Clothing and Accessory Reviews – TriSports University The place to learn about triathlon. Thu, 08 Feb 2018 19:09:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Clothing and Accessory Reviews – TriSports University 32 32 Swimskins – Worth It? Thu, 29 Jun 2017 20:39:07 +0000 The swimskin is one of the newest pieces of apparel in triathlon. As a thinner and smaller replacement for a wetsuit, swimskins are growing in popularity for warm-water triathlons. For triathletes who compete in swimming environments where wetsuits are not allowed, the swimskin is the perfect piece of gear to reduce friction in the water […]]]>

The swimskin is one of the newest pieces of apparel in triathlon. As a thinner and smaller replacement for a wetsuit, swimskins are growing in popularity for warm-water triathlons. For triathletes who compete in swimming environments where wetsuits are not allowed, the swimskin is the perfect piece of gear to reduce friction in the water and shave valuable time off your swim.

When should I consider a swim skin?
While a wetsuit is still the best in terms of offering buoyancy, warmth and speed, the swimskin is a great alternative when racing in non-wetsuit legal races to provide an advantage over traditional triathlon racing suits. You will want to consider buying a swimskin if you are racing in areas with mild temperatures. For WTC events, wetsuits are not allowed in water temperatures above 76.1 °F. The USA Triathlon rules state that wetsuits are not allowed in water temperatures above 78 °F. A swimskin is an excellent option if you will be swimming in small bodies of water or areas where the temperatures get high.

What is a swimskin in the first place?
If you have never heard of a swimskin, they are a skin-tight “speedsuit” that goes over your tri suit or race kit and extends from the knees to the shoulders. They do not offer buoyancy or warmth, but the compression allows you to maintain speed and hydrodynamics while swimming through the water. The suit is meant to smooth out the contours of your body and race kit so you can glide through the water and exert less effort. By making your body smoother and smaller, these skins enhance your speed by reducing friction that typical race kits produce against the water.

Originally, swimskins came out with no sleeves; however, more brands are now offering sleeved versions as more triathletes use sleeved tri suits. In past years, you could not wear a race kit that had sleeves under your swimskin. This meant that you had to roll up your sleeves or roll down your race kit to your waist underneath the swimskin. In 2016, the WTC changed the rules that allow sleeves above the elbow to be worn under your swimskin.

How should a swimskin fit?
The swimskin should fit your body very tightly. In most cases, they require a friend to help you zip it up. If they fit too loosely and the suit is flapping against your body, then the features that reduce drag will actually do the opposite. This is a piece of compression equipment, so it should feel tight. Keep in mind that it will feel much different once you get in the water than it will outside of it. Although each person has a different preference, you must choose the swimskin that is most comfortable to you.

What are the performance benefits?
While swimskins are fairly new, there have been some studies done on their performance. In a pool test by the U.S. Olympic swim team, swimskims saved an average of just over 2 seconds per 100 yards when compared to a typical training suit. In comparison, the wetsuit shaved off 6 seconds per 100 yards against the training suit.

There are several major races that are typically borderline non-wetsuit races. Those include the Ironman World Championships, 70.3 World Championships, Ironman Texas, Ironman Chattanooga, Ironman Louisville, Honu 70.3, Eagleman 70.3, Buffalo Springs 70.3, Muncie 70.3, Racine 70.3, Ohio 70.3, Boulder 70.3, Maine 70.3, Atlantic City 70.3, Augusta 70.3, New Orleans 70.3 and any local race that occurs in the summertime.

What are the key features?
If you think a swimskin would be beneficial to you, there are many brands to choose from. While each one has been tested and designed to enhance speed, there are differences in fit and feel. Some of the most popular brands include Blueseventy, TYR, and Zone3. Here are some features of each swimskin.

BlueSeventy PZ4TX

Differentiator: Advanced ultrasonic welded seams
Building on ten years of swimskin development, the PZ4TX swimskin features advanced ultrasonic welded seams for reduced drag, which means that the seams are welded together using radio frequency and heat to melt the edges together for a stronger seam. With a breathable material on the back of the suit, it helps regulate your temperature while in the warm water. This suit actually does not have a lanyard attached to the zipper to reduce friction the lanyard may cause in the water. The zipper locks in place when pointed down and unzips easily when pointed up.

Zone3 Swimskin

Differentiator: Revolutionary fabric, elite athlete feedback
Zone3’s latest suit is built upon seven years of testing, elite athlete feedback, and thousands of customer demos. Based on the extensive testing, Zone3 chose the revolutionary X2R woven fabric with glued and heat bonded seams for less drag and ultimate speed. The fabric is one of the lightest hydrophobic materials available. The legs have a fabric called Energy-D, which offers more compression so that your legs glide effortlessly through the water. There is a lanyard attached to the zipper to allow for easier transitions.

TYR Torque Swimskin Series

Differentiator: Double-layer technology
The Torque Swimskin Series is the latest of TYRs offerings. This swimskin is constructed with two layers, a hydrophilic outer layer that works with the water and a hydrophobic inner layer that repels water to keep you dry. The fabric is a composite knit fabric that allows your body to move freely. Each suit has a coil zipper for a quick transition and a beaded grip on the legs so that the suit will attach to your body and not move around in the water.

At the end of the day, each brand offers countless benefits and the features have been tested extensively. Many of these suits offer similar race times, so it really comes down to the feel of each suit. Whichever brand swimskin suits your fancy, the data is in and swimskins deliver that little extra advantage when it matters most.

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About the Author: Alyssa is a writer and the wife of an Ironman and TriSports Ambassador. Not much of an athlete herself, she has learned the sport of triathlon from her husband over his years of competition. Now she wants to share what she has learned as a spectator with other triathlete supporters. 
















Product Review: Giro Aerohead MIPS Helmet Fri, 07 Oct 2016 18:21:45 +0000 Written by Greg Billington, USA Olympic Triathlete Giro has been at the forefront of aerodynamic helmet design since creating the Giro Advantage in 1985. Between snow sports and cycling, they specialize in helmet, glasses, and apparel technology. Over the last three decades, they have been perfecting their trade; based on current wind tunnel testing, the […]]]>

Written by Greg Billington, USA Olympic Triathlete

Greg Billington on the left, testing the Giro Aerohead MIPS Helmet

Giro has been at the forefront of aerodynamic helmet design since creating the Giro Advantage in 1985. Between snow sports and cycling, they specialize in helmet, glasses, and apparel technology. Over the last three decades, they have been perfecting their trade; based on current wind tunnel testing, the new Aerohead series represents the pinnacle of their research, shaving 15 watts off their current Advantage series.

As I was preparing for the Rio Olympics and the ITU World Championships, my coach Paulo Sousa and I were looking for ways to save precious time. I invested in ceramic bearings, the nicest tires – when he saw the data on the new Giro Aerohead MIPS Helmet, we decided that we needed to try the product to see if it could be beneficial.

I ran it through the paces to see if it could be useful, even during a draft legal triathlon. There aren’t many opportunities for gains from an aero helmet during peloton racing, but when it does play a role, it is critical.

“If you don’t look fast, you aren’t doing it right!” -Greg Billington

The helmet is one of the fastest on the market. I wasn’t going to a wind tunnel, so with that as a given, my primary concerns were with transition time and cooling, although I also took into account comfort, safety, and looks as well. If you don’t look fast, you aren’t doing it right!


This helmet was designed with triathletes in mind. The visor can be stored in a flipped up position, which makes the helmet easier to put on. I practiced my transition a number of times, but had no issues with this stage of transition. The helmet buckle is slightly small, but with practice this is fine for T1. It takes practice to perfect putting the visor on with one hand while cycling; as with many things, the effort is worthwhile. In Cozumel, the race was so hot that I opted to race without the visor and use glasses instead. The vented holes in the Aerohead MIPS Helmet were perfect for inserting my glasses into, so I could put these on during the race and not waste time in T1.

At the Cozumel Elite World Championships, I had the fastest ride and made the swim/bike breakaway with seven other athletes. The helmet was critical during the first three minutes and in maintaining and increasing our advantage to 90 seconds over the 40k course. I was about 12th out of the water and needed to make up about 10 seconds before the breakaway was established. The helmet cannot be discounted as I was the last athlete to make the breakaway, ahead of four athletes who exited the water before me.

Photo: Viviane Sloniewicz
Photo: Viviane Sloniewicz Greg looks fast, so he must be doing it right!

I was impressed with the amount of ventilation this helmet offered. The four vents deliver a powerful flow of air while cycling. Both the Rio Olympics and the Cozumel World Championships were very warm races; Cozumel was 80-90% humidity and 80+ degrees during the bike ride. I opted to remove the visor to maximize cooling, but during training I felt good both with and without the visor. The brow pad is made out of a hydrophilic material, in order to efficiently wick away sweat and enhance cooling. It is, however, 14% warmer than the Giro’s Air Attack Shield, so take that into consideration if you are easily affected by the heat.

There is a significant amount of extra visibility when using visor instead of glasses. When wearing glasses, I have sweat build up on the lens about 45 minutes into most rides, which obscures my vision. Obviously, that was not an issue with the visor. It also provided more shielding so I was not constantly bothered by the usual cycling wind noise.

The visor is also cleverly designed so that it can be stored or placed in transition in the flipped up position. Among other benefits, this helps protect it and save space during travel.

Visor flipped up
Visor flipped up

The Aerohead MIPS Helmet is made with cutting edge technology. MIPS, multi-directional impact protection system, refers to the plastic insert designed to distribute force during side on impacts. This version is constructed with a polycarbonate shell and strong magnets so that the visor is always safely attached.

For Star Wars aficionados, this helmet is a dream come true. While I was leading the Cozumel World championships during the ride, my coach’s tweet gained in popularity:

Follow Paulo Sousa on Twitter @pstriathlon
Multi-purpose helmet, can be used on the bike and on the job

Even still, compared to other helmets of similar aerodynamic quality, I prefer this design. It eschews an extended tail or excessively rounded shape. If this design had initiated its category of aerodynamic advancement, perhaps we triathletes would not be ridiculed for this aspect of our obsession with speed, however, the shaven legs would probably still be an issue.

This is the best helmet I have used, maybe in a class of its own. In aerodynamic testing, it significantly improves over almost all aero helmets. In transition it is fast and, with a bit of practice, has the potential to be very fast. The venting, while minimal, is effective and well designed; I felt good competing in the sweat box that was the Cozumel World Championships. The $250 price tag is competitive and if you are trying to save watts while staying cool, there is every reason to invest in the Giro Aerohead MIPS Helmet.

38872-medium_gregbillington1About the Author: Greg Billington is a 2016 triathlon Olympian. Billington began swimming, at age 8. He discovered track and cross country in high school, where he ran at Wake Forest University. Billington’s first international triathlon competition was in 2006 racing for the U.S. in the ITU Elite Junior Worlds. He is part of the USA Triathlon Project 2016 Squad and coached by the one and only, the USA Triathlon Certified Coach, Paulo Sousa.

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Product Review: Zone3 Vanquish Triathlon Wetsuit Fri, 16 Sep 2016 21:22:33 +0000 Written by Keri Ouellete, Field Test Expert Zone3 is a British triathlon brand, founded by former pro triathlete, James Lock, in 2007. Lock used his engineering background to design a line of wetsuits and tri apparel using the latest technology with a focus on creating a high performance product. Lock’s designs went through extensive testing […]]]>

Written by Keri Ouellete, Field Test Expert

2016-08-26-11-15-38Zone3 is a British triathlon brand, founded by former pro triathlete, James Lock, in 2007. Lock used his engineering background to design a line of wetsuits and tri apparel using the latest technology with a focus on creating a high performance product. Lock’s designs went through extensive testing by elite athletes before the launch of the company’s first product line in 2009. Since then, Zone3 wetsuits have continued to win awards and top reviews, including the “Best in Class” award from Triathlete magazine for the 2016 Vanquish. While the company has focused on wetsuits and tri apparel, it has recently launched a swimwear line and is looking to expand the brand to include apparel and products for running and cycling as well.

In purchasing my first triathlon wetsuit several years ago, I assumed that they were generally all the same. After trying a few different brands and styles, most recently the Zone3 Vanquish, I can tell you that styles, fit and quality of triathlon wetsuits can vary quite a bit. The 2016 Vanquish is considered by Zone3 to be the company’s “best ever wetsuit.” It has been designed for speed and comfort with improved overall flexibility and added buoyancy in the waist, hips, and upper legs.

Materials and Construction
When comparing wetsuits, prices vary widely, anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000. This price difference is largely due to the variation in the quality of materials used. Less expensive wetsuits typically use Yamamoto 38 neoprene, while higher end wetsuits use Yamamoto 39 and 40, accounting for the higher price points. The Vanquish stands out in its use of high-end materials and how these materials are constructed to maximize their benefits. The Vanquish is made of a combination of Yamamoto 39 (best flexibility) for the lower body, Yamamoto 40 (best for durability for thinner panels) for the upper body and also uses the highly buoyant NBR panels at the hips. The greater durability of the Yamamoto 40 neoprene allows for a super thin and supple 1.5mm panel wrapping around the chest to the shoulders and back. The thinness of the shoulder panel allows for a very natural range of motion, almost like swimming without a wetsuit. The core and legs of the wetsuit consist of 2mm, 3mm, and 5mm panels (the thickest allowed by USAT) of varying materials to maximize buoyancy and support of the hips and legs.


Comfort First and Foremost
The Vanquish is, by far, the most comfortable wetsuit I have swam in. In addition to the flexibility of the materials used, the Silk-Fit liner is super soft and adds to the overall comfort of the suit. One of the features I was looking for in a wetsuit is a lower neckline, so as not to feel constricted around the neck when swimming. The Vanquish has an ideally low neckline and uses the 1.5mm neoprene panel around the neck for improved comfort and flexibility in this area.

Flexible and Buoyant
Even though the wetsuit was a little tighter than I would have liked, especially in the shoulder area (I’m probably in between sizes, but prefer to size down), I still felt very comfortable swimming in the suit and did not feel any restriction in arm movements. The women’s Vanquish is designed to be wider at the hips for a better fit. With swimmers’ bodies in mind, a bit more room in the shoulders may be preferable for some, but with the flexibility of the material used, the suit stretches to fit all body types well. For most triathletes, the added buoyancy around the hips and lower legs is ideal. However, for some that may already swim with the hips high in the water, it may require a slight adjustment in body positioning to make up for the added buoyancy.


