Road bike fun in the off-season

After spending the past 10 years living all over Florida (Davie, New Port Richey, Dunedin, Jacksonville) I welcomed our first experience (in a long time) of seasons when we moved to Greenville, SC in May 2014. By October, the trees were changing colors and the weather was getting cooler.

We are now getting our second opportunity to enjoy the fall season and like most triathletes, the fall coincides with the off-season.

Whereas cyclists often swap out the road bike for a mountain and/or fixie for cross training, the off-season for triathletes is a great opportunity to improve cycling skills and to have some fun on two wheels....without being in an aero position. 

Although it is not required that you rush out and buy a road bike (the sport of triathlon is expensive enough as it is with one bike!), if a road bike purchase is an option or you have been neglecting your road bike in your garage/storage room over the past year, I highly recommend giving your triathlon bike an off-season break as you appreciate riding a road bike in the off-season. 

If you have ever gone on a ride with Karel or seen him in a race, it wouldn't be a shocker to guess that Karel comes from a cycling background. After spending almost 2 decades of his life on a road bike as a bike racer, Karel uses his previous cycling experience when he trains and races on his triathlon bike....now that he has transitioned to the dark-side and rides a tri bike.
Although Karel is still trying to master the balance of being strong on the bike and being able to run strong off the bike, the biggest difference between Karel and many other triathletes is how well he can ride his triathlon bike due to his exceptional bike handling skills. 

Even though I have learned a lot from Karel (relating to triathlon training/racing) in our 9.5 years together, he wouldn't hesitate to tell you how horrible of a bike rider I was when we met. Over the years, however, I improved my confidence on the bike but I am no where near the level of Karel. 

Every season, I find myself more comfortable and efficient on my tri bike which ultimately helps me cycle stronger and run better off the bike. 

But because of the set-up of a road bike (versus a tri bike), it is much easier to control a road bike in all terrain, especially descending and cornering. At all types of speeds and in all types of road/weather conditions, it is much easier to maneuver a road bike on the road versus a triathlon bike.
Additionally, when riding a road bike, you are engaging the hamstrings a lot more than on a triathlon bike and because of the seat position relative to the handlebars, a different hip angle on the road bike works the glutes a bit differently with every pedal stroke to develop stronger glute muscles.  Also, it is easy to work on pedal efficiency while riding a road bike.
Lastly, because of the set-up of a road bike, bike handling skills are easy to work on which translates well to better triathlon bike handling skills. As examples - grabbing/rotating bottles, riding with one hand, riding in the wind, taking corners, descending, etc.

Here are three of our top tips for triathletes who have a road bike:

1) Enjoy your off-season on a road bike. For most triathletes, this will last 4-6 weeks. It's ok if you don't get on your tri-bike during this time but it's also ok if you want to get on your tri bike for a few rides. Use this time to have fun on two wheels and to work on your skills.
Also, consider joining a group ride (at a similar fitness level) for a fun riding experience. If you are riding in a group setting for the first time, let others know as they can give you some tips.

2) When you transition into your more structured training training after the off-season, we suggest to transition back to your triathlon bike to begin to wake-up and train your primary triathlon muscles. Because muscle memory is so important throughout the season, it is important to train on your primary racing bike for the majority of your bike workouts in your training plan.
But because you can still benefit from riding a road bike in the first month or two of your training plan (after the off-season), an option is to dedicate your weekly rides to your tri bike (or set-up your tri bike on the trainer if you typically train indoors in the winter) and to enjoy your road bike every now and then for a longer ride on the weekend Certainly, you can switch this up based on weather and your training regime. Ideally, after 4-8 weeks of more structured training at the start of your season, you will want to dedicate all of your bike training to your tri bike (with the occasional easy spin or group  ride on the road bike). 

3) Work on your skills and get comfortable being uncomfortable. It's far too common that triathletes can get themselves extremely fit through indoor riding but lack the skills and confidence to ride a triathlon bike safely and efficiently in a straight line outside and around other athletes. Allow yourself a break as you don't always have to be on your bike with a mindset to just "train." You can never do too many skill-focused workouts on the bike. Whereas the off-season presents you with many opportunities to change up your normal cycling training routine so that you can exercise on any type of bike, triathletes who need to improve cycling skills should spend at least one or two sessions per week (10-30 minutes) during the season just working on specific cycling skills on the tri bike.

Here is a great video with a few skills to work on (in addition to descending, position and corning) - remember, safety first!!