Triathlon brands are increasingly realising the aerodynamic benefits of tri-suits (remember that 80% of drag is caused by the rider, not the bike) and this 2020 collection of Lycra is the most tech-happy yet, with fabric boasting dimples, ribs and more all present and correct.
With this increased emphasis on speed, we jumped at the chance to test these suits under the watchful eye of aero specialist Stephen Roche of thebiketailor.com (tel 01273 569006), in the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub to assess the aero properties of each suit. Garments were tested at a variety of yaw angles (0, 5 and 10) and at 45km/h on a mannequin in a comfortable, not too aggressive, tri-bar position.
Yet, with anything from 7:35hrs to 17hrs of racing, obviously aerodynamics are only one of the factors that come into play with an Ironman tri-suit. Comfort is king for many athletes, so we’ve tested these in the Ironman hotspot of Lanzarote and on the roads of our beloved Somerset (where the nation’s first-ever official full official Ironman took place at Sherborne in 2005) to assess their long-course credentials, from pocket positions to pad plushness and gripper/zipper abilities for 226km racing (and with half an eye on middle-distance events).
Versatility, durability and style (you’ll want the suit to look good even if you’re crawling up the blue carpet at 11:59pm) were further considerations, as were the non-wetsuit swim performance and ability to tackle warmer climes via venting and UV protection.
The wind tunnel criteria
Venture to any of the web pages of the tri-suits on test here and you’ll find aero claims for nearly all of them, with many having undergone wind-tunnel and/or velodrome testing. Yet, as we’ve only ever seen selected results from these tests, there’s a high degree of ‘pinch of salt’ to such boasts. Not everyone can have the fastest suit, right? With this in mind, we jumped at the chance to test these suits at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub’s wind tunnel with Stephen Roche of The Bike Tailor (not the Irish pro cyclist).
As these suits are targeted at non-drafting Ironman racing, we had our test rider – a £10,000 mannequin by the name of Graham – assume the tri-bar position, turned the wind tunnel up to a speed of 45km/h, and tested each suit at 0°, 5°, 10° and 15° yaw angles (simply, the level of crosswind on the bike). Given that the vast majority of a 180km Ironman bike leg is spent riding below 10° (98% at IM Arizona, 72% at Kona), the 0° and especially 5° angles were the key focus for us.
Aussies 2XU have been the winners of this Ironman suits test for the past couple of years with their Compression tri-suit, and they’ve stuck to the ‘if it ain’t broke’ formula with the latest 2020 edition. The compressive legs give it a USP, while the full-length zip, spongy pad and lean fabric are still present to heighten the long-course appeal. It still ticks most boxes for race day but there’s just a sense that, while the other brands are pressing forward, 2XU are now standing still with this suit, summed up by the retro 1980s aesthetics and the fact it came sixth overall in the wind tunnel at 0° and 5° and lower at both the 10° and 15° yaw angles.
Verdict: Still ticks most boxes but it’s time for an overhaul 82%
Buy from www.2xu.com
Santini are the official sponsors of Ironman and this made-in-Italy suit comes with striking M-Dot branding. We’ve previously struggled with the sheer size of Santini’s cycling-esque pads when on the run, but that’s been rectified with this latest release thanks to a slimmer Ironman-specific pad with gel inserts. It’s lightweight, lean and breathable, with easy-to-access open rear pockets (which sadly won’t win any non-wetsuit swimming friends), high-quality grippers and, for us, the best looks on test. In terms of aero appeal, it came mid-table throughout and only marginally ahead of the £180 2XU.
Verdict: top pad and looks, yet a high price for mid-table speed, 80%
Buy from www.bikeinn.com
We watched this custom 220 suit being handcrafted at Endura’s HQ (see issue 372’s Brand Visits), and the attention to detail makes that £350 price tag much easier to tolerate. That RRP is also the result of the 30th edition of this suit being pushed by famed aerodynamicist Simon Smart to within an millimetre of its life, producing the fastest suit in our tunnel tests at the 5° and 10° yaw angles (second at 0°). On the road, the silky fabrics, plush pad and countless panels add to the comfort package, and yet the lack of a full-length zip may cause consternation for some and we’d prefer taped or flatlock seams internally to reduce rubbing.
Verdict: the fastest suit on test, yet with comfort and style 91%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
Heart Sports made this tester’s favourite tri-suit of all time in 2017. There’s instantly more of a speed focus with the 2020 ICE suit, courtesy of the ribbed fabric and sleeker fit. And yet it came bottom of the pile in the wind tunnel (but it performed well at the extreme 15° yaw angle). So it’s the comfort that makes this a 226km winner, with the floating pockets, plump chamois and ‘rummage pouch’ for mid-race toilet stops all retained. Updates include (at last!) a zip guard, lighter colours and an ICE chip that’s built in to the rear pocket so emergency services can access your medical data in case of an accident.
Verdict: not the most aero, but extreme comfort, 88%
Buy from heartsports.co.uk
Zoot’s clunkily-titled Ltd Tri Aero Full Zip Racesuit Plus+ was mixed in the tunnel, finishing fifth at 0°, seventh at 5° yaw, but top of the class at the extreme yaw of 15°. So what you’re largely paying for here is Zoot’s unique visuals and comfort. Lots of comfort. This includes smooth internal seams, a soft Italian chamois with an attached ‘modesty liner’, and the silkiest materials this side of Silktown. There’s also a large kangaroo-style back pocket and two side slots for gels, and the best grippers on test. Sadly they still haven’t sorted the minimal zipper guard, but the full-length zip makes this a solid choice for racing convenience.
