Also check out  So You Wanna Do a Triathlon:  Swimming


You could say that cycling is in my blood.  DadHTP is an accomplished rider and passed the love of the sport onto me.  Not that I had any choice in the matter – I practically grew up on the back of a road bike!


Cycling is probably the most difficult part of a triathlon to ‘figure out’ because it 1) involves the purchase of expensive gear; and 2) involves the development of very practical skills.  Although cycling is not my favorite part of a triathlon, I do really enjoy the sport, mainly because there is so much to learn.  It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by cycling, but I think it’s important to point out that no newbie has any idea how to put a gear chain back on or change a tire.  No one is born knowing how to shift gears or use clipless pedals.  All cyclists start somewhere!


This post will cover:


  • Gear and skill basics
  • Confidence on the bike
  • Biking in groups

Step 1: Get the Basic Gear and Develop Basic Skills


In general, there are three types of bicycles:  road bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrid bikes.  The biggest difference between these bike types is the weight of the frame (mountain bikes are thicker, heavier, and sturdier), and the width of the tires (road bikes have skinny tires so you go faster).  Hybrid bikes are a combination of the two. 


If you’re going to do a sprint triathlon, the bike distance is usually around 10 miles.  If you already own a mountain or hybrid bike and want to try the sport on for size, it’s perfectly acceptable to do a sprint triathlon with those bikes.  However, if you’re going to do an Olympic triathlon or really want a fast bike time, you’ll want to invest in a road bike. 


Do not feel like you have to walk into a fancy bike store and drop a thousand bucks on a new bike.  My road bike retailed for about $1400, and I snagged it on Craigslist for $350.  Here’s a very helpful post that DadHTP and I co-wrote about buying a new bike, whether new or used.


In addition to the bike, at a minimum, most newbie cyclists invest in the following:


  • Padded shorts.  Not optional.  People often complain that their butt hurts after cycling, and there are two solutions to this problem:  1) you must use padded shorts and 2) you must break you ass in.  There’s no other way around it – your butt just has to get used to being the saddle.  If you are doing a triathlon, you could wear a trisuit or trishorts instead, which feature less padding.  I only own one type of bike shorts – Aerotech – and would highly recommend them.


  • A helmet.  Also not optional.  You 100% need to wear a helmet every single time you ride your bike – even if it’s just down the road to the store.   You can buy a nicer, more comfortable helmet at a bike shop, but the $20 helmets at Target or WalMart work just fine.  Make sure it fits you properly (it should come down your forehead, not high up on your hairline), and the straps should be adjusted so it doesn’t wiggle.   FYI – If you ever crash you bike and even tap your helmet to the ground, you should replace it – here’s why.
  • Bike gloves.  Gloves are optional; however, they are really worth the small investment.  First, gloves pad your hands so they don’t hurt as you grip the handlebars.  Second, gloves protect your palms if you do fall over. 
  • A flat repair kit.  Absolutely not optional.  Hopefully, you will never blow a tire on the side of the road (it hasn’t happened to me yet – knock on wood!) but if you do, you need to be able to repair your tire.


  • Sunglasses.  Sunglasses are also optional but highly useful, both for keeping the sun out of your eyes and protecting your eyes from debris, such as dust or gravel.  Don’t wear regular sunglasses, though – buy a pair of shatter-proof sunglasses.  I got mine for less than $15 at the grocery store (they are Ironman brand).
  • Clipless Pedals.  Also known as ‘clip-in pedals’ (clipless doesn’t make much sense because you are actually clipping in), clipless pedals combine with special clip-in bike shoes that allow you to fully attach your foot to the pedal.  Clipless pedals are optional, and if you don’t want to invest in the shoe/pedal combo, consider getting toe cages that you can use with sneakers.  However, clipless pedals make it much, much easier to ride because your stroke becomes more efficient – you can push down and pull up.  I was very nervous to use clipless pedals at first because you’re literally attached to your bike.  I highly recommend practicing clipping in and out in a doorway until you get the hang of it.



If you’re planning to ride at night or dusk, you also need a light.  There are many other items that cyclists can buy – here’s a list of my other recommendations.  But if you’ve got a bike, shorts, helmet, and flat repair kit and are riding during daylight hours, you can give triathlons a whirl. 


