All About Aquabike


If you’re here, you most likely love running. But sometimes it’s nice to participate in an event that’s a little less run-heavy. It gives our running muscles some time to relax and recover but keeps our fitness up.

Do you know what Aquabike is? It sounds like a funky new-age exercise machine, but it’s actually a type of race that’s basically a triathlon… Without the running part.

The absence of running doesn’t make it worthless! It’s like a cross-training event that gets your muscles moving and gives you a cardiovascular boost.

Keep reading to find out all about Aquabike so you can decide if you want to try it out!

What is an Aquabike Race?

Aquabike is a triathlon minus the running leg. It’s as simple as that! It’s all in the name – first up is the swim (aqua), followed by cycling (bike).

The event was conceptualized by a member of USA Triathlon, Dean Petersen. It came about as a way to keep athletes active after they were struggling to run or were forced to quit running due to injury or joint problems.

The pilot Aquabike program began in 2005. It took a few years to take off, but by 2010 USAT had brought in a rankings program for Aquabike. By 2012, over 3000 athletes were ranked.

Aquabike Distances

There are three standard distances that Aquabike events use.

  • Olympic: 1-mile swim, 25-mile cycle
  • Half-Ironman: 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle
  • Ironman: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle

These are the standard distances as per USAT. But each region has its own events apart from that, the most common of which is a time-based competition. In these Aquabike events, the participants swim and bike for a fixed time rather than a fixed distance.

For example, one competition may have a 10-minute swim and a 45-minute cycle, while another may have a 20-minute swim and a 30-minute cycle. In these cases, the athlete who covers the most distance in these times wins.

Who Is Aquabike Ideal For?

Aquabike is an excellent choice for those who like the idea of a triathlon but really don’t enjoy running. Because of the low-impact nature of the event, it’s also perfect for athletes who have joint problems or who are recovering from injury.

And because it happens to us all sometimes, aquabike is also ideal for runners who want to have a great exercise and a bit of competition but like the idea of not running for a change.

Those who are strong swimmers and cyclists will enjoy the challenge of Aquabike events. There’s no need to suffer through the running part if you feel that your running is weak or you really don’t enjoy it.

On the other hand, if you want to get into triathlons and your running is strong but you need to work on your swimming and cycling, you may start with Aquabike to build up some strength in these two disciplines.

It’s also a great way to get in some cross-training! Both swimming and cycling are super resistance training options, and their low-impact nature makes them a good choice for almost anyone.

Cycling is particularly good for developing leg muscle, while swimming is fantastic for building the shoulders and arms.

Who Can Complete an Aquabike?

If you can swim and ride a bike, you can complete an Aquabike event. It’s a simple case of choosing a distance that’s appropriate for you and leaping in!

Struggle with back pain, hip pain, weak ankles, or other foot or leg-related issues? No worries! Aquabike provides the fun and challenge of a multi-sports event without the harsh treatment of the joints.

What Equipment Is Needed?

You’ll need basically the same equipment you need for a triathlon, just minus the running stuff.

For the swim, a wetsuit is advised as the open water can be cold even on warm days. Under your wetsuit you can wear a tri suit, which is suitable to be worn when cycling too.

A swimming cap is a good idea to protect your hair and make you more streamlined as you move through the water.

For the cycling leg, you’ll obviously need a bike. This is likely to be your biggest expense. You can invest in a proper triathlon bike, which is made to be aerodynamic, or use a regular road bike. If this is your first introduction to triathlon-type events, you can even use a hybrid or mountain bike.

You can make a road bike more tri-friendly by adding a set of aero bars and changing the angle of the saddle.

If you’re serious about your cycling, you may want to use clipless pedals (these are the kind that you can clip your shoes into). You’ll need to replace your pedals and get compatible shoes with cleats, but it has the potential to improve your performance.

Lastly, but definitely not least, a cycling helmet is not only essential to keep your important bits safe, but it’s mandatory and you won’t be allowed to ride without one. We highly recommend a MIPS helmet for optimal safety.

Tips to Train for an Aquabike Race

Whether you’re doing a short race or a long-distance one, training is essential to make sure you can hit your goal times and do so without the threat of injury or exhaustion.

Here’s what to consider if you’re planning on training for an Aquabike race.

