Improving your triathlon transitions

Improving your triathlon transitions

ITT's Mark Pearce has put together an invaluable resource which uses video footage to help you save time on every aspect of your triathlon transitions.

Transition is often considered the fourth discipline in triathlon as there is time to be gained ... or lost if you are not proficient at it.  
Newcomers to triathlon are often daunted by transition – how do you find your kit, speedily change gear and get out without dropping anything?  
Even experienced athletes can gain precious time by working on this area.
The good news is, experienced or newcomer, gaining time is easy if you follow a few of our little tricks and get in some practice. The first video below summarises exactly what we'll be aiming for and we'll then break it down step-by-step in the rest of the article...


Key points throughout

  • Know the specific rules for the race.
  • Routine - have a repeatable set up.
  • Practice - in training, especially in the early season before you’ve raced.
  • Stay calm
  • Don’t waste the opportunity to shave potentially a few vital minutes off your race time.

Transition 1 – Swim to Bike

Wetsuit removal:

All races have variations on the rules for wetsuit removal so you may need to adapt this slightly depending upon circumstances.
1. Stand up and unzip the back pretty soon after the swim.

2. Remove hat and goggles in one go.

3. Strip the wetsuit down to your waist – leaving your hat and goggles in the arm of the wetsuit.

4. Run quickly but controlled to the point where you are required/allowed to remove your wetsuit.
  • Sometimes in the big Ironman/Challenge races you need to collect your transition bag en-route to the changing tent.
  • In other races you might run straight to your bike and change there.
  • Generally it's not advisable to remove your wetsuit completely too early as it is awkward to run whilst carrying it.
5. Remove the wetsuit.
  • In the US they sometimes have wetsuit strippers who will help people remove their wetsuits.
  • This is very uncommon in Europe – as many of the US competitors at the recent Ironman 70.3 worlds in Zell am See, Austria found out to their surprise.

TIP - using some sort of lubricant on the ankles and wrists often makes it faster, such as baby oil or vaseline (read your wetsuit manufacturers info as some advise on specific products).

6. Place in suitable location.

Watch these points being demonstrated in the video below...


Setting up the bike:

As with the protocol for wetsuits, ensure that you follow any race-specific guidelines for preparing your bike for transition.
In this example we are working on you putting all your kit by your bike, or on it.  No changing tents or separate areas. As you can see in our short video below, Matt has his helmet, sunglasses and number belt all positioned so that they are easy to put on. You need to develop a system - or order you do things in - and practice this.

1. Having run to your bike and removed your wetsuit, put it where appropriate, but out of the way of the kit you will be using in the rest of the race.

2. Put helmet on and do it up - in all races you cannot move your bike without it on, so make this the first thing you do.
  • Do this calmly and controlled, don’t rush.
  • Some people put the helmet on the handlebars as in our example, but others put them on the ground. A lot depends upon the set up of your bike and whether the helmet can be rested safely around the handlebars.
3. If you wear sunglasses you can have them attached to the helmet for fitting later, if your helmet facilitates this, or somewhere on your bike.
  • Or you can have them on the ground in your ‘kit area’.
  • In most cases we would suggest fitting them in T1 and taking a few seconds to do this, rather than try to fiddle around when out on the bike.
  • You can see in the video above Matt puts them on before picking his helmet up.
4. Number belt - sometimes you are allowed to swim with it on, sometimes you need to put it on in T1.  It always needs to be on your back on the bike.

5. When you put your bike in transition make sure it is in a gear that is suitable for getting under way in. We’ve seen so many people leaving it in the last gear used, going to get on and realizing it is in the hardest gear and they have to grind away, or, just as bad, the complete opposite. It should be low enough that you can get going, but not so low there is no resistance to the pedals when you press down the first few times.

6. Running with your bike – if the surface is good it is best to run with the bike holding the saddle, and lean the bike to steer it. If it is rough surface you can still use this method if confident of your control, but you may want to hold the handlebars.The disadvantage to this is that you cannot run very easily as the handlebars get in the way.

