What triathlon gear upgrades make you faster?

From aerobars and deep-rim wheels to wearing the colour red, we look at the kit choices that’ll deliver a new PB this season – guaranteed


It’s banned from racing, but many of us, when safety allows, train to music. But does switching on a bit of Bieber offer anything more than a chance to deafen your heavy footsteps and breathing? Well, potentially, yes…


A series of studies by Dr Costas Karageorghis showed that listening to music could reduce the perception of effort, and therefore fatigue, by 12%. It must be noted, however, that this distraction tactic is attenuated at higher exercise intensities (>70% VO2max), so no good for fartleks or hill sessions.

Music’s also been shown to increase work capacity by psychological and physiological arousal – further heightened by training to music that has emotional resonance. For instance, many recreational athletes had Heather Small’s Proud on their Walkmans after the Sydney Olympics as it was the British team’s song.

Beyond Small’s booming voice, the key is that you choose the rhythm, melody and tempo to suit the session. An intended low-intensity jog to the tune of Prodigy’s Firestarter may end up with you bonking.

Red clothing

If you’re seeking out victories, wear red, bike red, run red. Experts believe red boosts confidence in the wearer and is perceived by the opposition as being aggressive and dominant. German sports psychologists at the University of Munster support the claims. They showed video clips of taekwondo to 42 referees.

One fighter wore red, the other blue. They then showed them the same clips, but manipulated the clothing to swap colours. The combatants wearing red were given an average 13% more points than when they wore blue. It certainly worked for Uplace-BMC triathlon team, who won 21 times in 2014 and finished on the podium 46 times!

Deep-rim wheels

Choosing a deep-rim wheel is a hazardous exercise, each manufacturer purporting that wind-tunnel data shows their hoop is fastest. But broadly speaking, when it comes to ideal aero rim depth, anything between around 45mm and 60mm is a good middle ground for aerodynamics versus handling. If the course is hilly, a lighter-weight 30mm rim is advised.

Race wheels

“Rims are tricky, because it’s one thing to achieve a low-drag rim when there’s no wind, but making a rim that’s low drag and insensitive to cross wind is a different matter,” says Rob Lewis, managing director at TotalSim, experts in computational fluid dynamics. “However, get it right and you can expect to save 2-3% in drag.”

That’s worth saving in anyone’s book, but there are still hurdles to overcome. Over to Paul Lew, director of technology at Reynolds Cycling: “The most proficient aerodynamic performance requires a tyre diameter smaller than the rim width. It allows the separated air from the tyre to reattach to the rim surface, whereas a tyre with a larger diameter than the rim may create a situation where the air doesn’t reattach, thereby negating the benefit of a deep-section rim.”


It’s hard to dispute the impact aerobars have had on professional sport. Greg LeMond used them to devastating effect in 1989 when he overturned Laurent Fignon’s 50-second advantage to win the final-stage time trial and, with it, the Tour de France. Then there’s Chris Boardman’s 1996 track hour record of 56.375km, spread out on his über-long aerobars in the Superman position.


But that’s for athletes riding at 30mph-plus. What about us age-groupers? “We’ve conducted studies in the wind tunnel that showed an athlete riding with and without aerobars at 200 watts cut 2% drag over a 40km bike with aerobars,” says Total Sim’s Rob Lewis. “It worked out as a saving of over 35 seconds.”

Just remember that set-up is key, whether you’re using a one-piece or clip-on. There’s no point being as slippery as an eel if your legs are so scrunched up you can hardly breathe.

Read our guide to the best aerobars

Explained – when to go down on to the aerobars

Bike tubing

Chris Boardman’s pursuit of Olympic gold in 1992 sent him aboard the Lotus 108 – a bike so curvaceous it could only be shown after the watershed. Boardman’s power and aerodynamics synced beautifully with the monocoque frame that acted like a sail. The 108 showed what a bike is capable of when a manufacturer’s not constrained by the UCI’s 3:1 ruling (where the cross-section of a tube can’t be more than 3:1).

Ironman racing’s not manacled by the UCI, so is there an optimum tubing shape to carve through the air? “How long’s a piece of string,” says Rob Lewis. “It’s often limited by rules and that 3:1 ratio. Again, the best in no crosswinds might not be the right answer as, when the gusts blow, handling could be impossible. Also, it’s not just about the drag on the tubing – it’s the drag on bike and rider.”

Mirinda Carfrae riding the Felt IA at Kona

It’s hard to wade through bike manufacturers’ lofty claims and find clarity, but a brief performance comparison might help. At the 2013 Ironman World Champs, Mirinda Carfrae used Felt’s IA for the first time in competition. The IA rode roughshod over the UCI 3:1 ruling and maximum tube depth of 80mm. With a shrouded external steerer tube, the head tube area on the IA has a depth to width ratio of 11:1! Felt argued that it added up to just 350g of drag. In layman’s terms, a mooted 12:30min saving for Carfrae compared to her Cannondale Slice, which she used en route to winning the 2010 World Champs.

Read our guide to the best tri bikes


As it transpired, Carfrae rode Hawaii 2013 in 4:58:20 compared to 5:04:59 in 2010 and 5:12:18 aboard her Felt DA in 2012. Not taking into account any potential environmental differences and the fact Carfrae used smaller 650c wheels in 2013, that’s a pretty impressive improvement. You also have to bear in mind that in 2013 Carfrae then went on to run the fastest marathon in Kona history, suggesting the IA helped her to preserve energy for the final leg. Either way, aero tubing’s generally accepted as faster than traditional rounded.