What triathlon gear makes you go faster?
In all our years covering the latest expos, we’ve been confronted with some pretty impressive-looking gear.
This can range from high-modulus carbon monocoque frames and aerobars spawned from NASA, to tri-suits constructed from material that claims to regulate body temperature while keeping you more streamlined than Sebastian Kienle in full flow. At the helm of this seemingly advanced flotilla of equipment is a band of marketing experts and technical bods hammering home how impressively fast their gear is.
An example from a recent bike show: ‘This is the fastest wheel around. The depth of rim is proven to be the fastest around in crosswinds and front winds in the wind tunnel.’ Onto the next stand: ‘Wind tunnels are inconsistent and don’t give you real-world results. We spend our budget on R&D. We know our wheel is faster. Just feel the smoothness of that rim….’
To be fair, it’s a highly competitive industry and, beyond the hyperbole, the majority of gear that hits the market, if used correctly, should assist performance. The problem is, it’s also a confusing and fickle industry, where perceived norms constantly change.
Where once the run market was vocal on the benefits of cushioning for slashing injury and improving performance, a series of studies questioning this stimulated the rise of minimalist trainers. Where once thinner tyres were accepted as the fastest, now tyres up to 28mm wide are seen as the swiftest rollers.
It can be a jungle out there. To cut a clearer path to what’s proven and which gear the speed jury is still out on, we’ve examined the latest research, interviewed respected experts and used experience gained from many years of testing to assess whether these 12 items of gear and techniques justify the claims. It’s time for a bit of data-crunching…
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Bike crank length
Traditionally, longer cranks were thought to generate greater power because of increased leverage. But times are changing. “The crank length dictates range of motion,” says Retül bike-fitter John Dennis. “The issue you run into is that at the top of the pedal stroke the longer the crank, the more your knee and hip need to flex to clear that 12 o’clock position.”
You don’t want crank length to be a limiting factor when riding in a low, aero position. “Ideally you’d have an expert assess your flexibility,” adds Dennis. “If you’re not mobile enough, a shortening of crank will take a load off the joint through the top of the pedal stroke.” What’s short is open to question. Some think 170mm, others 150mm. In short, if you’re feeling squeezed at the top of the pedal stroke, try a shorter crank.
The performance benefits of caffeine have been proven by many studies. Those benefits include sparing glycogen stores by mobilising more energy from fat and lowering perceived exertion. Broadly speaking, caffeine intake of 3-5mg per kg body weight elicits caffeine’s ergogenic properties. Anything over that can lead to increased heart rate and nausea.
So ingesting the correct amount is vital; but are we getting enough? SiS’s Go Gel + Caffeine Berry contains 75mg of caffeine, with no more than four recommended each day. However, is that enough? Take an athlete of 70kg and prescribe the optimum ergogenic level of 5mg caffeine/per kg and peak levels would be achieved at 350mg.
The max you can ingest via these gels is 150mg, and that’s ignoring the fact you’d stagger ingestion over an hour and so wouldn’t reach the 150mg mark. SiS have erred on the side of caution to prevent unwanted side effects, but whether they’ve undercooked it depends on the user. There’s an argument, especially for habitual caffeine users, that it’s best to go for SiS’s Double Espresso gel, which has 150mg of caffeine.
>>> Triathlon nutrition – our ultimate guide to fuelling
You dismount from the bike leg of your life, legs feeling strangely strong and all that’s needed is to slip into your run shoes. Just overlap that lace with that one, tie that bit, add a knot… nope, loop too large. Try again…. That’s why triathlon laces were invented and, in this case, you don’t need science or the labs to prove their worth.
They come in many forms, including models from Greeper, Nathan and Xtenex, but the principle is the same – a simple jolt of the lace or locking mechanism and you’re away. If you’re particularly clumsy, you can save up to a minute in T2 by using triathlon laces over conventional versions. And, unlike many of the speed gains around, they’re affordable. A gimme for all levels of triathlete.
>>> Read our guide to getting triathlon gear on the cheap
You can’t visit an endurance expo without a thimbleful of Beet It drink being thrust into your hand. Beetroot’s mooted as a legal performance-enhancer because the nitrates within flow into a biochemical pathway that converts them to nitric oxide. Studies have shown this conversion has the effect of reducing the oxygen cost of low-intensity exercise and extending the time to exhaustion in high-intensity exercise.
One such study was led by Professor Andy Jones and his team at Exeter University. They had 10 healthy males consume one, two or four shots of Beet It 2.5hrs before moderate to high-intensity cycling, and found that taking two or four shots of beetroot juice reduced VO2 levels during moderate-intensity exercise.
In time to exhaustion, two shots performed better than four, lengthening efforts by 14% and 12% respectively. Other research at Penn State’s laboratory in the US questioned the increased bloodflow claims, concluding that the positive effects were only apparent in high-intensity exercise. Either way, there’s growing evidence that foods high in nitrates can improve your performance.
Continue reading our guide to the triathlon gear that'll really make you faster (2/3)