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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Editors’ Choice The Bronson, with its tweener 650B wheels, was that rare bike that didn’t just win over both 29er devotees and 26er zealots, but also made us forget about wheel size entirely. That’s because it’s laugh-out-loud fun to ride, especially on moto-style descents that beg for you to get those WTB Frequency wheels off the ground. It’s the prototypical enduro bike, with a short cockpit, de rigueur dropper seatpost, and slack geometry (67-degree head-tube angle). And yet the svelte, 27.5-pound build weight didn’t cramp our legs on climbs. As one tester summed it up: “I’d ride this bike anywhere, on any terrain—as long as there’s downhill.” 27.5 lbs.
Ellsworth Absolute Truth ($8,385, or $3,500 frame only)
Best for: Upgrading Once known for painstakingly crafted aluminum bikes, Ellsworth has expanded into carbon in the past few years. In refashioning its Truth as a five-inch carbon-fiber trail ride with 27.5-inch wheels, the company held to its boutique heritage by using aerospace-grade materials. What hasn’t changed is Ellsworth’s ICT suspension—a four-bar linkage that provides some of the most efficient climbing performance of any design on the market, yet still feels plush in the rough. And while it pilots like a cross-country machine, especially with the flawless Shimano XTR group set and lightweight Kenda Slant 6 tires, it’s a bit heavy for racing. 25.3 lbs.
Best for: Noncomformists The Instigator is the punked-out younger brother of Surly’s 2013 hit, the Krampus. Like its sibling, this bike advances the idea of mid-fat tires, with house-made 2.75-inch Dirt Wizard rubber running on massive 50-millimeter rims for exceptional grip and the same effective rolling circumference as a 650B wheel. Coupled with the 5.5-inch Fox Float 32 fork, it behaves like a dirt jumper, bounding up scree-covered trails. “It’s more fun than jumping into a mosh pit,” one tester raved. It isn’t light, nor is it cheap for what you get, but you can’t put a price on fun. 32.1 lbs.
Best for: Racers on a Budget Long known for producing low-key, hard-riding, affordable bikes, Salsa jumped into the big leagues by licensing the Dave Weagle–designed Split Pivot rear suspension for the latest version of its Spearfish. So while this four-inch aluminum 29er shares its name with the original, it’s more supple and feels stiffer in the back end. It’s a catlike ride, sluicing through tight singletrack and pouncing around corners. The 11-gear XX1 drivetrain is optimal for racing speeds, and the ZTR Crest wheels are the ultimate workingman’s lightweight hoops. The Spearfish is pricey by Salsa standards, but it’s high value compared with its peers. 23.7 lbs.
The Fuel EX 29 is the Toyota Tacoma of the mountain-bike world: tough, reliable, and reasonably sexy. This five-inch carbon steed (with an aluminum rear triangle) is every bit as lively as the 26-inch Fuel, the company's bestseller for years. And thanks to the relaxed positioning and terrain-crushing wheels, it's an even easier ride. “It’s not the lightest climber, and it's no burly shredder,” said one tester, “yet it keeps up with both.” The Fuel also packs a ton of value, including Fox suspension in front and back and a mix of Shimano XT and SLX components throughout. Pity about the clunky Bontrager Duster wheels. 27.2 lbs.
Best for: Rock Crawling By the numbers, the Mammoth looks a lot like the Trek, with big wheels and five inches of travel. But this small-batch aluminum bike is a specialist. In spite of the comfortably slack 69-degree head-tube angle, it clambered monkey-like up the trickiest rock features on Tucson’s La Milagrosa Canyon and was pool-cue accurate on hardscrabble descents. However, the Mammoth wasn’t as comfy on fast, cruising terrain, where its high bottom bracket had some testers feeling tenuous. Our test bike was built with a mishmash of SRAM parts and an older Fox RP23 shock; owner Devin Lenz prefers to sell the Mammoth as a frame and shock alone, letting buyers customize to their needs. If it were us, we’d equip it with some burly parts to build the ultimate tech-sessioning machine. 28.6 lbs.
Learning to ride a bicycle can be brutal for both kids and parents alike. But those endless sessions of running alongside your tike and bandaging up bloody knees can be avoided altogether by incorporating a balance bike into your kid’s training.
Balance bikes—pedal-less cuisers that are low enough to the ground so kids can put their feet down—are not only fun, but easily teach kids how to balance and steer without the terror of falling over. “They are designed so the kid has a little stand-over height and a place to put their feet when they are coasting,” says Lester Binegar, general manager of University Bicycles in Boulder, Colorado.
