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Most triathletes look at how to get faster swim, bike, and run splits in their race, forgetting that the overall time is more than the sum of those three parts. In fact, the place where it may be easiest to shave time in a triathlon is in transition – specifically, when moving on and off the bike. Knowing how to efficiently mount and dismount your bike – or, if you’re feeling flashy, how to do a flying mount and dismount – can be a big part of a new PR.
Looking for more tips on how to get through your transition quickly and efficiently? Check out The Illustrated Guide to Racing A Triathlon.
What do you mean, “how to mount” your bike?
You might be thinking, Don’t you just get on your bike and start riding? Yes, that’s essentially it. But there’s a basic way, a fast way, and an even faster way to do it.
How to mount your bike: The basics
The fundamental bike mount begins with putting on all of your bike gear in T1, including your bike shoes (or, if you are not using clipless pedals, your run shoes). You will then take your bike off the rack in transition and run (wearing your bike shoes) to the designated mount line at the transition exit. When you get to the mount line, lift your leg over the bike’s top tube, clip one shoe into the pedal (or put your foot on the platform pedal) and push down to begin rolling while lifting your body onto the bike seat. Clip your other shoe into the remaining pedal, and away you go!
The benefit of doing a basic bike mount is that you can take your time making your way through transition. If you’re feeling frenzied and need to take a moment to collect yourself, transition is the perfect place to do it. Carefully walk your bike to the mount line, take a deep breath, then hop on.
But if you’re looking to go fast, you probably can see how this basic bike mount can be holding you back. Anyone who has tried to walk in bike shoes knows it’s not a graceful stroll – more like an awkward clop-clop-clop. Try to run, and it can become even more cumbersome (or even dangerous). That’s why some triathletes choose to move to the next level: The clipped-in mount.
How to mount your bike: Clipped in
In this mount, you’ll leave your bike shoes clipped in to the pedals, with all fasteners on the shoes opened (laces, dials, etc.). Instead of putting on your bike shoes in T1, you’ll take your bike off the rack in transition and run, barefoot (or wearing socks, if that’s your preference), to the designated mount line at the transition exit. That’s where you’ll lift your leg over the bike’s top tube, place your foot on top of your bike shoe, and push down to begin rolling while lifting your body onto the bike seat. Place your other bare foot on top of the second shoe; once you get enough momentum to keep rolling, you can take small breaks in pushing the pedals to reach down and slide your feet into your shoes, one at a time, and fasten any velcro or dials.
This kind of mount lets you run faster through transition without clunky bike cleats to slow you down. However, the time advantage of pulling off a clipped-in mount can be lost if you don’t have the control and comfort to maintain momentum and a straight line with your bike while also reaching down to put on a shoe that is attached to the pedal. More than one well-intentioned triathlete has fallen victim to the low-speed tip-over while attempting a clipped-in mount during a race. Don’t be the one who starts a pile-up at the bike exit: Practice your mounts on a bike path or in an empty parking lot many times before trying it in a race.
How to mount your bike: Flying mount
Experienced triathletes take the clipped-in mount one step further by doing what is known as a flying mount. The name comes from the sleight-of-hand that occurs when this kind of mount takes place: A triathlete runs barefoot alongside the bike, with shoes already clipped in and open, to the mount line, then, without breaking stride, jumps (or “flies”) onto the bike seat. After pedaling a few strokes for momentum, they reach down and slip their feet into their shoes.
Flying mounts are flashy, to be sure, but in most non-drafting races, they’re really not necessary. What’s more, they can be dangerous to yourself and to others. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a flying mount, especially in the energy and chaos of race day. Timing a flying mount wrong or failing to get your leg high enough to clear the top of your bike will end up adding more time to your transition, not subtracting from it. If you want to do a flying mount in your race, practice it extensively in training, and be aware of others around you at the mount line, which can often get crowded. Also note that some races do not allow age-groupers to do flying mounts – check the rules before your big event.
