Watch any old YouTube Ironman Hawaii videos or flick through the back issues of 220 (hello, Faris Al Sultan!), and it soon becomes apparent that the two-piece tri-suit was once king for both short- and long-course racing. This dominance ended with triathlon’s Olympic Games introduction at Sydney 2000 and, even for the portable toilet convenience needed for 8-17 hour Ironman racing, the all-in-one suit largely ruled the roost.
Ironman gear: tri-suit versus separate kit for cycling and running legs
Sprint versus long-distance tri-suits
And yet, due to improvements in tech (most notably brands finding a way to stop the waistband riding up) and the increase in long-distance athletes, the two-piece tri-suit is still going strong in 2018. And the quality of most of the suits on test here, from £80 steals to techy £300+ wonders, ensures that athletes have plenty of choice when picking their two-piece racing suit. While convenience and comfort is the major two-piece draw, there’s also plenty of versatility with having seperate shorts and tops as well, and we’ve already got plenty of wear using the shorts for gym and swim sets. We’ll also be using the outfits for training in the build-up to our major races this summer and beyond.
In terms of testing, we had middle- and long-course racing in mind when putting these suits through their paces, with the main test consisting of a continuous 3:30hr ride before a run straight after.
We were also lucky enough to test the ventilation and quick-drying of these suits in British summertime conditions in our new favourite winter training destination, the Azores (£50 return, do it!), complete with sun, winds and, okay, plenty of rain. Time, then, to go all Al Sultan and let the testing begin…
We’ve spent many hours racing in Zone3’s wetsuits but their tri-suits have largely left us a bit unenthusiastic due to pad size, gripper and/or style issues. Happily, they’ve finally nailed it with their 2018 range, including the Lava two-piece. The leg gripper bands are a serious upgrade from 2017’s silicone dots, finding that sweet spot of staying in place but feeling unrestrictive.
The zippered rear pocket on the shorts is a neat touch missing from the other suits here and meant we could stash a key and money worry-free. Those with bigger biceps than us (99% of you) may find the arm grippers a touch tight, but we loved their feel and there are aero gains coming from the close fit. While not as breathable as the meshed design from Orca here, the frontal fabric offers windproofing only equal to Endura, something worth considering if you’re racing chillier, UK long-course races in 2018.
Verdict: not cheap, but these offer a top-draw performance on extended bike and run efforts 88%
Buy from www.evanscycles.com/
2017’s most improved tri title went to Dhb for their remarkably-affordable Blok and Classic tri-suit range. The two-piece Classic S-S Top (£42) and Shorts (£42) here offer many of the same benefits as the winning all-in-one Classic. The top stayed low thanks to the internal silicon hem, the drawstring waist kept the shorts in place (although the tiny rear pockets are just about big enough for a sole drinks tab, coin and a key). Our major issue for the shorts comes in the slender pad, which is used across the whole 2017 line. Two-piece suits, for us, are for long-course comfort and convenience, yet we wouldn’t want to race longer than 40km in these – even Dhb themselves market these for Olympic-distance racing. For going longer, we’ll have to wait for their eagerly-awaited Aeron range, arriving soon. wiggle.co.uk
Verdict: a great and cheap two-piece for short-course tri, but padding issues for going long 85%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Every once in a while, a new piece of kit arrives into 220 Towers and blows our socks off, proving instantly impressive and very hard to fault. The 2XU set fits into this category. The shorts boast some of the compressive properties from 2XU’s high-quality run tights, and you can feel the compression working on both the bike and run. The lightweight pad borrows the best bits with a slender fleece-lined and multi-density chamois, creating a winning hybrid for hour-upon-hour comfort. The stretchy leg grippers have plenty of give and find that sweet spot of unrestrictive tension. The striking top also boasts two gel-sized rear pockets, and features mesh panels on the shoulders and sides to complete a very breathable package. For racing Ironman in 2018, there isn’t a tri-suit we’d recommend more. 2xu.com
Verdict: superb pad, grippers, style, compression and more. An ironman suit that has it all 94%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk/2xu
We’ve always found Endura’s tri-suits too tight for racing, a range restricted to those with top-end ambitions, top-end budgets and ultra-lean figures only. Freed from the restrictiveness that all-in-one suits can provide, we found the two-piece Drag2Zero comes into its own as a separate outfit, proving surprisingly comfy and still offering all the aero gains that top Endura Iron athletes Tim Don and Rachel Joyce have been experiencing.
Like the Zone3, there’s windstopping in the mix across the front and the sizeable side panels offer breathability. The techy pad is top-draw but, while there are time-saving gains in it, we found the legs quite long, and the top fails to feature a zipper guard, our often-repeated tri-suit pet hate, and a chafing hot spot that should – and could – have been avoided. endurasport.com
Verdict: the one to go for if you want to save seconds and have a bottomless bank account 84%
Buy from www.cyclestore.co.uk
While its 226 long-distance marketing may suggest otherwise, the one-piece 226 from Orca is our chosen short-course suit, boasting superior grippers, a comfy pad and winning visuals. Some of this quality extends to the two-piece, with the shorts close to the 2XU in terms of gripper efficiency, pool prowess and long-distance chamois comfort. The pockets are easy to reach and there’s style and function in the multi-panel design that keeps the shorts in place. And yet we struggled with the ‘Enduro’ mesh of the top. The elasticated arms felt overly strappy and restrictive. The ultra-lean material is lightweight and quick to dry, but also felt too delicate for hardened race-day wear, and it developed a small rip (covered by Orca’s warranty) on the second time of wearing at the base of the zip. Due to the lack of a serious hem, the top also had a tendency to ride up on out-of-the-saddle efforts. orca.com
Verdict: top-quality shorts and design, but serious questions over the material of the top 65%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
After spending plenty of time in short-sleeved suits, you instantly feel the added freedom offered by vested suits (and also the added wind chills, as a 10km descent proved in the Azores). The stylish 83 – named after the year Zoot were born in Hawaii – is the only suit here with a pure fleece pad and, while it provides itch-free comfort (especially on the run), we’d want more multi-density support for riding longer than 90km (even that was at a push).
The two side pockets on the shorts are a smart addition for gels and the drawstring waist saved any builder’s bum incidents when climbing. Again, the top’s pockets are perfectly positioned for accessibility on the move, and there’s no chance for gels and bars to pop out. There’s plenty of breathability in the seamless Italian fabric but some of the good work is undone by the lack of a buffer between zip and skin. zootsports.com
Verdict: one of the best-looking suits here and there’s plenty of substance to match the style 84%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
The Cool Body Tri from the Dutch brand was the last we lined up for testing due to its cheap visual design, which looked like something from Aldi’s middle aisle on a Thursday morning. Surprisingly, the combined tag of £120 puts it in the mid-end price range and it pales in comparison to the techy wonder of the 2XU. Yet we have to admit it actually performs pretty well on the roads. The quick-drying Cool Body lives up to its billing and there’s plenty of breathability and temperature regulation, plus the lengthy back panel protects against the sun. The leg grippers are efficient, the leg pockets on the shorts are perfect for gels, and the top’s large rear pocket is big – yet secure – enough to store nutrition for an entire relay team. The lean pad, meanwhile, proved adequate for a middle-distance ride and was trouble-free on the run. But… would we wear this on race day? We just can’t see it. dare2tri.eu
Verdict: decent performance and one for warm races, but lagging in the design and value stakes 75%
Buy from www.dare2tri.com