Triathlon vs Road
Bike fit for triathlon is fundamentally different than bike fit for a road bike.
Ideally your triathlon riding position reduces your frontal area and “cleans up” the flow of air around your body and bike to improve your aerodynamics.
...But aerodynamics is not your first priority!
The first priority in a bike fit for triathlon or road is the same: pelvic core stability.
Three factors that affect your pelvic core stability:
- Degree of pelvic tilt
- Low back profile
- Hip flexion and mobility
An aggressive aero position can significantly compromise these three factors. This results in decreased stability, comfort and performance.
Road Cycling: A traditional road riding position optimally engages your pelvic core muscles for stability and power production.
Triathlon: An aerodynamic time trial/triathlon position lowers your upper body to decrease wind resistance. You must roll your pelvis farther forward and/or round your lower back. This posture compromises your core muscle recruitment and your stability. It may also cause your hips to flex more at the top of your pedal stroke.
Road First, Triathlon Second
Novice triathletes with little or no cycling experience should start training in a traditional road riding position before graduating to aero position.
This will improve your “core skills” when you ride. Many pro triathletes start each training season on a road bike – to fine-tune pelvic core muscle engagement for stability and power.
An “aggressive” aero position looks great – especially if you have a big drop from your saddle to your bars and a very low profile. But it may not by your optimal position for stability and power.
Pelvic Stability and Hip Mobility:
Pelvic stability and hip mobility trump aerodynamics in determining your optimal riding positions – even for triathlon.
To optimize aerodynamics, you must be very still when you ride. If you are unstable and uncomfortable – squirming around when you ride – you are disturbing the flow of air around your body. This movement increases drag and decreases your speed.
Can you ride quietly in your aero position for the duration of your goal races? If your position is too uncomfortable or unstable, it is diminishing your performance.
A riding position that maximizes aerodynamics at the expense of core stability and hip mobility will almost certainly result in lower performance – on the bike and the run.
Weight Support and Handlebar Set-up:
An “aggressive” bike fit for triathlon or road – with your handlebars set low – may force you to support too much of your upper body weight with your hands and arms on the bars. This adversely affects your handling, comfort and performance.
Your upper body functions differently in these two positions to provide lateral stability. Aero bar selection and adjustment are important in your bike fit for triathlon. Correct aero bar set-up is critical to your lateral stability and safety – as well as comfort and performance.
The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides you with guidance to evaluate the comfort, stability and functionality of your current aero bar set-up.
Bike Fit Triathlon vs. Road: The fundamental differences include:
- Pelvic pitch and low back profile
- Upper body lean
- Hip mobility
- Fore-aft weight distribution
- Lateral stability
Comfort: All of these factors affect your comfort. If you aren’t comfortable, everything else will diminish – safety, performance, endurance and enjoyment. This becomes more critical as you train and race longer distances.
The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide will guide you through a thorough examination of the differences between road and triathlon cycling. You will be able to evaluate your current bike fit for triathlon or road and make intelligent decisions in your set-up.
If you are a time-trialist or triathlete, it is vital that you experience the difference between the two set-ups. There are some significant differences in your relationship with your bike - such as pelvic core engagement and the use of your upper body for lateral stability.
In the fit studio, I will often work with triathletes to find and experience their ideal road and aero positions. I do this using their existing bike and the Serotta Fit Cycle for a side-by-side comparison.
Pursue the 4 essential elements of cycling technique to enhance your cycling performance, endurance, enjoyment and safety when you ride: Elements of Cycling Technique
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