“Training wheels train kids how to not balance a bike,” Binegar continues. Balance bikes teach—surprise!—balance, a main component of cycling that makes everything else related to riding a bike easier. “Once the kid has the balancing down for a month or so, the parent should move them to a bike with pedals.”
Binegar recommends waiting until your kid is at least two-and-a-half to three years old to get him or her on a balance bike. At that age, children are able to balance and steer at the same time and will fit properly on the bike. Most balance bikes don’t come with brakes, so Binegar recommends starting off on a flat surface. For more of a challenge, head for a little downhill.
There are plenty of balance bikes on the market, with frames made from both wood and metal. And some of those rigs are really more toy than bike. The more expensive balance bikes are made like adult bicycles, minus the drivetrain and other components. “There's even a few models that allow for easily removing the drivetrain until the kid gets the balance,” Binegar says. “Then you put the crank and pedals back on and off they go.”
Here are our top picks to get your little rider off and cruising.
According to Ivan Altinbasak, the owner of Wee Bike Shop in Warwick, Rhode Island, the Scoot by Ridgeback ($135) is the rock star of balance bikes. From the frame to the handgrips, it is completely customizable. And adjustable—the seat height can be increased by six inches, which means kids up to 6 years old can hop on comfortably. Maintaining control is easier, too, thanks to a longer wheelbase and handlebars than other balances bikes. Bonus: because this is an actual bike (and not a toy) any maintenance or repairs can easily be done at a regular bike shop.
The TooToo by Czech-company Yedoo ($130) is on the lighter end of balance bikes but still has top stability and high-end features, such as brakes, an upholstered seat, wide-end grips, and backstops to prevent the handlebars from doing a 180. The aluminum version weighs in at just more than eight pounds. Using an Allen wrench, the seat is adjustable up to five-inches, so it can grow as the kids grow, or the bike can fit multiples siblings, so long as sharing isn’t a problem.Full-Column Inline Image with Caption:
Although FirstBIKE’s cruisers are technically toys, the Limited Orange balance bike ($200) is designed by German cycling professionals and doesn’t skimp on safety. The bike accommodates ages two to five thanks to a four-inch adjustability in the seat, has a Safety Stop Brake System, a no-slip saddle, and a steering limiter so sharp turns won’t lead to bloody knees. The bike is made from durable nylon, which won’t rust or leave paint chips everywhere.
Thanks to the flame detailing, customizable seat and grips, and the wheel set up (14 inches in the front, 12 inches in the rear) you’ll have a badass biker in no time. Although more expensive ($180) then some models, this seven-pound wooden bike is made from marine-grade Birch, which is essentially weather-poof. A removable turning limiter along with recessed bolts keep your little ones safe. The Classic is recommended for ages two to four-and-a-half years, but Easy Riders makes models for older kids, too.
The natural birch Wishbone 3-in-1 ($230) is one of the most versatile balances bikes on the market. It transforms from a three-wheel trike to a two-wheeled balance bike to full-blown glider with a flip of the frame and a raise of the seat. With a seven-inch adjustable seat, it can accommodate kids from one to seven years old.
The rugged and sporty Laufrad by KinderBike ($119) doesn’t disappoint, though it works best for kids two to four years old. The durable bike boasts air tires and an aluminum frame, along with a five-inch adjustable seat that not only moves up and down, but also front to back.
Another wooden model, the 7.7-pound LIKEaBIKE Mountain ($315) uses laminated birch to create a sleek frame perfect for kids aged two years to five. Customize your ride with five different colored saddles, and adjust the seat up for four inches. Rubber handle grips and pneumatic tires make for comfortable riding both indoors and out.
Perhaps the most recognizable brand for balance bikes, South Dakota-based Strider was founded in 2007 and now sells more than 700,000 bikes around the world. The popular Sport model ($119) checks in at 6.7 pounds and, with a five-inch adjustable seat post, is ideal for kids 18 months to five years old. The Sport comes with a brake mount, foot rests, and protective ends on the handlebars. Unlike some balance bikes, the Strider uses foam tires, which means no flats. It also means once your kid gets into tricks at the bike park, you might want to upgrade to something with more traction.
We love Specialized bikes for adults, so it’s no surprise that the company’s kids’ line impresses, too. Perfect for your future mountain biker, the Specialized Hotwalk ($175) comes with Specialized Rhythm Lite Sport tires, soft grips, and feet platforms for endless riding. Children will be keeping up with parents in no time.
At only 7.1 pounds, the Kundo EVO ($150) is a good choice if you’re going to be hauling your ride from the house to the park and back. The lightweight, one-piece aluminum frame boasts modern, European styling with tri-spoke wheels. No protruding and a padded saddle aid comfort for kids, and an integrated carry handle is useful for mom and dad.