In terms of skills, all cyclists need to know how to change a tire.  A tire on a bike contains two parts: the outer tire and the inner tube.  Often, when you get a flat, the tube will burst but the tire will be fine.  A flat repair kit contains a tube, tools for removing the tire from the wheel, and a CO2 pump to inflate the tire.  Changing a tire can be very difficult, especially for the back wheel, as you have to work around the gears.  I learned how to change a tire by trial and error and by watching YouTube videos.  I would differently recommend practicing on your bike at home when you don’t have a flat – just take the wheels off, remove the tire, deflate the tube and remove it, and put the tube back on.   It took me over an hour to change the back tire on my first try and – trust me – I was glad I was sitting in my living room and not on the side of the road.


To learn other important bike skills, consider taking a Bike 101 course at a local bike shop.  They can show you how to clean the chain, adjust the brakes, and develop other key mechanical skills.  And, as always, you can learn a lot from YouTube.  In fact, I learned how to dismantle my entire bike, pack it for cross-country travel, and put it back together thanks to a YouTube video (and a little help from DadHTP).


Step 2:  Get Comfortable on Your Bike


Prior to your triathlon, it is very important that you feel comfortable on your bike.  You’ll be riding on the shoulder of a road (which may contain car traffic) and around other cyclists.  The best piece of advice that I can give about cycling is that you must be alert the entire time.  Cycling is not like running, where you can simply ‘zone out’ and stare at the ground in front of you.  When you are riding, you have to be constantly aware of who’s in front of you, who’s behind you, what potholes are coming up, etc.  Every time I have ever crashed my bike, it was because I zoned out.


The best way to get confident on the bike?  Practice, practice, practice.  I do not recommend riding a road bike on the sidewalk (you can easily pop a tire, and it is unsafe for pedestrians).  Start off riding on a designated bike trial; check out your city’s Parks and Recreation website for info.  Eventually, graduate to cycling in designated bike lanes and then along quieter roads. 


And when it comes to riding on the road, remember this – cyclists have a legal right to be on the road.  Contrary to what many drivers believe, they have to share the lane with cyclists.  You do not have to stay crunched up along the edge of the asphalt (in fact, this can be very unsafe). 


You must obey all traffic laws while on your bike.  Stop at stop signs and red lights.  Remember to always bike with – not against – traffic.  And lastly, be aware of the common ways drivers hit cyclists (as a cyclist, I have personally suffered from The Right Hook – it was not cool at all, my friends). 


Another important bike skill is figuring out how to shift bike gears.  DadHTP wrote a great guest post on this very subject called How to Shift Bike Gears (Without Falling Over).


Try not to ride alone.  If you don’t have a friend to ride with, consider joining a cycling or triathlon club.  On days that you do ride alone, always tell somewhere where you are going and when you will return and, most importantly, carry identification, your health insurance card, and your cell phone.


Step 3:  Biking in Groups


Last, but not least, you’ll need to be comfortable biking in groups, as you will undoubtedly be cycling with other people during your triathlons.  Some basic points:


  • Don’t get too close.  Riding too close to someone else is asking for a crash.  It is important to never ‘cross wheels,’ which is when your front wheel is adjacent to someone’s back wheel.  If you are in this position, you should loudly state your position and pull back.
  • It is illegal to ‘draft’ during a triathlon.  Drafting is when you ride within another cyclist’s aerodynamic drag, which makes cycling easier for you (hence why it is illegal).  According to the USAT, the drafting zone is two bike lengths behind the cyclist.  You can enter the drafting zone only if you plan to pass the cyclist within 15 seconds.  On the other hand, if you are cycling with friends under non-race conditions, it is perfectly acceptable to help each other out by drafting, as Ashley and I are doing in the picture below.


