People tend to be willing to spend an awful lot of money when it comes to marginal gains – especially bike related stuff. As triathletes, we’re prone to the marketing strategies from three sports retailers. Not ideal for the 99% of us who have limited money and unlimited wants!
Having said that, I would hazard a guess at the fact that most people, when training for a longer-distance event like a 70.3 or full Ironman, are willing to split with cash if it means that they will definitely go faster! $15,000+ bikes, $4,000+ wheelsets, $1,000+ wetsuits – the list of extraordinary purchases that people are willing to make goes on! Of course, if people can afford these things then fair enough, have at it,
I’m not jealous because I’m a student who has to spend somewhat responsibly, and I can’t begrudge how people spend their money. If it’s something that you enjoy, and you’re willing to spend money in order to get faster, then that seems like a good idea!
Unfortunately, I’m both:
a) a ‘poor student’ who has to choose which gear will get the best bang-for-buck, and
b) not yet a full-blown professional with sponsors who pay me to live the triathlon lifestyle (and give me the top end gear to use!)
So, how do I maximize my performance via the gear choices I make? Note that this is not in the order I selected my gear to start off with, but if I had the option of a ‘do over’ (with all the knowledge and experience I have now) at the start of my tri career this is how I would spend my money!
- Bike fit – arguably this is the most important thing you can spend money on. For long distance racing, you can be on your bike from anywhere between 2 to 8 hours. This is a long time! If you aren’t comfortable on your bike, this won’t be a fun time for you. In addition, how you fit on your bike and how much your position fatigues you will affect your run as well! A good bike fit will cost you somewhere between $3-400, but this is well worth it. You can also get a bike fit before you purchase a bike to ensure that it will fit you!
- Tri suit – you’re going to spend all of your racing time in this piece of clothing. If you aren’t comfortable, this won’t be fun! As 80-ish percent of your drag comes from your body, having aerodynamically optimized clothing can make you a lot faster as well! It’s well worth spending a bit more on this, and top level suits can cost around the same as a bike fit.
- Goggles – one of the most underappreciated items you can buy. Having something that doesn’t fog up on race day, fits you your face, and has a good field of vision is invaluable, especially halfway into that 3k swim at the start of an Ironman. A good pair can cost $30, and replacing them regularly is well worth it!
- Running shoes – with the recent advent of ‘super shoes’, like the Nike 4/Next %’s, that have some eye-watering price tags, one has to ask if they’re worth it. Of course they are! Having a quality pair of shoes that will enable you to go fast, like the Nike 4%, will increase your performance on race day without having to do any extra training and help with your fatigue levels. Given that a pair of the 4%’s cost $380 NZD online (and have been proven to make your running economy around 4% better), and a set of race wheels costs around $1500 NZD (at a minimum) – which ones give the best bang-for-buck? Given that the race wheels aren’t always going to be appropriate come race day, I know which ones I’d pick first! I’ll also be putting my money where my mouth is with my reviews about how I get on with my first ever pair of 4%’s.
- Power meter – one of the best tools I’ve ever used to optimize my training and racing is a power meter. Knowing your zones for cycling allows for significantly better pacing, especially come race day. Not over exerting yourself on the bike will mean you can get to the run in some semblance of good form! It’s worth checking this link out (https://4iiii.com/why-a-power-meter-5-reasons-why-power-measurement-is-useful-to-cyclists/) for a bit more information about power meters.
- Nutrition – having the right nutrition for training and racing is a great way of making you perform better, recover faster, and train better. It doesn’t have to be spending money on custom-made supplements designed only for race day use, but having better quality food which is fresh and packed with nutrients is always beneficial!
- Tyres – having the best tyres available are something you can’t move past. They cost more than your bog-standard tyres, but are so much better in terms of rolling resistance & grip it’s not funny (and are typically easier to change a puncture with too!)
- Helmet – beyond the standard health/safety aspect (which is highly important), helmets can be aerodynamically optimized in order to fit your position! This can be improved further by having well-placed ventilation to keep you cool on the bike and allow you to have a clear head when it’s time to run.
- Wetsuit – similarly to the tri suit, having a comfortable and fast wetsuit can reap great rewards when you’re trying to swim fast, no matter what distance you race. It’s also worth checking out how it will come off, as some wetsuits are easier to strip off than others (like a BlueSeventy Helix or 2XU GHST) due to their design, which feels like a godsend when you’re in the first transition. It’s worth noting that like everything, you can spend a lot of money getting ‘the best wetsuit around’. You don’t need to do this. Do some research, try some wetsuits on, and wait for specials!
- Aerobars – or more, specifically, the whole cockpit on the front of your bike – this can be extremely expensive (looking at you Tririg Alpha X and Profile Design Aeria Ultimate aerobars) but well worth it in terms of comfort, adjustability, and support.
- Crankset/chainrings – having the right gear ratio for you is well worth exploring (and can be worked out here: https://www.bikecalc.com/gear_ratios). It looks really fancy but is actually super simple and won’t actually cost you anything unless you have to change your chainrings. It’s also worth exploring the different types of chanrings. Your standard round chainrings are all well and good, but moving to oval ones can help you pedal stroke considerably. I use AbsoluteBlack (https://absoluteblack.cc/chainrings.html) and have found that oval chainrings help quite a bit!
- A destination for race-day! Having a cool, new, exciting place to travel to, whether it be at home or abroad, is always a great way of eeking out motivation during those tough morning sessions when you’d rather be in bed!
- The actual bike, completely kitted out with as much integration of components as possible, is actually dead last out of anything I’d pick. I love advancements in tech as much as the next geeky triathlete, especially when the newest frame on the market will save me 10w at 45kmph for the special deal of “only” $8,000. But that $8,000 can go towards so much more in maximizing your performance – it’s worth exploring everything else before choosing to splash your cash onto the next shiny new bike! In addition, a basic bike can be pretty expensive to start off as well, and it will certainly do the job.
This list isn’t exhaustive, nor does it include things like quality coaching! It’s purely about how one could (and in my own grandstanding opinion, should) spend their hard-earned money on the gear that will get them the best bang-for-buck come race day. It’s also worth looking for things that other people have and are innovative/new, but don’t cost a lot! Anything that helps with comfort come race-day is worth having.
Obviously, the gear you choose, regardless of the expense or quality, is no replacement for actually training. You can buy all the ‘speed’ you want across the swim, bike, and run world, but the reality is that nothing can replace the consistency of day-in, day-out training. It doesn’t matter what gear you have, or what other people have. Triathlon isn’t complicated. At it’s essence, it’s a swim, a bike, and a run. Enjoy it!