It’s My First Triathlon. What Should I Carry on the Bike?

Congratulations on entering your first triathlon. Maybe it’s coming up this weekend, or maybe you still have weeks or months to get ready. Either way, I’m going to show you what you should carry with you on the bike and how you should do it. The amount you bring varies by race distance, but the packing list is always more or less the same.

The Bare Minimum

Because the bike is a good place to take in calories and fluids, you should always carry some nutrition and hydration with you. For a sprint race, this could be as simple as a sports drink you sip throughout the ride, and perhaps a gel. For longer triathlons, several gels, solid food, and multiple drink bottles may be necessary. (You can determine what and how much you need by testing out your race nutrition plan during your long rides and brick workouts.)

If you are carrying a single bottle of fluid, you can mount it anywhere that’s easily accessible. The general consensus from wind tunnel tests is that a bottle mounted flat between your arms on the aerobars is the fastest option. If you are on a road or mountain bike without aerobars, down tube and seat tube placements both work well and are easy to reach. If you are carrying multiple bottles, you may want to also consider behind-the-seat mounts that can add 1, 2, or 3 bottles to you set-up.

When it comes to food, gels can be taped to the top tube or stem and quickly pulled off when needed. There are also a variety of small bags that attach to the top tube directly behind the stem and can hold larger bars, salt tabs, or any other type of nutrition you need during a race. If you don’t have a bag or other place to store food, you can always tuck it into a jersey pocket before heading out on the bike.

Now that nutrition and hydration are covered, there’s one more must-have if you want to maximize your chances of crossing the finish line: a tire-repair kit. If you get a flat tire during your race, you have three options. 1—Fix it yourself. 2—Wait for race support (if available) to find you and help you out. 3—Give up and start walking your bike. The first option is generally your fastest, provided you’ve practiced changing a tire ahead of time. The tools, CO2 canister, and spare tube you will need can be stored in a small bag behind your seat or taped along your top tube or to the bottom of your seat.

Nice to Haves

Depending on your race distance and familiarity with your bike’s components, a multitool or even just 4 & 5mm hex wrenches can help you make roadside repairs or adjustments. Zip ties are also a lightweight repair option with a ton of applications. If you aren’t comfortable fixing your bike during a race, be sure it’s professionally serviced before the race and don’t worry about carrying any repair tools.

While tools are good for your bike, carrying a treat, like few pieces of candy, can be great for your soul. When things aren’t going your way this little pick-me-up can be just what you need to get back on track and focused on your goal of crossing that finish line.

Things to Avoid

Many triathletes train with lights on their bikes for safety. This is a good idea for training but not necessary when racing. The same goes for extra bottle cages you aren’t going to use. Removing lights and cages you don’t need cleans up the look of your bike and reduces the number of things that can get snagged, broken, or knocked off in transition.

Also avoid any nutrition that requires 2 hands to open or will create a sticky mess before you can use it. If you are carrying bars or other packaged foods, tear open the packaging beforehand so it’s easier to open during the race.

And finally, leave your music at home. In addition to creating a safety hazard, personal music players and headphones are almost always prohibited during the ride. If you typically train with music on the bike, start weaning yourself right away. This will help make your training safer and prepare you for what you will experience during your race.