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Home / Reviews / Triathlon gear: 20 commonly asked questions answered

Triathlon gear: 20 commonly asked questions answered

New to triathlon and feeling swamped about the gear choice and what tri equipment you actually need? We answer 20 common questions beginner triathletes often ask

Swimming in the Docklands at the London Triathlon


1. Do I need a tri-suit?

A tri-suit is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won’t have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.

It’s unanimous that wearing a tri-suit is preferable to changing in and out of swim/cycle/run-specific clothing between disciplines. First and foremost, you’ll save lots of time in transition by not having to keep changing; and secondly, the demand for tri-specific clothing as the sport has grown means that your tri-suit will most likely be packed with tech and expert know-how to keep you comfortable throughout your race.

2. One-piece or two-piece tri-suit?

Put simply a one-piece provides better coverage, and a two-piece makes toilet stops (and getting in and out of your kit) easier. Reported aero gains in one-piece suits may appeal to speedsters, but the difference is negligible if you spend more time in a mobile toilet should nature call. Consider how long you’ll be racing and what distances you’re targeting first. And try both before you buy: one-piece suits can feel restrictive, while two-piece tops can rise up.

3. What are swim tools?

Most swim tools/aids are used by athletes to either perform technique work or work to isolate areas of the stroke and develop strength in key parts of the body. Many of the items have both a technique and resistance application. As with any resistance training, be careful of the overload on various body parts and ensure you’re fully warmed up before adding any tools. You would never lift heavy weights at the start of a gym session or start sprinting a run session without a warm-up; the same principle applies here.

12 swim tools to improve technique and fitness

4. Do I have to use specific open-water goggles?

You don’t, no, but pool goggles often don’t feature polarisation for dealing with changing light conditions, and they’re also more likely to fog up in murky water. OW masks also provide better peripheral vision. But if you have a pair of pool goggles that you swear by that should be fine, and you’ll see many in OW swims.

5. How can I stop my goggles being kicked off in the swim?

Steer clear of other people’s feet is the best thing to do but that’s not as easy as it sounds in the melee at the start of a race. You can avoid getting caught in the mad scramble at the front by positioning yourself nearer to the sides of the pack. You could also use two swimming caps for a bit of extra security – wear the first directly on your head and put the second over the top of your goggles’ strap.

6. What can I do to prevent my goggles fogging up?

Spit in them. No really it works wonders. Or you can buy an anti-fog spray that reduces fog. Available at most sports shops.

7. What’s so special about a triathlon wetsuit?

Compared to a surf or diving wetsuit, tri wetsuits generally provide less thermal protection as swimming requires a greater level of exertion. There’ll also be extra thickness in the legs and torso area for added buoyancy, and much greater flexibility in the arms to aid propulsion.

8. What’s the best way to look after a wetsuit?

We find that post-race, hanging it on a washing line and hosing it down with cold water before leaving it to dry works best. And then hang it up on a big, padded, coat hanger (you can buy dedicated wetsuit hangers for approx £10, which are a good investment to improve your suit’s longevity) in a dry room.

9. Can I use Vaseline and baby oil instead of wetsuit glide?

For your own personal comfort it doesn’t really matter, but while Vaseline may protect you from neck sores, it may damage your wetsuit. There are plenty of affordable wetsuit-specific lubricants available, so try a variety of options to see what works for you.


10. What’s the difference between cycling shorts and triathlon shorts?

In short, it’s the pads they use in the crotch. Since they aren’t intended to be worn for running, the pads in cycling shorts can be bigger, wider and firmer. The pads in tri shorts need to provide support but without inhibiting your run stride, so their pads tend to be smaller and narrower.

11. What’s the difference between a turbo and rollers?

A turbo is a unit you fasten your bike into in order to provide resistance to the rear wheel. Rollers aren’t attached to the bike , instead the wheels rotate on cylinders and you can move around on them. From a beginner’s point of view, you can’t really fall off a turbo so it’s a good place to start!

12. Should I invest in tri-bars?

If you’re new to triathlon, it’s wise to get used to a road bike’s dropped bars and find a solid cycling position first. But once you’ve got some races under your belt, tri-bars provide possibly the biggest benefit when it comes to riding in a more aerodynamic position.

13. What’s the difference between carbon and aluminium bike frames?

Carbon-fibre frames are generally more expensive, lighter and can be more easily engineered to produce specific ride qualities, such as comfort or stiffness. Aluminium is tougher and less susceptible to damage, which makes it a popular material for training and/or winter bikes.

14. I replaced my chain, but now the gears are out of sync. What happened?

You need to change the cassette too! Leave it too long to change your chain and it will wear your cassette so that your sprockets won’t run smoothly with a new chain. In future change your chain more often by regularly checking it for wear. There are tools for this but the simplest method is to run the chain around the big chainring and see how far you can lift it off the teeth. If you can see daylight under 3-4 teeth, it’s time for a new one.

15. Winter tyres – grip or no grip?

A bit of both. You may want a set with channels to let water run off if it’s very wet, but which are relatively smooth overall so you get as large a contact area with the ground as possible. Don’t be afraid to ditch the racing tyres for 25 or even 27mm ones and run at a lower pressure too.

16. Should I prioritise going clipless or keep using flat pedals while I improve my cycling?

The benefits of clipless are undeniable; increased power transfer and more security for your feet being the most obvious advantages. To get used to road cycling it’s fine to use flats, but if you plan to start racing then recruit some knowledgable training partners to help you make the clipless transition.

17. How much will a bike fit cost?

A basic fit will start at around £100, whereas a high-tech fitting using the Retül system (3D video analysis, cleat set-up and more) can be upwards of £200. Some bike shops offer bike fit at the point of sale, which is a good option for your first serious bike purchase.


18. What type of running shoe is right for me?

You can roughly categorise running shoes into stability, natural and minimal racers, and your requirements will depend on your target distance, biomechanics and weight. There’s no way to advise on a correct running shoe without seeing you run, so get a gait analysis from a local running/tri shop.

19. What are tri-laces?

Tri laces are a quick tie system so you can get your run shoes on faster in transition. There are numerous systems out there, from spring-loaded toggles to stretchy elastic. Look out for brands such as Xtenex and Greepers.

20. How often should I change my running shoes?

Most running shops will advise you to change your shoes after 350-500 miles, but it depends on an athlete’s running style. Hard heel strikers wear the cushioning out quicker compared to faster and/or lighter runners. It also takes time for the foam in the midsole to re-shape after a run, so a good strategy that avoids too much wear is to buy two pairs at a time and use them on alternative runs.

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The 220 Triathlon team is made up of vastly experienced athletes, sports journalists, kit reviewers and coaches. In short, what we don't know about multisport frankly isn't worth knowing! Saying that, we love expanding our sporting knowledge and increasing our expertise in this phenomenal sport.