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The 2014 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide magazine is out on newsstands now (and check out the digital version), and we’re giving you a sneak peek right here. These products were given the designation of “Best In Class” by the editors of Triathlete.
TYR Freak of Nature
The draw: Comfort, speed and bravado
Picture this: it arrives at your door in a James Bond-esque briefcase complete with its own cleaning supplies and a swim cap. You give yourself a good 10 minutes to get your Freak on (it’s a struggle), then jump in the water. The reward for that effort is feeling like you’re swimming in a second skin, with super flexible shoulders, perfectly placed buoyancy panels that set the body in a neutral position, and gentle core and quad compression. Coming out of the water it glides off easily. This super hero-esque suit is not for wallflowers or the faint of wallet.
Zoot Z Force 3.0
The draw: Affordable, good buoyancy
Every beginner wants to feel fast in the water, and the Z-Force meets this expectation by forcefully propping up the swimmer. Take time to find the right size, as fit can be tricky. The wrong size can allow water to pool, especially for those with a skinny upper-body build. Although the arm and shoulder paneling is stout and thick, the suit still feels eager to turn a fast tempo. The hips and shoulders stay in sync. Find the right fit and this can be a breakout wetsuit for a developing swimmer.
The draw: Universally compatible
If you’re looking for an app that can record any run and ride, whether indoors our out, Wahoo Fitness is among the best. By using GPS and connecting to both ANT+ sensors and Bluetooth Smart sensors, it’ll record your activities like most other apps. The key to this product is its ability to upload to a slew of training logs, including Garmin Connect, Training Peaks and Strava. And, if you like to analyze every detail of your training files, it’ll export files into half a dozen formats that are compatible with many tools to do so, from Microsoft Excel to WKO+.
Zoot Ultra Tri Bag
The draw: Helmet protection, removable wetsuit compartment
Instead of acting as a top-loading backpack like most tri bags, the Zoot Ultra Tri Bag can go either way—throw stuff in from the top or unzip it to lie flat like a suitcase. A detachable compartment lets you stash wet gear separately, and a molded pocket can guard fragile aero helmets. We also appreciate the race-day essentials checklist printed on the bag’s interior.
Speedo MDR 2.4 Mirrored Goggle
The draw: Comfortable gaskets and clear vision
While most goggles have curved lenses, the MDR 2.4 has a unique split lens design, which provides zero distortion and is ideal for open-water sighting. It is quite possibly one of the most comfortable goggles we’ve ever strapped on. Maybe it’s the innovative eye gasket design with stretchy grooves that expand and move with your face that makes this set stand out. Not only do the comfy grooves reduce the pressure around your eyes, they also leave no trace after a swim—raccoon eyes no more.
Bike Fueling System
Nathan AP Pro Aerobar Hydration System
The draw: Easy to drink from, easy to live with
Nathan didn’t reinvent cycling hydration with this product; it simply created the most refined version of this relatively new bottle style. Arguably one of the easiest hydration systems to install (of any style), the AP Pro attaches firmly to the aerobars using innovative articulating arms that adjust to a range of widths. The uniquely shaped cage holds the bottle securely, even over rough roads. It’s also refillable on the fly and includes a cap to cover the quick-fill port. An aero shroud that shields the flexible straw from the air and a bite valve that assists in fluid flow round out the system.
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly IV Carbon
The draw: Plush comfort, solid fit
The anatomically designed closure of the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly IV Carbon comfortably wraps your feet and eliminates hot spots, thanks in part to the offset straps. The glove-like fit locks the foot into place, which helps direct power through the stiff carbon sole. Ventilation is excellent thanks to mesh panels throughout the upper. The Tri Fly IV fits small, so consider a half size up from your normal.
Specialized S-Works Evade
The draw: All-around performance
As the helmet of choice for cycling super-sprinter Mark Cavendish and many Ironman pros racing in Hawaii, the Evade has proven itself as a versatile option suited for many different riding styles. Its truncated tail sacrifices a few grams of drag compared with full blown aero helmets, but the relatively familiar shape and effective venting make it a good choice for any ride where speed matters—racing or training.
Quarq Elsa 10R
The draw: Fully capable, easy to use
For a significant price bump from the Stages unit (reviewed at right), the Elsa 10R records the entire picture of energy output, not just one leg. Factor in the cost of the right arm needed to complete the Stages system and the difference becomes minor. Features like an easy-to-change battery and optional short crankarms make this power meter universally appealing for triathletes. For those who train on more than one bike, swapping this crank becomes simple with just a little practice.
Zipp Vuka Stealth
The draw: Streamlined and adaptable
Achieving a broad range of fit adjustment options usually takes a bunch of hardware that looks clunky and possibly adds wind drag. Zipp found a way to make a bar both fit-flexible and streamlined. The Vuka Stealth boasts a vast amount of adjustability while maintaining great ergonomics, aesthetics and aerodynamics. The bar comes in three sizes. The only downside to this bar is the weight—it is a bit heavier than the others reviewed here, but considering that it includes an integrated stem, a few extra grams is a compromise we can live with.
Profile Design T1 Plus Viper
The draw: Adjustable and streamlined
Whether converting a road bike for triathlon or building a dedicated tri bike, the T1 Plus is an affordable and capable bar. The extension shape has proven to be very comfortable and it boasts an ergonomic grip, which creates the sensation of a more direct connection with the bike. This updated bar features brackets that offer arm pad and extension length adjustability. Another appealing feature is the ability to raise the entire assembly above the base bar, or pedestalling, with an AeroBar Bracket Riser Kit (sold separately). The arm pads on this bar are exceptionally comfortable and available in three thicknesses.