Additional Features
The other features of the Vanquish that the company promotes include the “cool-spot” forearm catch panels and the “Pro Speed Cuffs.” I was skeptical of the effectiveness of the catch panels before trying the suit, but I found that I appreciated being able to “feel” the water a little bit more during the pull phase. It’s hard to compare how much the “Pro Speed Cuffs” help in removing the wetsuit compared to other wetsuit brands, but I did not have any trouble getting the suit off. I also noticed that, despite the thinness of the material, it seemed quite durable and able to hold up for many quick T1 transitions of ripping the wetsuit off in a hurry. Additionally, I should note that the Vanquish is one of the more fashionable wetsuits available. The purple cuffs (red for the men’s suit) are a nice accent that stands out in a sea of all black suits.

The color and style and other added features are nice, but overall, the Vanquish is most notable for its innovative use of materials to improve comfort and flexibility to make for a fast, smooth swim. The noticeable benefits of comfort, buoyancy and durability make the Vanquish a worthwhile investment.

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What’s the Point of Compression Clothing Mon, 22 Aug 2016 12:39:54 +0000 Written by Nate Deck, TriSports Champion Team Athlete Knee high socks on a hot day? Compression tights? Those look uncomfortable. Those look goofy. That’s just one of those trends that will pass sooner or later. Maybe you have heard, thought, or even said some of these things. Let’s dive in and cut through the myths […]]]>

Written by Nate Deck, TriSports Champion Team Athlete

Knee high socks on a hot day? Compression tights? Those look uncomfortable. Those look goofy. That’s just one of those trends that will pass sooner or later. Maybe you have heard, thought, or even said some of these things. Let’s dive in and cut through the myths and misconceptions around compression apparel.

What Is Compression Clothing?
The first thing to know is that compression socks (or other clothing) are not just tight socks. Compression clothing has graded compression. The compression is tighter towards the extremities and gets looser as it gets closer to the core. That means compression socks will be tighter at the feet and ankles than they are at the calf and knee. This helps aid in blood flow from the extremities back to the heart.

The idea behind this comes from the medical field where compression clothing has been prescribed for patients at risk of blood clots for various reasons, such as sedentary lifestyles, diabetes, and so on. My brother was even prescribed compression socks because he was in such good shape aerobically, that after sitting for a long period of time he would pass out when he stood up due to blood pooling in his feet. Athletes took this concept of increased blood flow and realized that it would lead to more oxygen being available to the working muscles.


Does It Even Work?
The next question is obvious…do they even work? The answer is not as clear cut as some manufacturers would have you believe. While there are multiple studies on the topic, none of them are 100% conclusive. Some even conflict one another. On the one hand, many of the studies have been done in a lab setting, testing athletes in simulations of various activities of shorter duration and high intensity, such as 5K runs and even rugby. None of these showed a definite increase in performance, but some of them did show a quicker recovery with the use of compression socks or tights.

The most applicable test was performed at the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon in South Africa. What sets this test apart from the others was that it was performed in a real world scenario, as well as being the only test for a long distance event. The results showed the runners wearing compression socks averaged 12 minutes faster than those without them, and their muscles showed fewer signs of damage than the other runners. The runners were also tested 24 and 48 hours after the race. Those wearing compression gear were further along in their recovery than those without compression gear.

Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross pulls on compression sleeves before a 400-meter race at the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Istanbul in 2012.
Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross pulls on compression sleeves.

The scientist running the test, Elmarie Terblanche, indicated that the results are probably due to multiple things. First of all, during the race, the socks supported the muscles and reduced the amount of wear and tear throughout the event. Second, the recovery was also aided by this support allowing the muscles to heal in a pseudo soft cast. The final aspect was the increased blood flow, which, in turn, increased the speed of the natural healing functions in the muscles.

The take-away from this is that while compression gear may not give an immediate boost in performance, it may delay fatigue and prevent unnecessary muscle damage in longer events. It also helps speed up the recovery process, especially within the first 24 hours and when used in conjunction with other tried and true recovery methods like foam rolling, ice baths, and elevation.

Calf Sleeves
Compression Calf Sleeves

Should I Wear Them?
Ah, yes. The final question. Should I wear compression gear? Assuming you read the sections above, I would guess you can probably answer that for yourself. While I wouldn’t put them on for the first time on race day and expect a PR (aside from the whole “nothing new on race day” concept), I would say that using compression during and immediately after your long run is a safe bet for increased performance. Recovery is just as important as training. The ability to recover after a hard workout and hit the next one just as hard will definitely increase your performance if done consistently over time. Adding compression garments to your recovery arsenal is a good move if you get some quality gear and use it consistently.

About the Author: Nate is a husband, father, and teacher. When he’s not hanging out with teenagers he can be found swimming, biking, and running around central North Carolina or on twitter @n8deck.

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Choosing a Wetsuit: Buoyancy is not everything! Mon, 28 Mar 2016 22:39:47 +0000 Written by Eric Levario, Age-Group Triathlete and Customer Service Specialist There is a lot of angst and a lot of questions that come up when looking for a wetsuit for triathlons. I emphasize “for triathlon” because these suits fit tight and allow minimal amounts of water in your suit. The term wetsuit implies that water […]]]>

Written by Eric Levario, Age-Group Triathlete and Customer Service Specialist


There is a lot of angst and a lot of questions that come up when looking for a wetsuit for triathlons. I emphasize “for triathlon” because these suits fit tight and allow minimal amounts of water in your suit. The term wetsuit implies that water will enter your suit and that is to be expected. Your body will warm this water and it will act as the insulating barrier when swimming in chilly water. If your suit lets in too much water, this will diminish the buoyancy your suit provides and may indicate your suit is too large.

Now how do you pick the right wetsuit for you? It seems easy to look at the sizing charts provided by Blueseventy or HUUB and see where you fit in their sizing charts. I caution you though; one person’s perfect fitting suit may feel too tight to another person. This has to do with general comfort levels and the experience of the triathlete in a triathlon wetsuit. It’s important to remember that these suits are going to feel tight. It may feel a little uncomfortable because it’s squeezing your chest and may give you the feeling of claustrophobia. The best advice I can give you is to do your best to get comfortable with a little discomfort. Walk around your living room with the wetsuit on, take a shower in it, and get it wet. What you’ll find is the suit will loosen a bit. When you feel comfortable, go for a swim. You’ll find that a suit that you thought did not fit you may actually be the perfect one for you. Here are some tips to consider when looking for a wetsuit.111

Buoyancy is not everything
Most triathlon wetsuits are made the same way. They have thin neoprene through the shoulders and neck, and thick neoprene on the low torso and legs. While this distribution of thicknesses seems perfect for those of us who drag our feet, it is not ideal for everyone. This distribution is made to correct a less than ideal swimming position by bringing the legs up, like a pool buoy. If you come from a swimming background or lead your masters swim practice, you may find that a traditional wetsuit lifts your hips too high. This gives the feeling that you’re swimming downhill. Contrary to the belief that this should be faster, it is slower and requires adjusting swimming form. If you already have a good hydrodynamic position, you do not need the additional flotation in your legs and hips. What you need is a uniform, buoyancy suit that offers balance. You may have worked hard to perfect your position. A balanced suit will provide the needed improvement in buoyancy in an effort to stay balanced in the water. You should not have to learn to swim in an unbalanced suit if you don’t need the help. You may have come across suits that are built different, like the new 2XU Ghost or the HUUB Archimedes 4:4. These suits have one thing in common; they don’t follow the usual construction of traditional triathlon wetsuits. These suits are designed for already strong swimmers who don’t need that extra lift.


Comfort is king 
I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a suit that fits properly. When selecting a suit based off a size chart, keep in mind that there was a model the suit was made after. This means the suit was made to fit a certain body that was likely not yours. When looking at a sizing chart, base your size guess from the weight chart, rather than the height. This will give you a better chance of finding a suit that will likely fit. It’s ok if you wear a size large wetsuit but usually wear a medium trisuit. If you’re comfortable, you’re usually faster. That’s all that matters in triathlon.

Don’t just go for the cheapest wetsuit
Wetsuit fit and comfort is a personal thing. You may look at a high-end wetsuit and think “That’s crazy! No suit is worth that much!” The difference between an entry-level wetsuit and a high-end suit is much more than just price. Entry-level suits are generally made with low-priced neoprene (a.k.a. rubber). This neoprene is very durable, but flexibility is limited. The majority of triathlon wetsuits are constructed with a certain type of neoprene called Yamamoto. They are generally constructed with one of three different grades. The three grades are Yamamoto 38, 39, and 40.

Yamamoto 38 is what the majority of entry-level suits are made with. It is durable, and the least expensive of Yamamoto rubber. This grade also has the least flexibility of the three. This rubber is used in the TYR Category C1 and C3. This will give you a very desirable price for an entry-level wetsuit. When getting into the sport of triathlon, it is a cost-effective way to get a suit without breaking the bank.


Yamamoto 39 is the mid to high level grade of rubber. This is used mostly in middle to high level wetsuits like the TYR Hurricane C5. One of the best “bang for your buck” materials, as it provides greater flexibility and gives up little in durability over Yamamoto 38. The rubber is more supple and will give you improved comfort through your swim.

Yamamoto 40 is a high-level grade of rubber. This rubber is very pricey and usually is only found in high dollar suits. These are the TYR Freak of Nature, Blueseventy Helix, Zone3 Victory D, and other top of the line suits that have a bit of sticker shock with them. This rubber has the most flexibility, is light in weight, and will feel the softest to touch. When a suit is made with this neoprene, the whole point of it is comfort and flexibility. With the flexibility, however, the suit is less durable and is more susceptible to damage from fingernail holes and tearing because of its supple material.

With these grades in mind, you may want to think about what is most important when deciding on a suit. For the majority of people, Yamamoto 38 and 39 are the best value for the money. When in doubt, try them on. You will not know how a suit really fits until you go for a swim with it.


Don’t just go for the most expensive wetsuit either
We know the attitude that the more money you spend the better quality product you’re going to get. In the case of wetsuits, some people feel that the highest dollar option will give them the best time-savings. This is not the case with wetsuits. While marketers can talk all day long about the features that their wetsuit has that will make you faster, more comfortable, and give more flexibility, the fit of your suit is much more important than how much you spend on it. A well-fitting, entry-level suit will ultimately be faster for you than an ill-fitting top of the line suit. This means that if you find comfort in a lower dollar wetsuit, you are not giving up much time to a high-end suit. We’re talking seconds for a full IRONMAN swim.

There are many wetsuits out there which can make these decisions difficult. Now you are better and more informed to make the right decision for you. Knowing how wetsuits are made and with what materials will help you weigh your options on which suit is the best bang for your buck. For some, that will be high-quality neoprene in the shoulders and neck. Others will look at the makeup of the suit to aid their swimming form. Whatever is most important, you will be able to make an educated decision on what these new wetsuits have to offer and what will give you the greatest benefits.

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Night Runner 270 – Clip-On Running Shoe Lights Wed, 02 Dec 2015 20:16:06 +0000 Written by Seton Claggett, CEO and Chief Gear Guy There are two reasons you need lights for running at night – to see what’s in front of you and for others to see you coming. I was given the Night Runner 270 Shoe Lights to try at the end of their beta testing and […]]]>

Written by Seton Claggett, CEO and Chief Gear Guy

There are two reasons you need lights for running at night – to see what’s in front of you and for others to see you coming. I was given the Night Runner 270 Shoe Lights to try at the end of their beta testing and I have to say that I was rather excited to be able to run at night without a headlamp. These rechargeable lights simply clip onto your shoelaces and light up the ground directly in front of you. There are three settings: high beam, low beam, and flashing. As an added feature, there is also a side, red light for some rear and side visibility.

I do a lot of product testing and this was the first product I have ever used where people stopped me in the middle of a workout and asked me questions about it. I was blown away that a couple walking their dog down the street wanted to talk about the lights shining from my shoes as I emerged from the darkness. Then it dawned on me that the usefulness of these lights extends far beyond the reaches of endurance athletes getting their nightly endorphin rush. Walkers, joggers, and hikers can all benefit from this unique product. For those of you doing long relay runs (i.e. Ragnar, Reach The Beach, Hood to Coast, etc.), I think these lights should be required by the race organizers.


As my testing continued over several evening runs, I realized that my goal of no headlamp was not to be. Unfortunately, this is because I happen to live in a part of the country that if you make one wrong step you could be in an incredible amount of pain because of cactus and our friendly, neighborhood rattlesnakes. The one test I enjoyed the most was how oncoming traffic responded to my light setup (keep in mind, that there are no sidewalks where I run so you are either in the dirt or on the road). I will insert the obligatory legal disclosure: This test was done by a professional runner on a closed course…..or was it an amateur runner on an open course? I digress; I tested just the Night Runner 270, just my head lamp, and then both at the same time. I was very surprised how the oncoming cars reacted to the lights. Using the headlamp and Night Runners individually, the cars moved over about 2-3 feet. However, when I used the Night Runners and my headlamp in conjunction with one another, it was like using the Force to move cars 6-10 feet away from me.

While I clearly do not recommend others trying this at home, just know that the combination creates a lighting effect that is enough to wake drivers up and know that something from another world is coming their way!

night-runner-270-shoe-lights-22 NIGHT

From a practicality standpoint, these lights work great. Simply charge them up with the provided split USB cable, clip them onto your laces, turn them on and get your butt moving. The split USB cable is key because it enables you to charge both lights at the same time. One problem I experienced on a couple of runs was that one of the lights would move out of position and eject off my shoe. For me, it was a matter of trial and error to pick the right position on the shoes, but after that I was good to go.

In summary, the Night Runner 270 Shoe Lights are great for high visibility, lighting up the ground in front of you as well as providing contrast to the immediate terrain. I wouldn’t count on these lights for an epic trail run, but I am certainly going to keep mine close by because they probably provide some of the best safety out there when it comes to running near traffic.

