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Skiing and Snowboarding : Biking

The Coolest Cycling Tech of 2015

Every June, about 30 bike industry manufacturers gather in Park City, Utah, to unveil their most compelling products for the upcoming model year. It’s a good time to get a sense of what’s trending and which new technologies to watch in 2015.

Some highlights: Following the damaging recall last winter, SRAM debuted its fully revamped line of hydraulic disc road brakes, including the brand-new third-tier Rival group set, signaling its commitment to the technology.

Carbon wheels also continue to proliferate, with fresh mountain lineups from Reynolds and Enve, plus a road model called the Firestrike 404 that Zipp says finally resolves the issue of poor performance of rim brakes on carbon (though at $3,700 per set, they’re likely not a viable solution for most riders).

Here are some of new gadgets and toys for 2015 that we can’t wait to get our hands on.

Smith Overtake Helmet

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Las year, the Sun Valley, Idaho, optics manufacturer jumped into the cycling helmet market with the Forefront, a full-coverage, all-mountain lid that was lighter and, according to the company, more protective than other comparable models thanks to its use of Koroyd. The honeycomb-shaped material is said to absorb 30 percent more energy on impact than traditional EPS foam while simultaneously adding ventilation. 

Now Smith is back with the Overtake, a road and XC model that uses the same materials and construction in a trimmer design. Though Smith didn’t set out to build an aero helmet, the company says that the Overtake tests somewhere between the Giro Air Attack and Specialized Evade in the wind tunnel—though there’s no word on how it compares to the just-launched Giro Synthe.

The helmet’s channeling isn’t only for ventilation and looks; it also provides stable storage for your sunglasses. The Overtake weighs 250 grams and will hit stores later this summer for a premium $250—or even more eye-popping $310 with MIPS, technology that reduces rotational forces on the brain caused by angled impacts to the head.

Fabric ALM Saddle

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The makers of Charge bikes—a UK urban and utility marque with a cult following—have created a new accessories brand, Fabric, starting with saddles. 

Fabric is offering a full complement of models that use vacuum-bonding technology to excise material for a lighter, less expensive product. Even more interesting is the ALM, which Fabric designed in cooperation with Airbus using 3-D printing.

The original plan was to sell the 3-D-printed units, but the $750 price tag proved too expensive. Instead, Fabric found a manufacturer that could lay up the full-carbon unit in a single mold, a first for saddle technology. The top-of-the line carbon-only ALM weighs just 120 grams, and Fabric claims that the leaf-spring rail design makes it far more comfortable than similar-looking products.

The ALM will be available in the fall for $330. Cannondale will also stock buffalo-leather versions on its Black Inc. bikes for 2015.

Reynolds Black Label Wheels

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The company that owns the patent for carbon-fiber clinchers has revamped its mountain bike line with higher-performance hubs and lower prices. The Black Label wheels mate Reynolds’ existing mountain rims to custom black-on-black DT240S hubs for wheelsets that are as light and strong as anything else out there.

At $2,400 per set, they’re not cheap, but they do cost less than offerings from the company’s closest competitor, Enve, which manufactures right up the road from Reynolds. 

The Black Label wheels are available now in four models: 29 XC (1,440 grams), 29 TR (1,500 grams), 27.5 XC (1,435 grams), and 27.5 AM (1,530 grams). All wheels ship with end-cap adapters for conversion to any hub format, including thru-axles and quick release.

BKool Connect Sport Trainer

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It might sound crazy, but this trainer actually has me a little excited for indoor riding season. The Connect Sport ($650) is a wireless ANT+ resistance trainer controlled via home computer. The system taps into a Web-accessible archive of tracks, collected via iPhone or GPS by users and BKool employees, and allows you to ride them in the comfort of your home.

If you have a favorite training ride, you simply run the BKool app when you ride it, upload that to the cloud, and next time it’s snowing out, just plug in and do the workout inside. The BKool software reads the GPX data and adjusts the resistance accordingly so you get the exact same experience.

You can follow your progress on a map or even upload video so you can ride along with visual cues. It’s possible to ride anyone’s track on the network for free, but you'll need a $15-per-month subscription to access video-enabled rides. BKool is currently plumping up the video offerings with race footage from Pro Tour events and workouts on Europe’s most famous cols and climbs. It’s even possible to challenge others on the system to try your routes or race other riders in real time, with no limit on the number of simultaneous racers.