Dash Cycles Aero Post Combo
The draw: Elegant design
This tiny carbon manufacturer has made a name creating minimalist, lightweight and elegant cycling gear. Dash’s integrated saddle and seatpost combination lives up to this reputation. It is one of the most innovative saddles we have seen. The seatpost (available for many popular high-end triathlon bikes) features a user-friendly saddle positioning adjustment system. Testers of both genders found that the saddle effectively lifts pressure from the most sensitive parts despite the minimal cushioning.
Bontrager Aura 5 TLR
The draw: Smooth ride, low price
Instead of building the Aura 5’s slightly lower-profile aero rim with a costly carbon backbone, Bontrager simply overlaid a slim fairing onto a standard shallow aluminum rim to keep costs in check. Despite its apparent flimsiness, the rim and well-sealed hubs on the Aura 5 have proven reliable across a range of weather conditions. While not easy to install, the Aura 5 TLR is compatible with tubeless tires, allowing mechanically inclined riders to opt for the smooth ride and puncture prevention of tubeless on a fast rim.
Mavic CXR60 Clincher
The draw: Synergy between wheel and tire
Designing the CXR60 clincher as a wheel-and-tire system creates two unique attributes. First, the combined alloy/carbon rim with Mavic’s own Exalith braking track offers great stopping power and all-weather predictability. Second, Mavic’s creative CX01 Blade system fills the space between the rim and the tire, thus creating an uninterrupted tire-and-rim profile that has proven to be very fast in aero testing. Adding Mavic’s typical quality and attention to detail make the CXR60 Clincher a great training or race wheel for a wide variety of riders.
Enve SES 8.9 Tubular
The draw: Fast and responsive
A proven wind tunnel standout that is light enough for even the hilliest triathlon courses, the Enve SES 8.9 tubular is one of the fastest wheelsets available. The rims employ a wide U-shaped profile to help create excellent aerodynamic performance across a range of wind conditions, while creating the feeling of confidence in strong side winds. Available with a variety of durable hubs, the Enve SES 8.9 is a fast and versatile wheelset for riders of average weight looking for extra speed without sacrificing ride quality.
Shimano Ultegra 6800
The draw: Impeccable shifting and braking
Electronic groupsets get the headlines, but Shimano’s mid-tier mechanical Ultegra group is the best value in bike components. The kit was totally updated this year and it achieves nearly the same functions that distinguish the top-level Dura-Ace set, including precise front shifting and highly predictable brake performance. The true value of Ultegra is most obvious on a road bike, although similar function translates to triathlon bikes. For elite performance, mechanical Ultegra is the most affordable option.
Zoot Ultra TT 7.0
The draw: Race-day speed
Of all the tri-specific shoes tested, the Ultra TT is best suited for short-course burners. The sole snaps forward off the road, propelling the runner with a little extra juice. It feels laterally stable—no side-to-side sway—and provides a small degree of cushioning with plenty of protection from the pavement. The elastic upper yanks open and closed quickly, securing the foot with a constant dose of pressure. With a bit of sockless training, testers were able to run barefoot without much problem, although the top of the foot tended to rub slightly.
The draw: Built for speed plus comfort
The shoe’s namesake CloudTec cushions on the sole garner a lot of attention, but it’s the upper that amplifies the shoe’s defining characteristic. It doesn’t budge at all, firmly locking the foot in place. This extra security feels great when running fast, creating a responsive sensation. Breathability is excellent, and a moderately smooth inner feels fine when running barefoot for short distances. Fast workouts and races are the ideal applications for this shoe, as the reactive sole still softens the blow against pavement.
Adidas Supernova Glide 6 Boost
The draw: Peppy and comfortable
Cushioned trainers don’t have to feel flat and unresponsive—these shoes pop off the ground. Adidas’ own Boost material in the sole injects an explosive feel into these substantially absorbent shoes. Reviewers kept opting for this shoe during their most demanding runs of the testing process. A neutral runner looking for cushioning will be the best match for this shoe. The semi-slim, slipper-like upper is constructed from soft and breathable fabrics that stay comfortable well into a long run.
Garmin Forerunner 220
The draw: Data lover’s dream, ease of use
Garmin has reached an important new level with the 220, the first GPS watch that functions as smoothly as a basic timekeeper. It syncs with satellites in an instant and clearly displays all the data a runner could dream of using. Having the power to collect a ton of info doesn’t weigh the watch down thanks to Garmin’s intuitive interface (you can forget about using an instruction manual). It is incredibly light, and a single charge lasts through a week’s worth of training. Its waterproofing grade should keep it safe through a swim, although it isn’t designed for use in the water.
Orca 226 Tri Top And Kompress Tech Pant
The draw: Design to go long
There are 226 kilometers in an iron-distance tri, and testers were left with no doubt this comfortable chamois can go the distance. The kit feels just as primed for a hard, fast half. Solid quad compression on the 8-inch shorts helps keep legs fresh, while two rear pockets securely cradle gels. With two side pockets on the top, excellent arm range of motion and a zipper guard to avoid chafing when the zipper is up, the top will stay out of your way while you chase a long-course PR.