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Triathlife: Tri Products That Really Should Exist

This sport has always been at the forefront of gear innovation. But there’s room for even bigger thinking, writes Jesse Thomas.

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This sport has always been at the forefront of gear innovation. But there’s room for even bigger thinking.

Despite somehow snaking my way through two Stanford mechanical engineering degrees, I always considered myself half an engineer. I loved the “big picture” phase of problem identification and initial design. But my interest waned in the nitty-gritty detailed analysis and manufacturing optimization required to actually bring a product to market. I could survive the numbers, but I was a lot better at the pictures.

So when I joined my first startup out of college with a few friends, I kept myself mostly on the pictures side—and let the guys that handed me my ass in thermodynamics do the real engineering. Until one unfortunate day, I overheard a conversation about a “pump problem on the hydrogen generator,” and had an idea.

I threw together a prototype of tubing, rubber bands, a balloon and some Dremel-ed PVC and showed it to the guys. Surprisingly, they were mildly impressed. After a few minutes of discussion, they decided I would henceforth become the “hydrogen generator guy,” which—despite the title—was maybe the first nickname I ever had that wasn’t related to my gas.

I spent the next three years primarily designing portable hydrogen generation products, and thanks to the help of the real engineers around me, ended my run with a few patents that now allow me to say I have a few patents.

Since then, I’ve started my own company, Picky Bars, and was lucky enough to be involved with Rob and Kurt at ROKA, helping them design their first wetsuit, the Maverick. And whether it be something as complicated as a hydrogen generator or new wetsuit technology, or something as simple as an energy bar, I’ve learned that the real work starts after the idea is discovered. Just like my days as half an engineer, the tough part is bringing that idea from back of napkin to manufacturable, sellable product.

Triathlon has historically been at the forefront of swim, bike and run innovation. I think it has something to do with an industry culture that says, “Thousands of dollars to be five seconds faster in my 14-hour race? Worth it.” It’s an illogical market that makes almost any crazy idea a viable option.

And since ideas are cheap, and triathlon will maybe support even the most crazy of them, I thought I’d give all you aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors some for free. And like I normally do, I also asked my readers to contribute their ideas as well. So take them for what they’re worth (which isn’t much). However, if you do somehow manage to turn a profit, we only ask that you give us some recognition. Oh, and 5 percent of sales.

RELATED: Things To Know Before Turning Pro

Triathlon Stuff That Should Exist

“A GPS to the timing chip so spectators can follow you anytime.” —Kevin Portmann
My take: I’ve wanted to see this for a long time, and for some reason it isn’t pervasive technology. Why is that? Is it cost? Implementation? I don’t know, but it seems like people would probably pay an extra $25–50 a race so their friends/family can pretend to track them while playing Farmville. Your business model is built into the game—go out and do it!

“Some sort of laser attachment that gives you a green or red light that lets you know if you are in or out of the draft zone. And maybe some sort of James Bond tar release to get the people sucking on your tire.” —Atm Robitaille
My take: I’m also not sure why these don’t exist yet. Let’s take the guesswork, the always overwhelmed marshalls, etc., out of the equation. It’s like the stop-light cameras at an intersection—if it gets you, it gets you. Bam! I’m also totally fine with tar and/or slime of some kind.

“A periscope iPhone app that would let you keep your head in neutral position staring at stem, yet show what’s up ahead on the road.” —Sharon McNary
“Chin rest for aerobars” —Steven Butler
My take: As someone with a couple fused cervical vertebrae, I’ve thought of both of these products as well. But then I think I saw in a rule somewhere that it’s illegal to look into a camera or screen or something. If I were a real journalist, I would research this. But clearly I’m not, so you guys let me know.

“Mini Madonna-esque nipple cones. Rehabbing a mean nipple chafe from my run today.” —Derrick Rice
My take: If designed well, these would be a single, low-cost, simple mold that could be used for both left and right nipples. Suction cups, maybe. Genius.

Business casual tri kit.
My take: This would save me LOADS of time and laundry each day. Imagine never having to change. Maybe it comes pre-scented to keep you smelling as good as you look. Living in Bend, Ore., the biz casual version should be flannel. I’ll get the Pearl Izumi guys on it.

“Aero transition bags.” —@TexasTarabay
“Aero facial hair cover.” —Barry Hughes
My take: We all know that triathletes buy ANYTHING aero. Do it!

“One product most pros could use is some form of monetary income.” —@dpalmertri
My take: Funny because it’s true (see last month’s article, “Things you should know before turning pro”).

“An automatic spouse-appeaser option when you sign up for a race: You click the box and on race day she gets flowers and a babysitter.” —Arup De
My take: Maybe my favorite idea! Include a massage. Maybe the men’s version is a babysitter, local beer and tickets to a movie about aliens, superheroes and/or the future. I hope my wife reads this.

“A photo filter that makes my dorky race pics look as cool as I feel. They can call the filter ‘undorkify,’” —Nanette Meadowcroft.
My take: Brilliant! Somebody create this stat and then get bought by Insta-Book for a bajillion dollars.

“Night vision swim goggles.” —@espej09
My take: Move over, U2—this product release commercial will feature a ’90s R.E.M. single that deserves a quiet night. Marketing gold.

“Space-time extender—makes four more hours per day for actual training/life balance. Patent that ASAP.” —Mike Ursin
My take: Yes. Like a valve extender, except for space and time. Shouldn’t be that tough to figure out.

“Reverse designed race jerseys you can wear to help balance out the sunburn you got on race day!” —@briangumkowski
My take: I think this can be accomplished by wearing leg warmers, arm warmers, a balaclava and nothing else. It might be illegal in many city ordinances.

“Muscle electric stimulation unit where the pads can be preset and all lead to one central wire, and when you get on the bike you can plug in and then on long downhills opt to coast and get stimulus recovery opposed to pedaling with the thinking that time lost not pedaling will be made up later with fresher-feeling legs.” —Brandon James
My take: This is both hilarious and clearly the tri-dorkiest idea I got from all my readers. Thanks, Brandon— impressive work!

That’s it, inventors, go out and get it done. Let me know what ideas you have as well.

More Triathlife with Jesse Thomas.

Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) is a four-time Wildflower Long Course champion and the CEO of Picky Bars ( Want to train with Jesse? Come to our training camp, set for March 20-25. Register now!