CamelBak Podium Ice Bottle

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CamelBak launched the Podium Ice ($25) a few years ago but had to discontinue the bottles when it could no longer source the insulation. Now the thermal bottles are back in time for summer, and if you don’t have a couple, you should hurry out and get them.

The Podium Ice is said to keep drinks cold four times longer than a standard bottle, and based on our experience it’s probably even more than that. Last weekend, on a 95-degree day in Santa Fe, our ice-filled Skratch stayed chilled for almost five hours, which is a lot longer than the company’s less-insulating Podium Chill.

On a stifling day, an icy beverage helps keep your core temperature down and, therefore, your power output high. One word of caution: The extra height of this bottle makes it a bit top-heavy, so make sure you have good, grippy cages if you plan to use it for mountain biking. 

Stan’s No Tubes Hugo 52 Rim

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The original proponents of tubeless are bringing the advantages of riding without tubes—better traction and the ability to run lower pressures without pinch-flatting—to the fat-bike market. The Hugo is a 52-millimeter rim that’s built to make sealing fat tires easier and keep the tires on the rim bead even with pressures down to the extreme low PSIs often run with big wheels. 

Unlike the Whisky 70W carbon rim, which has a recessed channel on its interior, the aluminum Hugo’s unique design raises the spoke bed by way of a box-section channel. According to Stan’s, this keeps the tire from sinking into the middle of the rim and interfering with the rim tape, and it puts the tire bead in better contact with the rim wall. The Hugo 52 will come in 26-, 27.5-, and 29-inch options, with bare rims available for $145 each and complete wheels built around No Tube’s 330 Disc hubs for $700 per set.

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What to Do in Rio Besides the World Cup

Bars become stuffier and fútbol fans drunker as the World Cup roars on. Get your head above the soccer slosh and take advantage of the city’s easy access to natural areas with these eight adventures.

Explore Tijuca National Park


The best way to tour the world’s largest urban rainforest is on a bike, although you should go early to avoid traffic on the park’s winding roads. The 12.4 square-mile, hand-planted forest is perhaps most famous for iconic Christ the Redeemer, the 125-foot statue of Jesus at the top of Corcovado mountain (who, by the way, is specially lit in green and yellow for the World Cup). Ride among the fruit trees, hibiscus, and colorful bromeliad flowers to waterfalls and overlooks. Keep an eye out for macaque monkeys, which seem to fill a squirrel-type niche in the ecosystem.

Not a cyclist? If you have access to a trad rack, climb a 5.11—served with a rack of nuts and cams—up to Christ the Redeemer. Go late in the day to finish with the sun setting behind the statue.

Climb Pão de Açúcar


The beauty of this rock face is in its vast range of difficulty and length. With grades from 5.4 to 5.13a and lengths ranging from two to 12 pitches, Sugar Loaf, as it’s called in English, leaves all levels of climbers satisfied. For the best view, however, opt for the Classic Line on the wall’s west face, which runs at 5.8 with a 5.10c crux.

Reached by a mix of hikeable and climbable terrain (class 1 to 5), the summit of Pão de Açúcar has views of the Atlantic Ocean, Rio’s city center, and the adjacent port city of Niterói on the Guanabara Bay.

Hang Glide Down to Pepino Beach


The glide starts atop Pedra Bonita, the highest peak in Tijuca park at 2,280 feet. Cruise above Rio and down to Pepino, one of they city's nearly 30 beautiful white beaches. Outfitters, such as Rio Hang Gliding, drive you to the top of the mountain, set you up with all the necessary equipment, strap you to a guide, and then send you off a ramp. Flying superman-style above the World Cup will be much less claustrophobic celebrating with the masses down below.

Hike to the Top of Pico de Tijuca


Looking for a workout before your team plays? Summit Pico de Tijuca, a mellow half-day hike that gains 2,290 feet over 3.2 miles. At the top, you’ll see rocky peaks descend sharply into hilly rainforest and eventually to white beaches. You’ll also be able to see the 14 other peaks in Tijuca (all 15 peaks in the park can be summited by trails starting in Praça Afonso Ribeira).

