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The last few years have seen me go through a gear evolution of sorts. Or maybe a de-evolution. Since 2019, where I was arguably at “peak gear”—really enjoying the finest gear that tri had to offer without a pang of guilt or care or consequence—I’ve got through a slow, but substantial shift in the gear that I truly enjoy. Last year, it was all about self-reliance (giant running backpacks, storage on the bike, etc.) and adventure (swimrun wetsuits that allowed me to swim pretty much anywhere, bikes that could do it all, etc.).
This year, however, I’ve started to shift a little back to normalcy in my gear habits—much like life. Gone are the days of wild adventure and needing to bring everything you need. The days of “peak gear” are also far in the rear-view mirror. Back are the days where I still want to compete, get faster, go longer, and get better. But now the highest-end gear comes with something of a caveat: Bikes that I used to think were super awesome, even though they were $12,000 feel a little…excessive. Something about not being able to race or train normally for an entire year has stripped back what I enjoy about the sport, and I find more value in gear that’s economical but well thought-out. Call it a renewed appreciation for the simple things that I loved about swimming, biking, and running.
My favorite things this year span the gamut from the basic, bare-bones, to the fairly extravagant, but all of them do their job well without a ton of bells and whistles. I didn’t want to complicate my swim, bike, and/or run experience in 2021, I just wanted stuff that would get the job done and not make me feel…well…guilty about being out there training.
Read on for the things that made my 2021 just a little bit better:
Roka Maverick Wetsuit
For years, Roka has been one of my favorite wetsuit brands because of their money-is-no-object, best-at-all-costs approach to rubber. Their Maverick X and X2 are peak triathlon, with super flexible neoprene, a cool “arms-up” design, and even baked-in “KT-Tape” that helps give the swimmer structure (these are the wetsuits of 2019). The Maverick MX is the floatiest, thickest wetsuit I’ve tried that rides a fine line between buoyancy and too much buoyancy. The bummer about all of the wetsuits I just mentioned? If you didn’t have $500 to spend, you were left out of the conversation.
Hence why Roka’s Maverick was such a quiet revolution: For $250, you could get in on what was otherwise a pretty pricey brand with much of the trickle-down “tech” that makes Roka’s wetsuits so great. The basic Maverick has that arms-up design, a deluxe neckline, and very acceptable rubber for the price. All for $250. This is not a suit you’re going to put on with cotton gloves (yes, that’s a thing, for real); this is not a suit you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night worrying that you didn’t rinse out after that training swim in the ocean. This is a suit you’ll love to beat up.
RELATED: Reviewed: Roka Maverick Wetsuit
Zoot Swim Poncho
Though this swim poncho is not necessarily something brand new in the realm of water sports (surfers have had these for years, and pool swimmers sometimes use something similar as well), but it’s something that almost every triathlete needs. It’s basic: Super soft and super warm fabric drapes over you with baggy sleeves and a big hood so you can change out of anything anywhere. And if you’re simply freezing from whatever tri activity you’re finishing up, you can throw it over you and be warm in minutes.
This poncho folds up to the size of a towel, won’t show any battle scars from dirty whatever because it’s pitch black, and it’s potential uses know no bounds. Though it’s a little bit of a holdover from my adventurous tendencies in 2020, it’s also required equipment in my car no matter what I’m doing or where I’m going.
The Black Bibs Ultimate
While the next two products aren’t exactly budget basic items, this one is. While researching a story on how to keep costs down for beginners, I stumbled upon the anomaly that is The Black Bibs. The most eye-catching product from this achingly simple brand is their $40 black bibs—a very very decent pair of plain black cycling bib shorts that literally costs $40. That’s less than half the price of pretty much any budget pair of bib shorts anywhere.
Better yet, their “Ultimate” black bibs—coming in at a whopping $80, still about half the price of anything comparable—are even better. Nailing what matters, like the pad, fabric, and straps, while skipping all of the crazy features that look good on a website but don’t feel like anything out on the road, The Black Bibs has succeeded in the 2021 theme of well-thought-out, simple, inexpensive, but also super good.
