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Gear

25 affordable triathlon kit upgrades that make you train better and race faster

Upgrading your triathlon gear – and, by virtue, your performance – needn’t break the bank. Here are 25 affordable ways to beat your personal best…

01 DISC-WHEEL COVER

From £140

A disc wheel works by smoothing out the airflow that’s normally chopped up by spokes, resulting in less drag and higher speeds. Mavic’s Comete tubular disc comes with bags of innovation, craftsmanship and aerodynamics. But sadly, for those on a budget, it costs £1,699. Wheelbuilder’s AeroJacket Disc Cover  fitted to your rear wheel fundamentally does the same thing, but for a fraction of the cost. Just see if discs are allowed at races. They are for many Ironman events but not in Kona because of the winds.

10 of the best bike race wheels

02 LEUCINE

£1

Leucine is one of the key amino acids behind muscle growth. Nutrition brands package up the powdered form in wallet-unfriendly tubs, but it’s not needed. Leucine is found in everyday foods like poultry, dairy products and fish. One tin of tuna, for instance, contains 3.5g leucine – a solid amount to start stimulating a stronger you.

03 BUFFERING

£1.40

High-intensity exercise produces huge waves of lactic acid. Lactic acid is recycled for energy but too much and it tips out of the muscle, into the bloodstream and has your brain panicking that your whole system’s under threat. It slows you down and banishes ambitions of a new PB. But alkaline substances like sodium bicarbonate and beta-alanine have been shown to neutralise this acidic threat, for a time anyway. Sodium bicarb in the form of baking soda’s the cheapest method of delivery but be warned: some report an upset stomach.

04 PADDLES

£7

Power development, greater feel for the water, a way to spice up your swim sessions – yes, paddles provide a load of benefits and for all levels of triathlete. Just remember: the bigger the paddle, the greater the resistance, so go minimal if you have weak or injury-prone shoulders.

How to use swimming paddles

05 HAND POSITION

£FREE

A multitude of factors influence a triathlete’s sustainable bike position, including their size, flexibility, core strength and lung capacity. Every facet of the bike and ride has an impact – and that includes hand position. Wind-tunnel data suggests that an ‘arrow grip’ on tri-bars, with the tips of the fingers touching, gives a 0.54sec saving for every minute ridden at 35mph compared to a rider using a traditional thumbs-inside aerobar grip. Clearly that’s Frodeno-like, but there’ll still be savings at more human levels of speed.

Time Saved: 10secs

06 BIKE POSITION

£100

In a power discipline like cycling, it’s clear that measured pragmatism beats random efforts every time. That’s certainly true of your bike position where a perfect fit will not only save you time on two wheels, but on the run leg, too. Professional bike-fitters aren’t as costly as you might think, either, starting from £100. But you can also roll out the DIY method, comprising a partner, spirit level, Allen keys and felt-tip marker. Check out British Cycling’s website  for more information.

Time Saved: 6mins over 40km

07 RATE OF PERCEIVED EXERTION CHART

£FREE

The rise of the smartphone and social media’s provided ample opportunity for the likes of Garmin, Suunto and Polar to develop GPS watches and power meters that measure every metric known to man before wirelessly telling all your mates all about it. Maximise their feature list and they’re a great investment. But for many triathletes, a simple rate of perceived exertion (RPE) chart will work just as well. Studies show that there’s an accurate correlation between RPE and heart rate.

Want a multisport watch as well? Here are our favourites tested and reviewed

How to use a bike power meter

  

08 TEMPO TRAINER

£33.98

Often those triathletes who enter T1 first aren’t necessarily the most powerful swimmers but the
ones who are most proficient at pacing. Cue the tempo trainer. This smart little tool clips onto your goggle strap and sends out an audible beep for you to pace your stroke. One beep, one stroke and so on.

Wiggle has 44% off the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro, down from £62.99 to £34.99

09 AERO HELMET

From £14.99

Okay, compared to vented versions, aerodynamic helmets aren’t cheap. But shop around and you’ll discover teardrop-shaped or blunted streamlined lids that come in under the £100 mark; in fact, Planet-X’s light and fast Carnac Aero Road Helmet is just £14.99.

Aero road helmets: 9 of the best reviewed

  

10 TRIATHLON WETSUITS

£110

The top-end wetsuits of 2018 come loaded with tech and a price tag that often exceeds £600.
But, despite their hydrodynamic claims and swiftness in transition, if they don’t fit you properly they’d lose out to a comfortable, well-fitted and far more affordable wetsuit. So as long as you try before you buy, a sub-£115b wetsuit like the Hydron from Dhb will serve you well.

How can you tell if your wetsuit fits properly?

Triathlon wetsuits: 14 of the best tested and rated

  

11 TURBO TRAINER

£50

Indoor trainers are a Godsend when either familial (babysitting duties) or climatic (rain that’d sink the Ark) reasons threaten your bike training. The past few years have seen manufacturers throw everything but the kitchen sink at the once humble turbo in search of boosting motivation. But a basic effort and banging playlist should be enough for fortnightly efforts.

The best turbo trainers reviewed

  

12 BEETROOT

£5

Many products come and go, their hyperbolic claims eventually ground down to zero by independent studies. But one that’s survived the test of time, and numerous lab tests, is beetroot. Nitrates within this colourful root veg are converted within the body to nitric oxide, which results in increased time to exhaustion; in other words, you can train for longer. You can buy concentrated forms like BeetIt for £5 per bottle.

Time Saved: Improve 10-mile
TT power output by 2.7%

13 ROAD BIKE

From £349

Training on a hybrid or mountain bike is absolutely fine and a great gateway into our fine sport. A road bike, however, offers improved aerodynamics, swifter handling and the placebo that stems from dropped handlebars over flat bars. eBay  and similar platforms offer second-hand bargains, though spanking new alum models are available for less than £400.