Bring your own water and food, as you’ll have few opportunities to stay hydrated along the way.

Trek from Terésopolis to Petrópolis


This 22-mile hike crosses through Serra dos Orgaos National Park, dipping into the Antas Valley and ascending over 7,400-foot Pedra do Sino. The trek starts at Terésopolis and finishes in the imperial city of Petrópolis. Once a vacation spot for Brazilian Emperors, Petrópolis boasts many beautiful palaces, one of which is now the impressive Imperial Museum.

Roda de Bola on Copacabana


Get in the fútbol mood by playing Roda de bola a.k.a foot volley. The pick-up beach sport is similar to volleyball except no hands are allowed. Each feet-only volley includes a spin, twist or jump, and your skills will have to be up to snuff if you want to play the locals, who take this sport seriously and often pester foreigners if their game is sub par.

If you’re thirsty, rehydrate with coconut water straight from the fruit, available at vendors along the beach.

Kite Surf Off Barra de Tijuca


The heart of Rio has little to offer as far as water sports go, as there is boat traffic in the bay. But for those looking to get kite lift, Barra de Tijuca is the best—and least crowded—option. More than 10 miles of beach and endless open ocean makes roaming the shore on a kite board easy, not to mention, the beach’s location on the southern side of the city make it less exposed to nasty winds, which makes for a smoother surf.

Surf Grumari Beach


West of Rio, Grumari is a wild and rustic beach that has no high rises or beachside restaurants, just cacti, banana plants, palms, and some kiosks. But although it lacks the crowds of Copacabana, the parking is still and issue on the weekends, so arrive early (you’ll need a rental car to get there).

The waves are easy left and rights that are around 5 feet at this time of year.

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Giro Synthe

At a wind tunnel in Scottsdale, Arizona, helmet and apparel manufacturer Giro released what it describes as the next iteration of the aero road helmet.

According to Giro, the Synthe combines the comfort and cooling-abilities of its top-selling road lid, the Aeon, with the aerodynamic benefits of its aero road model, the Air Attack. “This is the helmet that has it all,” says Eric Richter, senior brand manager at Giro. “Cooling, aerodynamics, and light weight.”

Up until July 2012, when Giro launched the Air Attack, the aero road category didn’t exist. There were road helmets, which were feathery and well ventilated. And there were time trial helmets, which minimized drag but were bulky and extremely hot. But the two variants were mutually exclusive. “For the road rider, we had taken lightweight as far as it could go,” says Richter. “We realized that the real gains to be made were in aerodynamics.”

The Air Attack was Giro’s first attempt at bring the aerodynamic benefits of a TT helmet to a lid you could wear comfortably every day, all day. However, not everyone loved its looks. “Industrial design was an impediment to some people buying the Air Attack,” Richter admits. So the company set out to make a more conventional-looking helmet that was just as aerodynamic as the Air Attack.


Enter the Synthe, which Giro says is 16 percent faster and two percent cooler than a comparable-size Aeon, and 13 percent lighter than the Air Attack. According to one journalist, the Synthe also looks at least 114 percent better than the Air Attack.

The performance numbers can seem obscure, even doctored (every company seems to have similar stats to bolster its product), which is why Giro debuted the Synthe at Faster, a fit studio with an in-house wind tunnel in northeastern Phoenix.

There, we witnessed several wind-tunnel tests on both the Synthe and the Air Attack that validated those stats. According to Giro’s tests, the Synthe not only has significantly less drag than the Aeon, but it also supposedly edges the Specialized S-Works Evade by about 8 grams of drag over a 40-kilometer course—the equivalent of about four seconds.

But it’s not just about aerodynamics. In Giro’s thermal testing—a lab protocol dubbed the “Therminator” that uses 24 sensors to monitor the temperature of a heated-up head in the wind—the Synthe dissipated heat better than any of its top competitors, meaning it will cool riders' heads more quickly. Aero models such as the Air Attack and the Evade were the least breathable on the scale.

In addition to all the lab protocols and results, Giro brought test samples of the Synthe for on-road testing. On our first outing, the new helmet felt surprisingly cool and well-ventilated despite the 85-degree Phoenix morning heat. Testers especially liked the sunglass docks, which make it easy to store your shades while climbing or at dusk. 

