Triathlon Training - Bike
Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Learning which bike to buy, which accessories you need and learning bike etiquette can be a daunting task. Bicycling can be very serious business for those who have spent thousands of dollars on the latest greatest gear known to 20th century man. If you show up with an old 10 speed, underwear showing under your cycling shorts and a T-shirt, don't worry if you get left behind, you're just starting out. Don't go and spend 3 grand on a new bike only to find out this triathlon training stuff is for other people. Go ahead and use your 10 speed, mountain bike or buy used and upgrade later if necessary. BUT, do make sure your bicycle fits properly and you have a helmet. It will also help you a lot if you equip your bike with clip-less pedals and shoes to maximize your pedal stroke. Last but not least, protect your eyes with sunglasses. How do you tell a happy triathlete? Bugs on their teeth.
Joining a group is the easiest and fastest way to learn and get better. With the bike being the longest event of a triathlon, this is where you can make or lose the most ground. You won't make up an hour on the run that you lost during the bike portion of a triathlon so learning to ride well will pay large dividends. There are lots of bike clubs that ride on weekends and most make allowances for the slow folks. You will get faster in all three sports if you train with people who are faster, they will pull you along, or push you to your comfort zone. If they are really generous, they will pass on all the little tips and tricks that are needed to ride in a group. As in swimming, connecting up with others takes that irksome sameness out of training. And with biking, you can carry on a conversation while riding. Save that being alone stuff for race day!
Bicycling with others will help you learn to ride with the pack and teach the benefits of drafting during long rides. Keep in mind drafting is illegal during most races and quite a controversial topic for triathletes. The point to be made is wind resistance requires 9 of 10 pedal strokes so getting aerodynamic is just plain smart. A pair of aero-bars is one of the cheapest ways to get faster.
Another important point in learning the bike technique is the pedal stroke and cadence. You might think it requires lots of strength to power up the steep hills but in reality, you need to spin your pedals 60 RPMs or more. Just like counting seconds it's easy to tell when you're on the mark, I do it by counting 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000 etc.
One revolution per second puts you at 60 RPMs. Rather than standing up and pushing down hard on the pedals, you sit and pull up and push down using the entire stroke cycle, kind of a square box technique. You will save your knees if you always spin instead of using force. Using clip-less pedals paired with the stiff sole shoes will help you get more out of each stroke by reducing energy lost to flex and wasted movement.
One good long ride between 30-70 miles and a few shorter rides during the week should get you in good shape. If you are doing your first short distance triathlon, your long ride won't need to reach more than 25-30 miles. Remember to stay hydrated by carrying water bottles and have some food available so you don't bonk. That's where the pockets in the back of those funny colorful jerseys come in handy.
Happy Triathlon Training!