7. Bike Shoes - these are usually either attached to the bike ‘PRO’ method - see the next video (below) for how to set this up - or separate to the bike via ‘SAFE’ method, in this instance the shoes are just placed near the bike and put on in transition.


Mounting the bike:

In the PRO version you will need to run out of T1, get on your bike and then put your feet into the shoes on the move. This is not a novice manoeuvre.

This is undoubtedly faster – IF you are competent and practiced at riding and getting your feet in to the shoes while moving, and have suitable triathlon bike shoes. It is very difficult to do if you have more conventional cycling shoes as they don’t have a large enough opening. It also allows you to run more easily than in cycling shoes.
This method is also undoubtedly slower and more dangerous if you don’t practice it or aren’t a competent bike handler.

In the SAFE you will have to run in your shoes, or run with your shoes to near the mount line and fit them there (this is often frowned upon as it clogs the exit area), then get onto your bike and click into the pedals.
As the title suggests this is safer, generally.  You need to run in your cycling shoes which because of the cleat is not the easiest thing to do, nor is it as fast as running barefoot.  If there are turns it can be awkward and it is easy to slip.
If you are on a grass field in T1 you can also get grass/stones/mud in the cleats which makes engaging them in the pedals difficult.
When you get to the mount line you can either jump on and ride off getting your shoes into the pedals as you move, or stop and get them in as you would if you were setting off for a standard ride.

As mentioned already there are several methods for quickly getting on your bike and under way. See the next video below for a comparison of the methods of mounting the bike.

1. 'Flying squirrel' - this is borrowed from cyclo-cross where riders are constantly jumping on and off the bike at high speed. It is fast and gives you a lot of momentum when done well and it can be done with either SAFE or PRO shoe set up.

Caution should be used if you have bottles mounted behind the saddle as these can get in the way and cause ‘issues’.

This is an advanced manoeuvre and should be practiced A LOT before you put it into a race situation. The video is a demonstration of how it is done, not necessarily how to do it! For more info on learning to do this, please see our youtube video.
2. 'Standing swing' - this is a slower and more controlled version of the flying squirrel. After crossing the mountline you swing one leg over the saddle, push off and and then get your feet into the pedals or shoes while on the move.

Transition 2 - Bike to Run


There is also time to be saved in dismounting the bike safely and quickly, and in our experience with a little practice the faster method is also the safest. You don’t run the risk of toppling over, or have someone ram into you as you stop suddenly to dismount.
1. Rolling dismount - there are a couple of variations on this but they all go something like this:
  • A little before the dismount line, remove your feet from your shoes and ride the last bit with them on top of the shoe.
  • As you approach the mount line slow down and dismount the bike while it is still moving, ensuring you put your foot on the floor before the dismount line.
  • Then run, holding the saddle to your transition spot.
This requires a little practice to be truly effective and safe.
2. Standing dismount - again a couple of variations, but essentially you ride to the dismount line (one variation is that you have removed your feet from the shoes, the other is that you don’t):
  • Pull up just before the dismount line and get off.
  • Run to your transition spot.
Safe but slower, doesn’t require much practice as it is basically what you do every time you get off your bike.


There are various forms of racking and racking protocol so make sure you know the rules for each race you do.
Again try to have a system that you always use.
  • Rack bike, by whatever method is required (by handlebars, by the saddle, handed to rackers etc).
  • Take helmet off and place in the correct area (be it a box, your ‘zone’ or in the change bag) - you must do this after racking the bike.
  • Run shoes/socks can be laid out and ready to put on.
  • Elastic laces are a must for quick transitions.
  • A little talc on the shoes, or to hand to put on your feet before slipping socks on will help make this easier if you find you have sweaty or damp feet.
  • Some people put a small towel down, to dry the soles of their feet.
  • If wearing a cap, position this in easy reach.
  • Have any nutrition you are taking also in easy reach.
Then all you need to do us run out and onto the run course.
As you can see there is a lot more to transitions than first meets the eye.  However with plenty of practice and ensuring you know the rules of your race, you should be able to save yourself a good chunk of time.
Happy racing and hope these tips can help you to faster transitions.

(All photos copyright Mark Pearce)

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