Ditch the Trainer (sometimes) to Improve Your Cycling Skills

I’ve always been defensive of triathletes and their cycling prowess. We are not faux cyclists; we are extra tough as we push limits and wow onlookers as we pedal away dripping lake slime, unload certain fluids on our bikes during long races and then charge off to run, often with helmets still stationed on head … OK, maybe these onlookers aren’t wowed by our awesomeness but rather are concerned. But my point remains. Surely, if we can do all this, we must be incredible cyclists.

I firmly believed this until my sister, a professional mountain biker, watched the first transition of IRONMAN St. George 70.3 with a look of sheer horror on her face. I watched more carefully at my next several races, and my eyes were opened. For the most part, we are a disaster! We are sketchy bike handlers not just coming out of transition where riders swerve erratically as they shake water from their ears and conquer post-swim dizziness, but throughout the entire race. Once I stopped to look, I noticed unpredictability, inefficient handling, discomfort with vehicles and other riders and low awareness of the need to make adjustments to safely navigate unforeseen conditions and obstacles.

Year after year, as power trainers become better and more affordable, many athletes are opting for indoor riding so that very little time is actually spent out on the pavement. While these athletes may be strong physically, race day isn’t about setting an all-time high FTP (Functional Threshold Power). It’s about who can get from Point A to Point B fastest. To utilize fitness and get to Point B as quickly as possible, riders need an understanding of the way their bikes work on the road and the technical skills to masterfully maximize speed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for the indoor trainer. A power trainer allows the athlete to remove variables and work at specified intensities that local terrain might not allow, and it’s darn handy for parents who can’t leave the home, time-crunched athletes, and occasions when the elements block all but the toughest riders. However, there is no substitute for road time.

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