Triathlon Tips

When it comes to Triathlon, we've been there, done that, now serving 21 tips in 3 categories ranging from Author Intro to Triathlon Rules.

Can I wear headphones during the race?

More Rules

There are too many triathlon rules to address in this tip book, but below are several other simple yet important rules to keep in mind. If broken, each of these rule infractions result in time penalties or disqualification.

  • The use of headphones, radios, and personal audio devices are strictly prohibited during the bike and run.
  • It is illegal to sell your race number/entry to someone else. If caught, punishment includes suspension or loss of USA Triathlon membership, plus being barred from participation in sanctioned events for up to one year.
  • Participants shall be disqualified for using any device that aids propulsion during swim, including but not limited to fins, paddles, or floating devices.
  • Handlebar ends should be firmly plugged to decrease the possibility of injury. Bar ends are routinely checked prior to entering the transition area.
  • Outside assistance from family, friends, or spectators of any kind are prohibited on the course.

What is abandonment?


When participating in USA Triathlon sanctioned events you must not leave equipment or personal gear on the race course. If seen by a race official, a violation of this rule results in a minimum time penalty of two minutes. The catch to this rule is that abandonment includes everything from cycling shoes dropped and left in the transition area, to littering out on the course. Yes, a Gu gel wrapper is considered equipment under this rule. Put food wrappers in your bike jersey and discard them at the next aid station. If a water bottle is launched from your bottle cage when you hit a bump in the road, turn around and pick it up. It is that simple. Unfortunately, not all athletes follow this rule, but it boils down to race etiquette. Keeping debris off the course not only makes racing safer for other competitors, but also prevents volunteers from having to pick up litter on the course after the event.

Besides drafting, are there other bike position violations ?

Other Bike Position Fouls

In addition to drafting, there are several additional bike position fouls that could draw a penalty from race officials. These violations are regarding blocking, position, and being overtaken. Blocking occurs when a cyclist obstructs the progress of another rider. This might happen in a failed attempt to pass another rider, which leaves you in the middle of the road and riding side by side with the rider you intended to pass. If a cyclist then rides up behind you wanting to pass both of you but cannot, you are in danger of blocking. In this instance, the main responsibility for avoiding a position foul is left up to the rider in the rear. It is best not to attempt passing another rider unless ample space is available and you are confident in your ability to successfully make the pass. Cyclists are to position themselves on the right hand side of the road, unless making a pass, which is done to the left. It is common to hear the phrase “on your left” as a rider behind you moves into your draft zone and makes the pass around you. The overtaken rider now bears the responsibility of dropping back out of the draft zone, before trying to pass again. Any violations of these rules results in a time penalty, and for repeat offenders possible disqualification could occur.

What is drafting?


The rule most carefully monitored by triathlon officials is that of drafting. Often participants draft while racing and never realize it. Competitors should not position their bikes any closer than three bike lengths behind another cyclist or a moving vehicle so as to benefit from reduced air resistance. Research has shown that drafting on the bike reduces the energy expended by 20-30%. Thus, working together with other cyclists to improve efficiency, performance, or position is prohibited and punishable by a time penalty. Race officials are continuously riding up and down the bike course on motorcycles looking for those drafting. Even those in the middle or back of the pack are not immune to drafting penalties. The "drafting zone" can be described as a rectangular area two meters wide and seven meters long surrounding each bicycle. To avoid being penalized, when you enter the drafting zone of another rider you must close the gap and overtake the rider within approximately 15 seconds. If you cannot pass the athlete in this amount of time it is best not to attempt to pass.

Where do I get on an off of my bike?

Mount/Dismount Line

The mount/dismount line is located in the transition area and indicates where you are to get on and off your bike. As you come in from the swim and transition to cycling you will walk/run your bike to the mount line. Not only is it unsafe, but it is also illegal to mount your bike before reaching this line. You should push your bike past the line a few feet before mounting, as this area is very congested. Upon returning into transition you need to dismount your bike before getting to this line. To dismount safely, slow down and be in control of your bike. Riding into transition out of control dramatically increases the likelihood of being in or causing an accident. You should practice mounting and dismounting your bike prior to the race, especially if your bike handling skill needs improvement. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a bike wreck while riding into transition.

What is the triathlon rule regarding helmets?

Helmet Rules

USA Triathlon has strict rules regarding the use of helmets. Helmets are to be worn with chin straps buckled whenever you are on your bike before, during, and after a sanctioned event. You can receive a penalty or even be disqualified before the race starts for not wearing a helmet or buckling the chinstrap. As you can imagine this is a major liability and a safety issue for USA Triathlon. An example of when this rule might be violated is upon arriving at a race site you decide to ride your bike into the transition area. When cycling into the transition you must be wearing a helmet with the chinstrap buckled. Also, be sure to buckle your chin strap prior to mounting your bike as you begin the cycling leg of your triathlon.

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Mary White