The greatest tri-cycling myths debunked

Michellie Jones  Credit: Darren England/Allsport
I talk to a lot of triathletes, and they say the darnedest things.

I'm amazed to hear some of the outmoded beliefs that retain currency among the supposedly innovative crowd of tri-geeks. They, in turn, are amazed by how much they improve when I set them straight.

Here are the top tri-cycling myths of today. See how many of them you still believe in.

I dont need a heart-rate monitor

Many athletes feel that they know their training intensity, but practically everybody who buys a heart-rate monitor (HRM) finds out he was not training at the correct level.

Lets assume you want to go through the normal training stages of easy, medium, tempo and hard.

Its extremely difficult to judge your heart rate within 10 beats per minute by taking your own pulse, especially since you have to stop to do this with any accuracy. Just the slightest incline can move you up by 10 beats per minute. It is, therefore, practically impossible to stay in the correct training zone.

Carbon frames disintegrate

Many people have the misconception that bicycle frames made from carbon will disintegrate. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, companies such as Kestrel are so confident that they offer a lifetime warranty on their carbon fiber framesets.

Most companies making frames from other materials offer shorter warranties. It is true that some carbon frames cracked in the early days, but carbon frames have now been in production for over 10 years, and it has become a well-refined process.

Tri-bikes are no good for regular riding and training

Because most tri-bikes have steeper seat-tube geometry and aerobars, some people believe they are not suitable for training. Here is a guideline and some options for you to consider:

If you do short-distance racing and training on your bike, and are often in traffic, then consider using combined shift/brake levers from Shimano or Campagnolo. Another option is to use regular drop road handlebars instead of time trial bars. They dont look as cool, but they are easier to climb with.

A further option is to have an extra saddle seat post for training. Because you do not need to train in the aero position all the time, consider having a second seat post that moves your saddle aft for training in a more upright position with your hands on the time trial or road bars.

Configuring a racing/training bike properly can give you a dual-purpose machine. Plus, you get to ride your cool bike all of the time, rather than have to train on a clunker and save your race bike for race day.

I dont deserve a really good bike

Often, people think only the top athletes can benefit from faster bikes. Actually, the reverse is true. The longer you are on the bike course, the greater your savings! A 5 to 10 percent reduction in bike-split time can save an enthusiast around nine minutes on a short course and four times that amount on an Ironman course.

Remember, a good aero position can save you the most time, followed by a faster bicycle and faster wheels. If you want to stay conventional-looking, there are plenty of forks, frames, wheels and accessories that can make you faster. Changing from a mid-1980s road bike with wide, low-pressure tires to a modern-day tri-bike can make all of the difference.

You dont have to break the bank, either. There are several choices in the $1,200 - $1,600 range, including Scotts, Cannondales, Quintana Roos and Softrides.

I dont need recovery nutrition

Many athletes suffer through the soreness, stiffness and fatigue that result from hard workouts for no reason or a reason no better than the misguided no pain, no gain mentality. To avoid the pain, most pros now use a nutrition recovery product like Pro-Optibol, which uses L-Arginine and Ornithine Alpha-Keto Glutarate in its protein to lower blood lactic acid and cholesterol levels.

Take such products within 15 minutes of exercising, and you wont have stiff muscles in the following days.

I dont need a tri bike

Often, new triathletes will use their road bikes with a pair of aero clip-on bars. If the athlete feels this configuration is working for him, then hell feel there is no need to get a steep-angled tri bike.

However, there is an important issue involved in converting a road bike for triathlon use, and this is handling specifically, the extra weight placed on the front wheel when riding in the aero postion.

I measured a 55cm road bike while sitting in a road position with my hands on brake hoods, and then in the aero position. When I moved from road to aero position, I discovered, I shifted 21 lbs. off the back wheel and onto the front wheel.

The effect of this shift is that the front end of the bike becomes very squirrely, while the back end has less grip when cornering. Tri bikes move the front wheel further forward and also have shorter chain-stays, allowing a more forward rear wheel placement, also. These changes, together with a slacker head-tube angle, make the weight distribution more optimal for better handling.

An inexperienced rider can have difficulties cornering or descending on a converted road bike. Experienced riders can overcome the handling difficulties, but it is still not such a balanced handling package as a triathlon bike. Tri bikes are designed specifically for the sport and enable you to ride faster.

"Strength training is a waste of time"

Its surprising how much weight training the pros do, and how little age-groupers do. For more than 10 years, Diane Buchta has been strength-training endurance athletes and offering them great advice on the proper ordering of training phases, technique, speed of execution and breathing.

For an excellent video on the subject, see Strength Training for Triathletes, featuring two of Buchtas trainees, Mark Allen and Paula Newby-Fraser.

"Tubular tires are for the pros

Gluing on tubulars is an unknown science to many riders. Most people are comfortable with clinchers, as they have used them for years. Tubulars are a whole new thing. Tubulars offer faster acceleration, easier climbing, a more comfortable ride and freedom from pinch flats.

All you have to do is have your bike shop glue up your tires and rims, or have them give you instructions on how to do it and how to change a tubular. You should seriously consider tubulars, not only for racing, but also for training. It adds a new level of comfort, especially on 26-inch wheels.

"Titanium is not stiff enough

A common misconception is that a titanium frame is a flexible frame. In fact, titanium has approximately twice the stiffness of aluminum, and many powerful riders have ridden titanium frames, including Pauli Kiuru, Lance Armstrong and the L.A. Sheriff road-racing team.

Titanium frames are coming down in price, and complete bikes now start at around $2,000. Titanium offers a quite comfortable ride due to its damping qualities and is extremely durable. Do not rule it out. You are likely to see more of it in the future.

Bike weight is not important

For short-distance, multiple-corner (ITU) courses, light weight is important, since you want to accelerate and decelerate as quickly as possible. Each gram shaved will save you 0.003 seconds per 25 miles at 25 mph. A stiff, light frame is key for these races.

Clean aerodynamics will also save you time, but not as much as on the long courses. If you are doing ITU criterium (drafting) racing, aerodynamics is less important, but handling in a pack becomes a dominant factor.

For pure speed on the flats, you would have to shave 2.2 pounds of weight to get the same speed gain as a 10-gram reduction of aerodynamic drag. A pencil traveling at 30 mph would create about 10 grams of drag!

The bottom line: Light plus aero is best. For short, technical courses, lightness is No. 1, and for long courses, aerodynamics is the most significant factor. This generalization will, however, vary with the number and size of hills and the power of the athlete.

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