Trek Speed Concept SLR 7
Ok, so allow me to indulge my peak gear guy tendencies with one luxurious pick in 2021. I’ve ridden more than a few new tri bikes over the last 12 months, but this is the first one that really made me want to get back out and ride more. It has some cool features like a built-in tool storage system, a beautiful dual-riser front end, massive, organized top-tube storage, and more, but it’s the basic fun of this bike that gets me excited.
While I’ve toiled for hours working on many of the latest superbikes, the third generation of Speed Concept was simple to put together, adjust, fit, and get going. No crazy bolts or proprietary stem/steerer tube connection junctions. But it’s such a clean-looking bike that handles ultra intuitively, cuts corners like a razor, and actually gets going (fast) when you stand up. Most triathletes could easily argue those attributes won’t win you an Ironman (though Trek claims a 16-minute advantage on 112 miles over the previous version), but there’s something to be said for a bike that does its job, does it well, and makes you want to head out for a ride. Of all the bikes I’ve tried lately, the Speed Concept has done that the best.
POC Central Vite
Chalk this helmet up to another slightly extravagant purchase, but I could also argue a great helmet is something necessary if you’re going to be riding a lot (which most triathletes do). No, this isn’t an aero helmet (at all) but it’s insanely lightweight at 240g (size M), it has more vents than almost any other helmet I’ve ever seen, and it flat-out looks cool. For those of us with round head shapes, it’s also a dream fit without needing too many gizmos to dial the whole deal in. No, it doesn’t have a MIPS-like suspension system; no it doesn’t have the very cool NFC medical info chip that many POC helmets now have. But it does feel about as heavy as a baseball cap, while still protecting your big old head.
Castelli Perfetto Light Glove
For whatever reason, I can’t find conditions in which this pair of gloves doesn’t excel. Not only for cycling (where it works best above 50 degrees F), but moreso for running (where I’ve worn it from 15 degrees F to 60 degrees F without any issues either way). The Gore-Tex Infinitum material is crazy thin, with just a light layer of soft fabric on the inside, but neither wind nor water can penetrate these things—and they don’t make me sweat, inexplicably.
Even though I don’t live in a painfully cold place, I know I can travel to almost any part of the globe and run in almost any conditions if I have a pair of these gloves, a hat, and a pair of arm warmers—and that’s the freedom/flexibility to have adventures that I’ve been seeking in 2021. It may seem like gushing for a simple pair of cycling gloves that are actually amazing running gloves, but it’s hard to explain how hard it is to find a perfect pair like this.
$35 for two 3.5-gallon containers, waterbrick.org
I cannot explain to readers how this simple water container has literally changed the way I train and recover. For whatever reason (probably laziness), I chronically show up to swims, rides, and runs without enough water for the activity at hand, and certainly underprepared for the hydration required after the workout is through. In the past, this has meant that it’d be hours before I start rehydrating, and it clearly impacted my recovery greatly in the warm, dry Southern California climate I live in.
This simple prepper-level stackable container holds water for days and weeks without leeching so much as a hint of plastic taste. The lid is ultra tight, and it holds enough to ensure that I can go to multiple sessions, forgetting to refill it without consequences. Even though the Waterbrick isn’t marketed to endurance athletes, it should be required equipment in the car of every triathlete out there—regardless of experience level.
RELATED: How Much Water Do I Need Each Day?
Saucony Endorphin Pro 2
The Endorphin Pros are not exactly budget shoes, but in the world of supershoes, they’re about as cheap as you’re going to get. Despite the medium-high price tag, this snappy pair of shoes has helped me find my excitement for racing once again in 2021. At under eight ounces, they’re lighter than most supershoes out right now, and for whatever reason they fit my tempo-to-race-pace stride perfectly. They’re also not nearly as outlandish-looking as most other supershoes, so I don’t feel like all eyes are on me when I show up in my “whatever” shape to see how fast I can go.
Yes, this is a great pair of shoes, but more than anything else, they’re a symbolic piece of gear that highlights a year where we actually got to race against each other once again.
RELATED: Triathlete’s Best of 2021 Awards