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Taking your training (and racing) to the trails will challenge your fitness in new ways, plus a little fat-tire fun will spice up your routine. Here’s the gear you need to go off-road from our 2014 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide.
An all-carbon hardtail 29er, the BMC TeamElite TE02 ($2,600, Bmc-racing.com) is light and nimble while carving out sharp descents or gripping pitchy fire roads. The larger, 29-inch wheels plow over rocks and roots while providing a stable ride for those more accustomed to asphalt than singletrack. This bike is race-ready out of the box (check out Xterraplanet.com for a calendar of off-road events catering to all abilities).
Full-fingered gloves like the Dakine Ventilator ($35, Dakine.com) protect the entire hand from branches, trail debris or the consequences of tumbling off your bike. These warm-weather gloves offer sufficient palm padding, are highly breathable thanks to the stretchy nylon mesh material, and let you operate touchscreen devices.
You’ll want protective shades that offer the widest field of vision. Julbo Dust sunglasses ($170, Julbousa.com) were designed for mountain biking, with grips at the nose and temples to ensure that the frame stays on your face as you jostle along rocky trails. The suspended lenses sit just above your face, letting air flow around the sides.
The POC Trabec helmet ($150, Pocsports.com) covers the entire head—not just the top of the skull—to offer the maximum possible protection. The adjustable visor blocks out sun and the wayward tree branch, and 16 vents keep your head cool. Choose from five colors in addition to the navy blue pictured here. Sizes range from XS to XXL to accommodate the full spectrum of riders.
Riding trails generally requires greater attention to bike handling than riding in a straight line on the road, so a hands-free hydration system like the Camelbak Volt 13 LR ($125, Shop.camelbak.com) is a good alternative to grabbing at bottle cages. This pack is super-light, disperses the water weight evenly across the hips for greater comfort, and is designed for maximum air ventilation across the back.
Breathability and adjustability are two important characteristics of a good cycling shoe, and the SIDI Duran ($190, Sidiamerica.com) delivers on both. The soft, airy mesh upper envelops the foot, and three Velcro straps let you dial in the right amount of tension. The hard exterior heel cup stabilizes the back of the foot and promotes greater power transfer.
More commonly known for helmets and cycling shoes, Giro recently introduced an apparel line called New Road that looks like stylish street clothes but is intended for the bike. The Mobility Polo Bike Shirt ($100, Giro.com) for women features a tailored cut with dropped-shoulder sleeves, a collar snap and a soft, moisture-wicking wool/polyester blend fabric.
A lot of mountain bike riders opt for looser-fitting clothing that prioritizes comfort and reflects the more casual culture of the trail (which is not to say mountain bikers are any less hardcore about performance as their road counterparts). Pearl Izumi’s lightweight Canyon shorts ($75, Pearlizumi.com) come with a removable liner with a built-in chamois, have a shorter 8-inch inseam and offer a loose (but not baggy) fit. Bonus: the polyester fabric is UPF 50+.