I love cycling; it's got a special ability to make you feel fast and free. Plus, it's not as physically hard as running or as technically frustrating as swimming can be for many of us. Mix your swimming and running training with a little bit of cycling and you can go a long way - that's the beauty of triathlon training.
Getting started with cycling is often the hard part. Here are some tips to help you get out there!
Purchase the correct bike for you
A basic bike is going to be fine, a mountain bike is ideal - wider tires, easier to control, easier gear changing, and better brakes. Once you have done a few events and are hooked on the sport then you can look at a speed machine!
To help find the right bike for you, find someone who you can trust to give you good advice. This might be a friend of a friend who has done some cycling. This is especially important if you are considering a second hand bike.
Having a bike fit (where an expert measures you up to ensure proper size and set up) is one aspect that will help ensure that you purchase the correct size. Most bike stores offer this service with a new bike and many offer it for a small fee for riders with existing bikes. The bike fit usually involves placing your bike on a stationary trainer, so take some bike shorts and your usual riding shoes.
A rider with a well set-up bike has more control of their bike, they are less prone to getting a sore back or neck, are also less likely to become injured in the knees or have problems associated with their saddle contact - ouch! Trust me when I say that there are seats that are comfortable for women - if you are having problems in this area visit the bike store! A little spent here can make your experience a lot more comfortable. Don't neglect the bike setup, do it and everything else that follows is much easier.
A bike setup is also a good time to practice getting into and out of your pedals. Make sure that you know how to get in and out of your pedals before you go on the road. This will make traffic lights and uphill stops far less stressful! You can also do this while sitting on your bike beside a wall or get someone to hold your bike while you practice. Plus, take the time to figure out what happens when you operate the gear changers - this will help when you get on the bike later.
Make sure that your cycle helmet fits correctly - the padding and size should be correct and the straps should be adjusted so that in the advent of impact, the helmet does its job. I don't recommend that you purchase a second hand helmet - you just don't know what has happened to it, as damage is not always visible.
Know how to put on and take off wheels. If your bike has quick release skewers (those leavers at the centre of your wheels), learn to tighten them correctly. Have a few goes at doing and undoing the front wheel before leaving the bike store.
Get comfortable with your bike off the road first
Using the cycles at your local gym is not going to develop the skills needed to be able to ride safely on the road, at some point you do need to get out there.
Start off the road, your local school grounds are good for this. If you have kids, even better - take them along and pretend that you are doing something with them! Start with one foot in the pedal and push away and put your other foot on its pedal. Practice this a few times, once you can do this looking ahead and without a big wobble you are ready to do it at traffic lights and stops.
Gears are great because they essentially take the grunt out of hills. Before going on the road, try your gears, one changer will work the back gears and that's the one you will use the most. Most beginners tend to be afraid to take their hands off the handlebars to change gears so getting this down pat off the road is a really big help. Know how to make peddling easier and harder by changing up and down.
Try your brakes
Modern bikes have really good brakes especially mountain bikes so be very careful when applying your front brake. When you first start cycling, it will pay to avoid using the front brake initially - start with the rear brake. Before you go out on the road squeeze each brake and note which is the front!
The best way to get a feel for your brakes is to ride at low speeds on grass or a flat road. Get a feel for how hard to pull and which leaver is the front and which is the back. You will quickly learn the correct amount of pressure to apply. Be careful if you are using different or borrowed bikes as the brakes vary between bikes and might be a lot better or a lot worse!
The final thing to do before hitting the road is practice turning. Again, the school ground is great for this so practice left and right hand turns.
Having done all of this, you should now have the confidence to get out on the road.
The Bike Training!
Once you have purchased a bike or had an existing one tuned and have mastered the basic skills to ride safely on the road, the actual bike training is the easy part - after all, if you are tired you can always free-wheel! Look to ride early on a weekend day (before 9am) or on a quiet stretch to begin with to avoid heavy traffic.
As with swimming and running, you need to start your cycle training slowly. This leg is short so you don't have to do a lot of training to get ready for it. My advice is to ride once per week (ideally Saturday or Sunday for less traffic) this ride can start off being as little as 30 minutes and even towards the event definitely does not need to be more than 60 minutes - remember your goal is to finish and have fun. Plus if you go to the gym a little bit on the gym bike to build fitness will also help (this only needs to be 10 minutes maybe as part of your warm-up or warm-down). In the last few weeks before your event, look to add a short ride during the week - a 30 minute cycle is all that is required. This ride could be combined with a very short run (5 minutes) to help with the transition from bike to run. In the last few weeks I would also recommend that you add a short run after your weekend cycle, again this only needs to be 5 minutes - this will make the transition on the day of your event a piece of cake.
If you can, seek out someone experienced to go riding with as an experienced rider or group of riders can teach you so much about how to ride different terrain and how to be a defensive cyclist.
There are lots of people who feel they are experts when it comes to training and sometimes it is hard to actually tell who is giving you good advice. Be skeptical unless you know it's from an experienced qualified person. Remember, we are here to help you take up your next challenge!