Is Your Bike Ready for Triathlon?

Is your bike ready for triathlon?In your training, you've perfected your swim stroke, improved your watts, and steadily increased your run miles. Now you are ready for the big day. But, is your bike ready for triathlon?

The bike leg has the most equipment, and therefore, the most opportunity for something unexpected to go wrong.  With a bit of regular maintenance and attention to detail, your bike can be as ready as you are.

We'll walk you through everything from dragging your bike out of the garage to showing up at the race. If you are just looking for how to do a pre-race check, scroll to the end.

Before You Start Training

If you have a bike that works, give it a safety check, get on it, and start riding: no excuses.

If you have a bike that has been sitting in the back of the garage for a number of years, wipe off the cobwebs and take it to your local bike shop. They will notice a few things right off the bat that need to be replaced and be able to tell you what they charge for labor. Don't be surprised if they call you to let you know they found additional parts that need replaced once they take a closer look at it. They want you 1) safe and 2) happy with the bike's performance.

Over time you will learn to do more and more bike maintenance and repair on your own, but starting a good relationship with the mechanics at your local shop will always pay off.

Over the Winter

  • Complete overhaul

Winter is the slow season for your local bike shop, and many offer specials on bike maintenance. You might not be riding as much, either. That makes it a good time for complete disassembly, cleaning, and inspection of your bike. Cables and housings, unless they’ve been replaced fairly recently, are worn down by dirt and moisture by the end of a season. Replacements are a great way to improve shifting and braking. The chain length needs to be checked and the cassette and chainrings inspected for wear. Brake pads and tires wear out, so inspect and replace them to stay safe. That funny noise you've been pretending not to hear might indicate a problem with your bottom bracket. It's more convenient to tackle that now than during your high-mileage training block.

Starting the season with a clean and well-lubed bike is like starting the season with a new bike!

Two Weeks before the Race

  • Final tune-up/mechanic's blessing

Ideally, you would address any "funny noise" and "shifting not quite right" issues as they come up. However, if there is anything on your bike that needs to be addressed, now is the time to do it. If you put it off any longer, it becomes likely that your shop will not have time to get it fixed before race day. Race season is busy season for bike mechanics.

Two Days before the Race

  • Remove extra accessories
  • Wash your bike
  • Visually inspect everything

Maybe you have lights mounted on your bike, or an extra bottle cage, or a heavy saddle bag. If you won't need it for the race, take all that off now to save weight and get your bike ready for triathlon.

Although the drag from dirt and dust on your bike might be minimal, a clean bike feels faster for sure, and a clean drivetrain absolutely does reduce resistance and improve performance. Just as importantly, the process of washing gives you the perfect opportunity to inspect every part of your bike for potential problems. (The advantage of washing your bike regularly, not just two days before the race—beyond always having a well-performing bike—is that it builds your familiarity with the bike and how everything should be, making it easier to identify problems.)

A self-contained cleaning system, like Pedro's Chain Pig or Park Tool's Cyclone Chain Scrubber, makes cleaning your chain fairly easy. Then start at the top with your bucket of soapy water, and work down. Don't use any high-pressure water. As you are wiping off every speck of dirt, inspect every nut and bolt and check the frame for cracks and chips. Don't forget to look for any nicks in your tires. Remember to relube your chain and to wipe off the excess lube.

Check for a loose headset. Stand over your bike and apply the front brake firmly. Rock the bike forward and back. There should not be any play. If there is, the headset needs to be tightened with a torque wrench.

While it's true that you never want to put maintenance off to the last minute (two days counts as last minute), if you do discover some new problem during this check, there is chance your local bike shop will have time to help.

Race Morning

  • Quick releases
  • Tire pressure
  • Brakes
  • Shifting

It's a little late now to get your bike ready for triathlon, but—assuming it was perfect when you left the house—things could have happened during the drive to the race.

These checks can be done in the parking lot right after you unload you bike, or after you have set up your transition area. If you do it after setting up, your test ride can double as your warmup.

First, make sure the wheels are secure in the dropouts and the quick releases are properly tightened. Pump the tires up to the desired pressure. Give the bike a visual once-over, including verifying the brakes are hooked up and centered. Lift each end of the bike and give the wheel a spin. Stop it by grabbing the brake lever.

Then put on your helmet* and hop on for a test ride. Test the brakes and check that shifting into every gear is smooth. Also, listen for any unusual noises.

This is where it is helpful to have your own tools and know how to make basic adjustments. However, there's no need to panic; many races have a mechanics tent where you can ask for help.

* The helmet isn't just for safety. Many races have a rule that you can be penalized for riding without a helmet anywhere at the venue, not just during the race.


Check out our other bike maintenance articles.

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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