What gears should I use?

ClimbingDespite using an 11/23 rear cassette with 39/53 front chain rings for many years, our favorite gearing for racing and training has shifted to an 11/26 rear cassette and 39/53 front chain rings. This set up allows you to keep a higher cadence on hills and prevent that excessive leg burn that can be so detrimental to finishing your race with a strong run leg. On extremely hilly, long-distance courses such as IM St. George, we’ll even use a 12/28 rear cassette.  A general rule of thumb is that if there is any question at all – go with the easier gearing.

Long, steep climbs aside, having the larger gears in back can also help save you from that oh-so-annoying shift to the small chain ring when you hit some small rollers or false flat sections.  Having the ability to stay in your 53 front ring and get into the 23 cog on the back without crossing the chain over too far can be nice advantage.

One small disadvantage to having a cassette like a 12/28 is that you lose the ability to pedal hard at over 40 miles per hour.  I.e. when you’re going downhill.  In our opinion that  little bit of lost speed on fast downhill sections is more than made up for on the rest of the hilly course.

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The rules of the road(ie)


RULE 60: Pre-race, you must be tranquilo, resting on your top tube thusly. This may also be extended to any time one is aboard the bike, but not riding it, such as at stop lights or while waiting for riding partners

As triathlete we often bear the brunt of many jokes coming from die-hard road cyclists – AKA: Roadies. Quite honestly, many of these jokes are well deserved! Here’s a collection of rules put together by the Velominati, we suggest you read them and learn. As comical as they are, there is an element of seriousness to all of them.


Here’s a quick sample before going over to read the list in it’s entirety, which by having read this far you are required to do.

RULE 28:
Socks can be any damn colour you like. White is old school cool. Black is good, but once again were given a bad image by a Texan whose were too long. DeFeet Wool-E-Ators rule.

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Dialing in your race bike

Three or four weeks prior to an important race we like to make sure our bikes are in fine working order.  This generally means putting a little time and money into sprucing them up, but it’s well worth it when you consider how much training has been invested in your race.  Our biggest worry on race day is to have a mechanical issue on the bike. We always breath a little sigh of relief when we get off the bike after an incident free ride.  Things can go wrong on the run, but most of them are under your control.

The two big bike upgrades we always take care of a few weeks out from race day are new tires and new cables.  More often than not the tires we’re taking off our race wheels are still in really good condition.  However, they may have small nics in the rubber, or small cracks in the rubber surface or sidewall.  Perhaps some of the tubular tape is pealing away from the underside of the tire.  It’s best to have a good look at your tires and if you notice anything at all, swap them out.  The same goes for clincher tires, check them over and swap them out if you have any concerns about their wear and tear.

We also take out our old cables and put in some new ones.  Twice per year we also change all the cable housing to help improve shifting performance.  The primary reason for swapping out your cables, however, is to prevent breakage.  Yes, we know, how often do cables break?  Not often, but with time trial bikes that have shift levers out on the aero bars, and with most new frames incorporating internal cable routing, there is added cable length, added friction inside the frame, and increased wear on the cable and cable housing.  If you want everything to work perfectly on race day and avoid any unfortunate breaks or miss shifts, then definitely swap out your cables.  Do this at least a few weeks prior to race day, that will give the cables time to settle and stretch a bit.  After which you can get a final tune-up and dial in that perfect shifting a few days prior to race day.

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Shammy time is training time

shammyGrowing up as a young cyclist, one of the lines we always used jokingly was ‘Shammy time is training time’.  Meaning that sitting around in your shammy after your ride was considered training time.  Obviously not the case, but funny nonetheless.

This tip has to do with your shammy - relative to your saddle height on race day (not the amount of time you spend sitting around in it).  Most of us as triathletes will race in a tri-short with a small shammy that doesn’t soak up a gallon of water from the swim, and doesn’t feel like a diaper during the run.  However, we often train in a normal cycling shorts with those nice thick pads that ease the bumps and bruises on our skinny butts.  The difference between the two is relatively minor, but, it does make a difference on race day if your legs and back are used to having that extra ~5mm of height.

So how do you solve this?  We tend not to like adjusting our physical saddle height to compensate, but, if you want to be extreme you could certainly do this.  Rather, we simply make sure to train in our Tri-shorts a couple times per week, and every single ride for the 2-3 weeks before race day.  The difference really is small, but, with ~5000 revolutions of the pedals every hour on the bike, those little differences are worth paying attention to.

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hawaiianblendChances are, if you’re a triathlete, you’ll be racing and/or training somewhere where you’ll need sunscreen, and the SPF number is not all you should be looking at.  Race day is not a day to try and get a tan, so find one that works and load it on.  Some athletes even carry a small bottle with them on the bike to re-apply half way.  Sunburn to the skin hinders sweat gland function by inhibiting the body’s ability to cool itself, it is definitely worth paying attention to if racing in a place with intense sunshine.

What better place to test this stuff out then on the lava fields of Hawaii – so that’s what we’ve done.  A few different trials and we’ve found the perfect answer.  It’s extremely breathable, extremely water proof, and claims to be anti-aging (which by blocking UV and preventing skin damage is actually reasonable).  The key ingredient is 3% Zinc Oxide in a product called Hawaiian Blend Sport Sunblock SPF50.   We tried a couple others – Bullfrog works great, but not for long.  Similar findings for Coppertone Sport.  The worst was made by Banana Boat, even the sport sunscreen was very un-breathable and it makes you sweat from every pore. It also didn’t do much to block the sun after any time in the water.

Something with Zinc Oxide is by far your best bet.  3% is a good level, anything higher and you’ll be a white monster as it doesn’t rub in very well.  If you have a hairy body you may want to look for something with a bit less zinc for that very reason.  However, anything without it and it’ll be gone a few hours into the bike.

