An athlete we work with recently asked a great question:
"As a triathlete, how often do I need to train on my triathlon bike? Can I train on my other bikes too?"
This is a fair question for anyone who came to triathlon from a cycling background. You may have a small fleet of bikes, and it would be a shame to set these other bikes aside while training for your next triathlon event.
The answer to this question has to do with specificity: a triathlon bike is a very specific machine. A triathlon bike requires a more static body position and tighter hip angle than found on a road or mountain bike. Being able to ride comfortably and powerfully in this position, while navigating turns, traffic, and consuming nutrition is a skill that must be developed over time. As your triathlon race approaches, you should plan on spending a higher percentage of your weekly rides on your triathlon bike. About 2-3 months before your race, I recommend conducting your key bike workouts on your race bike while maintaining your racing position (most likely aerobar position). The goal is to improve your ability to maintain the aerodynamic tuck at race effort.
An example of a key workout for a half ironman distance triathlete would be a two hour ride with three Zone 3 (tempo) intervals of 20-30minutes each. This would be a great set to do on your triathlon bike, in your race position, and on terrain similar to what your expect on race day. If you're training for an ironman distance event your key workout may be a long Zone 2 ride, and should likewise be conducted on your race bike while trying to maintain your race position.
What about workouts that are not race specific? The less specific the workout is, the less important it is to conduct the workout in the triathlon position. For example, if you are training for a full ironman distance event, you could conduct short, high intensity intervals on your mountain bike. If you are training for an olympic distance event, long Zone 2 base building rides could be done on your road or gravel bike. Not only is this more fun for most athletes, but the exposure to a variety of terrain you help you become a more versatile cyclist.
In summary, specificity is the key: the closer to race day you are, the more specific your training should be in every way. Starting 2 to 3 months out from your event use race-specific workouts to fine tune pacing, bicycle fit, nutrition, equipment, etc. What bike you ride for non-specific workouts is less important.
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About the Author:
Antonio Gonzalez is the owner of Tri Town Bicycles in Boise, Idaho. He is a endurance coach, bicycle fitter, and veteran of the cycling and triathlon industry for over 20 years.