Fancy a new challenge? Here's what you need to get started in triathlon

You might be surprised by the number of cyclists that also participate in triathlon. The likes of former multiple time trial British Best All-Rounder Kevin Dawson and serial TT champion Matt Bottrill have been attracted to the sport, and that’s not to mention large numbers of grassroots cyclists testing themselves in a different environment.

The appeal for cyclists is obvious. The majority of amateur triathlons are non-drafting, and since in a race most of an athlete’s time will be spent on the bike, experienced riders can find themselves performing strongly from day one.

>>> How a bike costing £1,000 won the National 10-Mile Time Trial Championship

If you are not a fan of time trialling, there are some sprint distance triathlons that will permit drafting, which could allow you to utilise your bunch racing expertise.

Another thing that might appeal is your chance of picking up some silverware. Although often hotly contested, amateur triathlons frequently give prizes to the first three competitors in each five-year age group (for example 25-29, 30-34), so there are plenty of pots to be won.

Tempted to try it for yourself? Here’s a quick glance to the equipment to consider.

What bike do you need for a triathlon?

Cycling tri

Using a tri-suit and a number belt is a good idea in a triathlon

First up, the bike. You can compete on any bike, as long as it’s road worthy — a quick check of the brakes will be carried out by a marshal, and you must have a cap on your bar ends.

Many people taking on their first triathlon will choose to ride an entry level road bike. The drops allow for a fairly aero position, you’ll have plenty of gears for the hills and the construction should be relatively lightweight.

In non-drafting events you will often see those aiming to be competitive riding time trial bikes and road bikes with bolt-on tri-bars. In draft-legal races competitors must ride a road bike, but can use bolt-on shorty tri bars. These cannot protrude beyond the hoods and must be bridged, like the above Vision bars.

What is faster uphill: an aero road bike or a lightweight bike?


You need to wear a cycling helmet throughout the bike leg. Before you are allowed to rack your bike in transition, a marshal will check that your helmet strap can be fastened. Further, you are not allowed to touch your bike in transition until you have put your helmet on.

To improve aerodynamics, many triathletes use aero road helmets such as the Giro Air Attack (pictured above) or long-tailed time-trial specific helmets.

What is faster: a time trial helmet or a standard road helmet?

Bike shoes

Even if you are taking part in a short distance triathlon it is highly recommended that you use clipless pedals and bike shoes.  Further, if you want to be at the sharp end of the race you’ll need tri-specific shoes, because you can save minutes on your overall time with swift transitions.

Triathlon cycling shoes are designed to make it easier for you to get your feet in and out of the shoes while riding — they do this by having a single wide strap, large opening and a loop on the heel.

>>> How to cycle with clipless pedals

If you’re really serious you can use elastic bands to keep your shoes horizontal for when you race out of the first transition at speed.


There are tri-specific saddles like the one from ISM Adamo which has a hook at the back to help you remove your bike from transition more quickly.

These tend to be designed to suit a rider sitting far over the front of the bike, when the hips often rotate to put more pressure on the soft tissue area.

>>> Buyer’s guide to men’s bike saddles

>>> Buyer’s guide to women’s bike saddles 

Race belt

You have to wear a race number on your back when cycling, and on your front when running. A race belt like the one from Nopinz means you can simply slide the number round and removes the need to pin a number to your cycling or running kit.

See how important your number position is


You can certainly race without cycling sunglasses, but they will protect your eyes from debris and insects, even if it’s not sunny.


Swimming tri

You can often hire wetsuits but it is a good idea to get one that fits you properly

The swim leg, which can be in a pool or in open water, is often the most daunting aspect of a triathlon for cyclists. Having the right equipment will definitely make you feel more confident.

Wet suit

If swimming in open water, subject to water temperature restrictions, you will need to wear a wet suit— a tri-specific wet suit is strongly recommended.

A wet suit could substantially improve your swimming as it increases your buoyancy. Your legs will float more than they would without one – many triathletes rely more on their arms in the open water, saving their legs for the next two legs.

Entry level tri-specific wet suits tend to be made from thicker neoprene, which keeps you warm and more buoyant in the water. More advanced swimmers often opt for wet suits using thinner neoprene, especially around the shoulders, to allow more flexibility.

Wiggle’s in house brand, dhb, recently moved into the wetsuit territory and have options available for under £100 for both men and women.

Swimming goggles

A good pair of goggles, is fundamental. You definitely don’t want a pair that leaks or mists up. Though entry level in terms of price, we’ve had some success with Decathlon’s own in house brand Nabaiji. However, it’s worth noting that google preferences vary depending upon face shape.

You can get specific open water goggles. The defining feature of these is that they have wider lenses, to allow for greater peripheral vision. If you expect to be swimming on overcast days, clear lenses are best. If bright sun is likely, mirrored lenses will protect your eyes and vision from glare – and you can also get polarised lenses for particularly bright days.

Unless you expect to be off the front, then you’ll need to account for the washing-machine-effect of lots of moving arms. With that in mind, soft lenses with rubber around them are a good choice (compared to hard lenses which could hurt if elbowed).

Swim costume/bib shorts/tri-suit

You could use normal swim shorts or cycling bib shorts for the swimming leg, but ideally you would use a tri-suit that is designed to be worn across all disciplines.

>>> Triathlon suits: everything you need to know

Tri- suits have a narrower insert than cycling bib shorts, this will dry more quickly and is more comfortable during the run. They are also often sleeveless, although long-sleeved suits are also becoming more popular — as shown by the two Endura suits pictured above.

Swim cap

The majority of events provide swim caps, but it is advisable to come prepared with your own good quality cap to keep your head warm. Some people wear a swim cap on their head, then put their goggles on over the top, before using a second swim cap to keep it all in place on an open water swim.


Running tri

If you don’t have a tri suit you could choose to use a running vest- like this one from New Balance

The run is the final challenge. There is a saying that “there is no such thing as a bad run off a good bike”, meaning that the skill of a good cycle leg also includes saving enough energy for the run afterwards.

Running shoes

It is highly recommended for you to have suitable trainers for the run, whether it is on tarmac or off-road. As you get more advanced you may want to consider using elastic laces — not spending time doing up your laces is a great way to shave seconds of your overall time.

Running vest/t-shirt

If you do not have a tri-suit, you will need to ensure your torso is covered for the run. You could use a bike jersey or a running vest.

GPS watch

If you want to track your performance throughout the whole event you might want to buy a multi-sport watch similar to the Garmin Epix.

If just cycling is not enough for you, why not give multi-sport a go?

  • TriDad

    Nice checklist