3 Principles of a Successful Triathlon Bike Fit

Wearing a race number during the bike leg can cause drag--though some races will require it.

If you open any triathlon magazine, you'll see pages of ads for aero gear promising dramatic speed gains on race day: bike frames, forks, race wheels, bottles, holders for said bottles, and much, much more. However, the most important component of aerodynamics isn't the bike and all the stuff you hang on it—it's you.

At Endurance Nation, we preach R.O.I.—spending your time on the things that yield the highest Return On Investment. From training time to technique to where you spend your money, we want you to get the biggest bang for your buck.

And we've got news for you: it's not your water bottles that are creating the most wind resistance; it's your riding position. Shouldn't you then consider addressing your riding position before dumping your hard-earned money into low R.O.I. purchases? We think so. A fully tricked-out tri bike is useless if your body presents a sail to the wind.

Are You an Average Age-Group Athlete?

Some athletes feel they are not fast enough to warrant a position change or scrutiny over gear. Or, maybe they think a professional bike fit will be prohibitively expensive. Well, consider this: the speed gains of any changes you make to improve the aerodynamics of the bike-rider system are greater the longer these changes have to express themselves.

The longer you are on the bike course, the longer a better bike fit, aero helmet, or improved bottle setup have to help you save time. Slower riders actually have more to gain from improved fit than faster riders.

Before we delve into the nuts and bolts of bike fit, there are some common mistakes many athletes need to fix before consulting a professional bike fitter or considering a position change.

Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

To truly benefit from a proper bike fit, you need to make sure that you've corrected these common mistakes:

  • Riding with knees splayed out. Keep them close to the top tube. If you can't, something is wrong with your setup—probably cleat position and/or footbed tilt.
  • Wearing a scoop neck top. This can be hard to avoid, but if your collar drops down when you are aero, it acts like a parachute, possibly hurting your time far more than those carbon rims help it.
  • Loose clothing. Anything else that flaps forms a rough surface and scoops open in the wind—this is bad. This is why time trial cyclists wear skinsuits and shoe covers. Triathletes can't be as smooth, but it pays to eliminate anything that obviously drags.
  • Race Number. If you have a number pinned to your body, even above your butt, it is probably causing drag. Try to avoid wearing a race number on the bike (but check the particular race's rules—many require it). Use a number belt for the run.
  • Bike Race Number. Those cardboard race numbers that attach with twist ties can really dirty up the front end of your bike. If the race requires one, try cutting the numbers out and taping them flat to each side of your frame with clear packing tape. Or, tape it smoothly around your seat post like a fairing. If the number is a sticker, the same techniques apply. Even if the race specifies that the number must be placed between the top tube and head tube, it can be taped smoothly so it doesn't flap.

Once you've addressed these issues, you are ready to move on and review the principals of bike fit. This will help you understand the philosophies behind why we preach what we preach when it comes to both fit and body positioning.

The 3 Principles of Bike Fit

There's a lot of information about bike fit saturating the internet. So, how did we develop our Endurance Nation perspective on the matter? Our philosophy is based on these principals:

Aerodynamics Trumps Weight
Triathlon is a non-drafting sport. Up, down, flat or turning, we are always pushing our own way through the wind. Therefore, aerodynamics trumps weight in our sport. That's not to say you should load your bike like a pack mule on race day. However, if adding a few grams of weight betters the aerodynamics, don't sweat it.

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