As with any competitive sport, triathlon carries certain inherent risks ranging from road rash to more dire consequences like financial loss and liability. Risk isn’t fun to talk about, but overlooking it would be irresponsible.
A triathlete’s most prized possession is his bike. The bike leg is the longest part of the event; races can be lost or won on the bike. Over the last few years, triathlon bikes have made significant advances in both aerodynamics and price. It’s no longer unusual to see triathlon bikes break the $10,000 price barrier, with many exceeding $20,000.
While built almost exclusively out of carbon fiber and a few alloy parts, and recently supplemented with electronic shifting, triathlon bikes are not only susceptible to damage, but are also relatively easy targets for thieves. These bikes are essentially high-priced luxury items that are relatively small, easy to carry and equally easy to find buyers for. Bike theft also happens to be one of the seldomly solved crimes: in some North American cities as many as half of all active cyclists have had at least one bike stolen.
Keeping your bike race-ready isn’t particularly difficult; surprisingly both experienced and novice triathletes seem to overlook a few key details that could make the experience of owning and racing a high-end bike simpler and more enjoyable.
Traveling with your bike
1. Transport it
Traveling to races at new and exciting locations is an essential part of a triathlete's lifestyle. While your season might be filled with local and semi-local B and C “training” races, that single A race you’re really training for will probably require you to break down your bike for travel. You will then attempt to stuff it into a cargo box with the hope that TSA agents are at least half as gentle to it as you have been.
So what’s the safest way to get your steed to the race in one piece? While packing your bicycle into a box and dragging it to the airport might be the most obvious way, it wouldn’t hurt to consider the alternatives.
If you’re going to a popular race, such as Ironman, you should consider enlisting the services of TriBikeTransport because nothing beats their convenience factor. You won't have to break down your bike, and it will travel fully assembled to your destination. Mechanically unsympathetic or not, reassembling a bike in a hotel room is not the best use of anyone’s time and introduces a variety of variables, which go hand in hand with “nothing new on race day” mantra.
Average cost: $450 round trip
2. Ship it
If there’s no TriBikeTransport participating bike shop nearby, consider shipping your bike.
Shipping the bike with a major carrier costs roughly as much as TriBikeTransport. Unfortunately, you do have to break down the bike and play world-class bike parts Tetris to make it all fit into a box that is within the specific carrier’s dimension-weight requirements.
If you go this route, consider asking your bike shop to package and ship it for you: it will probably save you time and energy and might end up cheaper because shops have their own “preferred” rate with many carriers. You could also consider using BikeFlights, which is a bicycle-specific shipper that relies on FedEx for logistics. They will even provide a box for you.
While you could ship your bicycle to a hotel, consider contacting a bike shop near your destination and see if they would assemble the bike for you. Most bike shops charge roughly $50 to assemble and tune up a bike. Upon arrival at the race venue, you simply walk up to the shop and pick up your freshly tuned bike. Even though your bike would be assembled by a professional mechanic, don’t make a mistake of taking it to straight to the bike check-in. Instead, take it for a shake down ride and bring a small multi-tool with you, in case you need to make some last minute adjustments.
Average cost: $300 round trip
3. Bring it along
If you must fly with your bike, it is highly recommended you do your research, as this can get very expensive very quickly. It doesn’t have to be, but you will have to plan well.
Since bike fees vary greatly from airline to airline, it’s important to factor it into the price of the ticket. A small regional airline that offers the lowest cost seat to your destination might charge you $300 to bring your bike one way. The good news is that most airlines have a flat “bicycle fee.” Don’t rely on the ticket agent to know the rules about flying with bicycles. Look up these fees before booking your flight and print out a copy of the bicycle fee schedule at the time of booking because you might need it later. Airline agents operate in the “overweight” and “oversize” dimension and are often unaware that the airline might have a separate bicycle fee, which could be significantly lower than your overweight and oversized bike case.
When considering a bike case you might be tempted to go for a hard shell case since it seems rugged and almost cavernous when compared to other options. While it’s true, most hard shell cases are also very awkward to maneuver and often treated less gently by baggage handlers. They also often require a large car to transport.
If you are in the market for a new bike case, consider a padded one. While padded cases might offer less protection, they are more manageable and do not require special treatment by the baggage handlers.
Knowing how to pack your bicycle to minimize possible damage is hardly an art form, but a tedious process that will get easier with experience. When packing your bike, consider that the most commonly damaged areas are: chainstays, seat stays, top tube, fork and derailleur.
What happens when your bike arrives damaged or doesn’t arrive at all? The general rule is that you have a four hour window during which you must report the damage to the airline and file a claim. When you pick up your bike from the belt, find a quiet corner of the terminal, open up the case and carefully inspect everything for damage. If you spot any damage, make sure to take detailed pictures and keep copies of all the claim documents you might receive.