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Swim Speed Secrets; Your Most Important Swim Tool. Tue, 21 Aug 2012 22:48:18 +0000 Triathletes Struggle with Swimming. If there were One Authoritative Guide to Freestyle Swimming it may be the most Valuable "Toolbox" most Triathletes could own. Triathlete, Olympian and Coach Sheila Taormina may have just given us that toolbox. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Taormina's "Swim Speed Secrets" is more than a book about swimming, it's a concise tool kit for rapid improvement of your stroke and in-depth understanding of freestyle swim technique for the triathlete.

Swim Speed Secrets, the new book by the consummate athlete/student/coach, Sheila Taormina, provides ways to fix your swim stroke in time for this weekend, then in-depth tools to improve your swim split permanently. Taormina’s Swim Speed Secrets is a compendium and reference, a tool box no triathlon swimmer can afford to ignore. Even the accomplished pool swimmer will benefit. There is so much to like about Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Secrets it’s hard to name one best feature.

Swim Speed Secrets cuts to the chase, giving triathletes what they need to swim freestyle faster now.

QR codes in "Swim Speed Secrets" access quick video guides to stroke drills you can use at poolside.

The concise 174-page Swim Speed Secrets is also a multi-media resource, with a set of QR codes in the index to access exclusive video that provide Sheila’s own approach to what makes your stroke better. The videos are quick and pointed, like having Sheila there at poolside. In the first 1:41 of the first video I learned more about arm position than from any other single resource, as well as picking up a useful drill. She shows you the drill or technique you’ll be practicing then lets you get in the lane and do it. I used the little video guides at the pool as a virtual coach on my iPhone that allows me to stop between sets and quickly review key techniques and drills. This ability to repeat the same concise message is key to ingraining those skills. It’s a little like having Sheila Taormina at poolside.

Arranged like a well written text book, key information is depicted with photos and graphics and summarized in bullet points for quick reference.

Part of what I found effective in Taormina’s Speed Secrets is the general layout and organization of the text. Most triathletes don’t want to read a book about swim technique. They likely treat the topic the way a college student treats a text book: they’ll learn what they need in order to get through the course. As a long time coach for triathletes Sheila obviously recognizes this. She organized key nuggets of information, the “things you’ll need to know on the test” and arranged them in a synoptic outline at the end of each chapter. If time and motive mean your first interaction with Swim Speed Secrets is a quick scan at poolside before your workout, you still bring away the high level concepts to improve your stroke. It’s likely these conceptual break-outs will also pull you into the rich text that discusses a long list of hydrodynamics, physics, training philosophies and physiology. You’ll keep going back to Swim Speed Secrets as a resource.

Taormina is uniquely qualified to be be a swim technique author to triathletes. Her experience as an Olympic competitor is unmatched and her ability to learn- and teach- new sports is demonstrated through her own ecclectic athletic background. Here she is at the 2000 Olympic Trials in Dallas for the first every Olympic triathlon, an event she won in commanding fashion.

As an author few people are better qualified to write for the rank n’file triathlete than Taormina. She is the consummate athletic student, and teacher. Taormina has proven her ability to adopt to teaching the “beginner’s mind” and to learn new sports herself. First she was an Olympic Gold Medal swimmer, then an ITU World Champion and Olympic Triathlete. She won the 2005 Pan Am Championships in the Olympic Pentathlon. Taormina is the only Olympic athlete in history to qualify for the Olympics in three completely different sports. If you consider her multisport focus she really had to qualify in no less than six different and unrelated sports, all with significant athletic and technical requirements to compete at the Olympic level. Taormina has competed at swimming, cycling, running, shooting, equestrian and fencing on her Olympic dossier. She is a real world Lara Croft; skilled at a wide range of athletics and a scholar as well.

Insights into dry land training using pull cords to improve fitness and maintain form are included in "Speed Secrets".

Disclaimer: I have both been a client of and worked with Sheila. More importantly, I’m a big fan of her. Putting my reviewer hat back on and grading her most recent project I see that Taormina has taken what she does so well at poolside with her athletes and distilled that into Swim Speed Secrets. Taormina has seen thousands of open water and competitive swimmers of all levels. The insights and lessons provided in Speed Secrets are the distillation of those decades of experience, thousands of hours of coaching and training and thousands of competitions in only 174 pages. The challenge for Taormina was to fit it all in there. In Swim Speed Secrets she has done that. This book is a more effective training aid than paddles, a kickboard and even a swimming pool.

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KASK Bambino: The New Look of Aero? Fri, 17 Aug 2012 00:43:08 +0000 The "Bobtail" Aerodynamic Helmet is trending for 2013. Premier Italian Helmet Maker KASK showed us two of of their offerings slated for late 2012 release. Take a detailed look at the New Paradigm in Aero Helmets here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

The new KASK Bambino aerodynamic time trial helmet takes a different approach to aero helmet design that may be more practical for triathletes. It's less "alien" appearance compared to cone-shaped helmets is certainly easier to be seen in.

A paradigm shift is when our established belief set is shifted to a new perspective. Triathletes accustomed to pointy-tail aero helmets may be entering a paradigm shift with aero helmet design as several helmet brands, including KASK and Giro, are showing “bobtail” or short tail aero helmets for the 2013 season. The helmets have already had exposure and competitive success in professional cycling events like the Olympics and the Tour de France. Some bobtails have shown up in pro triathlon as pre-production samples make their way to the U.S.

A visual comparison of a pointed-tail aerodynamic time trial helmet (in black) and the new KASK Bambino in white.

U.S. Sales reps for KASK helmets, including Jason McCormack of Velo Persona, are showing samples of the new KASK Bambino aerodynamic helmet now. The Bambino is a departure from long tail aerodynamic time trial helmets. It’s smooth design and largely vent-less outer shell are claimed to offer an even greater aerodynamic benefit than longer pointed tail designs. While brands will always argue their own test data and protocols, it may be arguable that a tail-less design like the Bambino could offer practical advantages. For riders who move their head a lot on the bike, the bobtails may be particularly appealing.

The pointed-tail aero helmet design on the left and the KASK Bambino on the right.

The Bambino uses a smooth, egg-shaped shell with a unique, dual internal and external ventilation system. There are six small shark-gill slits in the front and four miniature slits in the rear under the tail. Although the vents appear to be minimal from the outside they are actually an efficient, sophisticated design according to Marc Katz, Cycling Sales Manager for KASK. Part of the cooling system is internal, using channels that manage airflow between the head and the inner helmet to remove heat. Another ventilation system removes heat between the polypropelene inner shell and the polycarbonate outer shell, cooling the shell in addition to the rider’s head according to Katz. The net result is a helmet that remains cool despite an outward appearance of few vents.  The external vents are positioned at high pressure areas on the front and rear to optimize their effectiveness according to KASK while the internal channels help exhaust warm air near the head. We didn’t get a chance to ride in the KASK Bambino on a hot Tucson day so we can’t offer a perspective on its hot weather performance but this concept sounds promising.

Bambino has a total of ten miniscule vents front and rear.

The Bambino helmet covers your ears almost entirely, another claimed aerodynamic feature. The ear section was moderately flexible so the helmet can be donned quickly in the swim to bike transition. There is no rotating/ratcheting adjustment for hatband fit inside the helmet. Instead, a hook and loop system facilitates custom fitting to head circumference and shape but cannot be adjusted on the fly.

The chin strap on the Bambino is typical KASK luxury and attention to detail. The strap harness is entirely hand made in Italy along with the rest of the helmet. Based on our use of similar strap design and material on KASK road helmets this strap will not irritate your chin even in extremely hot weather. It is designed to maintain secure grip and angle without feeling too tight.

The ear sections on the KASK Bambino are flexible enough for quick donning and removal in transitions. The chinstrap design on the Bambino, and all KASK brand helmets, is industry best producing no irritation on hot days and maintaining a low profile, aerodynamic shape. These details establish the KASK brand as a leader.

Adjustment and buckling hardware are easy to use and feel durable. The entire inside of the helmet uses temperature and moisture management textiles including proprietary 3D Dry fabric made by a well known Italian automotive marque to dissipate heat in Formula 1 and high end sports car cockpits. These textiles also resist odor from perspiration and wick moisture.

The fit and finish on the KASK Bambino is very good, even in our short test. Comfort is exceptional, especially at the chinstrap and forehead. The helmet was stable and did not feel bulky, it has a trim, compact fit in contrast to astronaut-like full size aero helmets. It’s reduced profile means you’ll look less alien-esque in your race photos.

Interior detail, fit and finish on the KASK Bambino may be industry best. Notice details like molded detents in the expanded polystyrene helmet liners for ear comfort and the well designed chinstrap hardware.

At 349 grams the KASK Bambino is relatively light weight. It is sold with a padded, zippered carrying case for airline carry-on or packing inside your bike flight case.

 The KASK Bambino is slated for “late September 2012” release to the U.S. retail market with a somewhat bracing $499 price tag. When I challenged KASK on the price they listed the unique materials used in the helmet construction along with new design aspects of the helmet that are so utterly unique, some are patented.

At 349 grams measured weight our KASK Bambino sample was relatively light compared to other full size aero helmets. The helmet is sold with a travel bag for airline carry on or flight case packing.

 Production helmets will ship with a proprietary clear magnetic visor for claimed improvement in aerodynamics and easy installation and removal that was not available with our test helmet. It has been used by pro teams and sponsored athletes. Five different tint visor options will be available in the future according to KASK’s Marc Katz.

It isn’t difficult to imagine that the Bambino will sell well in a sport of $1000+ wetsuits and $10,000+ bikes. If a customer has the discretionary income and the technical knowledge to appreciate the features and benefits it’s actually a logical purchase since competitive wind tunnel tests all suggest an aero helmet provides a tangible time savings.

KASK Vertigo Tri.

The KASK Vertigo Tri is based on the Vertigo road helmet with a new, structural aerodynamic shell featuring unique vents to optimize cooling.

Another new KASK bobtail aero offering is the KASK Vertigo Tri, a more aerodynamic version of their conventional KASK Vertigo road helmet. The Vertigo Tri has the same shell as the standard Vertigo but without the cut-outs.

Ventilation on the Vertigo Tri features venturis at the rear of the helmet and unusual "chimney" type heat exchanges at the top of the helmet. The top mounted exchanges vent in cool air while warm air exhausts out the back. At low speeds on steep climbs the chimney vents allow heat to rise out of the helmet.

The Vertigo Tri also uses a vent system that shows promise for keeping the helmet cool on long climbs when forward speed decreases and heat needs to rise out of the helmet to keep the rider cool. Four distinct ventilation ports on top of the Vertigo Tri allow warm air to rise and escape even at low climbing speeds. These ports also allow a rider to dump water on their head without it running forward over their face, but down the back of their head and neck according to KASK.

The KASK helmet (right) features a hard shell that wraps completely under the helmet brim, protecting the expanded polystyrene underneath and improving safety and durability. The competing brand on the left has exposed EPS foam on the edge, a less durable design.

The interior of the KASK Vertigo Tri is as luxurious as other KASK models. KASK has become known as a high-end helmet leader partially for this reason. KASK helmets are hand made in Italy and KASK is known for their industrial, ski and mountaineering helmets along with their high end cycling line. The unique attention to detail starts with the hard outer shell wrapping under the helmet rim for improved durability and protection compared to brands where the hard shell ends at the rim of the helmet leaving the expanded polystyrene foam exposed and prone to wear and damage.

KASK continues the finely detailed chin strap on the Vertigo Tri with excellent, comfortable hardware and reflective trim on the strap. The Vertigo Tri weighs 293 grams in a size Medium.

Chin strap detail remains typically hand-made Italian KASK quality with the addition of reflective trim on the Vertigo Tri strap. The helmet weighed in at 293 grams measured weight total for a size labelled “M”.

Further details included a set of blue polymer “grippers” inside the hinged helmet stabilizer that help the helmet stay in place on your head. These grip well but did not pull our tester’s hair.

The KASK Vertigo Tri is slated for “late 2012” release according to KASK and will retail for $299. Another version of the KASK Mojito helmet with an aerodynamic, drag reduction shell is in the works for later in 2014 and was seen on riders during 2012 suggesting development is in the later stages.

The KASK helmet stabilizer is industry best. It pivots for perfect fit and comfort and features polymer non-skid grippers that do not pull hair.

Both new offerings from KASK join the increasing design theme that trends away from pointy tail aero helmets. The KASK versions enter at the high end with features, quality and price point that make the KASK models aspirational and likely to spearhead the category. Subsequent brand introductions will be the “trickle down” from these ideas. Giro also plans a bobtail aero helmet release with their Air Attack as seen at this year’s Tour de France. Given these releases for late 2012 it seems logical other popular helmet brands like Louis Garneau and Giro stablemate, Bell Helmets, may show bobtail designs.

KASK's new bobtail aero helmets will likely lead the new category as other brands follow the new trend in aero helmet development.
Blueseventy TX2000 Tri Suit. Fri, 10 Aug 2012 20:56:30 +0000 Blueseventy brings their wealth of swim experience to the TX2000 Men's and Women's one-piece triathlon suit. What may be most surprising (and impressive) about the suit is how well it works on the bike and the run. Try it on here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Blueseventy's TX2000 Men's and Women's trisuits bring their aquatic design knowledge to a trisuit for the entire race.

Blueseventy’s TX2000 trisuit shows what happens when an aquatic based brand segues into all-event triathlon apparel. The result is a strong offering in a one-piece trisuit especially for non-wetsuit legal swims when you are swimming in just a trisuit.

Blueseventy got their start in 1993 as a swim company rooted in triathlon. Their primary product category was- and remains- wetsuits and swim skins. The brand got a huge bump with the emergence of the swim skin, a hydrodynamic one piece swim suit for men and women that improves swim speed. Top Olympians and Kona Ironman competitors who aren’t allowed to wear buoyant neoprene wetsuits have used Blueseventy swimskins with success. Blueseventy’s movement into all-event triathlon apparel seemed like a natural evolution for the brand.

Good design features onthe TX 2000 include a supportive top in the women's and cool mesh back on the men's

A factor that set Blueseventy apart in the early swimskin and wetsuit days was well conceived design. Because they are a swim company at their core (the name “Blueseventy” refers to 70% of the the earth being covered in water) their designs usually include a swim emphasis. The TX2000 trisuit is no exception. Even with the swim emphasis the TX2000 has very impressive dry land run and bike features.

