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Bike set up and more

Without wishing to state the obvious, but for triathlon you will need a bike and a bike helmet. Specific bike shoes, shorts, gloves etc. are optional.

You do NOT need the latest, lightest and leanest race bike money can buy. You can have a hugely enjoyable time on any well-maintained bike. A mountain bike is fine!

The most important thing is that you are on a bike that fits you. So how do you know if your bike is the right size/ set up correctly? A few minor adjustments could pay huge dividends in terms of comfort and performance. Bike fitting is not an exact science though, and the most important thing is for you to be comfortable on your bike. We are all different and very few of us will fit neatly into the ‘average’ upon which theories are based. Most of these theories are also based around road bike frames. Mountain bike frames tend to be more compact and less traditional in appearance so I have restricted myself to tips that apply universally to all bikes.

Firstly, Frame size.

If you start off with the wrong size frame you are always going to be struggling to get comfy. Until you are comfy you'll never get the best out of yourself or your bike.

A good indicator of whether the bike you’re intending to use is the correct size for you can be achieved by rolling up your sleeves!

Position the bikes saddle midway along the seat rails. Rest your rightelbow against the tip of the saddle and extend your right forearm and hand towards the handlebars. Place your left hand (in a horizontal plane) against the tips of the fingers of your right hand. The little finger on your left hand should be in line with the middle of the handlebars.

If this test leaves your little finger short of the bars, or beyond their centre all is not lost as there is limited scope for saddle adjustment (see below) and some room to manoeuvre in terms of stem length.

Having reassured yourself that your bike frame is the correct size the next thing to consider is saddle height.

The very basic test for this is to sit astride your bike with your cycleshoes on. Position the crank so that it is the six o'clock position and rest your heel on the pedal. Adjust the saddle height so that your legs are locked out when in this position.

This should mean that when the ball of your foot is on the pedal there is a slight flexion in the knee joint. You should also be able to pedal complete revolutions without your hips rocking from side to side.

Finally, handlebars, how high they should be relative to your saddle height comes down to your flexibility. If you’re inflexible, i.e. can’t touch the floor with your hands when standing with straight legs (don’t try this if you’ve had lower back problems) then they should be the same height. The more flexible you are the lower the bars can go. But we’re now beginning to get into aero considerations, which are beyond the scope of this pack.

For bike training, there is no alternative to spending time in the saddle. Your first objective is to being to feel relaxed on the bike and develop a smooth pedal stroke. Many beginners will push down too hard on the pedals and not work on the circular motion of the stroke. By thinking about the whole pedal action, you are working all the major muscle groups in your legs and riding will be smoother and faster.

Cycling can be dangerous when out on the road so beware of cards, pedestrians, and wildlife. Always wear a helmet and carry a phone and some form of ID, particularly if on your own.

If the weather is unpleasant and the winter turns you off riding, invest in a simple turbo trainer for indoor cycling. It’s convenient and you can really get some intensive training into a short space of time.


  • If you have drop handlebars, hold them at their lowest point as this lowers the centre of gravity and maintains stability.

  • Visualise steering with balance through your bum through the saddle.

  • Lift the inside pedal when cornering to avoid scraping the ground. Lean into the bend.

  • Weight is on the outside foot to assist balance.

  • Keep eyes level with the horizon or looking forward. Don’t look down at the front wheel or just in front of it.

  • Brake before the corner when in a straight line as this avoids risk of skidding.

  • Enter the corner wide, keeping within the rules of the road.

  • Aim and pull in closely to the midpoint of the bend.

  • Leave the corner wide.


If in the saddle:

  • Usually this is the most aerobically efficient on gradients up to 10%.

  • Sit back on the saddle in a more upright position.

  • Hold the handlebars at the highest level

  • Relax the upper body to save energy.

If out of the saddle:

  • Use sparingly

  • Use to accelerate

  • Use to ease discomfort after long spells in the saddle

  • Keep upper body still and handlebars will swing naturally from side to side.

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