Bike Out/Bike In Safety

Anyone that has stood at bike out or bike in at a triathlon has likely seen many different approaches to how to get on and off a bicycle to start and end the bike leg of a triathlon. Some of them are very good; some of them are not so good. On the eve of the Santa Barbara Triathlon I am reminded of my time two years ago volunteering at Bike Out/In, trying to keep my thoughts about how poorly some people approached this phase of the race to myself, while trying to ensure their safe entry and exit from the bike course.bike out

I came to the conclusion that people were just not focused on what they were doing, and instead were looking past the act of getting on and off their bikes, thinking more about the actual riding or the run that follows. In broad terms here’s what I saw:

  • About 25% of the athletes got it completely right, meaning they exited T1 smoothly and without issue to themselves or anyone else, got on their bikes quickly and efficiently and were on their way. Coming into T2 they were prepared, listened to the volunteers, and dismounted their bikes cleanly and moved on into T2 without issue.
  • The vast majority, about 50%, did it mostly right, but didn’t look as smooth or comfortable as those athletes that actually focused on what they were doing. They didn’t hurt themselves or impede anyone else, but there’s room for improvement.
  • The last 25%, well these athletes just weren’t with the program, or at least the correct program. They stumbled, looked stressed, stopped where they shouldn’t have stopped, ignored the volunteers instructions, dropped water bottles, lost shoes, fumbled getting on the bike, blocked other athletes paths, nearly took out other athletes and/or volunteers, and at worst crashed or fell down.
    • And to be clear, it wasn’t just newbies I saw having problems, there were many veteran athletes who appear to “think” they’ve figured out the best way to do things, but clearly have never seen themselves on a video doing it. Speaking of which, the best way to understand what you’re doing wrong is to have someone else watch you practice getting on and off your bike while simulating the bike out and bike in. What you should be doing and what someone else can see that you’re doing can be two different things. Even better would be a simple video of what you’re doing to really show you where you can improve.

If you’re interested in the best ways to do this, just go to YouTube and type in “triathlon transition” or something like that, and see how the really fast people get on and off their bikes, and then see if you want to go that route, or keep it simple and not worry about a few seconds here and there.

Mostly what I want people to think about is a safe exit from T1, out past the mount line, and then a clean mount that allows you to get clipped in and pedaling as soon as possible. The decision to attach your bike shoes to the bike and run out barefoot is one that you need to make after practicing getting into your shoes while moving, without having to look down at your feet, weaving back and forth, and getting in other people’s way. If you cannot do that then please do not go this route. Just run out carefully with your bike shoes on, get on the bike as usual, and move on.

The first thing we all need to realize is that the mount line is not where you should stop to get on the bike, it is just the start of where you can get on. So please move forward one to two bike lengths to give the other athletes behind you room to get on their bikes. If everyone does this then nobody gets in anyone’s way. If you’ve ever done a race with a narrow bike out lane (like Wildflower), then you know how this can cause lots of problems, people trying to maneuver around other athletes, so that basically everyone is affected by one person that gets in the way.

Secondly, once you’re on the bike and you have one foot clipped in, start pedaling! Some people will do the half revolution pedal then just stop at the bottom, struggling with the other shoe, don’t do this. Clip in and start pedaling while trying to clip the other in once in motion. Think about pulling up with the leg that’s clipped in, spin a full circle, and you’ll get the other leg clipped in soon enough.

On the return to T2, listen to the volunteers if they’re telling you to slow down, or pay attention to their warnings, like sharp right turn ahead. Your main concern here is safety, not falling down, interfering with other athletes, and not running into volunteers. I mention that last one because an athlete came flying past me, about 50’ from the dismount line, me yelling and signaling to slow down. They looked back at me with that “How dare he tell ME to slow down look!”, and then when they turned around they were almost passed the dismount line and if it wasn’t for the quick reactions of the volunteer trying to also yell at them, there would have been two people on the ground.

Just as an FYI, there are USAT rules about riding safely on the course and being courteous to other athletes and volunteers, so I think that athlete would have qualified for a nice time penalty at least!

Please make the time before the race starts to look over the bike out and bike in sections of the course, so you know ahead of time where the dismount line is. If you like to get out of your shoes and run in barefoot, you then need to plan backwards to where you start getting out of your shoes to be ready to hop off and run before you reach the line.

Again, any decision you make on dismounting with shoes on or off should be made before the event, do not try something new on race day because you just saw someone else do it successfully. Practice, practice, practice!

Since most people dismount by coming to a complete stop and then swinging their right leg over the seat, be careful pulling up too close alongside someone that has just stopped, give them room to maneuver. And don’t wait until the last second to jam on your brakes. Come in controlled, feet out of your shoes or shoes unclipped from your pedals, dismount, and run in. I personally like to guide the bike from the seat, not everyone is adept at doing that, so again, try it in practice first and don’t do it until you feel comfortable.

Finally, to the very few people that I saw doing completely silly dismounts, like stopping and swinging their right leg over the handlebars and executing a 180 degree turn, now facing the wrong way (probably due to muscle tightness and the inability to swing their legs over their seat and water bottles, I’m just guessing), DON’T DO IT! Anyone following this athlete into T2, on their left hand side, would be very surprised to suddenly have this other person right in their face. If you think something will look stupid in a YouTube video, then best to move on to Plan B!

I think that covers my pet peeves and hopefully you will be able to execute a smoother and faster transition in and out. Stay focused on the task at hand, running out or running in, bike shoes on or not, bike under control, before having your brain move to the next step of the race. Don’t overlook the nuances of a good transition, so that you can safely continue on with your race. Now go out practice before tomorrow!

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