The Blueseventy TX2000 starts with gossamer weight 210 gm per square meter UVX fabric. The four way stretch fabric was completely opaque on our testers, even fair skinned models wearing dark colors in bright sunlight. You can’t see through the fabric when wet and stretched. Part of the reason for the great modesty characteristics is a fabric process called “calendaring”. Blueseventy passes the fabric through a series of heavy cylinder presses, or “calendars”. This calendar pressing flattens the polymer/synthetic based fibers increasing the effective density of the fabric and pressing fibers together. Another benefit of calendared fabric is less water absorption and better hydrodynamics in the swim and improved aerodynamics on the bike.

The Schoeller Coldblack fabric treatment reduces heat while the "calendaring" treatment on the fabric improves hydrodynamics, aerodynamics and helps the fabric remain opaque.

Calendaring does make a given fabric less vapor permeable, so it does breath less. Blueseventy countered this by arranging stretch mesh panels in the back to facilitate cooling and using Schoeller Coldblack fabric finish. Coldblack by Schoeller is a breakthrough in temperature control for fabrics. It reflects infra-red radiation and produces a claimed 5 degree Celsius (9 degree Fahrenheit) reduction in skin temperature under the garment. We’ve tested Schoeller Coldblack in Louis Garneau triathlon apparel in the Tucson, Arizona desert with a noticeable reduction in our perceived heat level on very hot (100 degree Fahrenheit+) days.

Another holdover from Blueseventy’s swimskins in the TX2000 trisuit is incredible fit. The fabric has remarkable 700% elongation meaning it can stretch and fit precisely. This skin-tight fit improves swim performance but is also a significant benefit in aerodynamics on the bike. The women’s version has enough support for braless use up to a “C” cup and features a secure feeling racer back design also borrowed from Blueseventy’s swim legacy.

Blueseventy uses a nicely detailed YKK zipper on the TX2000 with an anti-snag draft flap and a flexible polymer YKK pull tab to prevent noise and poking your neck. The entire front is sleek and seam free.

Seams on the Blueseventy TX2000 are oriented along the length of the body, not horizontally, for better hydrodynamics in the swim and better aerodynamics on the bike. A striking feature is the complete lack of seams running across the front of the body. This not only improves swim and bike performance it feels better running and looks more sleek. Blueseventy built two swimmable, hydrodynamic cargo pockets into the back of the suit. The pockets placed over the kidney area have reflective trim fulfilling the reflective requirement some ultra-distance races have. A stretch flap covers the top of the pockets to prevent trapping water when swimming but makes for easy access to pocket contents on the bike or run. Blueseventy mentions the pockets have “triple pocket orientation” which we found curious since there are only two pockets. Perhaps this refers to their excellent design across all three events.

Blueseventy built a stretch, endurance pad into the saddle area of the suit that is quick drying and features a narrow contour in the forward portion to avoid feeling the pad during the run. This molded, seamless pad offers plenty of comfort and protection for Ironman distance bike rides if your bike position is good and you are saddle acclimated. The pad absolutely vanishes on the run.

Well designed pockets that don't trap water in the swim and precise (but not too tight) fitting legs with minimal grippers add to the feature list.

Leg length on this suit is 12″ (30.5 centimeters) on a size medium measured from the center of the crotch to the bottom of the leg. The leg openings use minimal grippers in the form of dots. Our male photoshoot model did not have shaved legs (see our photos) and we had no issues with hair pulling or the legs not staying in place.

The entire suit uses different stretch densities for graduated compression but has forgiving leg openings that don’t bind or constrict. The back panel uses Velo Mesh four way stretch mesh for ventilation. The men’s suit uses a 10″ (25.5 cm) front zipper and has a draft flap behind it to reduce water entry, prevent it from pulling hair when zipped up or down and features a soft YKK polymer pull tab that does not rattle when running and won’t poke your neck or helmet chinstrap on the bike- a thoughtful detail from Blueseventy. The women’s suit uses a high, hydrodynamic and aerodynamic neck design to prevent the front of the suit from scooping water in the swim and air on the bike in the aero position. The larger bust a triathlete has the more benefit so this is a thoughtful detail on the women’s version that also adds to support.

A swimmable, stretch synthetic saddle pad is substantial enough for Iron-distance but disappears on the run.

At $170 MSRP the Blueseventy TX2000 competes with a number of high end trisuits but has a strong feature list including the hydrodynamic/aerodynamic seam orientation, Schoeller Coldblack fabric cooling treatment, calendared fabric finish, thoughtful zipper details, good pocket design, high end saddle pad and sleek precise fit. This is a strong option for triathletes who do occasional races where wetsuits are not allowed in the swim. It isn’t as fast as Blueseventy’s swim-specific “swim skins” but it incorporates many of the design elements in an all-event trisuit that is less expensive and you don’t lose time removing it in T1. This is a strong choice for distances from sprint to Ironman and is a versatile one-piece wardrobe you’ll appreciate race after race.

Blueseventy's TX2000 trisuit brings their swim experience to a high end trisuit with great dry land features.

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TYR Special Ops Goggles. Tue, 31 Jul 2012 17:39:58 +0000 Blinding sunrise swim starts, heels to the face, long distance sighting to turn bouys: Triathlon swimmers need a different goggle than pool swimmers. TYR re-engineers the swim goggle for the real world maritime environment with Special Ops. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

TYR adds polarized lenses, deep impact absorbing eye cups and a reliable strap for rough open water swims to their Special Ops goggle.

Open water swim goggles for mass start triathlons need to be built differently than pool goggles. TYR’s new Special Ops goggle acknowledges the different design requirements. The TYR Special Ops goggle joins an already successful line of swim goggles for pool and open water but finds the middle ground between a dive mask style, like TYR’s Arc 180, SwimMask and Hydrovision full swim masks and their pool goggle offerings like the minimalist TYR Socket Rocket 2.0. and their classic Tracer Racing Classic. TYR has found a sweet spot between the dive-mask protection and visibility and the hydrodynamics of the mini-goggle with the Special Ops.


A key requirement in a true triathlon open water goggle is impact protection, not against lens breakage, but against getting hit in the face. Triathlon swim goggles are more than just optics, they’re safety equipment. TYR built a deep silicone eye cup on the Special Ops goggle. While the primary role of the eye cup is to seal out water a deeper design provides protection if you are bumped in the face by an errant heel or elbow in the swim.

The deep silicone eye cups on the TYR Special Ops goggles improve fit on different facial shapes and sizes and provide a measure of protection in open water swim starts compared to lower profile goggles.

Another benefit to the deep eye cups on the Special Ops is flexible fit. Since the Special Ops uses a molded, flexible one-piece nose bridge the deep hypo-allergenic eye cups provide a molded fit on a wide variety of face shapes. In addition to adding durability so the goggles survive in the bottom of your race bag, these eye cups will likely outlast less robust designs even going from fresh water to chlorine training pools to salt water.

A thick one-piece strap won't break while you're waiting for your wave start. Goggle adjustment is easy with this one-piece strap design and the small notch in the buckle. This is one of the better strap designs we've seen.

The Achilles heel on most goggles is the strap. Every triathlete who has had a goggle strap break while treading water thirty seconds before their wave starts will appreciate the strap on the TYR Special Ops. The strap is one piece molded polymer that divides into two sections at the back of the head for stability and fit. Compared to older, conventional pool goggles the strap is thicker, reducing the chances of breakage. Adjustments for strap length are easy since the adjuster buckle has a slot in it to pull the free-running end out of the buckle to tighten or loosen. I wore the goggle over my hair with no uncomfortable pulling from the strap.

This image was shot through a photo polarizing filter held partially over the camera lens to demonstrate the reduction in glare provided by polarization. Notice the reduced glare on the glass in the window of the truck, similar to the reduction on glare on the water surface.

The key feature on the TYR Special Ops are the lenses. The Special Ops has polarized lenses. Polarization is a series of lines on the lens so small you can’t see them. The frequency and direction of the lines helps reduce light reflected horizontally from the surface of the water. The benefit is you see across the surface of the water to the next turn buoy with much less glare. The glare reduction also reduces stress in a mass swim start where swimmers may be swimming into a rising sun and splashing water turns their field of view into a confusing sheen of blinding white. The TYR Special Ops lenses reduce that sheen and glare significantly. Polarized lenses have been used for years by fishermen and boaters to cut through reflected glare from the surface of the water. The benefit for a triathlete navigating between turn buoys in an open water swim are obvious. One caveat to wearing polarized swim goggles (or sunglasses); the LCD display on your wrist top computer or sport watch will appear to have a large black spot on it when viewed through a polarized lens.

In a mass swim start water splashed into the air catches low angle sunlight creating intense glare and reducing visibility. The polarized lens on the Special Ops goggle helps improve visibility on the surface to help with navigation.

The TYR Special Ops goggle is available in four stock colors and a multicolor “unlimited edition” version. Each frame color has a different lens color tint but all of them are polarized. The subdued blacked-out version has a color neutral gray lens with a silver mirrored outer surface to reduce transmitted light. This is the go-to choice for swim starts that have you swimming into a rising sun. The white/red combination uses a rose lens to enhance contrast and is excellent for overcast or grey sea conditions where it is darker. The white/purple combination uses a colored mirror surface for bright conditions when surface reflection is exceptionally harsh such as calm days. A fourth version uses a multi-color goggle frame that is easy to find in your race bag and comes with a mirrored surface copper colored lens that produced a warming effect.

There are a total of five color combinations for frame and lens available in the TYR Special Ops goggle, four are shown here. The white/purple combination is not shown in this photo and features a deep blue mirrored lens for bright, flat light surface conditions.

TYR’s Special Ops goggle is a great addition to the TYR open water line-up that is also at home in the pool. With the polarized lenses, deep, flexible eye cups, durable strap design and good lens colors this may be the only goggle you need from pool to triathlon swim start. TYR did a nice job with their Special Ops goggle. It joins a select group of designs that are well suited for the open water swimmer who doesn’t want a full face, mini-SCUBA mask  design but wants more protection and greater field of view than a pool specific goggle. The addition of polarization even positions the TYR goggle ahead of most competitors in this small but important category.

At home in the pool and optimized for the open water, TYR's Special Ops goggle with polarized lenses vaults to the front of the triathlon swim goggle category.

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Zoot Ultra Roller-Tri Carry On Bag. Wed, 18 Jul 2012 18:09:31 +0000 High end luggage meets the grass roots triathlon bag in the Ultra Tri Carry On bag from Zoot. For the traveling athlete this may be the most convenient piece of equipment they can pack. Take a trip with it here.]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Zoot's Ultra Tri Carry On transtion bag is an elegant combination of high end roller luggage and a full feature specialty transition bag.

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 was designed with travel in mind. The 2,990 cubic inch capacity bag has roller-blade style wheels, slider rails to navigate baggage carousels, a retractable pull handle and a riveted, bar-tacked and padded carry 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.

Bright yellow zipper pulls help you locate the compartments in a dark, early morning transition area- a thoughtful detail. The small side accessory pocket has a detachable key-keeper and fleece lined cell phone pocket along with a mesh sleeve for BodyGlide, sunscreen, earplugs, etc.

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 top pocket has a bright yellow zipper that makes it easy to find in low light. Outer pocket is fleece lined to protect eyewear and electronics from scratches. Inside the top flap is a pocket with a handy checklist and plenty of space for race day necessities like race number belt, sunscreen, gels, energy bars, etc.

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 pocket under the helmet container can hold running shoes and perhaps pre/apres event sandals.

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.

We found that some long-tail aero helmets do fit well inside the helmet compartment of the Zoot bag. We did like placing the pointy end of the helmet toward the bottom of the bag so it didn't press against the mesh. We were worried it may eventually wear a hole through the mesh, although in a week of testing ours did not.

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.

The large lower compartment on the Zoot bag has two upper mesh pockets and a lot of storage space. This is also where the wetsuit bag is attached (see additional photos below).

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.

The separate wetsuit bag snaps into the lower compartment and will keep a wet, sandy suit from fouling the rest of your gear. You can easily fit swim cap and goggles and maybe even sandals in here too.

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.

With its roller bag design and telescoping handle the Zoot Ultra Tri Carry On moves from the overhead compartment on an airliner, through the airport and to the transition area with ease.

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De Soto T1 First Wave Wetsuit Top and Bibjohn. Tue, 10 Jul 2012 23:34:21 +0000 To make a wetsuit faster, you have to make it differently. De Soto Sport's T1 First Wave wetsuit is different from conventional designs. As a result, they may be the only brand that claims their suit is "fastest", and is actually right about it. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Because it is made differently, it works differently. The De Soto Sport two-piece T1 First Wave wetsuit uses a seperate top and bottom. The design offers some interesting features.

It’s standard logic that if you want a product to perform differently, it has to be designed differently. The De Soto T1 First Wave wetsuit is designed differently from one-piece wetsuits since it uses a separate top and bottom, effectively a “shirt” and “pants”.

The De Soto T1 First Wave is interesting because it’s different, but the more interesting thing is why it hasn’t become more widely accepted. Firstly, De Soto Sport has not promoted the design among paid-to-swim top pros. If De Soto Sport did pony up a few thousand dollars for a top pro to swim in their suit it would get more attention. They haven’t done that. As a result it hasn’t graced the cover of the top triathlon magazines. Secondly, it is very much a matter of “paradigms” or established beliefs. To the majority of triathletes who entered the sport in the last two decades a wetsuit has always been one piece. The problem is- they’re wrong.

The De Soto Sport T1 First Wave is the latest version of the two piece wetsuit with new GreenGoma neoprene.

To understand the De Soto T1 you must set the way-back machine to 1986. This is the era a young Dan Empfield, inventor of the triathlon wetsuit, founder of Quintana Roo, Inventor of the triathlon bike, Triathlon Hall of Famer and publisher of the website first set about designing triathlon wetsuits. Some accounts suggest his early designs were a pants-only garment designed to float the legs. Empfield is a contemporary of Emilio De Soto, the founder of De Soto Sport. The pants-only approach to early triathlon wetsuit experiments was logical since it addressed two important goals: 1. It floated the legs, improving the triathlete’s “water line” while swimming and enabling them to maintain a “downhill” swimming attitude. 2. It maintained complete freedom of movement for the upper body while swimming.


