Just like riding a bicycle...you hear that a lot. Supposed to mean its easy, you never forget how to do it. I disagree. Riding a bicycle can be terrifying, and getting on one for the first time in over 10 years does not feel familiar and easy! Especially when you mix an uncoordinated wanna be triathlete with clip in pedals and tri bars.
In triathlon, especially non-drafting the bike is where you are going to be spending most of your time - well for most people...unless you have an injury or completely blow up on the run.
So you better be pretty comfy on that saddle (which can be a whole other blog post on saddle comfort). Easier said than done, the last year my bike has become a strength of mine, I posted the fastest female bike split in my last 70.3, but its pretty crazy to think about where I started 15 months ago.
*Queue cheezy back in time music*
Ok I want to be a triathlete, and as much fun as the recumbant bike is at the gym I cant quite race on it. So time to bike shop, bikes are like 200-300 bucks right? (Insert incredulous look from husband who used to race mountain bikes) "Umm they are a bit more than that".
Start looking at used ones on ebay YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME?!?! These things with no horse power cost nearly as much as the motorcycle I was racing!! For what? Some metal and cables, little bit of rubber?
Luckily Blair knew a lot more about bikes than I did (paint up rubber down was about the extent of my knowledge). One thing that worked out well was Blair always wanted a Specialized bike when he was racing, so he started looking at them for triathlon bikes for me, I'm so happy he did because now that I know more about bikes and fit Specialized was the right brand and bike for me.
First question, road bike or tri bike? There is a lot of debate over this. Go with the road bike you can ride in groups, stability, and if you dont like triathlon you can still use it in social settings, if you do you can add tri bars. Tri bike - more unstable, better aero dynamics, better hip angle for running off the bike, pretty sport specific and you will rarely find bike groups that will let a tri bike tag along.
At the end of the day, I wanted to race triathlon, not bikes. In my usual fashion leaped all in and went with a tri bike.
So after an exhaustive ebay search (too cheap to buy new) found a deal on a Specialized Transition Elite, an aluminum job done up in my favorite colour. Entry level tri bike, that was a bit too big but hell I wont be fast enough for the bike to matter that much I'm just getting started.
A big box shows up on the doorstep, a flury of screws and allan wrenches and a box of bits turns into a sharp looking triathlon bike...without pedals...what do you mean it doesn't come with pedals?!? From my limited bike experience pedals are kind of essential! Then I learn about clip in pedals (that are called clipless...I swear this is just to mess with newbies).
Ok we have pedals now we are in business, bike is ready to ride.
A week later...yup bike is all ready...just sitting there...its too windy to ride...those clipless pedals are scary...(insert more excuses)...
Another week passes...it sure looks good in the living room...I cant get the hang of unclipping standing still how am I going to do it on the road? I'm totally going to fall on my ass.
It took just over 2 weeks for me to take my bike outside, I had terrifying images of me trying desperately to get my feet out of those pedals while doing a slow motion fall (which happened eventually anyways), being blown off the road with the wind, and generally looking like an idiot. Not a great start to my triathlon ambitions I was too much of a scaredy cat to get on the road.
(First ride notice lack of bike shorts...jersey...or bike shoes)
I did get some progress in the triathlon ambitions during that time though, I went to the pool once and felt like I was going to drown doing one length of 25 meters. I've never had swim lessons and had no idea what I was doing. I spent 10 minutes getting the nerve to swim the 25 meters back, was nearly hyperventilating and got out of the pool. Yea this is going well.
Ok, I need to get outside on this damned bike. First ride was terrifying, I was wobbling all over the parking lot, I don't remember riding a bike being this hard?! Panicking as I tried to unclip my clipless (WTF) pedals. Don't even get me started on turning around. But I was determined.
It took another ride just in the parking lot trying to stay upright before I ventured on the road. Now if it had been here in Scotland with itty bitty roads it may never have happened, but I was in Texas with huge roads and big shoulders so I finally got out there.
I was wobbly, but starting to get the hang of it after a few rides...then I tried the aero bars...as soon as I dropped down my bike took on a life of its own swerving side to side. Adrenaline and heart pumping went back up, ok that didn't go well. Thinking how the hell will I be able to race this thing when I feel like its going to throw me off when I go down into aero position.
I can handle a motorcycle with a 600cc engine on a race track knee dragging on the ground in the corners like its the most natural thing in the world...and a bicycle is getting the better of me.
Well it just took practise. Lots of time just doing 10-20 minute rides trying to stay calm and in control of the bike, and even more time in parking lots working on bike handling. I started to get more comfortable, relaxed, started to focus on what my legs were doing instead of a panicked death grip on the handle bars. Dealing with the insane cross and head winds in Texas forced me to get used to tough conditions and stay relaxed.
Once I felt good on the road, my bike became my favourite toy and a strength. That fear didn't completely go away, for the first 5 or so months I was in Scotland I didn't get off my trainer because I was scared again of the little roads here with no shoulder. Once again just had to get out there, now I feel good on them (but still cautious).
I forgot how difficult the bike felt in the beginning, how scared I was, 15 months seems like a lifetime ago. Now the bike feels like the most natural thing in the world. I love the way my legs feel applying power to the pedals, slipping through the wind in aero position.
I've been looking back on old workouts and races to motivate me for Ironman, and I looked at the power output on the sprint Duathlons I did earlier in the year. Well the power I put out in those short races feeling like I was going hard is the same power I plan on putting out for Ironman over 8x further than the sprint. Its been a year of getting to know my bicycle very intimately, and I cant wait to see what I can do at Ironman - 6 days.