Q: "Can you use a mountain bike for a triathlon?" — Anonymous, Catonsville, Md.
A: The short answer to this question is yes. Absolutely. Especially if you are new to the sport or if you are participating simply to have fun or to check off a bucket list item.
According to active.com, "Your bike is fine. Any bike you're currently riding will work just fine. It can be a road bike, mountain bike, or hybrid."
The longer answer is that it depends on your overall and long-range goals, and your level of competitiveness.
Long before I was a triathlete, I was a recreational runner. Then I married a collegiate swimmer who joined a masters swim team and began training to swim across the Chesapeake Bay. When my husband decided to swim across the bay a second time, I decided to give it a go as well — never mind that I'd never swum more laps than was required to become a lifeguard. But, indeed, I made it across the bay not only once, but twice, and thus considered myself a swimmer as well as a runner.
So, when several of our masters teammates announced they were planning to do a triathlon, we thought, why not? We had little experience with cycling, but viewed this new adventure as simply a fun weekend with friends, and so we used the only bikes we owned — our mountain bikes.
Did we successfully finish the triathlon? Yes. Were we fast? No. In fact, thanks to our bay swim training, we were among the first swimmers out of the water, but we were nearly dead last to finish the bike leg on our heavy, fat-tired bikes. But, nonetheless, we went on to participate in several more triathlons on our mountain bikes before making the investment in road bikes.
The single most important thing about the bike is not what type of bike it is, but that it fits you well, is in good working order and is safe to ride.
Triathlon.competitor.com suggests taking your bike to a local shop "to be sure everything's tight and safe, that the tires are aired up and that the chain is lubed."
It is also a good idea to know how to change a tire before embarking on your first triathlon.
If you are bitten by the "tri bug" and you envision participating in the sport for many years to come, or if you'd like to participate at a more competitive level, then a road bike or triathlon bike is definitely the way to go.
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