Advantages of the Two-Piece Wetsuit Concept:

  • Top of suit is sized differently from bottom of suit insuring a more precise fit, especially for unusual body shapes.
  • Top of suit operates independently from bottom of suit providing greater freedom of movement in the arms.
  • Suit feels less restrictive in the chest, reducing wetsuit anxiety often experienced by new users.
  • Suit is modular and can be used with different components for different temperatures, distances and swim abilities.
A central advantage to the two piece design is the top of the suit is sized, and works, seperately from the bottom. This allows more bouyant neoprene to be used while providing improved freedom of movement.

The current De Soto Sport T1 First Wave hearkens back to the concept of the pants-only suit, but with significant improvements. The new T1 First Wave top is an elegantly simple design. The body is 2 mm neoprene cut on De Soto’s “Bio Stroke” pattern. Bio Stroke orients the suit naturally in the reach phase of the stroke, making freestyle swimming easier. There are a few benefits to Bio Stroke; the suit needs to stretch less while swimming, and stretching fabric takes energy. That energy comes from you. When you don’t use the energy to stretch neoprene you can either save it, or use it to swim faster. Additionally, since the pattern of the suit facilitates a better swim stroke and more freedom of movement the fabric doesn’t have to. That increases buoyancy and reduces cost since a slightly thicker neoprene can be used with no loss in freedom of movement; it actually is better. Secondly, De Soto is free from the race to the bottom with ultra-thin, ultra-stretchy neoprenes that are fragile, fit poorly and take on water during a long swim.

The arms of the De Soto T1 First Wave Top are also 2 mm neoprene. There are no “stroke enhancing” appliances to create extra drag on the arms. It is one sleek, buoyant, easy to swim in pattern of neoprene.

There is an additional version of the De Soto T1 First Wave Top called the Concept 5 Pullover. The Concept 5 Pullover uses thicker 5 mm neoprene in the arms up to the lower bicep, just above your elbow. This thicker neoprene increases buoyancy of the forward portion of your arm, further correcting waterline. It also enlarges the surface area of your forearm during the pull phase of the stroke. The two versions of the top are separated by $50 in price, with the T1 First Wave Pullover costing $260 and the thicker-forearm design T1 First Wave Concept 5 at $310. For most swimmers the $50 extra for the thicker forearm is something they will appreciate.

De Soto has switched to GreenGoma #9 neoprene. GreenGoma is limestone based according to De Soto Sport. De Soto Sport asserts the new rubber offers better bouyancy, insulation, durability and soaks up less water in long swims.

The latest evolution of the T1 First Wave uses a short zipper that closes by pulling downward and opens by pulling up. The design facilitates rapid removal.

De Soto T1 First Wave tops use a custom YKK zipper that closes by pulling downward. It is smaller than conventional one piece wetsuit zippers and, since it is smaller, reduces weight- a benefit since that maintains buoyancy. To remove the suit you grab the leash and pull upward, opening the upper torso. It is nearly impossible for this zipper design to be accidentally opened in the water.

In early tests of the first De Soto two piece wetsuits I discovered noticeably different performance than conventional full suits.

The bottom of the suit we tested was the De Soto Sport First Wave Bibjohn. This bottom uses 3 mm thin bibstraps and thick 5 mm neoprene hips and leg panels. The leg openings are speed cut and fully taped at the seams to allow fast removal in T1. You don the bottom first and pull your T1 First Wave top over it.

The First Wave Bibjohn is immune to the most common problem in wetsuit performance, especially among new users: Even if you don’t pull the bottom of the suit up enough while donning it won’t affect the performance of the top of the suit. The ability to buy different size bottoms than tops becomes apparent for problem fits here also.

The De Soto Sport First Wave Bibjohn uses a suspender top of 3 mm neoprene and thicker 5 mm leg and hip section for bouyancy.

Why Don’t I See More De Soto Two Piece Wetsuits at Races?

That was my first question after swimming in the suit. De Soto Sport doesn’t have a vast dealer base compared to the sum of all the other wetsuit brands selling one piece designs. They are also conservative in their promotional efforts, not only with wetsuits, but with their apparel. De Soto Sport is more “go” than “show”.

Because the suit is designed differently you use it differently. For swim starts like Alcatraz and the early versions of the Steelhead 70.3 triathlon where competitors enter the water with a feet-first jump off a boat or elevated dock, the rush of water will push the top of the suit upward when you hit the water. You simply pull it back down and it stays there once you start swimming.



In a feet-first water entry the suit rides up, and you simply pull it down and it stays. The suit is optimized for forward swimming and once donned correctly stays that way, isolating the top from the bottom and providing easier range of motion.

Another speed bump to acceptance of the De Soto two piece wetsuit design is you actually have to swim in it to feel the performance advantage, something few wetsuit buyers have the opportunity to do at the point of sale. For the few retailers who have a pool facility to test wetsuits in the water before buying, many more De Soto suits get to the cash register.

I have swam extensively in the two-piece T1, but not the new GreenGoma version. My first De Soto T1 was an early version in a distinctive silver color. When the suit was first introduced we conducted pool trials using an accomplished, collegiate level swimmer as our tester and also timed removal trials to see how the two piece design performed compared to a one piece suit during removal. This was the first indication that the two piece design had merit we weren’t experiencing in one piece fullsuits.

When the T1 two piece wetsuit idea was firsted introduced I timed a number of trials of wetsuit removal and found the times to be comparable to one-piece suits. Since the top is removed while running from swim exit to your bike rack that time actually doesn't add anything to your transition. For many athletes using the T1 two piece, removal is actually faster than with a one piece wetsuit.

Since first swimming in the T1 two piece suits I’ve considered them a “best kept secret” among fast age groupers. I get the opportunity to try a large number of wetsuits and a big challenge is differentiating between the many one piece suits that are actually very similar. That isn’t a problem with the two piece De Soto suits. They are tangibly different, and I’ll argue, tangibly better. To me that isn’t a secret.

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Synergy Endorphin Wetsuit. Thu, 05 Jul 2012 23:34:12 +0000 The about-$200 price point is a hot spot for wetsuit buyers. Synergy, a brand known for performance and value, showed us their Endorphin full suit in the women's version. We took it to the pool to see how it swims. Jump in with us here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

The Synergy Endorphin full wetsuit, shown on Jessica in the women's version, packs high end technology into a value price point.

Synergy Sport is one of those little success stories that typify the great brands in our sport. Like De Soto Sport, HED Wheels and Quintana Roo bikes Synergy started as a few inspired people who love triathlons. Unlike those original brands Synergy is a relatively new company. They are related to the Gray brand of aerodynamic, carbon fiber race wheels, aero helmets and clothing/accessories. Headquartered in Minden, Nevada, Synergy’s Chief Designer Stefan Laursen started doing triathlons in 1983. A fifteen-year veteran of pro triathlons with over 100 wins Laursen actually sewed his own first wetsuit when he was only 13.


Stefan Laursen, Chief Designer at Synergy and Gray, brings both the perspective of history in triathlons along with the experience of a pro.

Laursen’s insights on wetsuit design make their $239 price point Endorphin full suit a strong value since he left in the features that really improve wetsuit performance and made good concessions to maintain price where they won’t matter much.

Keeping the Price Down: The “Take”.

Firstly, where they save you some money: Synergy builds so many performance oriented features into the Endorphin that there had to be some concessions, and there are. It’s easy to make a $500 wetsuit swim great but the Endorphin is a lesson in economy, good design, clever sourcing and what key features to leave in to make a $200 suit swim well.

Our test suit had a jersey/fabric backed neck which worked fine and keeps cost down. Inner seams are tape-reinforced at stress points for durability.

Synergy saved a buck or two by building a simple neck design. It did not roll over into a smoothskin inner surface on our suit but transitions immediately to jersey fabric on the inside. This differed from the product description on Synergy’s website that reads, “1mm SmoothSkin on both side creates a seal that is impenetrable and soft”.

A simple design on the neck worked fine for us and helps keep suit cost well below $300. Some more expensive suits use a rolled-over smoothskin finish at the neck opening. There isn't much difference in comfort and performance.

As seen in our photos the inside neck of our suit was jersey fabric. While this design does not seal as well as the rolled-over smoothskin necks it may be easier on the skin around your neck and it is easier to build. No swim split has ever been won strictly due to a rolled-over smoothskin inner neck design so this is a good concession. Interior reinforcing on the suit uses square taping as opposed to round tape patches. While we have never seen this happen on a Synergy wetsuit it is conceivable the corners could peel up easier than on a round piece of finish tape as seen on some higher priced suits. I’m not even willing to say this is a concession its so minor.

Front and back on the Synergy endorphin full wetsuit. Notice the all-smoothskin outer fabric, a nice speed enhancing benefit.

Synergy uses a simple but robust zipper design on this suit, and it is similar to the original full suits we saw in the late 1980’s. It unzips from the top down, as with the original fullsuits designed by Dan Empfield. Thousands of pro and age group victories have been won using this original zipper configuration.

Building Performance In: The “Give”.

5 mm neoprene on the entire front body and upper leg. If you only pay attention to one feature on the Endorphin, re-read that sentence. The thickest neoprene allowed by USAT competitive rules is built into the chest and upper panels. This provides optimal floatation making the suit faster. A recent trend in entry price point suits is to go thinner in the chest and keep the thickness in the legs. While that is a good philosophy since it helps float your legs and level your waterline while swimming, it isn’t as buoyant overall as wearing an entire front panel of 5 mm neoprene which has more floatation than thinner neoprene. Synergy built a super buoyant front on the entire submerged surface of the wetsuit. Well done.

"Aqualift" panels facilitate flotation and body roll for speed. The entire front of the suit is 5mm thick SCS coated neoprene, a boon for any suit and exceptional at the sub-$300 price.

The back of the suit is a thinner 3 mm neoprene. I’ll suggest this is a bonus since it helps flexibility and broadens temperature range. This suit is warm enough for the coldest swims if you add a Synergy neoprene swim cap but it will also swim well all the way up to the USAT upper water temperature limit of 78 degrees (USAT Article IV, section 4.4 “Wetsuits”). The shoulders and arms use thinner 2 mm HiFlex neoprene for full mobility. The neck is the thinnest part of the suit at 1 mm thick.

Synergy did a nice job of “fairing in” the zipper on the back of the suit with a neoprene draft flap that covers the zipper well when closed. It prevents leakage at the zipper and is more hydrodynamic.

The endorphin uses a conventional, proven zipper design that pulls downward to open. Stretch panels in the upper torso not only facilitate easier swimming but also faster removal.

Another high-end feature is the SCS silicone speed coating on the suit. This coating is common on high end suits and applied to the front of some value priced suits. Synergy also uses “Aqualift” panels on the sides of the torso and legs to facilitate good body roll during the freestyle stroke, another feature seen on more expensive suits.

The back panel is thinner 3 mm neoprene for better stretch and a well designed draft flap covers the zipper when closed. The leg openings are radically speed-cut facilitating lightening fast removal.

Another feature you look for on fullsuits is some kind of “gripper” on the inner forearm to hold water during the catch phase of the stroke. It’s intuitive that the design ought run longitudinal or parallel to your arm so it does not create extra drag during the entry phase of the stroke but still “grips” during the catch phase providing better traction on the forearm. Synergy has a set of “Powermax” ribs on the front of their arms that extend from wrist to elbow. I like their forearm gripper since it is smoothskin while others use some type of ribbed applique over nylon outer fabric, a less expensive and hydrodynamic alternative. It’s another detail that Synergy got right on this suit.

The PowerMax forearms are designed to improve grip on the water in the catch phase. Since they are also smoothskin outer they will work well on the entry phase of your stroke also. It's a thoughtful design.

Synergy was attendant to details on the Endorphin by building an aggressive concave speed-cut into the lower leg. This concave scallop cut at the back of the lower leg effectively makes the leg hole larger facilitating faster removal. The design works since we could easily get the suit off from the waist in only a few seconds and mostly with our feet.

We had no problem with high speed removal of the Endorphin with it's robust fabric and excellent speed-cut leg openings.

The Perfect Fit: Decoding the Size Chart.

The Synergy Endorphin is sold in no less than 16 sizes in Men’s and Women’s specific patterns. That is the same number of sizes as suits starting at $80 more. The size names for the Synergy suits are different than what you may see in other manufacturers’ charts. That is likely a good idea since it compels the customer to read the size specifications carefully before picking a size.

Some wetsuit brands can be characterized as “athletic” or working more readily on the thin, fit athlete build. While those suits have there place the sizing across some of the chart with Synergy seems more forgiving for the average age grouper. Patterns seem a little broader through the torso and chest.

Synergy's sizes use different size names than you may be accustomed to seeing so using their size chart will get you an accurate fit on the first try.

The suit swam well in our tests, on par with suits at higher price points and noticeably more buoyant than a few other entry price suits. A big boon is the patterning or fit of this suit. Since the size chart is arranged a little differently than some brands there seems to be more opportunity for the rank n’ file age grouper who isn’t 6′ tall and 145 pounds. Synergy seems to have distributed sizing to fit a wide range of builds in their fit chart, including more robust builds.

I’ve sold triathlon wetsuits since they were invented and the hardest part is watching a customer struggle to get them on and off when fitting. Either through patterning, fabric, sizing or all three the Synergy suit was easier to put on than a lot of suits we’ve tried, another attractive feature to new athletes.

Synergy isn’t just a marketing company branding third party designs. Their insights into the features that matter are apparent in the value priced Endorphin. The all smoothskin outer alone is a coup at this price. The experience of Stefan Laursen in the sport is apparent in the thoughtful attention to detail in the Endorphin. Synergy may have nailed the entry price point full suit with this offering.

Synergy's Endorphin wetsuit fit and swam well. The $239 price point full suit is a strong offering in this important category.

