Choosing which bike to use for a triathlon is no small task. Not only does it need to be race-ready and efficient, it also has to fit within your budget. You will also likely want it to handle any course you throw at it, and that may mean races with a lot of climbing.
So how do you know if you’ve chosen the right bike for your race? And if you can’t change the bike you have, how can you best prepare?
If it’s a hilly course, the first and most common question is, can triathlon bikes climb hills?
Triathlon bikes can climb hills. They may not be as comfortable as climbing on a road bike, but they are perfectly capable of handling the kinds of hills that the triathlete encounter in most triathlon courses.
The more one train on a triathlon bike (off of the trainer), the more comfortable he or she will be when race day comes. That means taking it outside for as many training rides as you feel comfortable doing.
Some people will choose to leave their triathlon bike indoors on the trainer to protect it from the elements, but that puts them at a major disadvantage when it comes to the race itself. Riding on a triathlon bike is noticeably different than on a road bike due to its geometry and the muscles you’ll engage. As long as you’re familiar with your triathlon bike, you’ll feel comfortable using it on nearly any course.
What Kind of Bike Is Best for Climbing Hills?
The best bike for climbing hills is the one you’re most comfortable on. There isn’t a significantly noticeable difference between a road bike and a triathlon bike when it comes to riding hills, and both come with trade-offs. To better illustrate this, we’ll look at both options:
1- Climbing with a road bike
Road bikes are generally considered more stable than triathlon bikes. This is because the rider is a bit more upright and the hands are usually in a slightly wider position, which allows for the feeling of more control, especially on corners.
Check out our selected Best Road Bike for Triathlon Beginners (700 To 2,600 USD Bikes)
This also means that the road bike tends to be slower because the rider isn’t able to get into as aerodynamic of a position as they would on a triathlon bike.
2- Climbing with a triathlon bike
The way a triathlon bike geometry is set up can make for less strain on the rider’s glutes and hamstrings, which can save them for the run. It’s also set up to be noticeably more aerodynamic than a road bike, leading to a much more efficient ride.(Source)
You can also try a tri bike before committing to one. Here is a post we wrote about “Can You Rent a Triathlon Bike? How To And Should You Do It!“
Also, check out our post titled How Much Should A Road And TT Triathlon Bike Weigh? Does It Even Matter!
How Do You Ride a Hilly Triathlon?
Your biggest goal for riding a hilly triathlon will be energy conservation. In a flat course, you can easily manage your output and maintain a consistent pace. Hills can throw that entire method out the window and leave you tanked before you even get to the run.
You’ll want to get a copy of the elevation profile for your race so you can plan accordingly. One way to dial in your pace is to use your heart rate as a guide. You’ll also want to dial in your method for climbing the hills at an even, steady pace.
Getting out of the saddle will require different muscles but can be less taxing on the body and heart rate.(Source)
What goes up must come down, so make sure you’re just as comfortable during the descent as you are on the ascent. This is where your bike handling skills will come in to play. Be sure you’re comfortable on whichever bike you choose to race with. While the hills may be a break for your heart rate, they aren’t a true rest.
Finally, make sure you’re in the right gear ratio for hills. You should be able to maintain a relatively quick cadence while you climb. This isn’t the time to destroy your legs by trying to maintain a higher gear. You’ll also want to make sure you practice changing gears at the right time to save energy. Lower your gears before hitting the hill so you don’t get stuck in too high of a gear part way up the hill and lose your power. Then, as you crest the hill, switch to a gear where you’ll be able to get in a few pedal strokes and feel comfortable once you hit the flat.
How Do You Train for A Hilly Ironman?
The best way to train for hills is to practice doing hills. This can mean both going outside to a hill and doing hill repeats or mimicking the effort on your trainer. It’s best to incorporate both into your training plan when possible.
A common hill exercise is to do climbing intervals on your trainer. The interval timing may vary, but you can keep it simple by doing sets of five-minute hill efforts followed by five-minute “flat” or easy efforts. Continue to lengthen the time on the hills while you shorten the easy rest time in between. You can work your way up to a full thirty-minute effort (30 minutes on five minutes easy, two times) (Source).
You’ll also want to practice riding in and out of your saddle. You can do this in the trainer (and may have to, depending on how hard you’re pushing yourself), but you’ll want to make sure you also practice it on the bike you’ll be using for the race. This will help with your bike handling skills and comfort with distributing your weight as you balance over the bike.
It’s always best to follow a pre-made training plan if you can. If your training plan doesn’t include hill efforts, you can either make your own intervals or make sure to ride hills when you’re outside. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube that you can follow along to for hill efforts.
Can You Use a Road Bike for An Ironman?
Yes, you can use a road bike for an Ironman . In fact, many triathletes will opt to go this route rather than buying a triathlon bike that’s specifically for the race. If you don’t have the money to shell out for a triathlon bike, a road bike is your best bet. It can also be the most versatile option as it allows you to race in triathlons and cycling events. (Source)
A road bike is especially great for beginners and for athletes who are simply looking to complete the event and aren’t racing for time. It’s also easier to take outside and enjoy during the off-season. They’re also a great option for technical courses, including courses with hills, because you will feel a bit more stable on tight corners and over different terrain.
Keep in Mind
No bike can make up for inadequate training. Make sure you are able to follow a solid training plan for your triathlon so you can be in the best shape when race day comes. If you can only afford one bike, choose the one that will fit best within your chosen sport and budget.
Also, check out Is It Possible to Race a Triathlon with A Hybrid Bike ?!