The Synthe will be available in eight colorways, including a revolving special edition version, and will sell for $250. It will go on sale in late fall. Both the Aeon and the Air Attack will remain in the line.

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Dirty Kanza-ed

The ninth annual Dirty Kanza 200 gravel race, which I attended a few weeks ago, was good fun. Or at least it was “fun.” Because one must acknowledge that a day of riding your bike so hard and for so long that it makes you feel as if you might vomit or pass out—possibly both at once—isn’t exactly an unqualified good time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Prior to Kanza—a 200-mile race through the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas—I had never done a gravel race. All I knew was that gravel rides like this one have inspired a swell of grassroots races in recent years and led dozens of manufacturers to launch gravel-specific or adventure-style road bikes. It’s the second cycling niche, after fat biking, that has recently emerged from the Midwest, which normally I don’t think of as a bastion of bike culture. So I decided to roll up and see what was going on out there.

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I knew precious little about the Dirty Kanza beforehand, except that most gravel enthusiasts consider it to be the foremost race of its kind. So when I was offered a media slot through Salsa Cycles, one of the race’s title sponsors, I signed up without even looking at the course. I’d done mountain bike races far longer and with a lot more climbing. How hard could a 12-hour ride in a flat state like Kansas be?

For the race, Salsa offered to loan me a Warbird Ti, probably the first bike of its kind to be marketed explicitly to the gravel crowd. Some say gravel-specific bikes are unnecessary, and little more than dressed-up 'cross bikes. And in fact, the start line of the DK200 was jammed with every conceivable style of bike, from classic ‘cross racers to full-fledged roadies with 28c tires to mountain bikes. One of the joys of these races is their inclusive nature. If you have a bike—any bike—and want to go pedal it around on mixed terrain, no problem. Everyone is welcome.

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But the Warbird is a different creature than a typical ‘cross bike. It has a longer wheelbase and lower bottom bracket for stability, a taller head tube for a more comfortable position over long distances, a huge front triangle to accommodate two bottles and cargo, and bosses for a third bottle on the underside of the down tube.

The bike I rode was the top-level spec, built of titanium and equipped with an Enve carbon fork, a mostly complete Shimano Ultegra 11 drivetrain, and Avid BB7S mechanical disc brakes. At $4,500, it’s priced competitively, though Salsa offers less expensive aluminum models for $2,400 and $1,700. I logged half a dozen rides on the Warbird prior to the event, but only one of them was on dirt. 

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The gravel on this Kansas course is sharp and unrelenting, and past racers told me stories of shredded sidewalls, pinches, and multiple flats. Tires, therefore, were my biggest point of consternation. In the end, I disregarded many veterans’ advice to run tubes and instead set up a brand new tubeless-ready tire, the Specialized Trigger 38. Run with sealant at 35 PSI, I hoped these meaty tires would provide a good blend of cushion and grab.

When I arrived in Kansas, the bustling, good-natured scene quickly overshadowed any preoccupation with gear. The Kanza, it turns out, is more than just another race. It’s set in friendly Emporia, Kansas, population 25,000, where lots of locals turned out to show off their town.

The welcome meeting on Friday felt more like a festival than the prelude to a race, as local rider and DK200 founder Jim Cummins expressed the town’s goodwill in low-key Midwest fashion. He seemed tickled that the little event he began back in 2006 with 38 riders had swelled to 1,478 riders. And yet at the start line, riders still seeded themselves by expected finish times, with none of the jockeying and pushy angst you get at so many races. It felt something like the Leadville 100 did a decade ago, before that event outgrew its grassroots spirit. 

That’s not to say it wasn’t a race. After the gun and a few miles of neutral rollout, the pace ramped up and we were soon flying up and down two-lane ribbons of gravel road that sliced through grasslands and fields as far as you could see in any direction.

Coming into the event with minimal training and a big break from the bike since the AZT300, I knew I didn’t have the fitness to compete. But when I found myself in the lead group, I figured I’d enjoy the fun and hang on until the inevitable implosion. I rolled through the 100-mile checkpoint in seventh feeling okay, but started suffering 20 miles later as the heat rose and the undulating terrain began to take its toll.

