By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
A cycling coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center named Chris Carmichael once advised our us to “pack everything you need to race in your carry on”. It was solid advice against losing your luggage on the way to an “A” race.
Chris’ advice and the creation of a new generation of traveling endurance athletes has spawned the category of sport/travel luggage. A few companies like Thule and Tumi offer luggage lines aimed at the athlete-traveler but Zoot Sports has gotten more specific with their Zoot Ultra Tri Carry On, a full-feature triathlon specific transition bag with roller wheels and a telescoping handle.
The Zoot Ultra Tri Carry On morphs conventional roller-bag luggage designs proven by every flight attendant in the world with the original triathlon transition bag design attributed to innovator Emilio De Soto of De Soto Sports. The result is the civilized transition bag.
“The Zoot Ultra Tri Carry On morphs roller-bag luggage with the original triathlon transition bag”
The Zoot Ultra Tri Carry On strikes a balance between transition bags with compartments so purpose built they are individually labeled with what is supposed to go in them to large, open “trash can” style bags. The benefit is a nice mix of versatility. The Zoot bag has specific compartments for a helmet, wet gear, glasses and phones, water bottles and dividers inside to further organize the load but it still retains a lot flexibility in how you load it. The total capacity works out to about 2,990 cubic inches, about the same as a big expedition backpack and plenty of capacity for everything you need on race day.
Starting from the top of the bag as it sits vertically there is a telescoping handle you’re used to seeing on well known luggage brands like Travel Pro, Tumi, Samsonite and others. This is a two-bar style handle like Travel Pro, a better design than single bar luggage. A foam filled grab handle is bar tack sewn and rivet reinforced to guard against grumpy TSA inspectors.
The first pocket you access from the top is a fleece lined pocket for sunglasses, cell phones and MP3 players. It’s easy to spot the zipper since its yellow color stands out against the black ballistic cloth fabric. This is good thinking considering you arrive at most races before sunrise. The yellow zipper makes it easy to find in the dark. We fit an iPhone in an Otterbox case and a pair of Oakley M Frames in the pocket with room to spare. This fleece lined glasses/electronics pocket is built into a top flap hinged with a large, roughly “U” shaped opening. Inside this opening is a thoughtful touch; an equipment checklist for triathletes. Ask any triathlete who forgot a helmet, cycling shoes or Bodyglide on race day how valuable this is. Nice touch.
The flap compartment under the helmet is likely where I’d locate my running shoes. There is a fine mesh floor to this compartment that is open on either end so small items placed in here will tend to settle toward the bottom of the bag. I’ve taken to using Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Shoe Sack to hold my running and cycling shoes since both are usually wet and dirty after a race. They prevent the other items in your bag from getting dirty from your shoes after the race.
Below the top compartment is a stack of two compartments, the outer one purpose built for a bike helmet. Zoot’s website carried one user review for the product with the ding that it couldn’t carry a long tail aero helmet. We fit a size Medium Bell Javelin teardrop shaped aero helmet in the helmet compartment of the Ultra Tri Carry On with a minimum of stuffing. The interior of the compartment is mesh, so one would do well to orient the pointy rear end of the helmet toward the floor, not against the mesh lining. With the new trend toward “tail-less” aero helmets (KASK and Giro so far) and aero tails getting shorter this helmet compartment with work with most aero helmets except the very long tailed designs like the Spiuk Crono. The outer shell of the helmet compartment is molded polymer for nice protection of your helmet when you’re cramming the bag into a skinny overhead on a Boeing 737 or other smaller commuter aircraft overhead compartment.
A second zipper surrounds the helmet compartment just below the helmet compartment zipper. This accesses a large, squarish compartment perfect for race clothes, sandals and other items. Zoot also includes a robust, polymer lined inner bag that snaps to the top of the next compartment, we’ll call the “zippered trunk” or bottom half of the bag. This inner bag is the purpose built wetsuit compartment. The robust fabric not only keeps the rest of your load from getting wet after you use your wetsuit, it also protects the wetsuit from snags during travel and packing. This is a strong design. Zoot built two mesh pockets on the inside back panel of this large compartment to carry accessories. A second set of wrap-around zippers, both top and bottom, allows you to access the compartments in front. This is a great design since it allows full access to all compartments whether the bag is standing up vertically, laying on it’s front or its back.
There is a second grab handle built on the bottom of the bag to haul it out of an airline overhead or from under a seat but no handles on the sides. Instead, Zoot placed an accessory pocket on one side great for a stick of BodyGlide, ear plugs, sunscreen and lip balm. It’s another big yellow zipper so its easy to find in low light. On the opposite side is a mesh bottle holder. Both sides feature two compression straps each to cinch the bag down and let it back out.
Zoot did a superb job designing roller-luggage with the Ultra Tri Carry On. It’s a purpose built roller transition bag design with a very good level of organization and nice capacity. If there is one thing I’m missing it’s a set of backpack straps. If you have to ride your bike to the transition area on race day getting this bag there means handing it off to a buddy who is driving there. In fairness to Zoot they have a backpack version of this bag called the Ultra Tri Bag that lacks the roller wheels and the pull handle, so you have alternatives. Considering the bulk of travel to any big event is spent in the airport and hotel and not from the hotel to the race venue, I’d opt for the wheeled version first.