Verdict: bags of comfort for race day but so-so in the tunnel 83%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
The latest suit from Louis Garneau arrives following input from Lionel Sanders and LG’s own tunnel testing, and it showed the aero goods in our own tests by placing third at 0° yaw and fourth at 5° yaw. But what makes this so great is the comfort. Deep pockets, stretchy mesh fabric and a full-length zip for mid-race toilet breaks are all present. That mesh material and the white fabric make it our pick for hotter races, while there are pockets specifically included near major blood vessels to load with ice from aid stations. The finishing quality is mostly better than on previous LG suits, yet we’d prefer flatlock seams internally.
Verdict: aero and comfort combine in a winning iron suit, 92%
Buy from garneau.com/eu_en/aero-tri-suit
The Dream Kona was made with top Ironman Seb Kienle, a 220 hero for his honesty and hands-on approach to his race tech. As the price suggests, Orca have thrown the aero sink at the suit, with both ribbed and dimpled fabric providing a lean fit that produced the third-fastest results in the wind tunnel at 5° yaw. It’s the best here for non-wetsuit swims, with the fabric beading water. Neat touches include the dimples on the bottom to stop movement on the saddle, a zipper buffer, convenient full-length zip, taped seams and slick grippers. But the lack of pockets will divide opinion; so much depends on your own fuel-carrying strategy.
Verdict: fast in the tunnel, good in the water; lacks pockets 89%
Buy from www.sigmasports.com
Upon release in 2015, the Dave Scott Long Course was one of the first short-sleeved tri-suits with an aero bent. It proved hugely popular but has had little recent attention from Huub as they’ve focussed on the high-end Anemoi, and only belatedly gets a (moderate) overhaul in 2020. Plus points include the breathable mesh fabric and Coldblack treatment for hotter races, flatlock internal seams, a spongy chamois and the best zipper guard here. Yet there’s still no full-length zip and the leg grippers feel dated compared to the rest, and the tunnel results saw it finish second bottom at 0°, 5° and 10° yaw angles.
Verdict: top looks and heat appeal, but an aero disappointment 76%
Buy from huubdesign.com
For a brand synonymous with wetsuit tech, Zone3 have yet to create a truly leading aero tri-suit. That’s all changed with the Aeroforce X, complete with dimpled sleeves, pinstripes and a close-to-the-skin fit (perhaps a little too tight in the nether regions) aided by the sticky leg grippers. The hydrophobic material score this aquatic points and, on the road, the covered pockets are still sizeable enough for race fuel, there’s a zip guard, ample pad and decent venting in the rear mesh. And the tunnel? The input from aero specialists Nopinz has reaped the rewards, with the suit placing second at 5° and 10° yaw and the fastest at the 0° yaw angle.
Verdict: swift in the tunnel, comfy on the race track: a winner 91%
Buy from zone3.com
The results from the wind tunnel
While last month’s helmets test threw up surprises (the £40 Van Rysel holding its own vs £200 lids), the data from the Silverstone tunnel has proven that you largely get what you pay for in terms of tri-suit drag. The most expensive suit, the £349 Endura, was the fastest at both 5° and 10° yaw angles, the £275 Zone3 was its closest rival and the fastest at 0° yaw, while the £120 Heart Sports came last at 0°, 5° and 10°.
The Louis Garneau was third fastest at 0° and 10° yaw; the Orca taking third at 5°. The Santini, 2XU and Zoot switched places throughout, while the Huub regularly placed eighth and Heart only scored at 15°.
For the number crunchers out there, the Coefficient of Drag (CdA) of each suit at 5° and the approximate time behind the best performer over the 180km Ironman bike leg are here: Endura (CdA 0.23, 00:00secs); Zone3 (CdA 0.231, 15secs);
Orca (CdA 0.235, 1:16mins);
LG (CdA 0.2355, 1:23mins); Santini (CdA 0.239, 2:18mins); 2XU (CdA 0.24, 2:33mins);
Zoot (CdA 0.243, 3:19mins); Huub (CdA 0.244, 3:35mins); Heart (CdA 0.247, 4:21mins).
The overall verdict
The high scores here prove that we’re in a peak tri-suit design period, the elastane equivalent of 1967 in music. But which will be the Lycra Sgt. Pepper’s?
Heart Sports again bring affordability and comfort to the long-course party, while the Zoot (silkiness and style), Santini (fine looks and pad), 2XU (compression and lean fabrics) and especially the Orca (hydro and aero powers) all have much to admire.
For the speedsters out there, the Huub disappoints, but the Zone3 and Endura are very hard to separate. Both are furiously fast suits, both come with performance-enhancing but comfy materials, and both justify their lofty price tags. And then some. This is seriously impressive stuff.
Yet, and after much deliberation, we’ve gone for the Louis Garneau for having the broadest appeal to the widest array of Iron athletes. It ticks the aero, comfort and convenience boxes, and there are also innovative ways of dealing with the heat.