Average cost: $150 round trip
If you’re traveling to a race, you should always follow the golden rule of triathlon: “Don't try anything new on race day.” If that’s the case, this is exactly why this should be your last option.
Some of the bigger Ironman races have a preferred bike shop that offers a variety of bikes for rent and some are often high-end. The selection is usually limited and these bikes get booked fast! Since big races mostly take place in popular locations, there is usually at least a handful of other bike shops that are worth reaching out to if you must rent a bike.
Average cost: $500 for a high-end bike
What to do when things go badly
Alas, if your bike is damaged by the airline or lost in transit, this might be the end of your race or the biking trip. Minor damage can always be corrected by a local bike shop or mechanics at the event, but what about a major damage that makes the bike unrideable? If a rental bike is available and can be fit, it’s a viable alternative to abandoning the race. If a rental cannot be located, there is not much to do other than wait for the plane back home.
Be prepared for the worst
Just like with your race strategy where you have a plan “B” and often even a “C,” it helps to have the same when transporting your bike over great distances, just in case the things didn’t go your way. With a little bit of preparation, and a little bit of luck you should be able avoid disaster or salvage a race that you travelled thousands of miles to attend. "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." (Benjamin Franklin)
You might be tempted to stuff your bike bag full of your race equipment, including your bike shoes, helmet, running gear and even the wetsuit. While this makes perfect economic sense, by doing so you are putting “all of your eggs in one basket.” What if the airline delays or loses your bike? You can race on a rental bike with a helmet you purchased at Walmart, but can you slug it out in brand new shoes you’ve never tried before? You might get lucky but that’s a risk that isn’t worth taking.
If your bike case has room and is under the maximum allowed weight, you might as well fill up the space with your “everyday stuff” but make sure to put your bike and running shoes, pedals, and the wetsuit into your carry on. To gain additional luggage space it’s also common to strap the helmet to the outside of your carry on, airlines don’t seem to have a problem with it.
Mark your fit
If you’re a serious cyclist, you most likely understand all the intricacies and advantages of having a quality bike fit: getting your biophysical coordinates “just right” could mean a difference between an “easy” century or a back-cramping one-hour ride.
When you take your bike apart, even partially, you are most certainly taking a chance that when you put it back together, something won’t be quite right. One of the easiest and most reliable ways to ensure your bicycle comes together in its original form is to mark the fit directly on the bike with a permanent marker. We have found that a thin point silver Sharpie marker is resilient and noticeable enough to mark both carbon and painted surfaces. The areas you want to mark are: the point where the seatpost meets the frame clamp, seat rails around the rail clamps (to mark the seat position), rail clamp angle (to mark the seat angle), horizontal position of the handlebar or the TT bar in the stem clamp and the handlebar or TT bar angle. With these areas marked, you can quickly and easily ensure that your bike is within acceptable tolerances every time.
If your bike doesn’t make your flight or is damaged to the point of being unrideable and you’re forced to rent or borrow a bike, frame markings will not do you much good. Luckily, fit coordinates can often be transferred to another bike of similar size, if you have them on hand. Before you depart on a trip, make sure you have your fit coordinates documented in one of the acceptable formats, such as Retul, F.I.S.T., GURU or at least measure the stack and reach on your bike before you take it apart.
Keeping your bike safe at a race site
If you attending a major race, such as 70.3 or a full Ironman and even one of the smaller but popular races, you should expect to check in your bicycle the day before the race. Don’t make the mistake of finding out too late and make sure to read the athlete guide.
If you’ve checked in your bike before, you know the drill: you roll up with your bike to a gate where a volunteer/security guard checks the number on the bike, then you take the bike to the designated rack, hang it by the saddle, admire it from a distance and walk away. The next time you’ll see it will be on the race day.
When it comes to dealing with busy transitions, carelessness of others is most likely your biggest foe. Other participants, either eager to carve out the most place for their bike, or inexperienced enough to know better, are likely to move and shove yours and surrounding bikes around. This is when pedals scratch carbon frames, damage spokes, pull cables and bend derailleurs.
To minimize this kind of damage make sure to be one of the last people to walk out of the transition area before it closes for the day. If you’ve already picked up your packet and attached the numbers to your bicycle, you should plan to arrive at the transition area roughly an hour overnight temperature drop can discharge it. You wouldn’t want to be attacking a 6% grade hill in 54-11 gear.before closing. This should give you ample time to explore the expo and check in your bike.
