Making Smarter Equipment Choices – More Dollars Doesn’t Mean More Speed
Generally speaking, most triathletes have an obsession with the equipment that they use and are always on the hunt for that magical new set of tyres, race wheels, that new wetsuit (insert any multitude of triathlon equipment here) that will make them go that much faster. If I am honest, as a professional triathlete this is something that I am also guilty of as well. I am always trying to refine the equipment that I use and find the best products that I can, as I understand the difference that this can potentially make regarding my performance on race day. While it’s not a bad thing to be obsessing over the latest and greatest pieces of triathlon tech, what many people fail to realise is the bigger picture. What I mean by this is that some of the fastest and best equipment can, in fact, make you slower. Let me explain.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that the claimed time or watts saved from a manufacturer of a product are universal for all athletes in all situations. What I mean by this is that a $3,500+ carbon disc wheel in ‘theory’ will save you X amount of time and watts over a 40km TT, but this is only applicable under the ideal circumstances with a certain type of rider ability. For example: if there is a cross-wind, which has the ability to make a rider feel unstable while riding with a rear disc wheel, then he/she will not be able to stay on the aero bars due to the feeling of being blown around as the solid rear wheel catches the wind gusts much like a sail. This will mean that the rider will, in turn, spend more time upright and not in an aerodynamic position, which, therefore, will result in a slower time/more watts needed. If this same rider rode this 40km time trial with a shallower set of wheels, which allowed them to ride relaxed and in the time trial position for longer, then this would, therefore, result in a faster time and fewer watts for this particular rider.
Another excellent example of this that I have given to many triathletes is that an athlete who rides a $15,000+ bike that has not been correctly set up to suit both their body and riding style will often be slower than a triathlete who may ride a $2,500 bike but has had this bike sized and set up properly via an in-depth bike fit to find their ideal riding position on the bike. This, therefore, could mean that the rider on the cheaper bike is more comfortable, able to generate more power, ride more relaxed and, in turn, can ride more quickly and also run faster off the bike than the first athlete.
This leads us to the conclusion that the ‘theoretically faster equipment’ is not always the fastest for everyone. What I firmly believe in is a smarter and more calculated approach surrounding the decisions of our equipment choices. If we look at the example of wheels, then this may start simply by testing out a few different depths of carbon race wheels to find the set which allows you to feel controlled, relaxed and stay on your aero bars even in a stronger cross-wind situation. For some triathletes, this may lead to the discovery that the best option for them may be just a 45mm rim depth and this, in fact, can often be the case for lighter and smaller athletes.
Being smart: Paying top dollar is not a guarantee for performance and results.
Another significant point of difference that I alluded to earlier is the importance of a professional bike fit and an appropriately sized bike. Without question, I can personally attest to the value of this and just how big a difference this can make. Setting up your bike with the guidance of an expert bike fitter is something that I continue to do at least once a year, even though I have been racing for over a decade and a half.
Having your bike setup to suit you and your riding style will make more of a difference to your riding than any single piece of equipment alone could ever have, as it gets us as close to feeling like one with our bike as possible. Even experts in cycling aerodynamics that I have spoken to have said that comfort should always be the number one priority followed by aerodynamics. This is because they understand that a rider who is comfortable will be able to hold their aerodynamic position longer and will be faster than a rider who is set up in a more aerodynamic position but is unable to hold this comfortably.
Another valuable asset to your bike is taking a good look at how you store your hydration, nutrition and spares on your bike, especially for racing. If you spend good money on a bike that has been designed to cut through the air as easily as possible, then the last thing you want to do is to negate countless hours a bike manufacturer has spent testing and optimising your bike in the wind tunnel by slowing it down with your extra accessories. In a basic sense, you should be able to look at your bike and see a streamlined and sleek looking setup, with bottles hidden behind the saddle or between the bars, and your spares and other nutrition hidden from the wind. From my own testing in the wind tunnel, I can assure you that there are minutes to be saved on being smart in this area.
My final take away point is this. While it is always nice to have the latest and greatest equipment – there is absolutely nothing wrong with this – it is more important take a good look at your riding style, your equipment and the bike setup that will make you faster based on your ability level and style of riding. After all, we are all very different, and we need to ensure that we set ourselves up for our own success out on the racecourse.
Images: Rebecca Ohlwein