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Compression Socks

running_O2_max_ In our opinion compression socks can be beneficial for triathletes.  They are great for recovery from hard runs, long days at work, or traveling. They can also be used during hard training runs if you don’t mind getting heckled by 99.9% of the population.  Wearing them in a race, however, we’re not sold on.  If you can put those things on in under 1 minute, they are most likely not tight enough on your calves to be having any effect anyway.  There is a compromise – calf sleeves, that you could tuck under your wetsuit during the swim and not have to waste time in transition putting the full compression sock on.

The people who run the Ironman show (WTC) had recently placed a ban on compression socks – but it does look like they’ve reversed that decision for Kona this year.  The issue was that they thought athletes were gaining an unfair advantage by covering up their respective age categories.  Sounds like they have eliminated the ritual of putting the athletes age on the back of the calf altogether.

One final thing – if you want to use them purely for recovery you can find the perfect pair for ~$15 at your local pharmacy.  These types tend not to be designed for training (thick cotton soles etc.) but if you want them solely for recovery,  they are way cheaper than the $50-$75 price tag found on compression socks in sports stores.

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Tri Bike or Road Bike for long course triathlon

cdabiketrevSo, are you better off getting a triathlon specific frame, or better off attaching clip-on aero bars to your road bike frame?  This topic has been grilled to death on the internet but we’re going to talk about it regardless.  I did my first two Ironmans on a road bike with aero bars and have some points that I think are useful to those weighing this decision.

Things  to consider:

-The aerodynamic position on a triathlon bike allows your hips to stay open.  If you were to put your back into the same aerodynamic position on a road bike, you will more than likely have a tighter hip angle, pinching off some of the blood flow and comfort you’ll need to perform well.  If you have tight back and glute muscles, riding in any semblance of an aero position while on a road bike is going to be extremely uncomfortable.  If you have a barrel chest, big gut, large breasts – same thing holds true.  Your quads will be hitting your upper body on a road bike with aero bars.  Moving the seat forward relative to the bottom bracket (which is basically what a tri-bike does) will open up your hips and give you more room to breath and stay comfortable,while all while being more aerodynamic.  In our opinion this is what most people neglect to look at.  They think because their body won’t allow them to be aero, they don’t need a triathlon frame with a steeper seat angle.  TOTALLY wrong, it will help in a big way for the reasons mentioned above.

-More power when further over the bottom bracket.  Have you ever seen professional cyclists when they’re giving it 110% in a Time trial or a solo breakaway?  They’re sitting as far forward on the saddle as they can to generate the highest amount of power.  Competitive cyclists have specific rules that keep their bike saddles from being too far forward – not applicable to triathlon and it’s good to take advantage of it (to a point).  If you’ll be doing a lot of climbing out of the aero bars, you can generate more power by sitting further back on the saddle so you don’t want to take the forward saddle position too far.

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Penaten Cream

With the high training volumes that go into preparing for an Ironman, skin irritations are inevitable. Chaffing, sunburn, blisters and the dreaded sore red skin around the saddle area are common examples. If you have sensitive skin and have had to squat in the bushes on a long ride, [...]

Aero Helmets

girohelmetAero helmets are a popular piece of fancy gear that long course triathletes often obsess over. IMtriathlontips.com been down in the A2 wind tunnel care of Blue Competition Cycles to measure their exact aerodynamic advantage.  What we learned is that aerodynamics are extremely personal. Helmets that had the longest taper at the back and seemed the most sleek and “aero” sat differently with the natural taper of each riders back. We saw a decrease in wind resistance with a helmet that had a shorter tail on one rider, but the same helmet didn’t work quite as well for another.  There’s also the issue of position and what you can hold for an entire 180 kilometers.   All in all, it’s very personal.  It depends on YOU and how you sit on your bike and hold your head.

When trying helmets on bring your bike (or keep the receipt), get in your aero position and get someone to look at how the helmet fits with the overall line of your body (side profile pictures work the best). You want to avoid a big gap between the tail of the helmet and your back, this will prevent turbulent airflow.

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Say no to chaffing

bodyglideIf you are new to the world of long distance triathlon, or simply have incredibly robust skin, you may not be intimately familiar with wonderful anti-friction products such as BodyGlide.   You can apply this stuff anywhere and it will prevent fabric-on-skin or skin-on-skin chaffing (‘chub-rub’ as we affectionately call it).  Most people use it on race day to lube up their forearms and calves for easy wetsuit removal, and to prevent chaffing on the back of their necks from wetsuit zippers.  Many  also apply it around their armpits where jerseys and sports bras make contact.

If you have  sensitive skin, applying body glide between your legs, along any areas where seams and chamois in your bike shorts may rub, around the draw-string of your shorts, where a race number belt may make contact with your waist, and around your ankle where your timing-chip strap goes - are all important measures to take to keep your lower half happy.  In addition to the armpit and sports bra areas, you may want to apply body glide to your neck and the front of your chest if you have a zipper that opens up the front of your jersey. Men may also find that nipples are an essential area to cover, especially if they change into a more loose fitting jersey for the run. If you wear a heart rate monitor it can be good to apply body glide in a band right around your ribcage.

In non race scenarios, body glide is great to have in your swim bag to avoid chaffing from your chlorine resistant, but rough, polyester swim suit.  I get funny looks every morning when I appear to be applying deodorant to strange places, but I find that my neck and armpits get roughed up with anything over 4000m.  A between the legs application of body-glide can be the solution to those little run shorts that just aren’t comfortable for anything over 10k otherwise. Body glide is also great for avoiding blisters on your feet from new shoes or swim fins.

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