How to turn your mountain bike into a road bike

£500 road bikes: 3 of the best reviewed

  

14 LEG SHAVING

£2

Anything that causes turbulence is an impediment to speed. Cue epilation, waxing or leg shaving. You might draw admiring/disproving looks (delete as applicable) on UK beaches but the crew at Specialized’s ‘Win’ tunnel calculated that one of their sponsored triathletes, Jesse Thomas, could cut 7% drag by smoothing out his sticks.

Time Saved: 79secs over 40km

15 TRIATHLON LACES

£1.99

The easiest way to save significant time in T2 is with a set of tri laces. While their locking methods vary, the likes of Lock Laces and Greeper replace traditional lacing with systems that clamp your feet in place in seconds. Simple, effective and cheap.

Elastic shoe laces: are they worth it?

Time Saved: 60secs

16 TRIATHLON SADDLE

£65

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much time you’ll save by upgrading to a triathlon saddle as, ultimately, it’s not only about easing you into a more comfortable aero position, but also about opening up your lower torso to conserve energy for the run. However, triathlon saddles like the Tri Elite Flat from Fabric often come with a rear bottle mount, which studies show has an aerodynamic edge over traditional downtube bottle cages
– around 45g of drag according to Cervélo.

How to choose the right triathlon bike saddle

Triathlon bike saddles: 10 of the best reviewed

  

17 PULL BUOYS

£4

The pull buoy – aka, the humblest training tool in triathlon but one of the most important. Simply place this flotation device between your legs to focus your stroke on upper-body strength and technique development. A swim that maximises upper-body strength not only fires up speed but also spares your legs – appreciated with the bike and run to come.

18 ELASTIC BANDS

£1

Nothing screams triathlete louder than rushing through transition like a tornado. But how? Simply click your tri shoes into the pedals beforehand, spin the pedals to the three o’clock and nine o’clock positions, and tie two elastic bands through the heel loops. Stretch the driveside shoe around the front mech; non-driveside around the quick-release and boom – swift foot entry and away you go.

Time Saved: 6secs

19 CAFFEINE

£2

A laboratory’s worth of sports scientists and nutritionists agree that the one ergogenic aid that elicits a performance benefit time and time again is caffeine. Studies have shown a boost in power, increased fat burning and greater endurance with a caffeinated hit. One cup of coffee’s enough to tap into its performance-enhancing capabilities. Just don’t overdo it or you’ll struggle to sleep and can even suffer heart palpitations.

Can caffeine boost your performance in a triathlon?

How to use caffeine to improve your athletic performance

  

20 CLIP-ON AEROBARS

£40.00 

A six-grand triathlon bike might mean curves, concealment of cables and cash, but a set of £40 aerobars clipped onto your existing road bike saves you far more time per pound (sterling not chub). Aluminium numbers are the cheapest; carbon adds cost but saves weight. But when it comes to aerobars, positional leverage is more important than weight-saving material with the bars easing you into a more streamlined position to cut through the air. Just ensure you practise in training to acclimatise your body to this new stretched-out set-up.

Clip-on aerobars: 3 of the best reviewed

How to turn your road bike into a triathlon bike

  

21 WATER

£FREE

Gels, energy drinks, blocks, rice cakes – your on-bike fuelling plan can take many forms. But studies show that the occasional training ride fuelled solely by water can also pay dividends. Training glycogen-depleted, where your body’s carbohydrate stores are low, forces your body to rely more on fat for fuel, meaning you can spare precious glycogen for tougher parts of the race like hills. A pre-breakfast ride is the easiest way to ride fasted but a few words of caution: don’t ride too hard, once a week is plenty and arm yourself with an energy bar in case you feel light-headed.

22 LAST YEAR’S RUB SHOE MODEL

£50

Click on brooksrunning.com and you’ll come across the lauded Ghost 10s for £120.00. Click on runnersneed.com and you can slip into the Ghost 9s for £59.99. Run-shoe manufacturers change their models like clockwork, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with searching out last season’s models. They’re always cheaper and might actually be more suitable for your running gait. So, it’s a win win.

Run shoes: 9 of the best reviewed for training and long distance races

Triathlon run shoes: 10 of the best for racing the run leg

23 CUSTOMISED INSOLES

£29.99

A full gait analysis plus pressure platform, followed by slipping your feet into squidgy cushions, results in bespoke orthotics to compensate for technical flaws. But at a cost of well over £100. Or, you could buy a set of heat-moulded orthotics, pop them in your oven or toaster, return to your run shoes while warm and slip your feet back in. Voila – orthotics that should work with your foot arches and lead to a faster run.

24 COMMUTING RUCKSACK

£30

The average worker spends a sixth of their annual salary on work-related expenses, according to research by  Santander. This includes commuting costs, for example you can easily spend up to £20 a week on bus travel in 220’s home city of Bristol. Don’t. Simply hop on your bike and/or slip into your run shoes and save money while boosting fitness. To carry your office garb, a commuting rucksack’s a must – for many, the outlay could be the equivalent of just one week’s commuting by car.

25 TRI-SUIT

£50

Orca’s RS1 Dream Kona women’s tri-suit is positively swimming in innovation, its Coldblack treatment deflecting UV rays, while the Carbon 6 water-repellent coating purportedly reduces drag. There’s no doubt this £200 number from Orca and its expensive contemporaries will improve your performance, but at its heart a tri-suit improves comfort via a chamois pad and raises aerodynamics via a cosy fit. Shop around and you’ll enjoy both for less than £50.

  

Tri-suits: 14 of the best reviewed, tested & rated

     

Triathlon gear of the year: our top 25 products of 2017


 
 

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