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Louis Garneau TRI-300 Triathlon Cycling Shoe. Fri, 29 Jun 2012 22:26:12 +0000 Louis Garneau was an early innovator of triathlon cycling shoes. Their new TRI-300 combines everything Garneau has learned in their long history of tri cycling shoe innovation and adds easy custom moldability to the mix. Try them on here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Louis Garneau's TRI-300 joins LG's tri specific shoe line-up at the top of their range with features like heat-moldable custom fit, carbon fiber outsole and a unique donning system.


Louis Garneau continues to establish their position as a technical apparel innovator in triathlon with their new high-end TRI-300 triathlon cycling shoe. The shoe, which sells for $299.95, is a convergence of high end features and benefits into a quick-donning triathlon specific cycling shoe. Garneau’s triathlon cycling shoes have lead this category from early on as one of the very first tri-specific cycling shoe designs with a strap configuration made for multisport. The new shoe expands on tri-specific features with a unique system to hold the shoe upper open for quick donning in T1 along with ventilation, aerodynamic and custom fitting features.

The Pedal/Shoe Interface.

The TRI-300 uses an all carbon fiber outsole called “Exo-Jet”. Like SIDI, a unique feature of the LG TRI-300 is variable stiffness over the length of the shoe sole. This changing stiffness in the shoe sole provides stiffness over the area were the cleat is mounted to insulate the foot from feeling the cleat through the sole of the shoe. The rear of the shoe is slightly more flexible to prevent foot numbness and fatigue. This variable stiffness carbon fiber sole also allows large openings for ventilation and drainage, a key requirement especially for long distance triathletes. The use of the carbon fiber allows the vents to be designed into the shoe sole without compromising the performance of the sole.

The entire outsole on the TRI-300 is carbon fiber with the stiffness of the sole tuned to be stiffer over the cleat mounting area. Large vents facilitate drainage and movement of cool air through the shoe. A standard 3-hole pattern with index marks makes working with pedal cleat set-up easy.

The TRI-300 is a three hole pattern sole design, the industry standard. It works with Look, Shimano road, Time, Speedplay and other pedal systems that use or adapt to a three hole pattern. There are a series of lateral and longitudinal reference indices to locate cleats in same place when they are replaced due to normal wear. These index marks also help your bike fitter keep track of the changes they make to your cleat position as they fit you, a thoughtful feature bike fitters will appreciate.

Two key factors in cycling shoe performance are the thickness of the shoe sole (thinner is generally better) and the radius of the outsole. The radius or curve of the outsole is important since not all pedal cleats fit and function well if the shoe sole is too curved or radiused, especially below size 40. Louis Garneau molded the outsole of the TRI-300 to work perfectly with Look cleats, Time RXS and most other common cleat systems across the entire size range.

The sole of the shoe over the cleat area is moderate. The concave footbed allows the foot inside the shoe to get closer to the pedal axle, reducing unwanted torque. The curvature of the sole allows most cleat systems such as Look Keo (center) and Time RXS to be used without any shims.

The TRI-300 has a lot of detail on the inside of the shoe including features designed to keep your foot cool in long rides. This could be a benefit for hot Ironman distance races where foot swelling during the bike can make the first miles of the run miserable. The insole of the shoe uses Ice Fil, a cooling fiber developed by Ventex that helps dissipate heat and regulate temperature. Ice Fil has become popular in race apparel like triathlon clothing and “arm coolers”. The insole is removable for cleaning, a thoughtful feature considering ultra-distance atheltes have to urinate on the bike and some of it inevitably winds up soaking your cycling shoes. The insole is also heavily perforated to continue the ventilation theme and uses multi-density material to manage the stability of the foot inside the shoe and damp road vibration. While a thick insole like this adds distance from the pedal axle, the comfort benefit is worth it especially at Iron distance. Louis Garneau also mentions the inside of the heel counter is impregnated with Ice Fil cooling fiber to reduce heat accumulation.

The thermoformable custom moldable insole is molded at low temperature (150 degrees Fahrenheit) for a custom fit. The insole uses Ice Fil for cooling along with the generous vents at the back of the shoe.

The “Thermoformable” feature of the shoe allows the fit to be customized by placing the shoe in a 150 degree Fahrenheit oven to soften the “flow packs” inside the shoe. Once softened the shoe can be donned and allowed to cool, creating a molded upper fit. This is may be an advantage for people with oddly shaped feet or bony protrusions at their metatarsal. It also seems to work well among narrow-heeled customers since the flow-pack material seems to displace away from wider areas of the foot toward the narrower areas, adding volume inside the shoe where it is needed. This compares to Shimano’s custom molded shoe program which can only be molded by the dealer with a Shimano heat molding oven and vacuum apparatus. The Louis Garneau molding method is much easier. That said, be careful about leaving this shoe in the trunk or interior of a car on a hot day after a race. The interior of a car parked in the sun can easily reach hot enough temperatures to soften the interior of the shoe. Prolonged exposure will simply re-mold the shoe. It would probably correct itself once you put the shoe on provided the shoe was still warm when you put it on.

The closure system on the TRI-300 is evolved from a lot of experience within LG at building triathlon cycling shoes.

The closure system on the TRI-300 is likely the industry best in a single Velcro closure triathlon cycling shoe. The very wide strap opens away from the bicycle to facilitate quick transitions with the shoe already clipped to the pedal. A heel loop that is very beefy allows the heel of the shoe to be pulled up while on the fly. Notches in the strap hold it firmly open so you can quickly put your foot on top of the shoe coming out of T1 before you slide your foot inside the shoe.

A small velcr tab assists the notches in the tongue to hold the shoe open for quick donning out of T1, a thoughtful design.

A particularly sophisticated transition feature is the small rubber band loop on the inside of each shoe. This small fabric loop allows you to pass a rubber band through the loop and then attach it to the crank arm, rear quick release (as in our photo) or the chainstay of your bike. This holds the shoes level while you are running through T1 on the way to the bike exit. While donning your shoes on the fly is an advanced transition technique you have to practice repeatedly well before race day this feature makes the process easier.

There is a small webbing loop on the inside of the shoe to use a rubberband to attach the shoe to the chainstay for quick get-aways out of T1.

While the Louis Garneau TRI-300 may not be the absolutel lightest triathlon cycling shoe or have the thinnest outsole the small amount of additional weight added by the quick donning features and heat-moldable capability will pay tangible comfort dividends at both sprint and long-distance events.

Louis Garneau has been a leader in the triathlon cycling shoe sub-category since the category was invented. They also have “tweeked” the fit of the shoes with a width and volume that seems to work for the middle 80% of U.S. customers, while some Euro brands continue to be lower volume fitting shoes. The shoe sole design helps reduce vibration and road shock potentially keeping feet fresher during long, hot rides even on bad roads. This is not just an ultra-distance shoe since the closure system speeds transition with the detailed strap design, but you have to be skilled in transitions to make best use of these features. TRI-300 continues to keep LG at the top of this category and, given their recent level of innovation in triathlon apparel and their history of making tri-specific cycling shoes and the first commercially available, approved aero helmet, I’m not surprised this shoe is so good.

Garneau has a long history in triathlon apparel innovation and their TRI-300 continues their authority in the category.

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Oakley Radarlock Glasses. Thu, 21 Jun 2012 23:30:54 +0000 Oakley released their newest sport glass family, the Radarlock, earlier this year. We've had a chance to wear and use the new glass in the sunniest state in the U.S. See how this new innovation in eyewear works here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Radarlock uses two lens shapes initially and comes in a number of lens and frame colors.

Sport sunglass category originator Oakley debuted their new Radarlock sunglass system earlier this year. We’ve been wearing the Radarlock in the sunniest place in the United States, Arizona, to experience the new developments in lens interchangeability, frame and optics performance.

Oakley faces the challenge of getting customers to understand how truly sophisticated their products are. Most athletes simply don’t understand how advanced Oakley eyewear is, and what a difference in performance it makes. Technologies developed by Oakley have been licensed to numerous eyewear brands as Oakley has gone on to new and more advanced ones. Some developments are small refinements, others are revolutionary. The new Radarlock has both.
Radarlocks are sold with a sun lens and a low light lens that varies with frame color. The ballistic hard case is included.
Interchangeable lenses aren’t new to Oakley sport glasses. The primary improvement with Radarlock is easier, faster lens interchangeability with even better frame fit and performance. Previous Radar sunglass models required a little experience to quickly remove and replace the lens. The new lens release and installation is controlled by a miniature “lock” or catch that holds a small hinged clamp securing the lens. The system is easy to open, you don’t touch the lens as much and it disappears when closed. You simply slide a small white switch on the left earstem rearward and hinge the earstem (temple) open, then gently squeeze the nosepiece. The lens can be easily removed and replaced then.
Oakley's new Radarlock glasses bring improved lens interchangeability to their sport glasses while making additional refinements on their already strong Radar glass design.

This new design makes changing lenses much faster, cleaner and easier. Users may be more likely to change lenses for different light conditions since the entire process is designed in and two lenses are included with the package. Before the development of the new “Switchlock” lens technology many people simply owned a few pairs of glasses with different lens tints. Switchlock is a less expensive alternative that provides a better overall eye protection product with the advances in lens colors, designs and frame fit.

Oakley also expands on the fit of their iconic sportglass with a few subtle refinements. The eyewear system still uses a shape that nearly surrounds your head as viewed from above. This keeps the glasses in place even during motion sports like running. In addition to the unique shape of the frames the polymer used is tuned to provide an appropriate level of flex and tension on your head. The glasses are designed to never “squeeze” or create pressure points. The fit remains constant across a wide range of head sizes and shapes.

(left) Compared to lower end glasses the Oakley Radarlock frame has a more complex and rounded shape that mimics the shape of the human head. It wraps more completely around the skull and only contacts the head with hydrophobic polymer grippers. (right) A close-up of lens quality suggests a difference between the Oakley lens on the left of the photo and the less expensive lens on the right.

Included in the box with the Oakley Radarlock, as with most previous versions of their sport glasses, are two interchangeable hydrophobic nose pieces. The nose piece is easily interchanged to customize fit of the glasses based on the shape of the nose. People with a broad, shallow nose will use the optional (extra) nosepiece included to achieve optimal fit and lens proximity while typically shaped noses that may be narrower and protrude more will use the nosepiece mounted on the glasses out of the box. Interchanging the nose pieces to optimize fit is simple and fast. The “hydrophobic” moniker Oakley gives its nosepieces refers to how the polymer grips your nose better as it gets wet.

Oakley includes two interchangeable, different shaped hydrophobic nosepieces with their Radarlocks to tune fit and performance.

Two lens shapes are offered initially in the new Radarlock; the Path with a concave lower lens profile and the Pitch with its larger, convex lower lens shape. The Pitch offers slightly more lens coverage but may not fit faces with ample cheeks as well. There are currently four configurations in the Radarlock Path each with different lens and frame colors. One option in the Path shape, Polished Black with Black Iridium and Persimmon lenses comes without  the four vents in the top of the lens. The other three versions each have four vents in the top of the lens to avoid fogging and keep air moving over your face. We obtained an additional version not seen on Oakley’s website with a bright orange frame and a polarized Fire Iridium lens. This lens color enhances contrast in medium to high leight conditions and reduces glare with its polarized lamination.

Oakley shows four styles of the Radarlock, with the Matte Heather Grey with G30 Iridium lens not shown here and substituted by a new Blood Orange style with polarized Fire Iridium and Persimmon lenses shown 2nd from left above.

As with all Oakley sport specific eyewear the lenses use Oakley’s Hydrophobic permanent lens coating. This coating causes liquid to sheet off the lens, reduce condensation and make the lenses easier to clean using the microfiber cloth bag included.  The hydrophobic treatment even resists static electricity that causes dust to adhere.

Oakley’s high strength polymer lenses use a proprietary material called Plutonite. The sport styles exceed the federal ANSI standard for safety glasses.

The Radarlock is a natural progression and a welcomed introduction from Oakley. It makes their interchangeable lens technology easier to use and provides the same level of optical quality and protection that has won numerous independent category tests. The refinements in the Radarlock are a welcomed next step in the constant evolution of Oakley’s iconic sports specific eye wear.

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]]> SKINS Compression. Tue, 19 Jun 2012 00:51:30 +0000 With over 160 products distributed to 31 countries SKINS compression has a tight grip on the compression category. See why SKINS has become a preferred compression brand from the Tour de France to Kona. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

SKINS was founded in 1996 by an Australian downhill skier who needed to improve recovery for hard alpine skiing on successive days. That legacy continues in apparel like this SKINS one piece triathlon suit.

The compression category is a crowded one. It takes unique designs and valid performance to differentiate one brand from the selection of seemingly similar apparel pieces. SKINS compression apparel is differentiated by unique styles, their “Warp Knit” construction and development of Engineered Gradient Construction for athletes in motion using their Dynamic Gradient Compression. It’s more than a lot of buzz words.

“SKINS is athletic specific compression by athletes. It isn’t rebranded medical or geriatric compression in neon colors.”

When you delve into the origins of some compression brands you find they started with “rehabilitative compression” garments. These are often the old, white compression stockings relegated to the geriatric crowd and born in the medical industry. Those companies didn’t start with compression by athletes for athletes. SKINS is, first and foremost, an athlete’s compression company. As a result their designs are built for movement. While they enhance recovery they are also designed to augment performance with better aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, improved veinous return, muscle stabilization, moisture management and improved proprioception that helps you remain attentive to good form even when fatigued.

SKINS A200 Compression Half Tight.

Unique patterns help differentiate compression brands. SKINS’ A200 Compression Half Tight is an example that sets SKINS apart. The A200 Compression Half Tight is somewhere between knicker and shorts length. Inseam length from the center seam on a size “Medium” is 10″ . The longer inseam, hence the “half tight” moniker instead of “shorts”, completely covers the key muscles in the quadricep and hamstring/semimembranosus area while leaving the knee open for full mobility.

Unique panel shapes and gradient compression stabilize the quadriceps and hamstring muscles over their entire length with the unique 13" inseam on the SKINS Half Tight.

Variable compression is achieved through several technologies including a non-stretch warp-knit fiber that is joined using varying expansion levels of Spandex. The difference in expansion levels accounts for the difference in compression. Through precision knitting the level of compression can be woven differently.

