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What is Aquabike?

By Anne Kostuchik
Updated May 23, 2024
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Aquabike is an athletic performance series introduced in 2005 by USA Triathlon (USAT), the official governing body of triathlon in the US. Rather than compete in all three portions of a triathlon, athletes participating in the aquabike program do not compete in the run. Instead, in half or ultra distance triathlons, athletes in this category compete in only the portions that involve swimming and biking.

A USAT member came up with the aquabike concept after talking with triathletes of various ages who were forced to quit running. Some older people had to stop because the pain was too great. Others were sidelined after sports-related knee and hip injuries. All of them, however, missed the thrill of competing and still had the passion and drive necessary to perform in a multisport event.

The idea of dropping the run portion of the triathlon was brought to an interim executive director at USAT, and aquabike was born. In response, many long-course triathlon events started hosting a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim and 56-mile (90 km) bike ride. Competing in two-thirds of the race allows aquabike athletes to experience a level of endurance similar to the triathlon without the pressure of the joint-pounding run portion, which is 13.1 miles (21 km).

When aquabike was in its infancy as a pilot program, it was not included in USAT's national rankings. Race directors were encouraged to provide appropriate age group breakdowns for participants and awards for each category. Since 2005, USAT has noted a steady increase in sanctioned aquabike events. In 2009, about 67 aquabike events were sanctioned, with race directors providing times and placements for participants.

Starting in 2010, aquabike rankings were included in the USAT final rankings. As the average age of USAT members rises, the organization expects participation in aquabike events to grow. The organization sees the aquabike category as a viable option for older members to keep fit and competitive without further stressing the joints.

Aquabike or aquacycle is also a term for the stationary bike used in an exercise class offered at many public pools and gyms. The bike, which is placed in the water at about chest level, is constructed from electrolytic polished stainless steel designed to keep it from rusting. An aquabike class helps the buoyant participant reap the benefits of an aerobic workout without experiencing the joint and spine pressure associated with exercise performed on dry land.

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