  • Pass on the left.  Enough said – always pass on the left side, never on the right.
  • Hold your line.  Don’t swerve around. 
  • Communicate.  When you are approaching another cyclist and plan to pass them, say, “On your left.”  If a car is coming from behind you, alert other cyclists by shouting, “Car” or “Car back.”  If you are stopping, say, “Stopping.”  If you notice a pothole or debris in the road, use your left or right hand to point down to it and say, “Hazard” or specifically “Sand” or “Hole.”  You can learn the cycling hand signals to indicate a turn, but I generally just say, “Left!” or “Right!” 
  • Congratulate:  Hearing “Way to go!” or “Good job!” during a triathlon never hurts. 


I have only wiped out during one triathlon – it was actually during the same Olympic that I had a panic attack in the lake.  ‘Twas a memorable race, indeed.  You can see my wipeout at the 1:00 mark.


The reason why I crashed was 1) I was distracted by the crowd and 2) I took the turn way too tight.  Every time I have witnessed a bike crash in the middle of the triathlon, a cyclist was going too fast around a curve.  Slow down as you approach turns (alert other riders by yelling, “Slowing!”) and take your time.  Be alert, be safe, be sensible.

Whew!  What a long post.  And I know only scratched the surface.  If you’re a triathlete or cyclist, feel free to add your own tips in the comments section!


Also check out:



Is cycling your favorite part of a triathlon?  What tips do you have to share?  And what optional gear do you think is the most worthwhile investment?



  • Sneakers2Sandals January 9, 2012, 2:15 pm

    I’m not a cyclist but I too grew up around a Dad who is one 🙂 My parents house has an entire room dedicated to his swim/bike/run gear. I’m focusing on running right now but I can see catching the Tri bug in the future. I hope to be able to access these wonderful tips in the future 🙂

  • Lindsay @ Salt, Sun & Sanity January 9, 2012, 2:19 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this! Cycling is still definitely the most intimidating part for me.
    Everything from being on a road, to in a group, to how do you find your bike and gear at the transition from swimming?! It all seems really overwhelming. How did you figure all of this stuff out/ get over it before your first tri?

    • CaitlinHTP January 9, 2012, 2:20 pm

      I didn’t 🙂 I read a lot of blogs though beforehand and posts like this really helped me – I hope it helps someone else! But a lot of it is just trial and error and experience.

  • mindy @ just a one girl revolution. January 9, 2012, 2:20 pm

    I’m LOVING this series, Caitlin – I’m considering my first sprint tri this summer and this is SO helpful!

  • Tiff January 9, 2012, 2:38 pm

    Thanks for this! Despite my love of spin class, I’ve never actually learned to ride a bike. Pitiful, right?

  • jamie@cueyourlife January 9, 2012, 3:13 pm

    Love it! Because of your post on how to buy a bike, I snagged my road bike for 600.00 last spring. It was custom-made for a guys wife, who got pregnant a month after he gave it to her and she didn’t want to ride it anymore…he’d put over 2000.00 into it. My sweetie bought me pedals and shoes for xmas…soo exciting! It IS an expensive sport to get into…but it is so much fun, and a great workout!

  • Meghan January 9, 2012, 3:41 pm

    Don’t forget tri bikes as an option 🙂 They def. have HUGE benefits especially when racing triathlon as opposed to a pure cycling race. I also think the most important part about a bike purchase is taking the time and money to get a proper bike fit. Making sure your bike is fit specifically for your body is an important way to prevent injuries and shave serious time off your races. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize their seat needs to be bumped up significantly :)Thanks for the article! Best of luck to you and Baby HTP.

  • Meghan January 9, 2012, 3:45 pm

    Also – for your safety suggesion. I recommend a Road ID.


  • Kaitlyn January 9, 2012, 3:46 pm

    Great post! My advice for the bike are two things:
    1. Most people also get a sore toosh because their seat is too big. You want to fell primarily your seat bones resting on your seat (hence why elite bikers have skinny seats). Sitting with the fleshy part of your booty on the seat is what makes it sore. So, when people buy large padded seats they are actually making the situation worse.

    2. Clip less pedals get their name from toe clips. Toe clips came first and it was said that you “clipped in” to the toe clips. When “clip less” came around, the cages were gone, thus the name “clip less.”

