Price: Starting at $400 for stock, $550 for custom tailored
Basics: Fully-custom tailored race suit with aerodynamic chops and real-world details
Pros: Twenty-two individual measurements mean this suit will feel like you’ve literally got nothing on.
Cons: The price is a tough pill to swallow, and the custom process is intense.
With the help of aerodynamic experts Nopinz, Zone3 took a big step forward in its race suit tech with a garment that not only makes you faster, but also stands heads and tails above other suits in terms of fit. Using 22 individual measurements from height and weight to butt girth, back width, and even elbow circumference, the custom version of this suit makes other “supersuits” (think Castelli’s new PR Speed suit or Huub’s Anemoi) look almost short-sighted. It’s one thing to go fast—and experts have proven that what you wear is almost more important than what you ride, by the way—it’s another to feel completely unrestricted by what you’ll be wearing on race day. While racing may feel like a far-off concept, now is the time to start thinking about your limiters, and a custom race suit might not be such a bad thing when the starting gun finally sounds.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: The Basics
While we’ll dive into the big things on this suit below, let’s start with the simple details that make this suit stand out. First, the suit has a medium-minimal perforated and 3D-mapped pad sewn in. This means it dries out very well and has bulk where necessary for cycling, but not so much that it causes issues on the run. The custom version I used had knee-length legs and elbow-length arms, but my guess is you could shorten either of those if it was your preference; both openings had incredibly sticky silicone grippers and no hem. The zipper is very standard, and goes down to about the belly button, but does not detach at the bottom like some new convertible one-piece suits (like Castelli’s for instance). Unlike a few other supersuits, the Aeroforce-X is perfectly fine in the swim without a wetsuit or speedsuit to cover it. Two diagonal and shockingly deep covered pockets in the back actually provide nearly as much space as a cycling jersey.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: The Aerodynamics
Zone3’s big ally in this aerodynamic race to the top has been a name that people in North America might not be super familiar with: Nopinz. Nopinz has taken a weird road from a small startup with the simple idea of eliminating aerodynamically offensive number pins from cycling to something of a clothing aero-expert in Great Britain. With Nopinz’s experience on their side, Zone3 created “Aeroforce” fabric—a woven fabric with 3D patterning placed on the shoulders—and “Aerostripe” fabric—aerodynamic stretch side panels—to make a suit that they claim is faster than all competitors in the wind tunnel. Obviously we don’t have the resources to fact check this, but there aren’t many brands who have put as many different types of fabric in as many different places as Zone3, so they’re obviously doing something different and intentional here.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: The Fabric
So even if Zone3’s testing numbers aren’t accurate—and for all we know they could be—the reality is that the fabric on this suit is unparalleled in complexity and feel. First the complexity: Zone3 uses more different types of materials on this suit than literally any suit I’ve ever tested. There’s the aerodynamic panels on the shoulders (which are entirely different from the aero panels on the side/armpit area, by the way); the Coldblack material on the core, which does a good job of cooling without making this a sweltering-hot-only race day garment; the water repellant coating throughout; and the different materials in the top versus the silky-smooth materials in the lower section. Why is that all important? Well, partially because it helps to explain the staggering cost of this suit—even at the stock level. In terms of feel, the materials on this suit are soft where they should be (legs, inseam) and more durable elsewhere (back, shoulders). We’ll get to comfort more later, but in terms of pure weight, this is one of the lightest suits I’ve used—which goes a long way toward comfort in the end.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: The Fit
While I can’t speak to the stock sizing, as I was fortunate to go through the appropriately exhaustive custom-fitting process (which can be made less complicated if you travel to their offices in the British countryside for a 3D body mapping), the custom version actually surprised me. As a former pro and longtime gear tester, I’ve used everything from custom-fitted bikes to custom cycling shoes, and they’re all very nice, but this is literally the first time I’ve thought that I’ve been using the wrong thing for my entire tri career. Though the process was long and intense (more on that later), the result actually changed my concept of what a race suit should feel like and even made me question some of the issues I’ve had while racing that never came up while training—poor circulation in my legs, for instance. Putting on the custom version of this suit feels exactly like wearing nothing at all. In fact, I’ve started wearing it on bike rides because it doesn’t look too insane with long sleeves, and the pockets fit everything I need. For runs it’s also excellent (no opportunity to swim right now…), and the lightweight fabric gets entirely out of the way with no pulling like some other suits. Again, this is thanks to the materials and the perfectly fit cut.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: (Little) Tiny Issues
Of course nothing is perfect, and without overplaying the hefty price tag, there are a few little details that would go some way to making this suit more than a 9.8/10 if I were to rate it. First, it would be such a huge boon if this suit had the convertible one-piece/two-piece zipper setup that a lot of other one-piece suits use today—a zipper that detached at the bottom, effectively creating a bottom half that moved more independently of the top and let you easily drop the top when you needed to. The only other little snag is how light the pad is, but this is all about personal preference. It worked perfectly fine for me on half-iron distance rides and below, but at full distance, things could get a little rough, depending on your saddle. Definitely not a deal breaker, but if I was Zone3, I would offer a pad thickness choice alongside the list of custom measurements. On that same note, the measurement process is pretty intense and a little exhaustive—22 measurements, many of them sort of unusual, take a while, and you want to get them all perfectly right, but there’s a reason for that. Same thing on the amount of time it takes to produce this suit—six weeks can feel like an eternity if you’re not foresighted enough to start your purchase before you’re even really training for your season.
Zone3 Aeroforce-X: Conclusion Time
Normally I would say “This whole thing adds up to a great suit, but is it worth the money? I don’t know.” On this one, I would say, “Yes, this is worth the money.” Of course not everyone can or wants to spend $550 on a race suit when even the next suit down is over $100 less—particularly now when the race season is on pause and many have uncertain financial futures. That said, I get why this suit costs as much as it does: The many many panels of different fabrics cost a lot to produce in a small quantity; working with those materials is likely hard, particularly with a custom program; also, with Nopinz’s help, Zone3 is taking on a full load of R&D costs.
But before you grab your pitchforks and poke me mercilessly on social media, $500 is still a lot of money, but it’s also a lot less than some mid-to-high-end wetsuits that probably won’t benefit you as much for as long on race day. I don’t say this often, but knowing what I now know—and as someone with admittedly odd T-Rex proportions—I would probably save up my pennies (or stimulus check) to buy this suit when I was racing a ton. I do actually think it would have made me faster than many of the other pricey goodies I spent my cash on—even aerodynamics aside. But if nothing else, hopefully this suit acts as a novel concept that could trickle down to other suits (even in other brands) at a lower price point. Crazier things have happened—like me buying a $500 race suit.