At the side panels a set of heat-embossed squares are oriented to provide specific stretch in the most critical areas. Where the fibers have been laminated together under heat and pressure they expand less. The degree and location of compression can be arranged by the orientation and frequency of the heat-embossed squares.

A close look at the fabric on the side of the SKINS Compression Half Tights shows the laminated "cells" and their assymetrical orientation that controls the degree of stretch over the entire surface area of the fabric.

Details on the SKINS Half Tights include a wide, textile waist band that lies flat and won’t roll. There is no need for a drawstring with this waist band design. The leg openings  are friendly for shaved and unshaved legs since there are no silicone grippers to pull hair or give you “sausage leg”.

The fabric on the Half Tights is also 50+ ultra-violet protective so no sunburn through these. The Half Tights are sold with a unique size chart that cross references height and weight for a precise fit.

A unique Textile, non-binding waist band works without a drawstring and feels unrestrictive. The leg openings are finished without silicone grippers to avoid discomfort.

SKINS Men’s A200 Compression Short Sleeve Top.

SKINS continues the detailed design approach in their Men’s A200 Compression Short Sleeve Top. The top features sleek, non-binding arm openings on the 14 inch sleeve measured from the neck. The sleeve length covers the entire bicep and tricep group of the upper arm for additional stabilization of these major muscles.

The underarm is vented with stretch mesh panels for moisture management and temperature control. This is a raglan shoulder that can be worn as a compressive base layer under a cycling jersey, as a recovery piece or by itself for running or any motion sport. The fabric panels across the top of the sleeves are “Motion Tech” fabric, an easier stretch fabric for comfort, fit and range of motion in the shoulders.

Sleeve lengths that cover the bicep and tricep are combined with underarms vents and a full range of motion stretch fabric in the sleeve.

Construction and textile details include the variable compression matrix heat laminated onto the front of the top just below the shoulder seams for optimal stabilization of the large pectoralis muscles, especially for running. At the hem there is a silicone gripper designed to lay over your bottom layer and keep the top in place. The crew neck is open and unobtrusive.

More of the variable compression grid is located above the large muscle on the chest. The waist gripper is a single bed of silicone to keep the garment in place over your bottom layer.

SKINS Tri 400 Men’s Compression Tri Suit.

The SKINS Tri 400 Compression Sleeveless Trisuit combines race-proven features with SKINS active compression benefits.

Given SKINS origin in performance compression their Tri 400 Compression Sleeveless Trisuit is a natural race day piece for the brand. The suit combines race features with compression benefits.

The variable compression story continues on the trisuit with compression where muscle stabilization is needed and freedom of movement in areas where active range of motion is key, such as at the hips for cycling and running . Practical race day features include two rear “swimmable” pockets of stretch fabric for gels and race supplements. The leg opening is built with no gripper elastic to pull hair. a front zipper allows ventilation and easy removal to the waist during a long event for bathroom stops.

Race tuned features include a zip front, two stretch rear pockets and a comfortable, non-gripper lower leg.

SKINS commitment to functional compression in motion sports is apparent in their trisuit with attention to detail in the saddle pad. This laminated, molded pad is large enough for long distance events and dries rapidly out of the water. Once dry it is unobtrusive and non-chafing on the run.

The inner surfaces of the legs that contact the saddle are seam-free and use a friction reducing fabric panel to reduce heat and improve comfort on the bike and run. A close look at the merging of the different fabric panels provides an insight into how truly technical this race day piece is.

A long distance race pad that seems to disappear on the run, unique inner leg panels to reduce saddle friction and run chafing and intricate seams to join dissimilar technical fabrics are all built into the SKINS tri suit.

SKINS did a nice job of differentiating themselves as a performance leader in the crowded compression category. The few pieces we focused on here reveal just some of the many details that calibrate this brand to the performance end of the compression category. As with all performance compression apparel its difficult to appreciate the benefits until you put it on and use it. Then you become a believer. With the unique, performance tuned features built into SKINS apparel its easy to believe in this brand as a true performance compression go-to.


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2XU Compression for 2012. Wed, 06 Jun 2012 23:37:46 +0000 2XU takes a unique approach to performance compression apparel with three levels of garments. For 2012 they've combined temperature management fabrics with compression for race day performance. See the line-up here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

2XU's Compression Tri Suit uses 70D/CK fabric for performance oriented compression on race day. The ICE X fabric lowers body temperature in hot conditions by up to 5 degrees.


Compression apparel is a crowded category but technical apparel brand 2XU differentiates themselves by dividing their compression garments into specific performance, performance/recovery and recovery specific designs. This division of compression applications combined with 2XU’s proven high performance race apparel record make their compression category unique.

If you haven’t joined the compression revolution yet you’re in for a worthwhile discovery. Compression race and recovery technical clothing has become synonymous with triathlon. It’s part of the uniform. The reasons are valid: Well designed compression garments stabilize tissue, facilitate fluid transfer and improve proprioception. In the case of 2XU compression their three level Recovery, “XForm” and Refresh lines of compression apparel address specific needs, each with a unique set of tuned benefits.

The "Pure Recovery" level of compression from 2Xu includes garments such as these tights that provide optimal compression for recovery between workouts. Last year we used them in a review to experience the level of reduction in inflammation after training when worn in your sleep.

Last year we did a test with 2XU‘s recovery tights and ankle sleeves that showed a visual reduction in inflammation after 24 hours of use. For the new model year 2XUhas expanded their compression line-up to include new race styles with fabrics like ICE X. ICE X fabric is a xylitol impregnated infra-red resistant fabric that provides sun protection and lowers skin temperature under the garment by up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The combination of performance compression and cooling fabric brings new capabilities to the compression category on race day, adding to the 2XU range of technical compression apparel for recovery.

The 2XU Men's Compression Top is a versatile recovery and performance piece. The Men's Compression Tights from their "XForm" line are also a basic multi-function piece of technical apparel for performance and recovery.

Two of the most popular 2XU compression garments are their versatile Men’s Compression Race Sock and Men’s Compression Recovery Sock. The Compression Race Sock is a staple item that should be in every triathlete’s race bag. The socks live in 2XU‘s “XForm” category that performs both race performance and recovery functions. If you want one compression garment to experience the benefits of compression this is a good place to start. The Compression Race Sock is a relatively open weave for ventilation, moisture management and temperature control. The 15% Invista Lycra fiber is engineered to provide graduated compression over the pattern of the sock. The compression is higher where greater stabilization is needed.

The Men's Compression Race Sock provides moisture management and temperature control in addition to compression benefits.

One compression level up from the Race Sock is the dedicated Recovery Compression Sock. This sock uses 5% higher Invista Lycra fibers in its precision weave to increase compression specifically for recovery. This sock is slightly less breathable, a better option in a dedicated recovery sock since they are commonly worn while sleeping where heat retention may be a benefit.  The Recovery Compression Sock is noticeably more compressive. This higher compression is also a great option for traveling to and from races, especially air travel. It provides a very snug fit when sized correctly from the 2XU size chart that felt good on sore lower legs.

The Men's Compression Recovery Sock is another basic must-have item in the 2XU compression line-up. This may be the first compression piece to own.

Another versatile piece in the 2XU compression line is from the XForm multi-use category, the XForm Compression Tight. The benefit of a compression tight is graduated compression on the quadriceps and semimembranosus (hamstring) area of the upper leg along with small muscles in the hip/pelvic area that become fatigued while running and at the top of the pedal stroke in cycling. Since the XForm Compression Tight is in dual-use category it is also a great cool weather training piece and perfect for pre and apres’ race wear. top cycling teams have used this garment extensively in stage races to facilitate recovery.

2XU builds a versatile performance compression top in their Perform compression line that can be worn by itself while running, as a layer while cycling and for recovery and preparation before hard swim workouts. The Mens (and Women’s) Short Sleeve Compression Top provides a moderate, supportive and stabilizing level of compression while also managing moisture and temperature. Another versatile layer that crosses categories, the top features raglan sleeves for a sleek line as a base layer under outer garments and a crew neck. The Men’s and Women’s Short Sleeve Compression Top is sold in five sizes, extra small through extra large. We found the 2XU size chart using chest measurement in inches and centimeters to be accurate for determining size.

Wearing the seperate compression top and bottom doubles your pockets since the one piece uses a single pocket.

Two race pieces we looked at in addition to the one piece suit are the Men’s Compression Tri Short with ICE-X fabric and the matching Tri Singlet. The tri suit, tri top and tri shorts are available in three colors including the opaque when wet white color. This race outfit provides an alternative to the one piece suit for long distance events where athletes may want a separate top and bottom for ease of making bathroom stops on the course. The Tri Top uses the same single rear pocket as the tri suit for race fuel and a half zip front. The arm openings are well designed with no chafing even in hot weather.

A perforated pad provides long distance comfort in the 2XU compression tri short while moderate use of silicone grippers in the trademark "X" pattern work for both shaved and non-shaved legs.

Another benefit to the two piece race compression outfit as opposed to the one piece suit, especially at long distance, is double the pocket capacity since the tri shorts have two gel pockets and the tri top has the same pocket as the tri suit. You can carry twice as much nutrition on the course.

The pad in the tri shorts and tri suit is perforated for quick drying and ventilation.This pad is a big upgrade over basic fleece pads with its wrinkle free, molded construction. The pad is also larger than most traditional tri short pads and comes high in the front for riding the nose of your saddle in the aero position. Grippers at the leg are polymer “X” logos that didn’t pull the hair on non-shaved test riders’ legs. They stayed put on the shaved legs of out photo shoot model.

As with the rest of the compression line the compression fabric in the tri top and tri short are placed where they provide a performance and comfort benefit.

2XU has taken a technical “clothing as equipment” approach to cycling and triathlon apparel since they started in Australia seven years ago with co-founders and directors Jamie Hunt, Clyde Davenport and Aidan Clarke. Their combination of compression garments offers unique benefits to athletes across a wide range of activities with specialty recovery, performance and mixed use pieces. The new apparel includes sun protection and temperature management features that are relatively new to the industry making 2XU technical apparel even more useful as training, racing and recovery equipment.

Aqua Sphere K180 and K180+ Low Profile Goggles. Tue, 05 Jun 2012 00:15:19 +0000 Aqua Sphere has made open water specific goggle designs for triathletes since they began. Their latest K180 and smaller K180+ goggle merge what they know about open water design and pool goggle concepts in one. It looks like a good middle ground.]]>

By Tom Demerly for

Aqua Sphere's new low profile K180 and K180+ goggles merge open water designs with wide peripheral vision to low volume pool performance.

Competitive swimmers have a penchant for minimal goggle designs. It’s not unusual for the “socket rocket” crowd to snicker when they see the miniature SCUBA-mask style open water eyewear favored by some triathletes. Pool swimmers don’t have to contend with elbows and feet to the face in a crowded mass swim start or rough, open water swims with big surf. Aqua Sphere has found a middle ground between minimal pool goggle designs and open water mask styles with their K180 and reduced size K180+ goggles.


I was introduced to Aqua Sphere goggles at one of Doug Stern’s open water swim clinics on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. With extended pool sessions in the morning and long open water ocean swims in the afternoon we were in the water constantly at Doug’s camp. When I had problems with goggles my friend Andrew Kennedy, an experienced open water and pool swimmer, recommended the original Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggle.

The first time I swam in Aqua Sphere goggles was at Doug Stern's swim clinic on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles.

Aqua Sphere goggles were the first brand I didn’t have problems with during open water swim. Less fogging and leaking, better comfort and their wide, curved lens provided better peripheral vision than smaller pool-specific goggles. They made open water swimming more comfortable and enjoyable.

Aqua Sphere also makes a popular series of open water swim eyewear that is a combination of low-volume dive mask and swim goggle. The Aqua Sphere Seal Mask, Seal XP and Vista Mask all combine the protection and visibility of a dive mask with the performance and lower volume of a goggle. But many triathletes and especially pool swimmers want lower volume still. Aqua Sphere continued to reduce the volume of their open water eyewear with their Kayenne, Eagle, Mako and iconic, best in category Kaiman goggles- the ones I was introduced to in Curacao and used in many events and training sessions since. Aqua Sphere’s newest product is their lowest volume goggle yet, the K180 and K180+.

The new K180 and K180+ low volume designs merge pool goggles with open water fit, comfort and peripheral vision. The result is a goggle pool swimmers will like and triathletes can do long, rough open water swims in with great comfort and peripheral vision for siting from one course marker buoy to the next.

The new K180 gets its name from the 180 degree peripheral vision from the curved lens. It is the smallest of the Aqua Sphere goggles as seen here with a Seal Mask (center) and Kaiman goggles (left).

Two unique features that differentiate the K180 and K180+  from more conventional pool goggles are their curved, 180-degree “panoramic” lens for a wider field of vision and the forgiving “Softeril” eye gaskets that form a reliable seal but don’t feel like they’re sucking your eyeballs out.

The back of the goggles features a strap design that also merges pool and open water themes. The strap is minimal and features a single adjustment point for quick, easier adjustments. This strap works well under swim caps for swimmers who don’t want to lose their goggles to an elbow or foot in a rough open water swim start.

As viewed from abocve you can see the comfrotable, watertight "Softeril" eye gaskets and the curvature of the lens that affords good peripheral vision.

As goggles get smaller in volume fit seems to become more individual. Aqua Sphere addressed adjustable fit with a set of interchangeable nose bridges for different size faces. The owner’s manual for the K180 and K180+ goggle showed four different size interchangeable nose bridges for both goggles. Three nose bridge are included with either goggle. The nose bridges are easy to replace and the clear plastic case that the goggles come in, which serves as a carrying case in your transition bag, holds your spare nose bridges to prevent loss.

A clever replaceable nose bridge helps customize the fit of the K180 and K180+ goggle. The case has a holder for the extra nose bridges.

The most notable feature of the new K180 is how it feels in the water. It is very nearly as comfortable as the larger Kaiman goggle with only a slightly different fit, mostly where the goggle contacts the area around the eye. The Kaiman has a seal that describes a larger shape around your eye and has corresponding larger volume. The K180 is a more compact, lower volume fit.

The K180 (left) is a lower volume fit mostly owing to a smaller shape around the eye. Swimmers from a pool background will be at home with this immediately.

