer service product specialist for more information.

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Simple Adjustments for a Perfect Fit

While your new bike may look perfect-shiny paint, neat gadgets-you still need to get your bike to fit your bod. Handlebars can be swapped, saddles can be adjusted, and gearshifts can be moved, all to create a personalized fit and the most enjoyable cycling experience.

Listen to Your Body

There are no indisputable rules for adjusting your bike to fit your body. The right fit for you will depend on your body shape and how you like to ride. To get the right bike fit, you have to do two things:

  • Experiment: As you ride your new bike, try different setups before you decide on one. Ride with your seat slightly forward or your handlebars a little higher. Switch things up!
  • Be Aware: Pay attention to any aches or pains that develop as you ride. For example, a cramped back may be telling you to raise your handlebars slightly, while sore knees may be telling you that your saddle needs adjusting.

The following fit suggestions are general guidelines only. They'll provide a good starting point for you to fine-tune your bike fit.

Saddle Position

Saddle position is largely a matter of personal preference. However, as it affects your body while riding, it's important to find a position that works well.

  • Saddle Height: A comfortable saddle height can lower the stress on your knee joints and give you a more powerful pedal stroke. Your saddle should be high enough that your legs almost-but not fully-extend at the bottom of each pedal stroke.
  • Saddle Tilt: Saddle tilt is a personal preference. Some cyclists prefer a forward tilt. Others prefer a backward tilt. Still others like their saddles completely level. To find a tilt position that works for you, take a few test rides and experiment with different setups.

Handlebar Position

To find the handlebar height that works well for you, start with your handlebar stem about 1" lower than the height of your saddle. Slightly higher handlebars help with lower back pain. If you find that you want a lower, more aerodynamic position, lower the handlebars slightly.

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Cycling Clothes

Apparel Product Pic

While you can certainly race in a tri-suit, a swimsuit, or a pair of bike shorts, you will need some cycling-specific clothing for all of your training sessions in order to make even your longest training rides comfortable.

Performance cycling clothing is generally made of moisture-wicking fabric and is tight-fitting for better aerodynamic performance.

Bike Shorts

The most important cycling garment you will buy will be your bike shorts. These are usually made from a nylon or Lycrar blend, are skin tight, and have a moisture-wicking padded chamois (pronounced "shammy" for us English-speakers or "sham-wah" for you Francophones) for comfort in the saddle. These are typically worn next to your skin (sans undergarments) to reduce chafing. The close-fitting fabric reduces chafe-causing wrinkles as well. While they may look simple, cycling shorts are high tech garments. Here's the lowdown on construction.

Panels

Bike shorts are constructed of panels that contour the garment to fit the body in the cycling position. The more panels, the more curvature they'll have. As a general rule, high-end cycling shorts are usually eight panel models and less expensive shorts feature six panels. Cycling shorts with only four panels are designed for spin/cycling classes where riders remain in a more upright position on a stationary bike than they would on a road bike.

Seams

Cycling shorts are designed to move with your body so it's important to be aware of the seam location in relation to your body's natural contours. Identify how the seams will affect you while you ride. Many manufacturers are making seamless cycling shorts, so if you're sensitive, look for a model with hidden or no seams.

Waistband

Waistbands range from ½ inch covered elastic bands to 1 ½ inch athletic bands with a drawstring. Shorts with an elastic waistband are less likely to dig into your skin in the riding position. However, if you want some minimal fit adjustments, look for shorts with a drawstring.

Chamois

According to cycling lore, in the early days of professional cycling, some racers would put cold steaks in their shorts for padding and relief from saddle sores. Luckily, fabric technology and chamois construction have drastically improved.

There are several different chamois styles on the market and the fabric and construction of these styles can vary. Keep in mind that the main purpose of the chamois is to wick moisture away, prevent chafing, and provide some comfort in just a few thin layers. Look for shorts with a layer of foam or fleece for padding and a top layer made of technical fabric that wicks moisture away and breathes.

Tip: While bike shorts are gender-specific, some men wear women's shorts and some women wear men's shorts. It's really a matter of personal comfort.

