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Ask Chris: What’s the Best Gift for a Triathlete?

Sure, gift guides abound, but what do triathletes really want (and not want)?

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It’s holiday time, and your girlfriend is a triathlete. She runs a bunch, and whenever she does, she wears a sports bra. Logic goes: Girlfriend runs, girlfriend wears sports bra, girlfriend probably needs more sports bras, get girlfriend a new sports bra, become boyfriend of the year. But the logic is flawed. There are certain gifts you can buy for a triathlete, unsolicited, and there are certain gifts you can only buy for a triathlete if he or she gives you the exact brand, style, size, and color. To be clear: The best gift for a triathlete is not a wild-looking sports bra (for visibility!!) that’s either (even slightly) too big or too small. You can try if you want, but you will fail in flames. Trust us.

Triathlon is a sport chock full of gear, so it makes sense—in theory—that you should be able to get literally anything for your triathlete partner/relative/friend/coworker/roommate/etc. that is triathlon-related and hit instant holiday gold. We’ve got a great hand-curated (and tested!) gift guide that can help with just that. But the reality is that there are certain things that are off-limits to gift givers, and it’s not just sports bras. There are items that are so deeply personal to a triathlete that you might as well be giving your coworker a pair of (inappropriate) underwear. Shopping for triathletes is a big field of play, but it’s also littered with landmines. To help you navigate this dangerous, blood-soaked killing field of purchases, hurt feelings, social missteps, awkward signals, regifting, and no-return policies, we’ve put together a gift guide guide—a roadmap to finding the best gift for a triathlete this holiday season.

The Best Gift for a Triathlete Should Avoid Sensitive Areas

The best gift for a triathlete is not a bike saddle. Unless they’ve given you a specific brand, model, and size, and they’ve tested it prior, you’re basically setting yourself up for disaster. Even if they think they know the saddle they want, triathletes rarely get it right unless they’ve actually used it for an extended period of time, and the last thing you want is to be associated with a literal pain in the butt after a six-hour ride. “That saddle you got me for ______ is killing me. I hate it,” is not something you want to hear—they hate it, but they might also hate you now. By the law of transference you will become that pain in the butt, and short-term memory (and saddle sores) will help erase even the fact that they specifically asked you for that model. Generally the same goes for cycling training shorts, but as the variation is not so wide (pun unintended), if the recipient asks you for, say a pair of cargo bibshorts, there’s a good chance you’ll be in the clear. Racing shorts are a little less risky, but going in blind is still tricky.

It’s tough to go wrong with a pack of some kind (like a commuter pack or a lunch bag) or something recovery-related (like recovery sandals or compression tights). This way you’ll be remembered as someone who kept their stuff together or made them feel good.

The Best Gift for a Triathlete Must Respect the Size

There’s no getting around this. While items like clothing might be an obvious spot for an awkward misstep (“You think I’m an XL!!!??” or “Oh, so I should try to lose weight to get into a small!!??”), shoe sizes also vary from brand to brand—and some long-distance triathletes like their racing shoes to be a bit big to accommodate for swelling feet. Wetsuits fit differently from brand to brand, and cycling components have a laundry list of sizes and measurements. Take, for example the simple bike stem—you need to know the length, the rise, the bar diameter, and if it even fits the recipient’s fork. Aerobars can be even trickier. Most of these things—like a fancy fast new crankset for example—can easily be researched by looking at the numbers on what they have already, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

Unless you’re going to do the research and/or you’ve got a very specific shopping list (though sometimes the recipient might not even know there are sizes for what they’re asking!), go for a gift that’s not size dependent. Think: a pair of speedy tires if you must go the bike part route (get them 25c width, trust me); a super cool piece of training tech; or a size-free roller/water bottle.

The Best Gift for a Triathlete Doesn’t Assume Skill Level

Unless you’re 100-percent clear on how beginner/advanced your triathlete giftee is, it can be tricky getting something that’s too entry level or too cutting edge. Someone doing their first sprint race in a few months does not need a speedsuit. Someone shooting for Kona does not need a basic digital watch. Again, here is an area rife with pitfalls—if your triathlete has been racing for years, an entry-level wetsuit will likely get regifted and you might have inadvertently insulted their ability. On the flip side, an aerospace-grade torque wrench will likely go entirely unused if your recipient can’t even change a tire. (Super thoughtful beginner gift idea on a budget? A coupon for a tire-changing lesson either from the giver or a local bike mechanic!)

Here, the trick is going for something that a beginner and an advanced triathlete would love. Inspirational books are always a good idea, as everyone could use a dose of motivation—whether it’s to make it to nationals or make it to the finish line. Books in general are often a good bet, just stay away from training books that imply beginner- or advanced-specific techniques unless asked for by name. Again, recovery items are always good because everyone needs to recover. Think: a unique muscle roller or THC-free and sports-specific CBD cream.