If you find yourself in a situation where you must move the rack neighbors’ bikes, treat them as if they were yours. If you find someone else’s bike in your spot, reach out to the official to get it moved.
It isn’t very often that bikes get stolen from transition, but it does happen. Securing your bike to the rack with a mediocre cable lock could be sufficient enough to make the thief move on to another target, since there are so many to chose from. If you do this, don’t forget to unlock the bike on the race morning!
Bike accessories, such as computers and saddle bags, are much easier to steal than the actual bike. It should go without saying that these items should not be left on the bike overnight.
If your bike is equipped with electronic shifting and the battery can be easily removed, it’s a good idea to do so not only to keep it safe, but also because any significant overnight temperature drop might discharge it. You wouldn’t want to be pushing 54-11 gearing all day long on a race day!
Keeping your bike safe after the race
The vast majority of bike theft at events occurs immediately after the race. This isn’t generally a problem with major events like Ironman, where security is strict and the bike pickup window is late in the evening, after the event has ended or is near completion.
At smaller events, such as local Sprint and Olympic races, and even some 70.3 events that culminate in a broad daylight with a large number of people present, your bicycle has a chance of going unnoticed. This is the time when people are most distracted: the spectators are cheering, some of the athletes are enjoying refreshments, others queueing up to see the results, and others picking up their equipment from the transition. While many races have staff verify that the bike being checked out of transition belongs to the owner, they often get overwhelmed with a constant flow of people rushing to get out. Some races have been known to drop the ball on security after the race entirely.
To minimize the risk of a stranger strolling away with your bike, make it a point to get to your bike first and get it out of transition. Once it’s in your possession, don’t leave it unattended. Fortunately, since you’re at a race venue, nobody is going to frown on you for walking through a crowd with a bicycle. If you must go somewhere without your bike, make sure to leave with a family member or a friend.
Make your bike uniquely yours
If the number fell off your bike during the race or you caught someone walking with your bike, could you prove to security or the police that your bike is yours? Rattling off the list of parts makes you a bike nerd, but doesn’t prove ownership.
Marking your bike only takes a few minutes, but might help you avoid an uncomfortable situation. All you need is a sharp point permanent marker. Write your name in a few inconspicuous places, such as on the bottom of the top tube or the stem. While at it, mark your wheels as well.
When you’re cranking “in the zone,” staring at the numbers and chasing a PR, the last thing you’d expect is a spectator stepping in your way. Sadly, this happens often. Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation where you hit a spectator and both you and the spectator shrug it off. You then jump back on your bike and continue on with your race. When said spectator gets home that evening and suddenly develops migraines and back pains. He consults with a personal injury attorney (also known as the “ambulance chaser”) who finds out that the race took place on a public road that was closed off for the race. As far as the attorney is concerned, you just executed a hit-and-run and caused bodily injury. With enough imagination and a possibility of a financial fallout, you might find yourself involved in a liability or even a criminal lawsuit.
Insurance for triathletes
This article wouldn’t be complete without discussing insurance for triathletes. Just like risk and liability, insurance is a boring subject that usually comes up only when things go badly. Before shrugging it off, imagine for a minute how a terrible mishap can alter your life and evaluate how prepared are you to deal with the consequences. How quickly will you be able to save up for a new bike if your current one was gone? Will you be able to cover the out of pocket deductible for an Emergency Room visit without it putting a stain on your finances? Are you prepared to mount a legal defense in the case of a liability suit that could drive you into bankruptcy?
In some instances, the rider’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy may offer liability coverage. Do not assume it will defend you, and always clear the activity with the home insurance provider. Full disclosure of competing in a race might exclude coverage, so always get affirmative answers in writing. It’s also very unlikely that homeowner’s or renter’s insurance would cover theft or damage to your bike unless it took place at home.
With recent changes in the health insurance marketplace, health insurance costs more and provides less. Purchasing a supplemental medical payments benefit can mitigate or eliminate the annual out-of-pocket expense in the case of an injury. A medical payment benefit should equal or exceed the individual cost before the health insurance company starts paying 100%.
Velosurance is a national bicycle insurance agency founded by two cyclists in response to the insurance needs of bicycle riders nationwide. We are proud to serve our fellow cyclists with an insurance policy that covers just about anything that can happen to a bike. Everyone who works at Velosurance is an avid rider, so when you call us you are speaking to another cyclist who understands you and your bike. A proper insurance for triathletes.
Velosurance offers a stand-alone bicycle insurance policy where claims will not affect your homeowner or renters policy premiums. The policy covers damage and theft while in transit, as well as crash damage to the bike and riding kit, and cycling liability protection.
To get a bicycle insurance quote, please visit this page. You can also call us during business hours at 888-663-9948 to speak to an agent.