As the only piece of tri gear that’ll be with you from the starting horn until the finishing chute, the increasingly techy Lycra constructed tri-suit will have a major bearing on your race; too tight, baggy, poorly made or slow to dry and you’ll be flirting with a DNF instead of reaching for a personal best.
- Do you need to wear underwear under a tri-suit?
- What are the different types of tri-suit available?
- Sprint versus long-distance tri-suits
Speedo created the Aquablade suit in 1996, which proved both hydrodynamic and quick-drying and changed the course of tri-suit history. A key advantage is that athletes saved plenty of time in transition; instead of changing from swim-to-bike-to-run clothing, athletes could breeze through T1 and T2.
Today triathletes are spoilt for options for the best tri-suits, with pockets for nutrition, leg grippers, chamois suitable for both short- and long-course racing, and the choice of front or back zips. Most provide a hydro-phobic coating for aqua benefits, some are made of wool (hello Endurance Junkie) or contain carbon (over to you Arena), with plenty offering compressive benefits. In 2016, sleeved tri-suits are increasingly ubiquitous (two-pieces have also made a comeback), with many brands releasing suits with short sleeves to increase aerodynamics and UV protection.
So how are today’s suits designed? “We first look at the athlete who’ll be using the product and design around their needs,” says Zoot’s global apparel director Shawn O’Shea. “When designing a short-sleeved suit we focus on speed and aerodynamics. We know this athlete is looking for speed on the bike and breathability on the run so we design/test around this. When designing a sleeveless tri-suit, we focus on an athlete for whom comfort is the number one priority. We look at seam and pocket placement for the most comfortable suit on the market.”
The tri-suit’s key components
Having a tri-suit that’s close-fitting but not restrictive is essential. Key for us is trying before you buy to gauge the fit options, a closer examination of the chamois size and an evaluation of the grippers and pocket distribution.
Ignoring the wool versions, tri-suits are usually an elastane/Lycra and polyester mix. Breathability, aero and hydrodynamics, fit, comfort and UV protection are all design considerations. Quick-drying, cold black technologies (designed to reflect heat away) and a hydrophobic coating that beads water can all be found on a variety of tri-suits at every price level.
Suits offer front and back zips, full length or shorter versions. Think about whether you’ll need added aero or hydro benefits that come with a rear zip, or the comfort provided by a front zip. We sound like a stuck record on this, but try to ensure that the top of the zip doesn’t rub into your chest come the midst of race day. Ideally a fabric buffer/garage between skin and the zip’s head will prevent this.
The chamois is arguably the most important part in the effectiveness of a tri-suit. Too big and it’ll soak up water from the swim before, proving cumbersome on the run; too small and your bum will feel sore on the bike. So think about whether you’re racing 20km or 180km on the bike, and how much padding your perineum requires.
A series of vents under the arms, occasionally the hips and mostly on the back purport to provide ventilation for athletes throughout the bike and run legs. Think about where you’ll be racing, as the downside of some ventilation panels are a lack of UV protection, so ensure you apply water-resistant sun cream lotion to help combat this.
Like the tri wetsuit, the tri-suit’s flexibility around the arms is very important, especially during the swim leg.
The type of leg grippers utilised by your suit have long split the tri crowds, with silicone dots, rubber or just tight hems some of the options to hold your suit in place. Look for some that aren’t too tight to avoid a sausage-leg situation come your big race day.