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You don’t need any fancy triathlon-specific gear to finish a triathlon. A swimsuit, any bike (and helmet) and pair of running shoes are really all it takes, but there are limitless triathlon accessories (triathlon cufflinks, anyone?) if you want to look sharper, go faster or be more comfortable. Consider your race goals before pulling out the credit card.
I want to: Finish
Instead of relying on questionable tires, swap them for a new set designed for durability, such as the Specialized Armadillo or Continental Gatorskin. After equipping your ride with dependable tires, take it to a mechanic to check the chain, derailleurs, shifters, bolt tension and cables before race day.
I want to: Go faster
A full-sleeve wetsuit, aerobars and an aero helmet provide outstanding speed-per-dollar value and are worthy of your splurge. The amount of time these products can save varies among riders and products, but all three can get you to the finish line minutes faster and can be had for around $200 each.
I want to: Do it in comfort and (triathlon) style
A precisely fitting triathlon suit will keep you comfortable simply by staying out of your way. Instead of cycling in running shorts that bunch or running in cycling shorts with a large pad that can feel (and look) like a diaper, a tri suit is designed to stay firmly against your body, and finding one that fits correctly is more important than any feature.
Setting up a road bike for triathlon
Teardrop tubes and pitchfork handlebars are the most noticeable differences between road bikes and tri bikes, but frame geometry—the way a frame positions the rider’s body—is the most important difference. Triathlon geometry is designed for riding as fast and efficiently in a straight line as possible. If you add aerobars to a road bike, you’ll want to change the rest of the bike’s fit (best done by a professional) to accommodate your new position.
Move the saddle forward. Sliding the saddle forward on the rails can help a little, but using a forward-oriented seat post further replicates a tri bike.
Find a comfortable seat. Dropping into aerobars redistributes pressure onto different parts of your undercarriage, so a saddle that’s comfortable in a road position might not work in a triathlon position. Find a saddle that feels best for you—some tri-specific shops will let you try various models on a fit bike in the store.
Position the aerobars. The location of the aerobar grips and elbow pads have a significant impact on fit. Get a professional fit before picking your new aerobars to find a pair that allows your body to sit in your preferred position rather than contorting to accommodate the bars. Adding aerobars also has several subtle influences on position, and a good bike fitter will address those subtleties to ensure comfort.
What are triathlon-specific shoes?
Tri-specific running and cycling shoes are versions of their single-sport relatives adapted for quick transitions. Until you’re interested in saving seconds, regular running and cycling shoes will do the job.
Aerobars are for going fast. Leaning elbows-first against the handlebars might look more comfortable, but many riders find it easier to quickly get comfortable riding in a road position. Get aerobars if you want to ride faster or go the same speed using less energy.
Get a race belt
A clipable race belt prevents wasting time with safety pins in transition. You can find one for less than $10.