The strap design on the K180 is actually easier to adjust and wear than the stap on the classic Kaiman. The Kaiman has an adjustment system that stays put in the water but takes a little work to adjust quickly. The single point adjustment on the K180 is so simple you can easily tighten the goggle when it is on your head. Since it adjusts from a single point as opposed to either side on the Kaiman you don’t have to worry as much about making the same adjustment on both sides.

This shows the relative size of the original Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggle on the bottom and the newer K180 on the top.

Another attractive thing about the Aqua Sphere K180 and smaller K180+ is the price; at $24.95 for a goggle you’ll get more than a season out of these are a strong value.

Aqua Sphere has carved a strong niche in swim with their open water specific designs and now merges great design for pool goggles with open water design themes for a strong design in a low volume goggle that still meets the needs of the triathlete. This is a goggle choice that could take you from pool to open water swim start.

Aqua Sphere's K180 merges pool goggle and open water design themes in one package.

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SaltStick: The Long Distance, Hot Weather “Cramp Killer”. Fri, 25 May 2012 20:12:49 +0000 Ph.D Organic Chemist Dr. Jonathan Toker is also an elite level triathlete and biotechnician. When he put a scientist's perspective to endurance sports he recognized an opportunity for improvement. That improvement is SaltStick.]]>

By Tom Demerly for

SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Plus along with their unique, patented capsule dispensers are a well engineered approach to sodium and electrolyte supplementation.


Jonathan Toker’s ingenious products face a strange conundrum: You may only know they work if you don’t use them. If you do use them it’s probable you will have no problems in long distance races. You may never know how much Toker’s SaltStick products may have contributed. Such is the paradox of many nutritional products. Toker’s SaltStick is a line of electrolyte/sodium dispensers and supplements designed for the endurance athlete. They could be thought of as race insurance in hot weather.

Jonathan Toker, Ph.D is a scientist-athlete. Toker, founder and inventor of SaltStick electrolyte capsules and dispensers, owns a Doctorate in organic chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute. Those credentials don’t come easily. Toker has also been a pro triathlete. A combination of analytical thinking, athletic experience and a perceived need led to his company, SaltStick.

Jonathan Toker, Ph.D is a unique combination of scientist and athlete. His athletic and academic credentials give him unique authority in the field of sports nutrition.

SaltStick makes the clever rotational capsule dispenser that mounts inside handlebars and dispenses capsules one at a time with a twist of the cap- and holds them to prevent dropping. They also make SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus athletic supplement capsules.

A long list of unique features, some so unique they own a U.S. Patent, differentiate Toker’s products from others in the category. Let’s take a look at Jon’s product line from SaltStick:

SaltStick and SaltStick Mini.

There are two versions of SaltStick’s patented capsule dispensers. They vary in length and capacity. The standard SaltStick is the longer version measuring 5.75″ or 14.7 cm from the back end of the dispenser to the base of the dispensing end. Overall length is 6.5″ or 16.5 cm. The original length (long) SaltStick Dispenser is designed to install inside hollow aerobar extensions and can be mounted to the side of non-hollow aerobar extensions or aerobars that do not have a hollow, accessible inner section. It holds 6 capsules.

The shorter SaltStick Mini is half the length of the SaltStick and will work inside many road bike drop handlebars. It holds 3 capsules.

The SaltStick (top) and SaltStick Mini (bottom) are designed to carry SaltStick and other "0" and "00" size capsules, the most common size. They can mount inside and on aerobars, in road bars (SaltStick Mini) and on trekking poles, bike frames, ski poles, backpacks and other equipment.

The dispenser can also be mounted on almost anything. This dispenser design works well anywhere an action/movement sport necessitates some type of capsule ingestion. In addition to holding SaltStick rehydration capsules any fairly standard size “O” or “OO” capsule will fit inside the SaltStick and SaltStick Mini dispensers. The longer SaltStick holds 6 capsules, the shorter SaltStick Mini holds 3 capsules.

Dispensing capsules from the SaltStick is quick, simple and elegant even in the aero position at speed. Simply turn the dispenser collar clockwise. A capsule emerges without falling out.

SaltStick dispensers load by retracting an internal “pusher” when you turn the dispensing collar counter-clockwise (left as you face it) until it stops. Then you gently push the capsule through the soft red polymer dome into the dispenser “barrel”. To dispense the capsules rotate the collar clockwise a few times until a capsule pushes through the “X” opening in the cap. The soft, polymer “X” opening grips the capsule so it does not fall out, a useful feature in action sports.

The dispenser worked for us without fault. Capsules were installed and dispensed easily and quickly. The ends of the soft capsules get dented in from capsules touching each other when you load the SaltStick dispenser but this doesn’t have an effect on the capsules or the dispenser. Installation of the dispenser is easy with almost no tools. For aerobars with a hollow space the dispenser simply replaces the end cap. Two SaltStick dispensers could be carried, one each mounted internally in the aerobars. SaltStick even provides a color coded separate yellow color polymer cap to help you differentiate between two different capsule loads in separate SaltSticks in case you load one with SaltStick capsules and another with pain medication or other capsule.

An external mounting bracket holds both sizes of SaltStick dispenser. The mount is secure and super versatile adding utility to the dispenser. A SaltStick can even be quickly detached from the mount and worn during the run.

A clever external mount comes with both size SaltStick dispensers and can be worn on a running number belt, backpack or hydration pack strap, and zip-tied to your aero extensions, top tube, ski pole, hiking poles or any action sports equipment.

SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus.

Jonathan Toker’s pharmaceutical and research background is apparent when you read the details behind SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus. SaltStick Caps contain 215 mg of sodium per capsule along with 63 mg of potassium, 22 mg of calcium, 11 mg of magnesium and 100 international units of vitamin D. This is Toker’s ideal blend of buffered heat tolerance and muscle cramp reduction ingredients. The capsules are buffered for reduced gastric distress and better absorption.

SaltStick Caps Plus and SaltStick provide buffered electrolytes and even caffeine (the Plus version) in an easy to use capsule.

An additional product, SaltStick Caps Plus, contains 30 mg of caffeine and 190 mg of sodium citrate. For comparison the Mayo Clinic tells us an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains between 95 and 200 mg of caffeine. An 8.2 ounce can of Red Bull contains exactly 80 mg of caffeine.

Whether you use sodium and electrolyte supplementation in your racing and training is an individual decision. You simply have to try the product and look at your performance to evaluate any effect it may have. Keeping good training logs will provide an insight into the effectiveness of any product you try. If you have a history of poor performances in the heat that may be an indication that you’re a candidate for electrolyte supplementation. Sodium and salt supplementation have a long history of validity dating back to US military personnel in World War II and then again during the Vietnam conflict where troops were exposed to high work loads in tropical environments. While some recent studies also suggest electrolyte supplementation beyond what is included in sports drinks may not be necessary in all environments it is a credible option.

Rudimentary sodium supplementation through "salt tablets" was popularized in military use during WWII and Vietnam. SaltStick supplements are a much more sophisticated product than old "salt tabs" and work more effectively with less gastric stress. This is an example of early salt tabs as used by a US Navy SEAL in the Rung Sat Special Zone in Vietnam.

In our survey of the literature on electrolyte supplementation in triathlons we found a study debunking the need for electrolyte supplementation but the study did not include sports drinks laden with electrolytes consumed on the course, so even the athletes who showed they were not ingesting sodium and electrolyte supplementation- actually were in the form of sports drinks.

Top professionals like Ford Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander use SaltStick.

Jonathan Toker used his unique backgrounds as athlete and scientist to develop the SaltStick formulations and they are a consistent strong seller in the sports nutrition category, especially as warmer weather comes to Midwest and Ironman season begins.

If you’ve had issues that could be related to sodium and electrolyte levels trying SaltStick is a valid approach in your race preparation. Never try a new nutritional product in a race without first using it in training to verify it works for you, so start your research with SaltStick products well before race day to evaluate if they are right for you. If you use any capsule during training and racing the SaltStick dispensers are the best capsule dispensers I’ve seen from any manufacturer. They keep capsules dry, prevent dropping, dispense them dependably and work without fault in our tests. The SaltStick dispensers are much better than using the little plastic coin purses that allow their contents to get wet and dissolve before you use them.

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Value Leader: Orca’s S4 $219 Full Wetsuit. Mon, 21 May 2012 23:39:54 +0000 The about-$200 wetsuit is the hottest price point. The Orca S4 is an alpha predator in these waters, but it may be an endangered species. Test the waters in a best-value leader with the Orca S4 here. ]]>

By Tom Demerly for

A leader in the entry price point fullsuit, the Orca S4 sells for $219.00.


An informal poll on forum suggests the most popular wetsuit price category may be $100-$300 with over 50% of respondents indicating $200 is about what they’d pay for a wetsuit. While wetsuit prices have climbed steadily at the high end since the late 1980’s the sub $300 category is still where most sales are made. That makes Orca’s all-smoothskin outer S4 fullsuit at $219 relevant.

At $219 for a smoothskin outer fullsuit from a major brand, the Orca S4 is a good value.

When we unboxed Orca’s S4 at the University of Arizona pool for swim testing we thought we grabbed the wrong suit. The entire outer of the suit, save the forearms, is smoothskin. This includes the underarms. That’s usually reserved for suits above $250. The S4 reminded me of early “super suits” with it’s almost entirely smoothskin outer. The benefits of a smoothskin outer are better hydrodynamics (it slides through the water easier) and the suit doesn’t soak up water as the swim gets longer, losing some of its buoyancy. The later is important for mid pack swimmers in Ironman distance swims.

With all smoothskin neoprene underarm flex panels, good panel orientation and a wide size range the S4 is a good value at $219.

The entire front of the Orca S4 is SCS-coated Yamamoto #39 neoprene. Both 3 and 4 millimeter thick neoprene are used with the thicker panel being located in the bottom half of the suit below the seam across your belly button. This is a well conceived design since most swimmers need more floatation in the legs, not the chest. It also makes sense for fitting. The middle 80% of triathletes probably need some additional room in the chest and torso of a suit. The best way to provide that room is not to do it with a bigger pattern, but with better fabric that conforms to the swimmer more precisely without letting water accumulate inside the suit during a long swim. Orca put nice quality Yamamto #39 3mm neoprene on this chest panel, a strong choice.

(Left) The front of the Orca S4 is SCS Coated to slide through the water more easily. It uses flexible 2mm Yamamoto #39 SCS coated neoprene under the arm. (Right) The 3mm back of the suit helps maintain value with no SCS coating since this part of the suit remains above the surface throughout much of the swim stroke.

Underarm panels need to be flexible so it’s easy to extend your arms forward during the reach phase of your stroke. Orca went with supple 2mm Yamamoto #39 in the underarms and shoulders. The combination of a well designed 3mm chest and the flexible 2mm shoulder and underarm make the suit feel less restrictive during the front half of your stroke when donned correctly.

Orca did a good job of putting performance features where they’re needed on the S4 and still maintaining price. The entire front of the suit- the part that remains submerged during your swim- uses SCS coating. The SCS coating reduces friction in the water allowing the suit to move with less resistance through fluid. This is a feature usually reserved for suits north of $300 but the judicious use of the coating on the S4 front panels adds value and performance. To maintain price point the back of the suit goes without the SCS coating.

Nice details include reinforced seams (left and 2nd from left), a low, rolled collar design for good seal and low chafing (2nd from right) and even a novel key holder built inside the suit.

Most wetsuit users aren’t as concerned about the low-temperature performance of their suit as they are the high temperature comfort. More people bump their heads on the USA Triathlon 78-degree temperature upper limit (USA Traithlon Article IV, 4.4 “Wetsuits“) than worry about a suit not being warm enough in very cold water. Orca knows triathlons so they designed the S4 with a good middle ground 3mm back. Is the S4 warm enough for very cold swims like Ironman New Zealand, held in a glacial-fed freshwater lake? It’s an individual decision but I’ll suggest “probably” for most swimmers. If you add a neoprene swim cap and wear ear plugs to keep cold water out of your ears and off your head this suit will take you down to the coldest swims.

A conventional zipper design opens by pulling downward on the wetsuit leash.

Zipper design is conventional, sturdy and unremarkable and that’s what you get around $200. Remember though, reverse zippers didn’t exist in early high end wetsuits and athletes still had fast transitions. One concern about wetsuits that zip downward is accidental opening if another competitor gets their arm wrapped in your zipper leash and jerks it down. Even in very crowded swim starts like Ford Ironman Wisconsin and I’ve never actually seen this happen.

The forearms use a pull-panel with a laminated polymer over nylon fabric. Other than the fabric panels at the back of the calf this is the only non-smoothskin on the outside of the suit.  The forearm catch panels are intended to increase “grip” on the water during the catch phase of your stroke. The legs are angle cut and have a stretch fabric back panel for quick removal and durability. Seams are taped in stress points for good durability even during quick removals.

Our pool tests suggested the textured panel on the forearms does sheet bubbles quickly during the entry phase of the stroke potentially improving "grip" on the water according to Orca.

Neck design used a low-rolled neck with the smoothskin wrapping inside the suit for a good seal. We didn’t see chafing issues with the neck of this suit even after an hour of swimming including flip turns.

Orca builds the S4 in 11 men’s sizes and 6 women’s sizes. Their typical height/weight range size chart got our swim tester in the right fit on the first try with no problems. Another potential benefit to slightly more flexible neoprene is a little extra wiggle room at either end of the fit range on a given size. As such this is a good suit to purchase online since there is a good chance the size you picked from their size chart will work.

A low profile neck (left) seals well and didn't irritate skin in our pool tests. The back of the legs (right) is nylon 2 sided neoprene for more stretch and durability during fast removal in T1.

This suit is a strong offering at $219. Our swim testers both thought the suit swam better than its price. When I spoke to Orca about the price point of the 2012 S4 fullsuit they mentioned they are under pressure to raise the price in 2013 due to spiraling neoprene costs. That may make the 2012 Orca S4 an even stronger buy for 2012.

If you are the middle 80% of wetsuit consumer who is shopping around the $200 price range for a full suit don’t miss out on the Orca S4. This orca may be an endangered species in rough water of rising prices, and like the marine mammal the brand is named for, it is a truly credible performer in the water.

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