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The Trickle-Down Effect In Triathlon Tech

Features formerly reserved for the highest-end products have made their way into mid- and entry-level options.

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Features formerly reserved for the highest-end products have made their way into mid- and entry-level options.

While it may seem like the cost of much triathlon gear has risen to the realm of ridiculous, a closer look at current offerings reveals that you may actually be receiving more bang for your hard-earned buck. Like most consumer industries, the triathlon gear industry is full of examples of trickle-down technology. Qualities and designs of the lightest, fastest top-shelf products are now incorporated into gear at more affordable prices in some categories (wetsuits), while the cost of expensive electronic gadgets (power meters) continues to drop as new brands crop up and innovation drives forward. New methods of working with existing materials like aluminum has raised the bar for the level of performance consumers can now expect in an entry-level road bike. As manufacturers continue to innovate, the trend of trickle-down benefits will reach more consumers—especially in these four areas.

#1 Components

Perhaps no other brand in the industry exemplifies the idea of trickle-down technology better than Shimano. New tech often debuts on the top-of-the-line component group Dura-Ace, then appears in subsequent versions of Ultegra and 105. With strategically staggered product launches, it seems Shimano is constantly introducing a new group of components.

As far as triathletes are concerned, the two biggest trickles over the 10 years come from electronic components, first introduced as Dura-Ace Di2 7970 in 2009 along with the propagation of 11-speed groupsets, which has made its way down to 105. Electronic shifting is arguably more impactful for triathletes compared to roadies because shifts can be actuated from both the basebar and aerobar extensions on a triathlon bike. That feature has huge payoffs, allowing the rider to shift while keeping both hands on the handlebars through technical terrain or while climbing. Ultegra Di2 changed the game, bringing the powerful performance advantage of electronic shifting to a more attainable price. Take a look at any manufacturer’s range of triathlon bikes and note how many come spec’d with Ultegra Di2. It’s the perfect blend of high performance and value. All of this begs the question: Is 105 Di2 on the way? Probably not anytime soon, but it’s definitely possible.

RELATED – 2016 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Components

#2 Wetsuits

Triathletes with more than 10 years of racing experience will tell you how much wetsuits have improved. Perhaps you’ve seen the scars on their necks from horrific chafing or heard stories of five-minute-long battles in transition trying to peel off a clingy suit.

Entry-level wetsuits used to be made of inferior neoprene that didn’t come close to offering the flexibility or suppleness required to be effective for open-water swimming. Some still don’t, but a few brands offer tremendous value in their entry-level wetsuits. For example, Orca launched its lower price-point Open Water wetsuit in 2015, which at $170, makes it one of the cheapest full-sleeved suits on the market. The Open Water is made with a mix of Yamamoto 38 and 39 neoprene, materials well known for reliable performance and durability. ROKA also uses a mix of Yamamoto 38 and 39 Smoothskin neoprene in the entry-level Maverick Comp ($300) with super-thin 1.5mm panels on the arms and shoulders for flexibility that rivals suits that cost twice as much.

RELATED – 2016 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Wetsuits

#3 Power Meters

Like the personal computer market of the mid-1980s, the power meter market has grown rapidly with hefty price drops from established companies as new brands enter the fray. In 2015, Quarq, Pioneer, Rotor and Power2Max all lowered their prices, making this an exciting time for power meter customers.

There are currently five different places to mount a power meter: rear wheel hub, bottom bracket, chainring, crank arm and pedals. There are other concepts in development that will likely hit the market very soon, such as a shoe and cleat-based unit from Brim Brothers (only compatible with Speedplay pedals) and a dual-sided crank-based power meter from Watteam that will sell for only $499. The most affordable power meter on the market today is the left crank arm 4iiii Precision power meter, which sells for $400. If that seems expensive, consider that four years ago the cheapest power meter was the $899 PowerTap hub. In a category where precision and accuracy are paramount, it will be interesting to track power meter companies over the next few years to see which brands and styles prevail in this increasingly crowded market.

RELATED – 2016 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Bike Computers And Power Meters

#4 Advances In Aluminum

As carbon fiber bikes exploded in popularity in the early 2000s, high-performing aluminum bikes basically disappeared after decades of dominance. But recent enhancements to the process of manipulating the metal have led to a resurgence of aluminum with some new models that arguably outperform lower-end carbon bikes.

Specialized developed a new process of hydroforming tubes called SmartWeld, which moved weld locations to allow more material to be placed where it’s needed, resulting in an increase in stiffness and enhanced ride quality. Drawing inspiration from the race-proven Tarmac, the new aluminum Allez Sprint
has oversized tubes that are aerodynamically optimized. Cannondale has also carved out a following of aluminum devotees over the years, and the new CAAD-12 is the most advanced alloy bike the company has ever offered with a frame that weighs around 1,100 grams. Perhaps the model with the most value in the CAAD-12 lineup is the 105 version, which comes equipped with disc brakes for just $1,950. For cyclists who want a lightweight, high-performing bike for less than $2,500, aluminum offers the best bang for your buck.

RELATED – 2016 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Bikes