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A look at four products taking a fresh approach to longstanding challenges in triathlon gear.
Old problem: Benefiting from an aerodynamic helmet
New solution: Feedback from the helmet when rider position shifts for the worse
Lazer Wasp Air
The world’s best aero position is only fast if the rider can actually hold the position. Walking the Interbike floor, there are hundreds of products designed to make a rider slightly faster in ideal circumstances and many more that can help improve a fit. Lazer has one of the few that will help a triathlete stick to the aero position. The Wasp Air is a nice looking helmet that also ticks all the important marks for a good aero helmet. And tucked into the tail is a special device that vibrates when the rider dips his head downward. It’s a gentle, but obvious, reminder to stick to the aero position.
What a novel way to improve aerodynamics! Instead of crafting a story explaining why a certain vent style is better than another, Lazer came up with an entirely different solution to save time or energy between T1 and T2 by coaxing the rider to hold the most efficient position. This is legitimately valuable wearable technology for cyclists.
The device on display at Interbike has a shell made of rapid prototyped plastic, meaning it’s still a ways away from being released in final form. Based on the description from Lazer, the device is quite simple. The acceptable angle for the helmet to rest can be set through a computer and that’s pretty much the only input option. It can’t collect data such as the fraction of time spent in the aero position. Battery life on a single charge is around eight hours.
RELATED: Seven Tips To Get Comfortable In The Aero Position
Old problem: Time trial bikes are impractical for triathlon, but look really good
New solution: Traditional road bike maker adopts tri frame geometry
Bianchi Aquila CV
Road bike makers steeped in traditional cycling history have a nasty habit of making sub-par triathlon bikes. They tend to build a time trial bike for high level road racers, call it a triathlon bike and try to get multisport athletes to ride it. Personally, I’ve become skeptical that a new time trial bike will be anything other than a tease. Aero design may be sound and the bike may be beautiful, but from a practical perspective many of these bikes are nearly useless for triathlon.
Bianchi’s latest time trial machine wasn’t created specifically for triathlon, but its frame geometry is actually very tri friendly. While the basebar can’t be elevated above its slammed position right on top of the upper headset bearing, the aerobar extensions can be pedestalled 6cm into the air. Combined with the reasonable frame fit and the Aquila CV has the chance to fit a fair number of triathletes. This still isn’t the bike for a person requiring a conservative fit, nor does it have a great solution for the practical requirements of long rides or races. But it is an incredibly striking aero bike with utilitarian frame geometry.
Bianchi certainly hasn’t found a solution to make dedicated tri-specific bikes obsolete—far from it—but the sensible geometry used for this bike make it a viable option for triathletes looking to ride something that will be rare in the transition area.
As for the other unique logistical concerns of triathletes, Bianchi plans to add storage options in the future but doesn’t have anything special as of now. A pair of frame bottle mounts is the only built-in storage.
RELATED: Tour Of California Tech For Triathletes
Old problem: Measuring fitness
New solution: Blood oxygenation sensors
Moxy Muscle Oxygen Monitor
In the span of a few years power meters went from a rarity, successfully developed only by a few select cycling tech companies to nearly a commodity, with seemingly more than 20 legitimate options. As the appetite for cycling data has exploded, so has the number of ways to record that data. Two new start-up companies are pursuing optical blood oxygenation sensors (the official term is muscle near-infrared spectroscopy) for fitness, a new application for a validated technology, as a way to better understand, control and predict a person’s training.
Full disclosure: I don’t have a thorough understanding of the applications, benefits or shortcomings of measuring blood oxygenation or total flow for endurance athletes. This is just a preliminarily synopsis.
Here’s the basic description of how the technology works. Light is directed into a working muscle and based on the characteristics of the blood in that muscle, that light is absorbed and reflected differently. Red blood cells with oxygen attached appears differently than the same cell without a bound oxygen molecule. BSX and Moxy, two start-up tech firms, have both independently developed units that use a form of this technology to read endurance performance.
A blood lactate test is the gold standard for determining a person’s effort zones, but it involves lab equipment and repeated finger pricks. BSX has developed a pod that allows a layperson to perform a simulated lactate threshold test on himself. While the system doesn’t actually measure blood lactate, BSX points to research correlating blood oxygenation to the lactate inflection point where an athlete can no longer sustain the effort level. They suggest that an athlete could buy this unit and repeatedly test himself to base his effort levels in training on the most up to date reading of fitness instead of repeatedly paying for an onerous lab test. BSX isn’t a device to measure effort level while training; it’s a tool to set training zones.
Moxy is using similar technology to a slightly different end—as a more broadly used training device. One of its goals is to use blood oxygenation and other metrics to determine an athlete’s physical trait with the greatest potential for improvement. Moxy says it can be used to pinpoint the necessary length of a recovery interval between repeats. Establishing training zones is another application.
This is all pretty rough and new. Maybe muscle near-infrared spectroscopy will be the next explosion in performance measurement like power has been over the past decade. Or maybe it will fizzle out, there’s still a long way to go.