    • HTPDad January 9, 2012, 7:05 pm

      I agree on the pedal nomenclature, but I’m not sure I follow the other point. People should sit on their ischeal tuberosities (sp?) – the “sit bones”. If the seat is too narrow, it will go up between those bones – not comfortable. Too wide and inner thighs will chafe. Thick padding on seats tends to get really hot. Most pro racers have really skinny seats because they’re small men, and narrow seats fit their skinny asses.

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife January 9, 2012, 4:48 pm

    Def needed this–doing a half Ironman this year and I sure need to get my rear in a bike (I don’t love the biking part, but I am trying!!) <–had a crash in 09, scared me!

    Thanks for such an informative post!

  • Dana @ the Big Fat Skinny January 9, 2012, 4:54 pm

    I have been wanting to do a tri for a long time now but am so unsure of myself – specifically in the swim. I’ve done plenty of biking – I actually did a century on a HYBRID (something terrible. I cried) – and a full marathon, halves, and other races. My goal is to do a tri after I have the baby … so these posts are SUPER helpful!! I love them!

    • Caitlin January 9, 2012, 9:21 pm

      I can’t believe you did a century on a hybrid! baller.

  • Ali @SeeAliEatSeeAliRun January 9, 2012, 5:23 pm

    I was spectating a tri this summer and one of the cyclists got hit by a car and was thrown into a ditch. I was one of the first responders (good thing I’m a fast runner and worked in healthcare) and it was a nightmare trying to warn incoming cyclists of the crash and trying to get the injured athlete out of the way and calling an ambulance. You absolutely have to be so careful!
    Good tips, all around.

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats January 9, 2012, 5:33 pm

    I grew up biking, but we always had mountain bikes, I’ve never tried a road bike. I’d really like to give it a try sometime, although probably not until after I graduate law school and actually have a job with income! Haha

  • Gammy January 9, 2012, 5:39 pm

    Caitlin – I really want to do a sprint-tri this year. I swim and run in the gym and go for spinning classes (I live in a big big city where biking is not really an option). Is it crazy to train for a sprint-tri on an indoor bike until maybe the month before the race?

    • Caitlin January 9, 2012, 9:20 pm

      I think that’s okay for a sprint triathlon. Honestly, I always slack on bike training and think that if you feel confident on a bike in general and spin, you can phone it in on the last few weeks of training.

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin January 9, 2012, 6:26 pm

    Love this post! It was so clear and informative. 🙂 I’ve only ever biked for fun on my mountain bike and this post made me realize that I have so much more to learn if I want to do a triathalon! Thank you for all the helpful advice!

  • Rebecca January 9, 2012, 7:12 pm

    Helmets are a must. I’m glad you pointed that out. Too many people don’t wear them, and they need to. My dad flipped off his motorcycle many years ago and probably would’ve died if it wasn’t for his helmet. So helmets have been a rule in our house forever. My sister didn’t want to wear hers one day (this was like two years ago) and ended up driving instead. But helmets have been a rule in our house since before she was born, so if we’re not gonna wear a helmet, we’re not biking.
    I unfortunately didn’t wear my helmet when I biked back and forth on campus this fall. Luckily I never had any accidents, but I should’ve been wearing my helmet. Oops. Must’ve been a peer pressure thing. :\
    My small group leader crashed on a ride one afternoon–she was wearing her helmet, so she only ended up with some scratches, one of which required stitches, and a few bruises and a black eye. If she hadn’t been wearing her helmet, she probably would’ve been injured even worse.

  • chelsea January 9, 2012, 7:17 pm

    Thank YOU SO MUCH for this post! I am doing my first tri in May and I am VERY nervous but mostly for the bike portion. What do you recommend wearing…? I am confused on the whole putting sneakers on to bike ride and run…any tips on a quick transition?
    Ps you look wonderful and I am so excited for you to have your first child, I just had my second little girl three months ago…You are going to be a fantastic momma <3

    • Caitlin January 9, 2012, 9:19 pm

      Aw thank you so much! Congrats!

      I will do a post on transitions. What are you planning to wear for the swim?

      • chelsea January 10, 2012, 3:40 pm

        I dont know! I thought maybe a sports bra and biking shorts….but I dont want to look too silly…

        • CaitlinHTP January 10, 2012, 4:13 pm

          That would be fine!

