These little-known upgrades can help you beat your personal best on the bike
The bike leg usually takes around half the total race time so it’s easy to see why a lot of triathletes obsess about this. People focus on cycling since it’s gear-oriented and easy to “buy” your way towards a faster bike split. Upgrades such as sleeker frames, aero helmets, and faster wheels are common on any triathlete’s wish list. However, we’re here to discuss a few little-known upgrades that can help you save some time in your next race.
1. Tire selection
Choosing the best tire is something I really put a lot of emphasis on. Data from websites show you how fast a particular tire is compared with others. More importantly, they also display useful information such as puncture resistance, durability, and price. Since having a flat can basically make or break your race, going tubeless is another worthwhile upgrade you should consider. Tubeless setups use sealants that repair punctures on the fly.
Since having a flat can basically make or break your race, going tubeless is one of the best upgrades you should consider
If you really want to play it safe, consider adding Vittoria’s Airliner tire inserts to help mitigate the risks of flatting even more. Not only does it allow you to “run flat” in the event of a non-sealable puncture, it also keeps the tire bead in place, preventing the risk of your tire rolling off your rim. This also doesn’t have any rolling resistance penalty when the tire is fully inflated.
2. Gearing combination
Not a lot of people study the gearing combinations available to them; we often just use what’s included in the bike we bought. However, choosing the right chainring and cassette combination is critical if you want to have a fast bike split.
Having a large chainring seems cool and attractive but it can actually cost you time. When you’re pushing a chainring that’s too big for your abilities, you’re forced to cross-chain often and this results in excessive wear and inefficient power transfer (i.e. lost watts). A cassette that has too wide of a range can also be problematic as you’re not able to “fine-tune” your gear ratio. Large jumps between cogs puts your legs in some sort of “limbo” where either they’re pushing too hard or spinning too fast. Closer combinations allow you to stay within a comfortable cadence across different terrains.
Check out Sheldon Brown’s Gear Calculator to see what gear combination works best for you. You can select your ideal cadence and gearing specifications and it will display your effective speed across the range. It’s a good place to start if you want to know if your gearing combination is ideal.
3. Hide your hydration
The easiest and most convenient way to carry nutrition is by using a bottle cage (or two) on your frame. Sadly, this is also the least aerodynamic. Bottles are basically round cylinders that have huge drag coefficients. As a result, it gives you a significant time penalty during the bike leg. This is why a lot of frame manufacturers have started to rethink what hydration options they put on the bike.
From integrated bladders to more aerodynamic bottles, engineers have been creative to say the least. However, there are easier ways to get around this without buying a new frame. If you’re using aerobars, testing has shown that a bottle between your arms (BTA) is one of the most aerodynamic methods you can utilize. This makes the bottle more accessible and even hides it from the wind. I prefer refillable bottles such as those from Speedfil or Xlab since you can stay aero while drinking and replenishing your stores without stopping.
If you’re using aerobars, testing has shown that a bottle between your arms is one of the most aerodynamic methods you can utilize
Sadly, one bottle is usually not enough in a triathlon (unless you’re doing a sprint). This is where having bottle cages behind your saddle becomes useful. This is one of the most aero-friendly locations for bottle placement. Your body effectively shields them from the wind and in some cases (as discussed in the sub-7 attempt of Joe Skipper), this setup can also improve aerodynamics by reducing wind turbulence. The caveat here is that it’s harder in terms of accessibility and can only realistically work with a complimentary BTA setup. But if you’re able to find a setup that works for you, it’s a worthwhile “upgrade.”