Do These Five Essential Bike Checks Before Your Triathlon Race
You’ve identified a fantastic triathlon race or event, and you’ve picked up a new triathlon bike for the occasion. You’ve been training hard for weeks, and maybe even months, and you’ve mentally prepared for the effort ahead of you. Now, race day has arrived and it’s time to get down to business. There will be dozens of things that you’ll need to think about in order to best execute your race-day plan, including waking up early, setting up your transition area, and putting on your wetsuit in anticipation of a great swim to kick things off. But amidst the excitement and anticipation of the event festivities, make sure you’ve done your prep work on your bike—both in the days leading up to the event, and on the morning of race day. Here are the five essential bike checks that you must do before any triathlon race in order to help you have the best bike split ever.
Make sure to wash your bike with cleaners, lubes, and degreasers specifically formulated for bicycle components and frame materials. A clean bike on race day will perform better than a dirty one, and it'll give you a mental boost, too.
WASH YOUR BIKE
Your bike is your priciest and, let’s be honest, your most fun piece of triathlon gear. So be sure to treat it right and show it some love on a regular basis. You should be taking it to your local bike shop or a qualified mechanic to have it routinely serviced so that it’s always performing at its optimal level. Beyond that, it’s also a great idea to routinely wash your bike. In a perfect world, you’d be giving your bike a quick, five-minute wash after every ride or two, along with a thorough cleaning at least once a month. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and we’re all guilty of occasionally tossing our dirty bike in the garage immediately following a ride. Not to worry, your bike is a hardy beast. But don’t neglect it too much—especially leading up to race day. In the days before your triathlon race, set at least 30 to 60 minutes aside to give your bike a proper wash. Use cleaners and soaps specifically formulated for bicycle frames and components, and prepare to give the process some “elbow grease” to make sure all of your bike’s parts and pieces are shiny and free of dirt and debris. Don’t forget to degrease the chain and drivetrain components and add some fresh chain lube. Not only will a clean bike perform better, it will also give you a mental boost on race day by knowing that you’re riding one of the sharpest-looking bikes at the event.
When inspecting your tires, pay close attention to any imperfections, and remove any small bits of debris. This will help prevent flats down the road.
INSPECT YOUR TIRES
Checking your tires before a race is a two-part process. The first part is one that you can do during the cleaning process outlined above, ideally a few days before your event: Closely inspect both your front and rear tires for small bits of debris, such as pebbles or bits of glass, that have become embedded in the tread. Over time, these small bits of debris can work themselves through the tire casing and cause a flat. You definitely don’t want to take that risk on your race day. So, again, closely inspect your tires, and if you find any bits of debris, carefully remove them with a flat-head screwdriver, awl, or other appropriate tool. If you discover a large gash or other problem area that could result in a flat, go ahead and replace the tire well ahead of your event. The second step in race-day tire preparation is a bit more obvious, and is really something that you should do before every ride. It should also occur immediately before your event while you’re getting all of your gear ready in your transition area: Use a pump to inflate your tires to your preferred pressure. When race day arrives and you jump onto your bike coming out of the transition area, you do not want to discover that your tire pressure is too low—this could, at worst, potentially reduce your bike’s handling abilities or, at least, still leave you battling a mental hurdle to overcome knowing that your tires aren’t optimized for the racecourse.
Use a torque wrench to tighten all of the bolts on your bike to the component manufacturer's recommended setting—no more and no less. Failure to do so can result in damage to the components.
CHECK YOUR BOLTS
This is incredibly important, and it’s something that your local bike shop or mechanic should be checking whenever they service your bike. But it’s also a good idea to take it upon yourself on a regular basis to ensure that all of the bolts on your bike are tightened to the appropriate torque settings as prescribed by each component’s manufacturer. And as race day approaches, this is another essential step that you must do before giving it your all in the heat of competition. Get yourself a torque wrench that has settings for all of the components on your bike (usually with a range of at least 4 Nm to 10 Nm, but this can vary from bike to bike) or a set of multiple fixed-Nm wrenches, and educate yourself on how to use it. Most components such as the stem, seatpost, and basebar will have the proper torque settings written near the bolts. If not, check the owner’s manual or contact the component manufacturer. Go over your bike and check each bolt, one by one, ensuring that they’re all tightened to the specific recommended torque setting—no more and no less. Doing so will not only give you peace of mind, it could also potentially save you from a mechanical problem out on the racecourse.
Your bike's drivetrain is its heart—so be sure to take care of it by routinely adjusting the shifting as needed, and replacing worn-out parts when necessary.
Going over your bike’s shifting should be one of your local bike shop’s or mechanic’s top priorities anytime you take it to them for service. Ideally, you’d have them give your bike a full tune-up in the days leading up to your triathlon. But if you’re not able to utilize someone else’s service, then this is something you should check yourself. Test out your bike’s shifting and pay close attention to the smoothness of the gear changes. If your bike isn’t shifting well, make some adjustments to the derailleurs per the component manufacturer’s recommended process. If things still don’t feel quite right, it may be time to replace the shifter cables (if you have a mechanical drivetrain) or inspect the wiring (if you have an electronic drivetrain). For replacing parts such as those, we recommend taking your bike to your local shop or mechanic. Shifting gears is such a vital part of racing your bike that you do not want to skip this step and find yourself struggling to get into the proper gear while you’re out on the racecourse.
Whether your bike has rim brakes or disc brakes, you'll need to regularly inspect them, and adjust them if necessary. A qualified mechanic or bike shop can help.
INSPECT YOUR BRAKES
It should go without saying that your bike’s brakes are fundamentally important to any ride or race. After all, without properly functioning brakes, your ride won't last very long at all. As with some of the other essential checks outlined above, brake maintenance should be something that your local bike shop or mechanic is checking every time you take your bike in for service. And because it’s so critical to both you’re bike’s safety and performance, it’s also something with which you should be familiar and comfortable inspecting and evaluating yourself, if not fully servicing. In the days before your triathlon race, go out for an easy ride and pay close attention to how your brakes are performing. If everything feels good and you’re able to stop safely and comfortably, as well as modulate your brakes appropriately while descending and cornering, then you should be good to go. If anything feels off or different from normal, inspect your brakes. First, make sure your wheels are properly oriented and secured in your bike’s dropouts or thru-axles and give them a spin by hand—make sure they’re rotating freely and smoothly. If you have rim brakes, check to make sure that your wheel’s brake track is not contacting the brake pads while it is spinning. If you have disc brakes, listen to make sure your rotor is not contacting the brake pads inside the calipers—if it is, chances are you’ll hear a ting ting sound. If you experience any sort of rubbing, adjust the brakes per the manufacturer's recommended process. Also, for whatever type of brakes you have, check the pads. Make sure they don’t show any signs of excessive wear per the brake pad manufacturer’s recommendations. If anything seems amiss, or your pads show too much wear, replace them immediately. If you’re brakes aren’t functioning properly during your triathlon event, then the only thing they’ll be bringing to a screeching halt will be your race effort.