Put in the Time

Although an Aquabike race is generally considered to be less intensive than a full triathlon, you still need to put in enough training time if you want to perform optimally.

Depending on the race and your goals, you’ll most likely need to train for anywhere from 3 to 12 months.

Before your race, you should have trained to the point where you can swim/ride the total distances comfortably.

If you’re a seasoned triathlete who’s doing an Aquabike event, your training may not need to be as intense. Chances are your fitness is high and you have experience in both riding and swimming, so you could get away with a shorter training time.

But if you’re new to the sport, don’t leap in too soon. Rather train for too long and give yourself time to taper, even with the shorter events.

Heading into competition without sufficient training can leave you wide open to injury, exhaustion, and demotivation at the end of the day.

Inform Your Family & Friends

You can’t just fit a bit of training in between everything else that’s happening in your life. If you want to train effectively for an event like Aquabike, you need to focus on your training, your eating, and getting enough rest.

It can be hard to do this when you’ve got family and friends who aren’t doing the same thing! Inform the important people in your life of your intentions to train for this race. Let them know that you’ll be training X times per week, and that you need to tweak your nutrition.

Simply letting them know can make a big difference. Other events and daily activities may need to be structured around your training. Family meals may need to be tweaked for a month or two.

But if everyone knows what you’re doing and what your goals are, there’s no need to worry about how to respond when your friends invite you out for a meal, or when the family decides to go out at the last minute.

Train Both Disciplines

Obviously, you’ll need to put time and effort into both disciplines. That means separate swimming and riding training sessions.

2 to 4 sessions of each should be completed each week. This could mean doing both on one day in order to fit in enough training.

If you’re also keeping up with your regular running, you’ll need to create a strict training schedule in order to get everything done.

You can’t afford to be slack with it, even if you’re doing the short races. Train hard, and your race will be easier. Train easy, and you’ll find it hard to hit your goals in a race.

Vary Your Training

Naturally, your longer training sessions should be on weekends when you have time to spare. If you’re lucky enough to work from home and have time during the week, it could be beneficial to throw in some training sessions when things are a bit quieter.

It’s also an excellent idea to add speed sessions and interval training to your training instead of training at a single speed every time. Varying your workouts can help to increase both your speed and your endurance in the long run.

It also helps to stave off boredom if you’re the type who needs a bit of variety!

Increase Gradually

Don’t increase too quickly. You want to begin with a shorter distance than your race will be and gradually work your way up. An increase of about 5 to 10% in either distance or time per week is ideal.

If you progress too quickly, the chance of injury and overtraining increases. Be patient! It can be tempting to forge ahead and aim for that full distance from the start, but slowly increasing your distance or time is the best way to build the necessary endurance and set yourself up for success.

Don’t Forget to Rest

Rest is underrated. You should have at least one complete day of rest per week. Try to structure your working days so they’re not all full-out effort, otherwise you’ll find yourself overtraining and fatiguing far too quickly.

Apart from resting from exercise, make sure you’re actually getting enough sleep at night! This can be easy to neglect. Just another episode, or let’s get some work in before bed…

But if your sleep suffers, so does everything else. The body heals during sleep, which means it’s an essential ingredient for recovery. If you don’t sleep enough, your body doesn’t get a chance to recover fully.

On the other hand, not getting enough sleep affects you mentally. It’s harder to focus, easier to become moody and irritable, and self-discipline becomes much more difficult.

Aim for 7 to 9 hours of solid sleep per night. It’s a good idea to put the phone or tablet down and turn the TV off an hour before getting into bed to give your body a chance to wind down and fall asleep more easily.

Do a Dress Rehearsal

A week or two before your event, complete a full “dress rehearsal”. Stage a full event, with full equipment and at the total distances that your race will be.

Aim to swim/bike at 70 to 80% of your maximum intensity. The purpose of this is to make sure you can comfortably complete the distances using all the equipment you have.

If there are issues, you can rectify them before the real race. Bonus tip: never participate in a race wearing new/never before worn items! If something doesn’t fit well or chafes during your race, it’s too late to fix it and your performance will suffer.

What’s Next

If you loved the Aquabike and want another non-triathlon but similar challenge, be sure to check out a Duathlon – running and biking – and a Quadrathlon – which is swim, bike, run, kayak!

Photo of author


Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.