For the triathlete looking to make improvements in his or her bike split, there are any number of ways to gain speed and reduce the amount of time getting from T1 to T2. Obviously, a smart training plan, and consistent, hard work is a must. Improving your bike fitness and skills will lead to a faster bike split as a simple byproduct of the work you put into improvement. A new, super-aerodynamic bike, a set of deep-rimmed aero wheels, an aero helmet: All of these, and many others, might also be good choices. Spending your way to a faster bike split is certainly one option to take, and I won’t argue that not only are you buying speed, but you’re likely getting improved motivation to work harder, having just spent as much as $15-20k on the latest technology available today.
For this article, I’d like to offer three suggestions, that even when combined will likely cost less than the current year’s uber-bike, and will result in at least as fast of a bike split, if not much faster.
Hiring a Coach ($150 – $500+ per month)
Having coached many athletes over the past decade, I’m obviously biased about this one, but with good reason: it works! Hiring a coach will help your quest for improvement in many ways, both short and long term. A good coach is more than just someone who writes a training plan. A coach is there to answer your questions, offer solutions based on science and experience, provide motivation, and help you understand why a training program focused on your needs and goals is better for you than pulling a training plan written for someone else (or maybe for no one at all!) out of a book or off the internet. If you work with a coach in person, you get even more of a benefit. With your coach right there watching you train, you get instant feedback on form and performance. Obviously, if you want your coach present at several workouts per week, it is likely going to cost you more monetarily, however, with a good coach you get what you pay for, and shelling out a little more money per month to ensure that performance in your key races is the best it can be, might just priceless for you. In comparison, at a local gym you might spend as much as $70-100 per 1-hour session to work with a personal trainer. Paying your coach $500-600 per month to help you perform to your potential in key workouts each week (not to mention the training plan and performance data analysis) seems like a bargain from this perspective. If you are serious about improving as a triathlete, hiring a coach is a no-brainer!
Getting Properly Fitted to Your Bike ($100 – $300)
The second essential for improving your bike split is getting properly fitted to your bike. What this means is that you are a) comfortable, b) able to produce power optimally, and c) as aerodynamic on the bike as you can be without compromising the first two aspects of how you are seated on your bike. An experienced bike fitter will get you set up on your bike in the most optimal position, allowing you to take advantage of both power and energy savings that come from being relaxed and comfortable on the bike. Once you are comfortable, you will be able to produce higher power relative to your strength and expend less energy doing so. More power equals faster bike split! Finally, many triathletes are concerned with being positioned aerodynamically on their bike. After all, it is our body on the bike that causes the most drag. However, there is a point at which you will need to sacrifice aerodynamics for comfort, and this point is for most, a lot less “aero” than we would like to think it is. The reason is that by forcing one’s body into an aggressively aerodynamic position comes at a cost, and this cost is usually some combination of comfort and power. This being said, being as aero as possible, meaning positioning your body to create less wind resistance as you move down the road is obviously going to allow you to be faster. Finding the optimal position that allows you to be aero without compromising comfort and power is what a good bike fit is all about, and finding this position makes the cost of a quality bike fit worth every penny.
A Power Meter ($800 – $5000)
Of the three suggestions that I feel are essential to improving your bike split, a power meter has the biggest upfront cost, and by itself, does not make you any faster. However, by recording the data produced in each bike workout that you do, and having a knowledgeable coach read and interpret (and teach you how to read and interpret) the data, a power meter becomes a incredibly useful tool. To begin with, a power meter gives you an opportunity to objectively understand how you ride a bike: what are your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies. It will also give you immediate feedback by telling you how much power (in Watts) you are producing in the moment. These two aspects of training with a power meter combine to help you optimize your bike training and racing. Because you will know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are, you and your coach will be able to create a training plan that will specifically address what it is that will help you improve the most, and you as the athlete will be able to accurately execute the workouts in the plan to the exact Watt. Using this tool will take out the guess work involved in deciding just how hard or easy your workouts need to be. In addition, once race day comes around, you’ll be able to dial in the perfect effort on the bike that will see you arriving in T2 ready to take advantage of your running fitness.
Take any of these three suggestions, and your bike split will improve. Combining them will truly optimize your potential on the bike, not mention the residual effects that will occur in your run split from properly managing your efforts on the bike! There is no argument here that the latest gear will increase your speed, however, optimizing your training and how you ride a bike might be a smarter investment that will yield a higher return on that investment.
Lee Gardner is the Head Coach at Trismarter Triathlon Coaching and Nutrition. Coach Lee has successfully coached age group athletes to a number of championship events, including ITU Age Groups Worlds, USAT Age Group Nationals, Ironman World Championship, and Ironman 70.3 World Championship. In 2012, Lee coached athletes to both Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships age group victories, as well as the USA Triathlon 2012 Female Age Group Athlete of the Year.