Toughest/Easiest Ironman Triathlon Bike Courses

By Raymond Britt

Riding 112 miles anywhere, any time, especially after a 2.4 mile swim and before a 26.2 mile marathon, is no small task. In that light, there really is no such thing as an easy Ironman bike course. They’re all hard. For at least 6 hours, on average. Of course, there are notable differences, when you look at the averages. Here’s how bike splits at seven of the more popular Ironman races compare, overall:

[For more detail, see Average Ironman Bike Course Splits by Race and Age Division]

The Ironman Lake Placid Bike course is one of the most beautiful, but also one of the toughest 112-mile Ironman rides you’ll ever experience. Everything you’ve heard about Ironman Wisconsin is true: it’s much harder than you expect. Ironman Canada is also considered to have one of the toughest bike courses in the world.

If you’re looking for a faster bike split, New Zealand, Arizona and Florida are the places to race. But there are some challenges to consider. In New Zealand, your cycling challenges are more likely to be weather related. In Arizona, you’re likely to deal with head winds half the time. And in Florida, you’ll be riding under the blazing sun for most of your 112-mile ride.

Personally, I rate Lake Placid and Wisconsin courses as tied for toughest bike course, having ridden nearly identical bike splits in both races, year-by-year. And of course, the extremely fast Kona average is skewed by an elite field of extremely fast triathletes.

I consider Kona’s degree of difficulty akin to Ironman Wisconsin; both courses are far more challenging than they appear on any elevation chart. In Wisconsin, the never-ending undulation gets the best of many riders; in Kona, it’s the headwinds on the last 30 to 40 miles that can crack the spirit.

As for the 'fast' courses like Ironman Arizona and Ironman Florida, consider this: an Ironman bike split record has never been set on either course.

Finally, there's also the consideration of the individual rider. I've ridden nearly identical bike splits on several courses, regardless of the degree of difficulty,  during what I call my Ironman 'Finisher' and 'Kona Qualifier' phases.

In my first Ironman races, the 'Finisher' phase, I rode roughly 6:15 splits in Canada, Germany, Lake Placid. During the years I qualified for Kona, I was riding 5:25 to 5:35 bike splits on the tough courses like Lake Placid and Wisconsin, but also in Austria, Florida and Arizona.

In my case, 112 miles was 112 miles, hard no matter where they were. My training and strategy put me in a position where I was going to ride a 5:35, no matter the course. The same may be true for you.