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The inspiration: Engineers and product designers lead some trends; demand from athletes has driven this one. When ISM launched the Adamo Race and Road saddles, they were marketed as women’s-specific but enjoy a broader appeal today. After steadily ascending the annual gear count at Ironman Hawaii, ISM finally took the top spot in 2013. Many other saddle manufacturers have followed suit, broadening the options for every triathlete looking for a little relief.
In practice: The biggest brands have embraced the split-nose saddle style and are introducing more athletes to it. Specialized’s Sitero Pro saddle uses two firm foam tongs to support the rider via the sit bones while creating a pressure-free space for the soft tissues. If you’re looking for a narrow tri saddle, this isn’t it, but it can be the solution to comfort in the aero position for many riders. The saddle has an integrated rear bottle carrier tucked tightly under the saddle as an added benefit. Many pros use zip ties to carry a bottle in this location, and this is a cleaner solution.
The inspiration: Cars, motorcycles, mountain bikes and pretty much every high-tech wheeled vehicle on the planet use disc brakes because they’re simply much more effective than rim brakes. Added power, improved control and, in many cases, increased reliability make hydraulically driven discs the stoppers of choice, and road brakes are finally catching up. While they aren’t the best option for every bike on the road, they upgrade stopping performance without adding much weight.
In practice: SRAM and Shimano are putting their considerable experience with disc brakes into road technology. Both have long made industry-leading hydraulic disc systems for mountain bikes, and that knowledge helped these two leading component companies resolve the challenges of hydraulic road discs. The result is incredible stopping power and control. Wheels are starting to catch up as well. Smooth-riding, light and aero options such as the Zipp 303 Disc help get the most out of the braking systems. Since the technology is brand new, the options for frames, wheels and matching component groups are still limited (and very expensive), although expanding rapidly.
Aerodynamic Race Clothing
The inspiration: Follow this chain of logic: Improved cycling aerodynamics makes a triathlete faster, but the body, not the bike, is the most important factor in cycling aerodynamics. Race clothing is the connection between the wind and the most important factor in cycling aerodynamics. While a race kit isn’t the sexiest upgrade, aerodynamic race apparel is exploding in popularity because it’s effective and has a great performance value.
In practice: Luke McKenzie raced to second place at Ironman Hawaii in the Champion System Custom Apex Triathlon Speedsuit (with a custom design), and he was one of many top athletes, including Craig Alexander and Tim O’Donnell, who wore longer sleeves for a little extra speed. Aero tests conducted by multiple clothing designers have found that covering the shoulders and armpits can substantially reduce aero drag.
Compact Aero Helmets
The inspiration: Long-tail aero helmets that engulf the rider’s head can produce fantastic wind tunnel results, but hitting the height of efficiency comes with consequences. Surrounding the head prevents air from flowing over the rider and can lead to a perception of increased heat, according to a study conducted at the University of Texas, Austin. And full-length helmets can create additional drag when the rider shifts around. Open aero helmets are often faster than traditional road options but don’t come with the drawbacks.
In practice: The Specialized S-Works Evade allows more free-flowing air over the rider while still keeping drag to a minimum, according to testing conducted by Specialized aerodynamicists. It fits and feels like a road helmet and can double as a speed booster for group rides between races.
The inspiration: Bringing technology originally developed for top-level stuff down to mid- and low-priced products is common in many industries. Apple does it, Honda does it and it certainly happens with bike gear. Expensive materials and time-consuming construction techniques account for a very small part of the functional difference between top-tier component groups and cheaper ones. Mid-grade component groups built without flashy upgrades now perform nearly as well as the most expensive options.
In practice: Shimano and SRAM, makers of the components ridden by the majority of cyclists, both released impressive top-level component groups in 2013 that lived up to expectations and perform better than their predecessors. But both groupsets are expensive. Many of the features that allow both SRAM Red 22 and Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 to perform so well have trickled down into the mid-tier Force 22 and Ultegra 6800 component kits in 2014. Choosing between excellent component performance and price is becoming a thing of the past—relatively affordable bikes will shift and brake better than before due to these new groupsets.
The inspiration: In a classic case of tradition overriding logic, triathlon bikes are typically built with cranks that are the same length as road bikes cranks. There is no good reason these lengths — 170mm for small bikes, 172.5mm for medium-size ones and 175mm for large frames — have become standard, but bike fitters have come up with a very sound biomechanical explanation to go shorter. Bike fitter and coach Mat Steinmetz did a case study for Triathlete on Mirinda Carfrae and found that riding cranks 1 centimeter shorter allowed her to lower her aerobars by 2 centimeters (thus adopting a more aero position) without impinging her hips.
In practice: The tri-only bike brand Quintana Roo is one of the few companies that includes short cranks on its stock bike builds. In 2014, every tri bike from the brand will come equipped with a crankset that is 5mm shorter than the default length based on frame size. The size L CD0.1 comes with 170mm crank arms, the M is 167.5mm and the smaller sizes are spec’d with 165mm.
The Spanish crank manufacturer Rotor was the first to offer crank arms that are substantially shorter than the average, and they’ve gone even shorter in 2014. For the extreme early adopters looking to go dramatically shorter, the Rotor 3D+ crankset is available as short as 150mm.
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