Video: How to do a clipped-in mount and dismount
Video Credit: GRIT USA
How to dismount your bike quickly and hit the ground running
Way to crush that bike course! In the final stretch of the bike leg, you’re probably feeling pretty chuffed and thinking about the run ahead, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’ve still got to get off the bike, and just like mounting, there are basic and high-speed ways to do it.
How to dismount your bike: The basics
Your basic dismount will be the same as the basic mount, in reverse. As you approach the dismount line, you’ll feather your breaks to slow down. As you get closer to a full stop, unclip one foot from the pedal, and place it on the ground next to your bike. After stopping, unclip the other pedal, swing your leg over the top tube, and then push your bike to your spot in transition while running alongside it with your bike shoes on.
Again, running in bike shoes is not a speedy experience, so you may opt instead to try a more efficient route: keeping your shoes clipped in.
How to dismount your bike: Clipped in
As you get closer to the end of your bike leg, bring one foot to the top of the pedal stroke. Unfasten any velcros or dials on your bike shoe and slip your foot out, placing the bare foot on the upper of the shoe. Push your pedals a few more times, then bring the other foot up to the top of the pedal stroke; repeat. Continue pedaling with your feet on top of the bike shoes until you reach the dismount line. Slow to a stop, then move one foot to the ground, then the other. Swing your leg over the top tube and push your bike to your spot in transition as you run alongside it, barefoot.
This multitasking move shaves time in two ways. First, you’re able to run more comfortably and efficiently than you would in your bike shoes; you’re also cutting out the time it would take you to unfasten and remove your shoes while in T2. Want to take even more time off your transition? Let’s take a look at how to do a flying dismount.
How to dismount your bike: Flying dismount
A flying dismount is significantly easier than a flying mount, and safer to boot. You’ll start in the same way as a clipped-in dismount, by removing your feet from your shoes while rolling. As you slow near the dismount line, press up on the foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke while pulling the other foot off the pedal. Swing that free leg to the other side and bring it in front of your pedal foot. Gently squeeze your brakes, jump off the bike, and start running barefoot as you stop. Continue running while pushing your bike back to your spot in transition.
Again: Practice your flying dismount on a bike path or in an empty parking lot before trying it in a race, and pay close attention to other racers dismounting near you.
Pro tips for faster mounts and dismounts
Before your race, walk through transition and note where the bike mount and dismount lines are located. It’s important to note that these lines are not suggestions, they’re mandates – you cannot get on your bike and begin pedaling until you reach the mount line, and you must be off your bike before crossing the dismount line. This is for everyone’s safety, and you will get a pretty hefty time penalty added onto your overall time if you don’t heed to lines.
Your first step in T1 is to take your wetsuit off. The second step, before you do anything else, is to put your helmet on and secure the chin strap. If your helmet isn’t on when you take your bike off the transition rack and begin pushing it to the exit, you may be disqualified. Ditto for your return; your helmet must remain on your head until you rack your bike in T2.
If you choose to have your shoes preclipped onto your pedals for either a “clipped in” or “flying mount” mount, you don’t want your shoes spinning and flapping around (trust us). To prevent this, you’ll see almost every pro and many experienced non-pros putting their cranks at 3 and 9 o’clock (looking at the bike from the drive side) then tying a very very thin rubber band from the back of their clipped-in shoe to the front derailleur (on the right side) and your rear quick release (on the left side). This keeps the heel of your shoe from dragging, then spinning, but when you step on the shoes, the rubber band will break away. Just be sure to check it did actually break, because sometimes a very stretchy rubber band might need a little help to snap once you get going.
Nothing new on race day
We’ve said it before in this article, and we’ll say it again: Practice, practice, practice! Whether you do a basic mount or a flying mount, practice your swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions multiple times before race day. This will build your confidence and skills, which leads to faster transitions – and faster race times.
Marcus Fitts is a former collegiate swimmer, 2020 USA Triathlon Coach of the Year, and the founder of GRIT USA, an adult multisport development team that advances athletes to new limits, inspires communities, and enacts socio-cultural & economic change.