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Cycling Jerseys

All cycling jerseys are made of moisture-wicking fabrics that will keep you cooler in warm weather and warmer in cool weather. They are usually cut with a longer back for better coverage in the riding position and feature a zip-up front for ventilation. Cycling jerseys can be sleeveless, long-sleeved, or cap-sleeved. Choose the jersey that best fits your training conditions.

Tip: Avoid cotton fabrics when you ride because they retain moisture which can weigh you down and cause chills at high speeds.

Cycling Shoes/Pedals

Cycling Shoes

You have two options when it comes to pedals: toe cages or clipless pedals.

Toe Cages

Most entry-level road bikes are equipped with standard "toe cages". (These may also be referred to as "toe straps".) As the name implies, these pedals feature a cage into which you slide the front of your foot. They also feature adjustable straps that you tighten around your foot so it remains in the cage and flat against the pedal while you're riding.

Toe cages are good for beginners because they don't require you to invest in new pedals or cycling-specific shoes. They also provide a slightly improved performance over flat pedals by increasing the power in your pedal stroke (by virtue of your shoe being held firmly against the pedal). The downside to toe cages is that straps frequently need to be adjusted on the fly and this requires you to bend down, which can be destabilizing until you become proficient.

Clipless Pedals

Clipless pedals require a special cycling shoe that features a cleat fitted to the sole of the shoe. This cleat interfaces with a locking mechanism on the pedal. The term "clipless" could also be interpreted as "cageless," because clipless pedals do not have an external toe cage. Cycling shoes have stiff or rigid soles to maximize power transfer and efficiency during each pedal rotation.

Yes, clipless pedals will be awkward when you first use them, but they are definitely worth the effort. You will greatly improve your cycling performance because of the increase in power you get with every pedal stroke. Here are some tips to help you master clipping in and out of your pedals.

  • Some pedal cleats can be adjusted using an Allen wrench or screwdriver in the back or middle of the pedal to change the amount of "wiggle room" your foot has to move laterally while still locked into the pedal. It also makes it easier to clip in when you're first learning.
  • If you can, take your new pedals for a few test spins in a big field or on a lawn. Your body and your bike will appreciate the soft landings!
  • Ride around your neighborhood clipping in and out until it becomes second nature. Practice stopping at stop signs or stopping quickly to make sure that you can clip out with ease.
  • It is almost guaranteed that the first time you forget to properly twist your foot out of the pedal and fall out, you will be either at a busy intersection or in front of a group of veteran cyclists.

Helmet

Helmet Product Pic

All USAT-sponsored events require that you wear an undamaged, unaltered helmet during the race. Many states also have some type of bike helmet law, so if you don't have a helmet already, you're going to need one.

The best type of helmet to buy is one you'll actually wear. That may sound like a no-brainer, but vanity has been known to trump safety when it comes to wearing a helmet. Just make sure to purchase a helmet that is cycling-specific and has an adequate number of vents to allow airflow through the helmet.

Sizing Chart

To find your approximate helmet size, measure around your head, just above your eyebrows.

Head Measurement (Circumference)Helmet Size (Numerical)Helmet Size (S, M, L)
20 1/2 inches6 1/2Extra-Small (Toddler)
20 3/4 inches6 5/8Small
21 1/4 inches6 3/4Medium
21 5/8 inches6 7/8Medium
22 inches7Medium
22 3/8 inches7 1/8Medium
22 3/4 inches7 1/4Large

If your circumference measurement falls between two numbers:

  • Round the number up if your measurement is closer to the larger size.
  • Round the number down if your measurement is closer to the smaller size.
Fit Tips
  • Avoid helmets with extremely pointed shapes, inadequate or excessive vents, dark colors, thin straps, and complicated adjustments.
  • When you place your helmet on your head, it should sit low. The brim of the helmet should be about two fingers' width above the eyebrows.
  • The helmet should not be tilted forwards or backwards.
  • The chinstraps should go over both ears in the shape of a `V'. The ear should be in the middle of the `V'. The chinstrap should be secure around the chin, with room for one finger to fit between the strap and the chin.

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