How Triathlon Was Different in the 1980s

What was it like racing a triathlon in the 1980s? It was a time when the triathlon was just beginning to make its mark across the country. Word was spreading like wildfire that this was the sport to try. Triathlon Federation USA (Tri-Fed), today USA Triathlon, was just beginning to organize and enforce the types of rules and regulations that are seen today.

New technology in bikes, pedals, shoes, and many other components were just starting to hit the market. So how was a triathlon in the '80s different from today?

More: The History of Triathlon

Bikes

Most triathletes had steel frame bikes. Aluminum bikes and a few carbon blend bikes were just starting to make a big splash on the triathlon scene. Some of you may remember when Kestrel came out with its carbon blend bike. Still, no one could take away the speed many of us felt on our steel frames.

Some triathletes rode bikes that had a 700c wheel on the back and a 650c on the front which was intended to provide better aerodynamics. However, race officials were undecided as to whether or not this would be legal to race with. Eventually the use of different size wheels was deemed illegal.

Racing Wheels

Several companies were also coming out with bladed spoke wheels. Disks for rear wheels were beginning to be used more frequently. Companies like HED, Movac, and Roval were all coming out with racing wheels.

Triathletes who did not use disk wheels were able to snap UNI covers on their spoke wheels to resemble a disk and were designed to try to give the same aerodynamic effect. Many triathletes just raced on the wheels that came with their bikes.

More: Do You Need a Tri Bike?

Pedals & Shoes

Many triathletes during this period raced on track cage type pedals (like the ones you see on bikes in a spin class). Cycling shoes were available that had cleats for track cage pedals. I bought a pair back in 1988 and still have them today.

Competitors would put their running shoes on before mounting their bikes and ride with the running shoes. Clip-in pedals such as Look brand pedals were beginning to be the ideal thing to have.

Aero Bars

Aero bars were just beginning to appear at races. Some triathletes used homemade aero bars. Some examples noted were one made of scrap metal and another actually made out of a toilet seat! Once again, many race officials were unsure if this homemade equipment was safe and legal to race with.

Sometime around the beginning of the 1990s, homemade aero bars became illegal. Scott aero bars were just beginning to make their mark in the sport.

More: Aero on a Budget: Transform Your Current Ride Into a Race-Day Workout

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About the Author

Marcus Eichhorn

Marcus Eichhorn has participated in triathlons for 26 years. He holds a state-level certificate for high school track and field and cross country, and he coaches junior high and high school runners. He is also a Level I USATF-certified running coach. Find him on Facebook, or contact him at trieich@yahoo.com.

Marcus Eichhorn has participated in triathlons for 26 years. He holds a state-level certificate for high school track and field and cross country, and he coaches junior high and high school runners. He is also a Level I USATF-certified running coach. Find him on Facebook, or contact him at trieich@yahoo.com.

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