Tips and Tricks to reduce bike time in duathlon

Fabian Cancellara, Bern, Switzerland (Einzelze...
He’s not even using his tri-bars! Must all be a marketing con?


If you have £7,000 and lots of time then I would suggest a top of the range bike and lots of training!

Sorry I couldn’t resist that but of course it is a self-evident truth. With the running part of a duathlon it is pretty much down to your training (and your technique), there’s not much extra you can get from kit.

If you are a beginner then a £7,000 bike will improve your bike-leg time by, say, 15% OR MORE OVERNIGHT WITH NO TRAINING. Kit really does make that much difference to the cycling bit. I would say I’m a good age-group duathlete and recently sorting out my tri bar position and a few other aero tweaks along with a new set of wheels improved my already OK bike times by about 7% in total…But to improve from NOW on I have to start to spend  LOTS of money (or train!) as I’ve picked all the low hanging aero-fruit.

So I would breakdown 4 main areas to work on

  1. Power based training using standard 5/7-zone models
  2. Strength &  Conditioning – getting stronger and more flexible
  3. Cycling technique (power application, position, energy conservation
  4. Diet
  5. Drag reduction – the fabled ‘Aero’ (gadgets, position and setup)

I’ll take those points as they are written as the first listed ones are most quickly answered before getting into the meat that I expect led you to this article and put in the tips and tricks as individual points as I go along. The tips and tricks will be ranked

*** Must do (beginner)

** Makes a big difference (Serious Duathlete)

* Worth a try (You’ve got too much money).

1. Power Based Training

Broadly we match different kinds of training stimuli to adaptations we want to happen in the body. We can do this using various methods based on HR or RPE but, for cycling, power is most probably the best (bePRO and LIMITS power meters are fairly cheap – 2016)

2. Strength & Conditioning

Being stronger and more flexible will make you faster and more resistant to injury. Most people don’t do this. But I do.

3. Technique

You want good technique that can produce power in a drag-reduced position. You want an efficient pedal stroke to utilise all muscle groups.

This links of course to aero. You are going to be racing in a Triathlon Aero position NOT A Bike TT Position (they are subtly different, apparently).  So you want to practice in that position for a start.

You want to practice smooth evened out pedaling.

TIP 1a: (*) Do one legged cycling on your turbo trainer. Aim for low 60-75 cadence. It’s harder than you think! It smoothes your technique. You should be able to do >>90rpm eventually.

TIP 1b: (**) RACE CADENCE. In race position you’ll probably want you cadence between 90 and 100 rpms if you are in a tri aero-position. If you are currently comfortable in the 80s then most people would need to up the cadence. 95 is as good a number as any to aim for until you find what’s best for you. You should be aiming for a similar cadence to your running cadence IMO.

After a hard ride your legs should hurt BUT NOT YOUR BACK OR SHOULDERS. If your back hurts then you could have the wrong bike or the wrong setup or the wrong position. You’ll get injured and/or be uncomfortable for very long periods which makes you slower.

TIP 2: (***) Get a bike fit. They are about £100++

Using your aero bars you will have your body-to-upper arm/shoulder angle at about 90 degrees. Your elbow angle similar. So your head will be much further forward over your bars than a normal riding position and your bum further forwards than it was on a road setup.

4. AERO.

Oh dear here we go.

TIP 3: Buy aero bars (***). Mine go up at the end but it seems popular to have horizontal ones. I don’t think it really matters. £100 or more well spent.

TIP 4: (**) Buy the best racing wheels you can afford £600++. Don’t worry too much about weight you are not doing mountain stages of the Tour so weight is only important in that it makes acceleration slower. The wheels should of course be aero wheels. Get clinchers not tubs. Metal rims. The optimum rim for front and back is >50mm…just believe me otherwise you will spend hours of your life researching this and eventually come to the same conclusion. If you CANNOT afford 2 wheels just buy a front wheel that alone could knock 3% or more off your times. Most wheel drag comes from the front wheel. If you can afford a rear disc then get one but you will need that IN ADDITION to the two regular wheels for windy days. (£££££)

TIP 5: Don’t worry about your frame too much (*). Forget the carbon nonsense unless you have mega bucks. Think aero not weight. Ideally a tri frame has the seat post bit more upright and the frame is carbon and the tubes are non circular. On my super new carbon frame TT bike I have yet to beat my old alloy-frame PBs. The new one looks a lot nicer of course.

TIP 6:  Clip your feet onto your bike (***). Doesn’t really matter how BUT DON’T use straps. Cheap RIGIDBASE shoes and cleats will be <£100 in total. OK well if you really have to use straps they are MUCH better than nothing. The SPD-SL pedal system is as good as any.

