Can you ride a recumbent bike in a triathlon?

The short answer is yes, if it's a Cal Tri. 
Cruzbike, Inc. would probably not exist if my wife, Maria, had not been training for a triathlon back in 2005. That's when she asked me to start riding my legacy (traditional) bike with her, and then that led to my search for a more comfortable and safer bike; which eventually led to the formation of Cruzbike, Inc. But that is a story for another day. The fact is, Maria and I have been wanting to participate in triathlons on our Cruzbike recumbent road bicycles for as long as there has been a Cruzbike. Unfortunately, the largest US triathlon event organizer, USAT, bans recumbent bicycles. I asked them why and they could not give me an explanation other than that they were worried it would raise the cost of their insurance. In recent years, the USAT has allowed recumbent trikes to race, but inexplicably still bans recumbent bikes. Why allowing a bicycle designed to be safer (less likely to cause serious head and neck injuries) would raise insurance premiums is a great mystery, but again, a topic for another day. 
When we had just about given up on our dream of riding our recumbent road bikes in a triathlon, our friend and Cruzbike racer, Jeffrey Ritter, introduced us to Thom Richmond, the president of a new triathlon organization: California Triathlon. Thom was open-minded and agreed to allow recumbent bicycles that meet certain safety standards to be used in Cal-Tri events. At last, the dream was alive!
This is the report from our first Cal Tri, which was held on April 30, 2023 at Lake Monticello, near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  Cal Tri events are designed to appeal to a wide variety of people. The typical triathlon is a swim-bike-run. But with Cal Tri, you can also do numerous variations. For example, if you really don't want to swim, you can do a run-bike-run. Or you can do a swim-bike or a swim-run. You can do "sprint" events (shorter distances). Or you can just run, or just swim. But if you are married to a woman who wrote a book called Do Tough (great book, by the way, coming out soon, but that is another story for another day) you will certainly find yourself doing the longest/hardest event, which is called the "Olympic" triathlon, consisting of a 1-mile swim in open water, a 23.5 mile bike, and a 10K (6.2 miles) run. 
I knew the run was going to be the hardest part for me. I was a competitive swimmer in my youth. But as we drove to the event, we weren't sure we would be doing any swimming, cycling, or running. Torrents of rain and blasts of wind and lightning danced around our old Ford van as we arrived at the venue. I put on a poncho and stepped out to head for the registration area, immediately soaking my running shoes as water gushed along the pavement.
Fortunately, that wicked weather cell left the area and the torrents changed into a drizzle by the time we were ready to head for the beach and the start of the swim.
Finally, we hit the water and were off heading for two laps around buoys in the lake.
I had never swum a race in a wetsuit, and I didn't like how it felt, which was too tight. I've added a few extra pounds lately and this has given me cause to lose them. Nevertheless, I finished in the top half (barely) of the swimmers in my event. Below is a photo of me just after leaving the water, heading for my beloved Cruzbike V20
{Cal-Tri hired a photographer for the event and allows participants to download and use them without any extra charges... a very nice perk. Thanks, Cal-Tri.}
Next up was the bike leg, which was pure joy. The course was ideal for the V20, with lots of short hills to power up and fly down. My only regret was a relatively long downhill where a car ahead of me would not pass a cyclist moving more slowly. I had to ride my brakes on what otherwise would have been a speed-run down the hill and up the next.
{Heading out of the transition zone. I would soon have to remove my glasses due to rain.}
Cruzbike V20
What about the V20 recumbent road bike in the triathlon transition zone? It fit in just fine. We brought some cords to attach the boom to the horizontal bar of the bike stands, but ended up just leaning them on the inside end of the stands. Here is a photo of the transition zone with a V20 in it. Can you find it?
{The V20 is in the bottom left, with a red poncho covering the seat to keep it dry.}
I came in 8th overall. This was by far my best event. Maria did great in this one, too, finishing about a minute behind me. She wore a baseball cap under her helmet to help keep the rain out of her eyes (yes, it looks goofy).
And then there was the run... which became the run-walk for me. At the start of the run, I was about 6 minutes ahead of Maria. By the end of it, I was about 6 minutes behind her. Check out these photos. It's pretty obvious who is feeling good and who is not.
Maria and I have always had a friendly competition. The victory goes to Maria on this our first Cal Tri triathlon. But we have more on the schedule. We both won our age group, but that was pretty easy to do since we were the oldest people out there. 
We had a great experience racing our recumbent road bikes at this Cal Tri event, and encourage Cruzbike riders, and other recumbent riders, to support Cal Tri and sign up for one of their events. If you do, remember that for the other participants, this may be the first time they have ever ridden with a recumbent in a triathlon. Please be a good ambassador so that more doors are opened and the tragic UCI recumbent ban that happened in 1934 may eventually fade away. Thanks to Cal Tri for leading the way.


  • Dan Fallon

    This opens up an entirely new and exciting athletic opportunity for all ages. Kudos to Thom Richmond for blazing a trail. Nice jersey, Jim. :)

  • Charles Winchester

    This may seem a small victory for two people, but allowing recumbents to compete in the CAL Triathlon at this level is HUGE! Kudos to Maria and Jim for continuing to fight the good fight for all of us of the ‘bent persuasion. Accolades also go to Thom Richmond for being open minded enough to allow Cruzbikes to compete. Hopefully other organizations will take notice and begin to rethink yesterday’s mistake of banning recumbents from sanctioned races. Thanks Maria and Jim . We all owe you our gratitude.

  • Bill Wightman

    Amazing finishes for both of you but we already knew you are both well-rounded athletes. A triathlon with humble you. If you are not ingesting sea water during the swim, then you might push too hard on the bike and not be able to run. It is really a difficult combo. Then there is bonking on the run. Hope this brings in more Cruzbike newbies.

  • Jim McGowan

    How awesome! Cruzbike continues to break down barriers! I love my 2021 S40! I just rode the 2023 Texas BikeMS from Houston to La Grange to College Station (~150 miles over 2 days). There was another Cruzbike rider on a V20…together we were ‘representing’! The first day was brutal…temps stayed in the low 60’s with crosswind gusts up to 30 mph all day, and long and steep rolling hills. My S40 showed it’s strengths as I passed diamond-frame riders all day both days…even on the climbs! I love my S40, she got me to the finish. Now I just need to give a little more attention to my other ride, my 2020 V20!

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