Triathlon is not just about swimming, cycling, and running. Transitions are also a key part of the event, and doing it right is essential even for amateurs. That’s how you can end up inefficiently losing time, but to beginners, this might not seem important. But not knowing transition rules may lead you to a penalty or even a disqualification from the event.
Even if you are not competing to get a podium in a race and just for fun, transitions are essential because you don’t want to be stopped halfway for a simple error you made in the transition phase.
There are 2 transitions in triathlon, from swim to bike (T1), and from bike to run (T2), and each has its own set of rules of dos and don’ts. So let’s make sure you know the transition rules and at the end, I will tell you my best tips to prepare for transitions when setting up your transition zone before the race.
Essential transition rules to follow in T1
Always fasten your helmet first
This is probably one of the two most enforced transition rules in a triathlon. You are not allowed to grab your bike from the rack if you are not wearing your helmet (fastened!). In the rush of the race, it is easy to get confused and do things in the wrong order. Personally, when I head out of the water, I focus on one thing: the helmet. That’s the first thing I do once I arrive at my transition spot, after removing the swim gear.
Do not mount your bike before the mount line
This one also is a very enforced rule as you will have race officials waiting at the mount line and checking that everyone is doing it correctly. If you are new to triathlon, the mount line is a line defining the beginning of the bike section. It generally consists of a line drawn on the floor – or a timing mat – at the end of the transition area.
To exit T1, you must walk your bike – pushing it by hand – until you have at least one foot completely on the other side of the mount line. That’s only when you are allowed to hop onto your bike. Doing it early will result in a penalty.
Note: the mount line can easily become a crowded area, especially on super sprint and sprint triathlons. As almost only the pros use the flying mount, it takes more time to hop on a bike in a regular way. Be careful not to block other competitors while mounting your bike!
Put on your race number
Do not forget to put on your race number after the swim leg as it is mandatory to compete.
Some races have specific rules about where to display the number, but as a general rule, on the bike leg, you should have it displayed on your back, while in the run leg, you should display it on your front. This is why I recommend using a race belt: in a matter of one click you can put it on and move the bib around your waist easily.
For more information about triathlon race belts, check out this article.
Essential transition rules to follow in T2
Remove your helmet after racking your bike
T2 is about bringing back your bike to its storage area and getting ready for the run. You may feel like removing your helmet once out of the bike, but this is forbidden! You have to wait to put back your bike on the rack to be allowed to unfasten and take off your helmet.
“All athletes must have their helmet securely fastened from the time they remove their bike from the rack before the start of the bike leg, until after they have placed their bike on the rack after the finish of the bike leg;”WORLD TRIATHLON
And don’t forget to remove your helmet before starting the run leg, as this is also not authorized 😉
Get off your bike before the dismount line
In T2, there is also a line to respect. It marks the end of the bike leg, and when you have to dismount your bike. This time the line must not be crossed with yourself on the bike. You must have at least one foot completely on the ground before crossing the line.
To summarise the mount/dismount line rule: you can never ride your bike in the transition area. This should help you visualize which side of the line is ok to ride and which side is not.
If you want to improve your T2 transition or avoid bad surprises, do not hesitate to have a look at my dedicated article: 9 tips for T2 transitions
Essential transition rules that apply at all time
Nudity or indecent exposure is forbidden
As you are racing in public with lots of other athletes and also supporters watching, it is forbidden in the rules to expose private parts, such as genitals or boobs. This is why most triathletes will use a tri suit for the entirety of the race. This is the perfect solution for fast transitions and avoiding indecent exposure.
But if it is your first triathlon, you might not feel like investing money into a trisuit yet. And you are at risk of exposing too much of yourself to get changed. Since changing under a towel is not always practical, I recommend using a changing robe. It’s fast to put on and won’t fall off like a towel. It is really worth the investment and can avoid getting disqualified. For instance, you can use it when training like after open water swims to change in front of your car, or simply at the swimming pool…
For long-distance triathlons, some people prefer to get changed after the swim to wear thicker padded shorts to handle the long ride to come. In this case, they also need to change afterward to run as it is impractical to run in cycling shorts. These events sometimes have a changing tent you can use, if that’s not the case either wear a trisuit or use a changing robe.
For more information about the limitations of the nudity rule, check this article out:
Mind others at all times
The key message in the transition zone is to keep moving unless you are at your designated transition spot. Besides, at all times, you must be mindful of your competitors:
- do not access their transition area
- do not spread your gear onto other’s transition area
- do not block the way of other competitors
It is essential that you do not stop in the “flow zones” as it may slow down or block a competitor.
Just keep aware of your surroundings and remember you aren’t alone to race, and you should have no trouble at all! You will appreciate also that others do the same for you 🙂
Only keep in the transition area the gear you need
On my first triathlon, I arrived in the transition zone with a big backpack, as well as my bike, helmet, and wetsuit. But I was stopped from entering the transition zone as it is only allowed to bring the equipment you need for the race. Therefore no backpack. So I had to carry all my stuff in my hands.
This is why you see Ironman triathlons using transparent plastic bags for transition areas where you have to fit in only what’s necessary.
Some triathlons are not as strict: you may enter the transition zone to get prepared with a big backpack full of stuff as long as you only leave what’s necessary before the start of the race.
Put your gear on the correct side of the bike rack
As a general rule, you should have your equipment placed on the floor at your designated transition area. To recognize it, there is a number written on the rack. The side the number is on is also the side where your gear must be placed.