At the third checkpoint, mile 150, I’d only faded a few spots, but I was nauseous from the heat, cramping, and suffering for starting too fast. I gave up on my principal rule of endurance racing and climbed off the bike and into a folding chair in the shade. Immediately, I vomited, ate a banana and some potato chips, and vomited a little more. My skin was caked in dust and mud, my clothes stiff with sweat, and there was a small pool of sick at my feet. Nearby, a three-year-old girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why is it called Dirty Kanza?” The woman pointed at me.

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I knew I couldn’t go hard any longer, which was disappointing, but in some ways the meltdown was a good thing because it forced me to sit up and savor the rolling scenery. Anyone who says Kansas is flat or boring has never been to the Flint Hills. The land rises and falls in perpetual waves of grassy farmlands, with nary a flat stretch on this course until the last few miles. It’s the big open plains country the U.S. is known for, and once the race was so spread out that I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me, I began to imagine myself an adventurer crossing some great wilderness. 

When a racer would catch me, I’d latch the wheel as long as my knotted stomach and legs would allow and chitchat to pass the miles. Most racers were friendly, and nearly all would encourage me when they eventually pulled away.

I came to Kanza expecting a monotonous day in the saddle, yet the slippery terrain, the giant vistas, the high-speed charging, and the sense of camaraderie held my attention. The Dirty Kanza 200 (and perhaps gravel events in general) is like road bike racing with more adventurous terrain—and minus all the over-serious posturing.

About 10 miles from the finish, a 16-year-old brunette girl stood out front of a farm like a Midwestern angel handing up icy bottles of water. I snapped one up as I pedaled by and felt life pour into me as I gulped it down. By the finish, I wasn’t exactly hammering again, but I was moving well enough to enjoy the massive crowds. The main thoroughfare, Commercial Street, was cordoned off with barriers, and thousands of cheering fans hung over the rails Tour-de-France style. I rushed through, feeling much more heroic than my 33rd place merited, and was met by none other than Jim Cummins, who was shaking the hand of every finisher.

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I went to Kansas curious but skeptical of the gravel movement. Is it just another fad? Can bashing through 200 miles in heat and humidity and big crowds be a good time? And are manufacturers simply jumping on board to sell more niche bikes?

There’s probably some dogpiling going on in the industry right now around gravel racing, and it’s true that you don’t necessarily need a new bike to enjoy a race like Kanza. “The Belgians think it’s funny that we have this new category called gravel,” Richard Wittenberg of Ridley Bikes recently told me. “In Belgium, they just call it road biking.”

But it's also true that I've never done a ride quite like Kanza, and I enjoyed it more aboard the Warbird, with its stable angles, muted frame design, and clearance for 40mm tires, than I would have on any road, 'cross, or mountain bike that I own. Call it what you will—please not gravel grinding, a term that I, and many in the industry, find saccharine and off-putting—but there is a trend toward do-it-all bikes like the Warbird that can handle all terrain, from asphalt roads to dirt and gravel tracks and even some light trail. The big idea, as Salsa has put it for years, is just "adventure by bike."

Flying to Kansas with my bike, riding hard all day on rough roads I didn't know, fighting through tough patches, meeting bunches of cyclists who don't live or ride like I do but still share this common was an adventure, and a fun one at that. And that's fun without the air quotes. Because like every good endurance event, the suffering quickly recedes and all that's left is the glow of accomplishment and the fond memory of a beautiful experience.

Kanza’s success, however, isn’t only about the riding or the terrain or the trend—or even the endorphin buzz. You could get all of those things in lots of other races. What you won’t find is the downhome welcome and Midwestern lack of pretense you get at Kanza. After the race, as I was sitting on the sidewalk recovering and then making my way to the car, five or six groups of locals stopped me, asked how my race went, and personally thanked me for coming.

One grizzled old farmer, who has probably never ridden a bike in his life and likely couldn’t give a hoot about bike racing, turned around from his spot on the barriers at the finish to congratulate me. “We sure hope you enjoyed yourself,” he said in a slow drawl. “And the whole town hopes you come back.”

I probably will.