          I would just give your padded shorts a BIG SQUEEZE with a towel when you run into transition and sit down on the towel to put on your shoes. This will help squeeze out a lot of the water (you dont want it running down your socks). Then, I would pull on a shirt you can run in and put on your sneakers (if you have toe cages on your bike) or your cycling shoes.

  • Lexi @ Cura Personalis Foodie January 9, 2012, 7:37 pm

    I love all the biking etiquette! I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid, but I didn’t know about a lot of what you mentioned 🙂

  • Sarah January 9, 2012, 8:54 pm

    Nice post, thanks! I’m 34 and up until about a month ago I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 10 or so! Thankfully my husband got me a nice Raleigh hybrid as a pre-Christmas present so I’m working my way back in, and I’ll take all the advice I can get!

    From my dad for Christmas I got the bike trainer you recommended – going to try it tomorrow 🙂

  • Andrea (Run. Learn. Repeat.) January 9, 2012, 9:08 pm

    Wow, so much to learn about doing a triathlon! This is why I’ve stuck with the pure running races for so long. All that goes into a tri is so intimidating! Do you have any good book recommendations for training for your first tri?

    • Caitlin January 9, 2012, 9:18 pm

      Hmmm I do not – I mostly learned via blogs!

  • Angela @ Happy Fit Mama January 9, 2012, 9:37 pm

    I really would like to get into cycling more but I have a fear of getting hit by a car. I hope to start riding with a group of women in the spring to help ease my fears. Thanks for the tips!

  • janet @ the taste space January 9, 2012, 9:37 pm

    I have always wanted to do a tri-a-tri… but mainly because I can bike, swim a bit and don’t run at all. 😉 I’ve done double imperial centuries and your cycling tips are spot-on! My favourite non-essential gear are padded gloves, a headband for sweat under my helmet and a cycling shirt with lots of back pockets for carrying keys, bananas, etc. For anyone who winter rides, my essentials are a cycling hat that covers your ears, warm gloves and more recently I bought shoe covers to protect myself from rain. Totally worth it! 🙂

  • Holly January 9, 2012, 9:54 pm

    Nice intro to cycling post – it can be quite a daunting sport as a female! I’m lucky that my bf is a bicycle mechanic and was willing to bring me along on the “fast” group rides…I got into road racing in 2010 and I’ve been hooked ever since!

    Just a few points of clarification: the difference between mountain, road, and hybrid bicycles is their geometry, not their weight or tire thickness (compare a carbon mtn bike with a steel road bike and you’ll see what I mean!). Cycling gloves help make gripping your bars easier when your hands get sweaty, but they also help dampen road vibrations (can be especially helpful to those with nerve issues in their hands).

    Cycling shorts and HELMETS are so key to comfort and safety – I’m glad you’re sharing these pointers! While I want everyone to support their local bike shops, if a beginner wishes to purchase a bicycle from ebay or craigslist, PLEASE make sure to get it tuned up and fitted to you at a local bike shop. Not only will it ride better, but you risk injury if you’re riding on an bike that is improperly fitted to your body.

    If anyone has questions about training or equipment, try asking the guys (or gals) at your local bike shop – they can be a great source of knowledge (including meeting places and times for group rides) and I promise they aren’t as intimidating as they might seem!
    Happy riding 🙂

    • eatingRD January 11, 2012, 6:44 pm

      Hi Holly,
      Where do you race? cat? team? I started racing recently as well for the colavita-outback team in Las Vegas. Have a great racing season!

  • Christie January 9, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Despite being a spinning instructor, I don’t road bike. I’ve always been interesting in getting started, so this post was very helpful- thanks!
    Also wanted to mention how much I love that pic of you with your Dad. My parents were divorced when I was very young and my Dad simply wasn’t involved like he should have been. Cherish that pic and every moment with him!

  • Natalie @fitjamericangirl January 9, 2012, 10:47 pm

    I wiped out at my first duathlon. And I don’t even have clipless pedals! It was sooo embarrassing, but I kind of feel like a badass for having finished anyway.

