[ Mugshot ] Like Tri?
Raul Boca

The key to the bicycle leg
of the race is learning about
your bike and the course

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles over eight Sundays designed to help anyone who wants to participate in the Honolulu Triathlon.

PARTICIPATING in your first triathlon or getting ready for another one can be a bit intimidating. We can swim and run with little equipment, but going for a bicycle ride is a different story. First you need a bicycle that is functional and safe. Then you need to be comfortable riding it. And finally, you need to learn how to train for the 24-mile course.

Triathlon training tips

Three tips for training from Victor Plata, a member of the USA Triathlon 2003 Pan American Games team:

>> Ride in the clothes that you swim in. A little Vaseline around the crotch will prevent chafing.

>> Use aerobars. They make the greatest aerodynamic difference for cycling, putting you in a position that reduces air resistance. It is also more comfortable.

>> Make sure the bike is in good working order with relatively new tires and carry a spare tube in case of a flat tire.

My first experience with racing a bicycle was not exactly ideal. Back in 1986, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I entered my first triathlon and borrowed a bicycle from my brother. I was running and swimming well at the time and thought that biking wouldn't be a problem.

Hey, I rode a bike as a kid -- biking is easy. The morning of the race, I realized how little I knew about that borrowed bike. I didn't know how to take the wheels off, so I traveled 60 miles to the triathlon in a tiny car with my bike hanging out of an open trunk.

When I got to the race, I had the bike, and that's it. I didn't have a flat tire kit, water bottles or a pump to inflate the tires. Also, the bike was not fitted properly for me. As a result of my lack of knowledge, I was riding on low tires with no water, and had low back pain the entire ride caused by bad positioning. Luckily I did not get a flat that would have ruined my first triathlon experience.

I've learned a lot since then. In order to make your bike ride in the Honolulu Triathlon a fun, safe and successful experience, here are three basic steps to follow: 1) Get a bike that fits you properly; 2) learn a few things about your bike; 3) train smart, by planning your workouts and learning about the type of terrain of the race course.

Get a bike that fits you properly

There are many different types of bicycles that come in many sizes. Getting a bike that fits you properly is the most important thing for a good start. Go to a professional bike store and try a few different bikes, and get advice from the sales staff. They will let you know what size of bike you need.

To check the right size yourself, stand over the top tube with your feet flat on the ground. With one hand on the handlebar and the other one on the saddle, lift the bike. The right sized bike for you will have about one inch of clearance. If the bike is just a little too small, it is possible to make a few adjustments to be comfortable and safe for the ride.

Learn about your bike

Now that you have a bike that is about the right size for you, it is time to make a few adjustments. There are a few simple changes that will make you feel more comfortable and efficient on your ride:

Seat height: There should be a slight bend in your knee when the leg is extended fully at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If your hips rock across the saddle as you pedal, your seat is too high.

Seat angle: the seat should be level with the ground. A small up or down adjustment can be made, according to comfort.

Seat positioning, forward or backward: Adjust saddle position so that when pedals are horizontal, your forward knee is directly above the pedal spindle, or a bit forward, about 1 inch.

Handlebar height: Should be generally about 1 inch below saddle.

Handlebar angle: Adjust for comfort in the down position. The tip of the handlebar, when seen from the side, should point approximately toward the rear hub.

After those adjustments, there may be a need to upgrade a few parts of your bike for an even better fit. Changing the saddle, changing the stem, or getting a different pedal system are a few examples that could make your ride more comfortable and enjoyable. If after trying by yourself, you still need help, get professional assistance. The cost for this service is well worth it.

Now that your bike is well-fitted for you, you should carry a tire repair kit and learn how to change a flat. The flat-tire kit consists of an extra tube, patch kit, tire levers and a pump. All this, besides the pump, can be placed inside a small bike bag that attaches under the seat. The travel pump can be attached to the frame with the use of Velcro straps.

To learn how to change a flat, ask an experienced friend or go to

Finally, make sure that your bike is in great condition. Take it to a local bike shop for a safety inspection and mechanical adjustments. Your tires should be inflated properly and you should make sure that you learn how to brake and shift the gears well.

Train smart

Your bike is ready to go, now it's time to train. You do not have to ride every day to have a good race. Riding two to three times a week is enough, but you need to train smart. I recommend a long ride on the weekends, longer than the race distance, at a very comfortable pace. On this ride you will work on endurance and get used to staying on your bike for a prolonged period of time.

You should start with 20 miles and build up to 30 to 35 miles as you get closer to the race. Ride parts of the racecourse and make sure that you include hills as well. During the weekdays, focus on a specific workout and train about one to two hours. One week work on hills and the next week do some interval training.

On the hill workout, go up and down your favorite hill about four to six times. On the intervals week, after a 20-minute warm-up, do something like six times four minutes at 80 percent effort with one minute easy spin in between.

Don't forget to cool down for at least 10 minutes after you're done. You can do those workouts on a stationary bike trainer, or find a safe place to ride. Spinning classes are a great option, too. When riding on the road, always be safe and respect the traffic laws. Most importantly you must always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

About two weeks before the race, make sure that you ride the course. Learn the roads, the turns and most importantly, the hills that you will need to climb. If you do your homework, the race day will be about having fun.

I hope that you will be more prepared than I was in my first triathlon experience. I'm sure that now you will have a well-fitted bike for a comfortable ride, water bottles to keep you hydrated, and good inflated tires for a fast ride. But please, don't forget your running shoes after the bike as I did. I had to run five miles barefoot on a hot-paved road. But that is another story. Have a fantastic and safe ride. See you on the road.

Raul Boca is the director of Boca Hawaii LLC, a triathlon training club. He is an authority on multi-sport training in Honolulu.

Next week: The run. For more information on the Honolulu Triathlon, visit


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