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8 Triathlon Essentials for Racing Fast, Training Hard, and Having Fun

Triathlon is a gear junkie’s dream sport. Check out any online tri shop and you’ll see thousands of goodies from carbon-fiber time trial bikes to ab-enhancing wetsuits to bright red onesies. Choosing the perfect setup is a challenge when all of that stuff promises comfort, style, and free speed. So we combed through the clutter to find the best gear for racing fast, training hard, and having fun. Presenting our top tri must-haves:

Roka Maverick Pro Full ($800)

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Two former All-American swimmers from Stanford University founded ROKA in 2010, and their swim expertise shows in their designs. A recent Triathlete magazine test found swimmers who wore the Maverick Pro traveled 36 percent farther with every stroke compared to those swimming in a regular swimsuit. That means the Maverick Pro helps you swim faster with less effort—talk about free speed. High-stretch rubber in the arms, shoulders, and chest makes it feel like a second skin, while thicker rubber in the core and legs promotes ideal body position in the water. Even better: the suit tears off easily for fast transitions.

Finis Neptune Waterproof MP3 player ($160)

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Going back and forth in a concrete rectangle can get boring. Jazz it up with some tunes, podcasts, or audio books. With 4GB of storage and a battery that lasts more than eight hours, this waterproof MP3 player will keep going long after you’ve completed your biggest set. The high-contrast OLED screen and speakers attach to your goggle straps and conduct sound through your cheekbones rather than your ears for better sound quality under water.

myFloat ($70)

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Swimming in open water can be scary. myFloat promises to change that. Co-created and designed by Olympic triathlete Sharon Donnelly, the myFloat is a waterproof bag that attaches to your waist with an adjustable belt strap, then floats behind you as you swim without causing resistance. Anytime you need a break while training—or if you have a panic attack—you can grab the thing and chill out. It also doubles as a drybag with a shoulder strap for easy carrying on land. Note: the myFloat is a great training buddy, but likely will be prohibited at all races. 

Quarq Elsa 10R ($1,995)

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Can’t get enough training and racing data? You need a power meter. The Quarq Elsa is a crankset with hollow carbon fiber arms that records power output data from every pedal stroke, then relays the readings to ANT+ compatible units, including the Garmin Forerunner 910 XT. With crank arms available in sizes as short as 162.5mm, Elsa is a top choice for triathletes looking to axe the discomfort of riding in aerobars without sacrificing frontal surface area—shorten the crank, don’t raise the bars.

POC Octal Aero Helmet ($300)

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In theory, the Rocketeer-like teardrop helmets of years past were super aero. But wind tunnel tests have shown the new compact helmets are actually more efficient. Considering triathletes don’t always stay perfectly tucked, compact helmets should perform better in real-world conditions as well—there’s no sail sticking up if you glance down or check behind you for cars and competitors. Olympic silver-medal time trialist Gustav Larsson helped design POC’s Octal aero helmet for max speed without sacrificing safety or venting. Chose from white, blue, or our highly-visible favorite: zink orange.

Cat Ears Classics ($14)

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Yes, these fuzzy helmet-strap add-ons make riders look like Elvis impersonators. No, that’s not their only purpose. (Though that’s certainly reason enough to buy them.) Wrap this half-inch pile of faux fur around your front helmet strap to reduce wind noise in your ears by 40 to 60 percent, so you can more easily hear cars coming and friends talking. For races, pick up some lower-profile Cat Ear Pros.

Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac ($160)

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Minimize joint impact while ramping up your training—or running an Ironman marathon. Maximalist shoemaker Hoka One One designed the Stinson Tarmacs with a 6mm drop and fluffy cushioning that gives runners what converts call a “marshmallow” feel. Coming in at 11.9 ounces, they weigh about the same as Brooks' popular stability shoe, the Adrenaline GTS, and have a similar spring to them, despite the beefy look. Got wide feet? The Tarmacs will fit you fine.

Garmin 910XT ($450)

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Yeah, it debuted in 2011, but the competition has yet to top the 910XT’s multisport functionality, particularly on the swim. In the pool, this watch will give you a lap-by-lap readout of your workout—including what strokes you were swimming. In open water, distance traveled gets a little wonky, but it’s a good starting point to figure out how far you went. Compatible with power meters like the Quark Elsa, it makes a great bike computer, and the flick of a button will account for transitions and switch between sports. Keep an eye out for Polar’s V800 after this year’s promised updates, as it includes a daily activity tracker. But for now, the 910XT reigns supreme for triathletes. Check out DC Rainmaker’s comparison chart here.

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