For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
As a former bike shop salesman—who became a bike mechanic, who became a pro triathlete, who became a gear editor—one of the top excuses for not getting into triathlon is that it’s too expensive. Sure, it’s more expensive than running—get a pair of shoes and go—but triathlon doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg either. You may get to the point where you want that $5,000 piece of carbon-fiber artwork, but do you need it right away? Not really. You don’t need great triathlon gear to get started; in fact you don’t need tri-specific gear to do a triathlon at all. Read on for tips on how to do your first (or ninth) tri on the cheap.
Save Money On Race Entries
Just like shopping for clothes or food at the grocery store, the big name brands are always going to be more expensive, but they’re not always better. The same goes for triathlon events (which we’ll admit, can be pricey). Yes, Ironman puts on an incredible event with an announcer and cool branded swag, and of course you get to say “I did an Ironman” without the whole awkward conversation that goes something like: “Well, it wasn’t the Ironman brand, but it was the same distance, and…”. But that name does cost much, much more than most non-”Ironman” events of the same distance. Take, for example, last year’s popular Ironman Florida: Prices for that event ranged from $725 to $800, depending on when you signed up. Meanwhile a few hundred miles south at The Great Floridian in Clermont, FL, you’d pay between $350 and $550 to do the same distance!
Does that mean your experience in a small, ”off-brand” event will be worse? Probably not. Most race directors are not in events for the money, so they usually put their best foot forward and have pride in their race. In fact, in our example above, the Great Floridian has won high marks with racers for years—despite their lack of that Ironman name. A couple other great examples with pricing as of this writing:
- Michigan Titanium, August 22, 2021, Grand Rapids, MI
- 140.6 – $500
- 70.3 – $275
- Olympic – $125
- Alpha Win Triathlon Series, September 5, 2021, Lake George, NY
- 140.6 – $400
- 70.3 – $200
- Olympic – $135
Additionally, some races will offer slots to people who volunteer at their events or who raise a certain amount of money for charity. It’s more work, of course, but it’ll save you even more cash (and help those who need it!).
Buy Used Triathlon Gear
Certainly gear can be one of the most expensive necessities for triathlon, but it doesn’t always have to be. Sure, there’s Craigslist for absolute rock-bottom (and potentially stolen) bikes and other gear that’s appropriate to buy secondhand (Used tri suit? No thanks.), but there are better options too. OfferUp has a more secure system for purchases that connect sellers to more verified profiles that’ll help reduce—but not eliminate—the potential for dodgy gear.
Better yet, find a triathlon forum or sport-specific online classified where you know the gear is legit—try BeginnerTriathlete’s classifieds or Slowtwitch’s classified section. For an even more vetted experience, check out ProsCloset.com for used bikes that have actually been certified with a “141-point inspection and service” and have an 18-month buyback guarantee, according to the company. Just know that that confidence will come at a premium, and that peace of mind will cost much more than classifieds, OfferUp, or (certainly) Craigslist—but not as much as something new.
You Can Get Cheap New Triathlon Gear
Not interested in the whole used ordeal? Or maybe you want to buy clothing or other products that you should for sure not get secondhand. There are sites and brands that are known for super super low prices and still pretty decent quality. And don’t forget: You don’t really need triathlon-specific gear to do a triathlon. Particularly if you’re a beginner who’s light on knowledge and unsure if you’re going to race more than a few times, we recommend the following for cheap gear that’ll get you to the finish line:
- BikesDirect.com – As of this writing BikesDirect doesn’t sell any tri-specific bikes, but if you’re looking to do your first tri on a road (or mountain) bike, these bikes are literally the cheapest you can find—aside from a Walmart special. Just be aware that these bikes ship unassembled, but they’re not particularly difficult to put together. If you’re not mechanically inclined, call your local bike shop and make sure the price of assembly still offsets buying a built bike.
- Decathlon – European readers will be familiar with this brand of sporting goods that makes everything from boxing gloves to bike tires, in house. We’ve personally tested their sub-$50 tri suits, and they’re comparable to garments that cost three times as much. The only trick? Their inventory is hit-or-miss so check back often.
- Synergy Wetsuits – This is another sleeper brand that has great neoprene for low cash. You can find them on Amazon (read: fast shipping), and suits like their Endorphin (~$250 depending on deals) have had super high marks from reviewers in our big 2021 Spring Wetsuit Roundup for both quality and range of sizes.
Save Money On Pool Access
Sure, you can join a fancy gym with tons of classes, lots of facilities, and amenities for days, but spoiler alert: You’re going to do a triathlon, you’ll be pretty busy just swimming, biking, and running. While biking and running are ostensibly “free” activities in terms of access, swimming isn’t always. Our top tips for getting in your swim for less:
- Skip the fancy gym membership – Yes, you’re paying for the privilege to swim in a decent pool, but be super careful when you sign up that the pool isn’t used by aqua aerobics or some sort of new-age floating treatment for the times you need to swim laps. In fact, many gyms have very very limited lap swim hours and can get very crowded, due to their size. City pools, on the other hand, may still have limited hours for lap swimming, but often have bigger pools with more lanes available. Plus, you’re not locked into a membership as most city-run pools have you pay as you go.
- The water is open – While not everyone is comfortable in the open water, it’s better to get over that fear sometime before race day—also swimming in the open water often will make you WAY better when it’s time to compete. Not only that, but many open-water swimming spots are either free or low cost (often just parking, but you’re a triathlete, park far away and run!).
Get A Triathlon Training Plan For Less
Certainly you don’t need a coach to do a triathlon, but it’ll save you a lot of time and unnecessary pain. One-on-one coaching can be expensive (think $100+/mo.), but there are other options like online training plans:
- Today’s Plan – Like the other options below, Today’s Plan is best known as a training log, but it also has a host of training plans for all distances. In fact, Active Pass members get free access to all of what Today’s Plan has to offer (shameless plug). Check out our guide to setting up a plan in Today’s Plan.
- Training Peaks – Similar to Today’s Plan, Training Peaks has a training log and training plans for purchase. They can also link you up with a live coach for a bit more cash.
Triathlete also offers non-interactive training plans for readers that are…drumroll…free! Check out just a few of our popular plans for each distance:
- A 10-Week Sprint Training Plan for Beginners by Adam Zucco
- Rock Your First Olympic Triathlon with This 16-Week Training Plan by Matt Fitzgerald
- Super Simple Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Training Plan by Matt Fitzgerald
- The 10-Hour Week Ironman Training Plan by Lance Watson