When triathletes stuck bars on the front of their bikes, cyclists laughed at us. When we created wetsuits with thinner neoprene in the shoulders, surfers mocked us. When we started running around in Speedos and compression socks… OK, well, everyone made fun of us then, too. But who’s laughing now?
Triathletes have always put the “early” in early adopters. Even when new innovations started in other sports, triathlon has been the place where they took off. We’re ready to build our own bikes and jury-rig our own hydration systems. And we’re ready to pick, choose, or steal the best (and craziest) designs when we need to—wherever they come from. It doesn’t matter how stupid you look if you get to the finish line first.
Before LeMond popularized aerobars in the Tour de France, triathletes were riding them first. Triathletes made—and broke—the minimalist, and later maximalist, shoe trends. We embraced heart rate training and power meters well before the average endurance athlete.
Many of our pioneering designs have actually come and gone and come back: visors, neon headbands, those massive face mask sunglasses all the pros seem to be into again now.
But, of course, some things are better left in the past. Full disc wheels in the front didn’t really pan out, especially in Kona. Neither did having one smaller wheel and one bigger one. There are even photos from the ’80s that suggest at least some people rode with upside-down-looking handlebars and backward-pointing brake levers. I, for one, am glad that trend disappeared.
It’s hard to imagine creating history when you’re in the middle of it. It’s hard to look around at the wild and wacky test products PR companies pitch and imagine they’ll catch on.
No one in their entire life has ever really needed a multi-pack salt tab dispenser belt. But that’s OK. You don’t know until you try. And that’s the beauty of triathletes. We’re willing to try. It’s only because we’re willing to fail that we’ve innovated so much. It’s only because we’re OK looking so stupid that we end up looking like geniuses. Just remember that the next time some cyclist makes fun of you for looking like a triathlete, tell them: “You’re welcome.”