Deep Dive: Swim-to-Bike Transition 1

author : Team BT
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Otherwise known as "T1" this triathlon transition can make or break your finish time

T1. It's the transition from swim to bike, and it often separates the wheat from the chaff. There are those who breeze through, all fluid motions and well-practiced habits. And there are those hopping on one foot trying to remove a wetsuit, knocking over bikes. 

Don't be the second one.

Here's our BeginnerTriathlete definitive guide to T1:

The day before

Scope out the route from the water to your bike. Give it a test run. Since water collects in valleys, it's almost certain this will be an uphill run. And you'll be barefoot. See if there are a lot of rocks or obstacles.

Make sure you can find your bike in the transition area. Practice running to it a couple of times. Practice (or at least mime) putting on your bike gear so you can catch any problems ahead of time. For example, putting on a shirt AFTER your helmet is on rarely works. So lay out your shirt/jersey on top of your helmet so you remember to do that first.

How to finish the swim

If you're a typical triathlete, you've learned to swim without much kicking, so you can save your legs for the rest of the race. However, your legs have been floating behind you in the cold water for awhile now, so it's time to wake them up before you come ashore.

As you see the final swim buoy approaching, increase your kick cadence and power a bit and wake up your legs.

Swim until your hand hits the bottom. Lots of people stand up as soon as they think they can touch bottom, and then have to slog through waist deep water instead of gliding along the top for a few more yards.

How to come out of the water

Once you feel the bottom of the lake/ocean/river with your hand, stand up. Take a second to make sure you are steady. It's easy for water in your ears (especially very cold water) to make you dizzy. Then start running or walking with very high steps so your legs are going over the water instead of pushing against it. The high-step drill will also wake up and warm up your legs.

Once you are on dry land, scope out the route to your bike. Remember, you've practiced this. It's more crowded, but you are confident in the location of your bike. As you run, notice if you are picking up a lot of debris on your feet that will need to be wiped off, or not.

Start to peel it off

Remove the top half of your wetsuit, if you are wearing one. If you have a full-sleeve wetsuit, take off your goggles and swim cap and hold them in your hand as you remove the sleeve of that hand. Let go of the goggles and swim cap so they are trapped in the sleeve. This will give you one less thing to carry and keep track of. (Actually two fewer things.)

Once your wetsuit top and cap and goggles are off, you should be near your bike. DON'T FORGET to unzip the legs of your wetsuit, if applicable. It's easy to forget in the heat of the moment and spend unnecessary time pulling and struggling.

Find a spot near your bike, or even off to the side on the way into transition, and get your wetsuit the rest of the way off. This is best accomplished by unzipping the legs fully, then stepping alternately one one side or the other while pulling up in a high step with the opposite leg. It looks goofy, but it's efficient. (Practice this ahead of time.)

Switching gear

Put your wetsuit somewhere out of the way that isn't bothering anyone else. Wipe any gravel or large stuff off your feet. This is NOT being a sissy! Miles down the road you will be miserable if there are small rocks rubbing inside your bike shoes.

Put on your bike gear in the correct order. If you wear socks, put your socks on while you are bent over wiping your feet. (Or you can wipe your feet while standing upright and doing another task, like wiping your feet on a doormat.) Put on your jersey. There is little need to towel off - you'll be dry in two minutes on the bike anyway. Put on your sunglasses. 

Start your watch or bike computer so you can check for any problems while you do the last steps. Double check your fluids and nutrition with a quick glance. (Things get knocked around in transition.)

Put on your helmet

This deserves it's own paragraph. Do not even touch your bike or start moving it off the rack without your helmet on and buckled. Make sure you don't look like a dork with an aero helmet on backward. The pointy part goes behind you. 

You will be disqualified for riding without a helmet. It's advised not to even be running with your bike if you don't have your helmet on.

Bike Shoes

If you've practiced this for maximum speed, your bike shoes are already clipped into the pedals. As you run with your bike toward the mount line, glance at the pedals and make sure the one on your side of the bike is at the right position for you to mount quickly. Usually that would be the 10 o'clock position from your vantage point, looking at the side of the bike. If it's not there, give it a little nudge as you run. (Some people employ rubber bands that break away to hold their pedals in the right position.)

It's better to mount slowly than fall on your face, so be prepared to change your mounting strategy if it's too crowded, your pedals are wrong, or something just doesn't feel right.

If all is perfect, place your foot that's farthest away (left foot for most people if you are running on the left side of your bike) on top of the bike shoe on the pedal that is up, swing your other leg over top while pushing down on the left pedal, and place your right foot carefully on top of the other bike shoe, which should now be at the top of the pedal stroke. If you are sloppy about this, your shoe might jam into the ground on the next pedal stroke and throw you off.

Head Out!

Pedal with your feet on top of the shoes until you are clear of all transition craziness. Reach down and put your feet into the shoes and fasten them, one at a time. It's OK to get one foot in and take a minute or two before putting the other one in, if you come across something else that requires your attention, like a turn or slowdown.

Once you have both feet in the shoes, you can stop thinking about transition and start thinking about cycling and nutrition! Have a great ride!


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date: July 30, 2019

Team BT