TIP 7: (***) Mech tech, shimano, ultegra, groupset, blah blah blah. All nonsense. It makes little difference. Don’t worry about it you’re not a pro and if you are you won’t be reading this!

TIP 8: (*) Tyres. Get some £30 racing tyres. I  use Schwalbe Ultremo ZX, they are as good as most other race tyres. ONLY USE them for races as they deteriorate relatively quickly. Get your gator skins / armadillo / Kevlar puncture-free tyres for training. Although if you just pump your tyres up properly you will rarely get punctures. Leading me to…

TIP 9: (***) TYRE PRESSURE. Buy a track pump. One that you can be sure you are putting in the right amount of pressure. Probably at most 120psi for ‘normal’/’clincher’ tyres and tubes. Apply max tyre pressure for a totally smooth surface, a bit less if the surface is a bit bumpy otherwise you bounce off the road and you can’t pedal when  you are off the road.

TIP 10: (*) Aero water bottle on handlebars. I’ve got one as I find it hard to drink from a bottle. In a sprint duathlon/triathlon you probably won’t need one but anything longer and they are useful hands-free refueling devices. Remember that the best way to take on liquids during the race is little and often (1 sip per 10 mins ). The aero bottle helps this.

TIP 11: (*) Aero Helmet. I’ve got one. Might or might not make 1% difference. Are they worth spending >£120 on? Probably not as they take longer to get on in my experience. You have to always be in the right position for these to have a benefit. The main downside is that ventilation is poor in them so you get hot, potentially VERY hot.  So think about the weather and length of your event.

TIP 12: (**) More aeroness with the aero bars.  Basically this involves lowering the aero bars as far as you can until your back is flat/horizontal. With all the above 90 degree caveats. The thing is when you are super aero you apply power less efficiently to the wheel BUT this is MORE THAN compensated for by reduced drag. However you do want to save your legs for the last run leg. So current thinking is that you optimal position is NOT a flat back. You are a little more relaxed (rotated backwards) than that. (Same principle as triathlon swimming…save your legs for later). Note a lowered front end requires you to be flexible…remember the thing I mentioned earlier that you probably won’t work on.

Tip 13: (***) Don’t buy a new tri-bike. Buy a second hand one and upgrade the wheels OR pimp your current road bike with some new wheels and aero bars. If you are changing your current road bike it might be worth getting it re-fitted whereby you bring your seat forwards as much as possible and lower the position of the tri bars. If you eventually do buy a new bike then you will already have great wheels to put on it, everything else will pretty much be a wasted ‘investment’.

TIP 14: (**) Buy a GPS gadget £120. You’ll need something like this that can tell you how fast you are running and cycling during training. If you are doing triathlon then you stick it in your cap and look an idiot! as none of them really work when you go under water.

5. DIET.

Eat healthily and eat a balanced diet. Sugar/fat tastes nice but is pretty rubbish on the whole.

TIP 15 (***) HYDRATE & CARBO-HYDRATE You have enough carbs for about 1.5-2 hours so you probably don’t need to take on carbs in a standard duathlon. Have a lucozade sport at the start that’ll kick in 30 minutes later. Empty your gut before the race…get a routine going so it’s easy on race day, coffee might help. Stay hydrated for the week prior to race day. Just-in-case, during the bike leg of a standard distance race have a sip every 10-15 minutes of an isotonic drink. After exercise drink a glass of milk (animal derived protein) and have a banana (carbs). Or you could ignore this and spend weeks reading about diet and come to the same conclusions.

TIP 16 (**) POWER METER – If you can afford a low-end LIMITS (2016) or bePRO power meter then you will better able to regulate and dial-in training/racing efforts. You will also be able to compare your CP curve with that of friends in the pub/coffee shop.


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2 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks to reduce bike time in duathlon

  1. Tip 6 Query!

    Very good sensible and pragmatic advice – thank you. Having competed in the Alcobendas/Madrid European Age Group Championships in the sprint distance many of my competitors (and me) wore running shoes and used straps on the bike. Both my transitions were in excess of 50% faster than those who changed shoes and used rigid based shoes on the bike. For standard and long distance it would be a different outcome.

    1. indeed so. Look at my review on Pyro Platforms/pedals. there are also mount/dismount as well as strap and unstrap times to consider as well as power loss. There’s also the risk element to consider too and all of that is without even considering bike fit: It would surely be the same outcome too for longer distances…except there we assume even more power loss. Were you 50% faster in both transitions?? sure? Depends on the length of the run in T1/T2 as well I guess

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