  • Alex @ Working Housewife January 9, 2012, 10:49 pm

    Seriously, most helpful post EVER!!! One of my goals for 2012 is to complete a triathlon. I completed an INDOOR tri, only because it was on stationary bikes. The cycling leg is the scariest part for me so this post was GREATLY needed. Thank you for reading my mind!

  • Nadiya January 10, 2012, 12:14 am

    Love the post! Biking is definately the scariest part for me! This definately helps though

  • Shelley January 10, 2012, 12:46 am

    Super helpful post, thanks! I didn’t realise but I am the most worried about the cycling leg so this is really helpful so I know what to work on before hand!

  • Rachel January 10, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Saddles AND sits bones come in a variety of widths. Most bike shops can ‘measure’ your sits bones and help you find a saddle accordingly.

    Saddles also come in a variety of shapes, to help relieve pressure on, uh, sensitive areas. I know MANY women, pros and recreational riders, who have struggled with finding a saddle that fits their.. shape–myself included. Bike shops will often lend out ‘tester’ saddles for a week at a time, which is a great way to try different types and figure out what suits you best.

    And don’t automatically go for the most padded saddle–these usually increase sensitive chafing and aggravate sits bone discomfort. Thinly padded saddles get their comfort from the superb fit, not from the stuffing.

  • Sean January 10, 2012, 1:37 pm

    Nice post! 🙂

    Not that it matters much but I think your drafting rules may be a little out of date — it’s “3 bike lengths” for USAT sanctioned events now and “4 bike lengths” for Ironman branded events. Never got a penalty for drafting, but my wife did… She was mad that I was laughing at the “P” written on her bib for it. lol

    • CaitlinHTP January 10, 2012, 1:38 pm

      Oh no! I think I verified the rules on their website? I wonder if the article was old though.

  • eatingRD January 11, 2012, 6:42 pm

    So much great info! I love the look of those classic bikes. I’ve been cycling for a little over 2 years now and I’m getting ready for my 2nd race season. Racing is a completely different animal and I’m still trying to get comfortable with being so close to other racers, bumping wheels, etc.
    I would also recommend a good bike fit, especially if you plan on putting in the miles. I just posted on this recently and it makes such a difference on comfort and efficiency.
    Watch out for pinch flats when you are replacing tubes. This always seems to happen when the tube gets stuck between the rim of the wheel and the tire when it gets blown up. And be sure to pump up your tires before every ride to avoid pinch flats.
    As for the drafting, one really has to get pretty close to the wheel in front to have an advantage. This is another thing I am working on because this freaks me out. Drafting behind big guys is awesome and really reduces the power you have to output, but you have to get a bit closer than the picture. If the pace picks up in a group and you are that far back, you will get dropped and this still happens to me. Practice drafting position and bumping wheels/handlebars in the grass because if you fall it doesn’t hurt as bad 🙂 There are all kinds of gadgets but a simple bike computer is great to log and keep track of workouts.
    Definitely get in touch with a local cycling group/bike shop, that’s how I got started and you meet a lot of great friends! It’s funny sometimes when I’m walking or driving I get the urge to point things out in the road lol

  • Laura September 20, 2013, 8:32 pm

    Hi and thank you for your post. Great information! I did a sprint triathlon last Sunday with aero bars for the first time and due to many cyclists on the trail I was looking behind me before passing other cyclists. My balance on the bike was compromised and as I looked back I swerved and could not control my bike. I crashed going 22 mph and fortunately didn’t hit my head but got my elbow and hip pretty bad and road rash and bruises in multiple places. Two doctor visits later nothing is broken and I consider myself very fortunate. However now I will never use aero bars again, will always use a helmet and recommend any arm and hand protection that makes you feel more comfortable. Crashes can happen at any time and I am a 46 year old careful biker. I will use elbow pads at least for training and may even take the time during triathlons to better protect myself going forward. I heard at the Nations triathlon there were more bike crashes than ever due to a double loop with new bikers entering and others speeding around plus several tight turns. My goal is just to do my best and stay healthy as possible. I also think that triathlons should have the bike route rated for safety. After all, white water rapids are rated.

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