4 “Free Speed” Tips For The Bike

Want to gain an edge without draining your wallet? Apply these small details to your training and racing.

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Want to gain an edge without draining your wallet? Apply these small details to your training and racing.

When triathletes refer to “free speed,” they often mean race wheels and aero helmets that won’t “cost” you any extra fitness. We love fast gear, but real fitness and little technical details, like the ones below, can give you an edge during your next race without the hefty price tag.

Stay in aero

A slick-looking setup with no spacers means nothing if you spend half the bike leg sitting up. “Sitting up on a bike is the same as riding your brakes downhill. … You’re sure to lose all the free speed you purchased when you bought your aero triathlon bike,” says Matt Cole, owner of Podium Multisport in Atlanta. “The most aero position in the world won’t help you if you can’t hold it more than five minutes.” A good fitter should work with you not only to find the most aero position, but to also set you up with one you can actually hold for the duration of the bike leg.

RELATED: Seven Tips To Get Comfortable In The Aero Position

Exchange bottles efficiently

If you are stopping to mix powdered drink mix with aid station water, pulling over to the side of the road to exchange bottles, or slowing to a glacial pace to do the exchange, you are wasting precious time. You can benefit greatly from practicing the handling skills necessary to slow only marginally and exchange as efficiently as possible. Get through the exchange in 10 seconds with these four steps:

  1. Slow down, make sure your path to the bottle is clear (2 seconds)
  2. Ditch old bottle (1 second)
  3. Point/make eye contact with volunteer you intend to receive the new bottle from (1 second, bonus points: thank him or her)
  4. Put new bottle in cage or pour into aero bottle (1–7 seconds)

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Take advantage of legal pacing

There is a reason that top athletes consider it an advantage to ride “with” others of similar speed, and that is because there are both mental and physical benefits of pacing and “slingshotting.”

According to USA Triathlon rules for amateurs, the term “drafting zone” refers to a rectangular area 7 meters long and 2 meters wide surrounding each bicycle. “The longer sides of the zone begin at the leading edge of the front wheel and run backward parallel to the bicycle; the front wheel divides the short side of the zone into two equal parts.”

Basically that means there is nothing wrong, technically or morally, with gaining an advantage by sitting outside of 7 meters or pacing. Similarly be smart (but safe) when passing through someone’s draft zone during your 20-second passing window.

RELATED: Team Tactics At The Ironman World Championship

Don’t carry a buffet

You may have heard a fellow triathlete say to think of the bike leg as “a rolling buffet,” especially in Ironman racing. Yes, you need to keep eating and drinking consistently throughout the bike leg. But the time cost, weight and drag of a tree of gel wrappers flapping in the wind on a bike frame loaded down with five bottle cages and 15 pounds of fluid adds up!

A good way to pare down is to eliminate nutrition choices—don’t try to take along five different options just in case you have a craving for something specific. You will have plenty of time to satisfy that craving once the race is over! The best option is to live (at least a little bit) off of what’s offered on course. Train with what will be at the aid stations during your race simulation days to make sure it sits OK in your stomach, then pack the opposite variety of nutrition (e.g., if fruity gels are offered on course, bring chocolate or savory options) to avoid flavor or texture fatigue.

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