Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Corinne Abraham and Ritchie Nicholls at camp in Gran Canaria.
Photo: Rob Holden Photography
Our approach to training extends to the selection of equipment, where we do our best to incorporate common sense principles with proven results. With that, I’m often asked about which wheels and tyres are best for which athlete and why I’m so ‘anti’ disc?
I’ll respond to the question on tyres first as this is the least complicated. My opinion is that for Iron distance racing the choice between tubulars or clinchers shouldn’t be based on which one is faster. Instead it should be on: 1. Which one you can change with confidence. 2. Which one you can ride with confidence after you have changed it.
Unlike ITU short course races, our day is not over if we have some tyre trouble, which every athlete inevitably does. So with such small differences in actual speed advantage, the major time consideration is if we have a technical problem on the ride, then what is the preferred option to complete (and still compete) in the race? Tyre choice becomes critical.
In the past I have had most of my non-technical riders stick with clinchers, the reasons are threefold:
They worry about if a tubular is glued on properly.
They find getting a properly glued tubular tyre off very, very difficult.
If they do have to change it, they then ride so carefully that they lose masses of time worrying about whether it will come off in a fast corner.
I have also seen very experienced riders have accidents after they have changed a tubular and then hit the pavement.
To me being one second faster over 10km means little if we lose 10 minutes over 40km because we are not con!dent riding on a non- glued replacement. So if you’re a rider who worries about the downhills or sharp corners in normal circumstances, then I think clinchers would be the best selection without doubt.
If however you’re a confident rider capable of down hilling and cornering well on a tyre that you replaced yourself, I would say go for tubular. Similarly, if you are one of these athletes who are going to give up after any technical problem on the bike regardless, tubular will be your best option.
Stormin’ Normann having trouble with the tubulars: “Too much gluuuue!”
Now to the lovers of gadgets and all things theory:
THE WHEELS Unlike what is common perception I am not anti-disc. I also acknowledge that the disc IS faster in the wind tunnel. So why don’t your hear me singing their praises and having all my guys ride on discs?
1. You have to be a confident and technical rider to use discs effectively. If wind gusts scare you and throw you off your rhythm, then it’s prudent to avoid using them.
2. A disc needs to be up to around 40km an hour to be of a real true
speed advantage. The men have only just been able to achieve this in Ironman over the last couple of seasons. A 4hr 30 ride give or take. So for the age-groupers and pro women, it’s not really going to work for you.
3. In a crosswind (particularly when it’s gusty), more energy is used and thus will come back to hurt you on the run.
I would also add the clinching argument that Hawaii doesn’t allow discs. So why practice with one when you should be focused on preparing your race setup for the World Champs?
So discs out, what do we go with? For men I tend to be a tri spoke fan more than the deep (808), or ridiculously deep (1080) wheel rims. You don’t get the speed of the disc but you still catch the cross wind and it tires your legs for the run.
In cases where Hawaii is not on the calendar, if you fancy yourself a good bike handler and prefer discs I am not going to tell you otherwise. If your dream is Hawaii then stick to the shallower depth of aero wheels available. Aero is not as important if you can hop on board the bike train. If you are strong and fit, shallow are all you need. If you insist on getting a bit of airtime by leading the race on the bike then be my guest, ride the big boys and run 3hr 10min.
One note for the boys to remember is that Hawaii is a different animal to the tougher Iron distance races, where to qualify you’ll have to be able to ride well and not in a big group. So having the wheel to take advantage of the course can be crucial.
For female riders the best advice I can give is a good pair of shallower depth aero wheels that are light. If you want to mix, then match a shallower front wheel and a deeper rear wheel, as cross winds affect the front more than the rear. If you’re unsteady on a bike in the wind, then use shallower wheels on the front and the
back. If you’re OK then the shallower front, semi deep back combination will work for you. And if you think you handle as good as the guys then back yourself and go the semi deep front and back.
Hope this will help in your selection, Chrissie won her first Hawaii on none of the big end toys, just semi deep aero wheels, which she used at training.
Remember that in Iron distance we need reliability first, confidence second and you take your pick for third. All the hype about speed won’t help you change a tyre on the day you really need to. Just ask Normann.