Jez Cox explains the essential items you need to carry on a bike, no matter what distance you’re riding.
During a triathlon you spend the bulk of your time on the bike, so it’s vital to ensure you’re ready for any hiccups that could dent your chances of doing well, or even more critically, completing the course. For the unprepared triathlete, punctures, mechanical failures and poor nutritional routines can mean the dreaded DNF, no matter how well training has gone.
A quick glance around any triathlon’s transition zone reveals a vast difference in how much people carry with them on the bike. You’ll see people at local sprint races with their bikes seemingly laden for a North Pole expedition and others starting long-distance races with barely a bottle and an energy bar. Taking too much means carrying unnecessary weight and becoming less aerodynamic, as extra clutter catches the wind. But carrying too little brings with it the threat of not finishing.
For each distance and each athlete there’s an optimal pack list for race-day biking – the following guide should serve as a checklist for what to take and how to carry it, so you can make sure you’re fully prepared for this season’s races.
CARRY THESE ITEMS at EVERY RACE
1. SADDLE BAG
Saddle bags don’t look cool but they give you a perfect, tightly packed ‘get out of jail free card’ that’s always there for you when you need it, while causing minimal drag. A small one such as the Lezyne Micro Caddy (£17.99, lezyne.com) or Topeak ProPack Micro (£14.99, topeak.com) will be perfect for everything up to long-distance and Ironman racing. What you carry in this seatpack should be the same each time you race, so you can remove it from your bike between events and store it closed until
it’s next needed.
2. TYRE SEALANT
While many racers still carry a spare tube and a mini pump or CO2 inflator, tyre sealant is growing increasingly popular in the pro ranks. A large canister carried in your saddle bag should be capable of sealing and inflating both tyres, should you be that unlucky. Products such as Zéfal Repair Spray (£6.99, zefal.com) and Vittoria Pit Stop (£9.99, vittoria.com) are a simple fix for mid-race punctures – just make sure you practise using them in training.
3. LIGHTWEIGHT GILET
There’s still room for one more item in your saddle bag, which may seem unnecessary in summer but can sit scrunched up at the back without you ever noticing it and is a godsend if the weather turns – a waterproof, breathable gilet. These sleeveless vests weigh next to nothing but still maintain a high level of water- and windproofing, and many are clear enough to see your race number through. Examples include the Castelli Sottile Vest (£55, castelli-cycling.com) and Endura Pakagilet (£34.99, endura.co.uk).
4. DRINK BOTTLES
The ideal drink for all distances is an isotonic one that has a blend of carbohydrates and minerals. Examples are Maxifuel Viper Active (£19.99 for 25 servings, maxifuel.com) and SiS GO Energy (£24 for 32 servings, scienceinsport.com). For sprint-distance races, try half a 500ml bottle; for Olympic-distance, one 750ml bottle; for middle-distance, two 750ml bottles; and for long-distance, four 500ml bottles or more. These quantities need to be increased in warm weather but they’re a good starting point to experiment with.
5. ENERGY GELS
The final item to take for all races is an isotonic energy gel. Even in short races you can feel low on energy while on the bike leg, and gel sachets can be easily taped to your stem or top tube (use electrical tape, with the end folded over to form a tab).
INCLUDE THESE ITEMS FOR LONGER RACES
1. EXTRA BOTTLE MOUNT
As you get above the 40km mark, there becomes a greater need for more than one drink bottle. The latest research suggests that if you carry two bottles, they’re best kept near to each other so they punch a shared hole through the air as you ride. The simplest way to do this is to use the two bottle cage mounts found on most bicycle frames, but a more aerodynamic option is to fit a multi-purpose utility bracket to your saddle. These clip under your seat and will generally hold two bottles as well as a rolled up gilet and sealant canister, doing away with the need for a separate saddle bag. Two great examples are the Profile Design Aquarack (£49.99, profile-design.com) and the pricier XLAB Super Wing (£100, xlab-usa.com). Another aerodynamic place to keep a bottle is in a cage mounted between your tri-bars. It’ll be easier to get your hands on there too.
2. BENTO BOX
When carrying the extra gels and bars required for longer-distance races, there’s a limit to how many you can tape to the stem or top tube. Enter the ‘bento box’. These are designed to be strapped to the top tube just behind the stem so as to create minimal drag, and most will hold three or four bars and a couple of gels. The advantage of using these instead of stuffing products into your pockets (if you have any) is that food will stay cooler and will also be right there under your nose, reminding you to ‘graze’ regularly. The Blackburn Expedition Box (£14.99, blackburndesign.com) and Profile E-Pack (£9.99-£17.99 depending on size, profile-design.com) are two great boxes just waiting to be filled.
Make sure that you remove unnecessary items from your bike such as pumps, spare bottle cages and commuter lights. There’s no need to carry a multi-tool in a race if your bike is maintained well, so the weight penalty isn’t worth it.
Outside of the recommendations outlined in this article, there will always be those who like to experiment and try ever more inventive ways of carrying the essentials. These include multiple variations on the hydration backpack, hoses and valves that transfer liquids to right under the rider’s nose, and storage boxes that form part of the frame itself. Whatever you settle on as your ideal set-up, just make sure you try it out in training and justify everything you take with you on race day.
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