In the sporting world, there are so many options and prices for kit, components and accessories that it can all become confusing. If you’re working to a budget, what’s worth forking out extra money for versus what can you save on? I believe there are areas you should spend more money on, but at the same time there are plenty you can save on and not be at any real detriment in terms of performance.
Remember, I’m doing this for entry- to mid-level triathletes; if you were a pro, you’d be wanting marginal gains in every area, but for most of us that’s just not necessary.
So, let’s crack on. All ‘results’ are my opinion only and what has worked for me; if you think differently or have different experiences, comment below!
Before we have a look at each individual discipline, let’s take a quick look at the event as a whole. You’re going to need triathlon-specific kit, be it shorts and top or a one-piece tri suit. The suit may appear the more ‘pro’ option, and in shorter events it’s probably what you should go for, but in long distance events you’ll be going to the toilet at least once, so a two piece effort is probably easier. Paying more money here gets you better quality garments that won’t chafe, and are comfier in all the legs: fast-drying after the swim, comfy on the bike and unobtrusive on the run. Result: spend.
Sports watch – A sports watch will track your efforts, from simply timing you to showing you your swim splits, bike cadence and running metrics. Spending here allows you to save on a bike-specific GPS computer whilst also letting you monitor your swim and your run. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT is a fantastic tool that ticks all the triathlon boxes you need and I love mine. Result: spend.
When I first upped my pool swimming, my nose would be blocked for days on end, to the point that I was forever blocked up if I swam more than twice a week. This was fixed with a nose clip; it took some getting used to, but I can at least breathe now. It’s to do with your nose reacting to the chemicals in the water, so shouldn’t be an issue in open water. But, if you find yourself in the same position, get yourself a metal wire nose clip for around 5 pounds (plastic ones break) and stick with it. It’s worth the change and initial ‘breathlessness’ and within a couple of sessions you’ll appreciate it.
Swim shorts – While triathlon shorts are designed to swim, cycle and run in, if you’re doing a lot of pool-based swimming it’s worth buying some swim-specific shorts so your tri shorts don’t get damaged by long exposure to chlorine or other pool chemicals. Damaged can mean anything from wearing out quicker to pad damage to colour draining. You can spend a lot of money on the latest, most hydrodynamic shorts you can, but I picked up some Zoggs jammers for around 30 pounds and can’t complain at all. Result: save.
Goggles – These are crucial and in my mind should be fit-and-forget. Spending more money will get a better fit and more ‘reliable’ goggles (less leakage, no strap snaps). Customer reviews on various sites pushed me towards the Zoggs predators, which I picked up with polarised lenses to help with open water use. They cost me about the same as my swim shorts. I’ve used cheaper goggles, but these have been more a hindrance than a help as they leak, are uncomfortable and didn’t let me focus on the task in hand. Result: spend.
Wetsuit – You’ll need this for the majority of open water swimming. Spending more money gets you a comfier, less-restrictive suit, but cheaper ones will still do a fine job. However, I think your wetsuit is a key aspect that should, like your goggles, let you crack on with the task at hand; you want to get to the bike as carefree as possible. My wetsuit is a Zone3 Aspire (as shown in the photo) which is a universally praised suit that doesn’t break the bank, but it isn’t cheap either. If you have the money, I’d get the best suit you can. Result: spend.
Tempo trainer – This is a small device that fits under a swim cap that beeps at set intervals. It transformed my swimming as you can accurately hold, push or reduce your pace to match the specifics of that session and adjust your speed accordingly each length. You can get them for around 30 pounds, which can seem a lot for such a small device, but it’s been an essential tool for my training. Result: spend.
Extras – You can get paddles for your hands to focus on strength and connection to the water, fins for your kick and floats to hold between your legs so you can focus on your arm pull. But, do you need them? They are valuable tools, but if you’re on a tight budget save the money for other things. I haven’t bought any of these, other than a pullbuoy float I bought for under 10 pounds. Being honest, though, I’ve rarely used it. Result: save.
This is an area that you can spend thousands of pounds on, indulging in every minute detail. For me, cycling is the most exciting of the three disciplines, but it’s also the most expensive. Where can you save?
Helmet – Well, this is not the place to do so. Spend as much as you’re willing to for better comfort, looks but, most importantly, safety. No pun intended, but it’s a no brainer. Result: spend.
Aero helmet – Slightly more niche, these helmets are more aerodynamic in shape and, whilst they will let you go faster for the same effort, the differences are small enough that an amateur athlete doesn’t need to worry about it in my opinion, especially over shorter distance events. Result: save.
Bike – Spending more on your bike will get you, as a rule of thumb, a lighter frame, more reliable components and an overall more enjoyable ride. However, though you can, you don’t need to spend much more than a couple of thousand pounds to get a very good bike. If you’re remotely serious about triathlon, you’ll want a time trial (TT) or triathlon specific machine. The main differences to a road bike are that the TT/Triathlon bikes are inherently faster for the same effort due to their aerodynamic shapes, they have specific aero position bars that keep you comfy for long periods of time whilst also keeping you aerodynamic, and their slightly different position encourages the use of your quad muscles more than a general road bike, leaving your hamstrings and glutes fresher for your run.
There’s also the fact that you’re going to spend the longest part of your event on the bike, no matter if it’s a sprint, olympic or long distance event. With that in mind, I reckon you should pay what you can on your bike to help your speed and comfort before you get to the run. Result: spend.
Extras – Bike computers, power meters and heart rate monitors, the latest and stiffest carbon shoes to transfer every bit of your power to the pedal: the list goes on. More expensive bike computers show you more stats and help you monitor every aspect of your ride. Heart rate monitors show how hard your body is working, and power meters show how hard your legs are working irrespective of heart rate. More expensive shoes will fit better and allow you to feel a big difference in power transfer.
So, spend or save in these areas? Firstly, power meters. At the moment, these are expensive yet very, very good training tools, but you don’t really need one; you can get a good idea and most of what a power meter would show you with a heart rate monitor. Bike computers are awesome for cycling but, these days, triathlon watches cover all the bases and while not cheap themselves, help monitor all disciplines and mean you don’t have to get a bike-specific computer. Finally, you can get a great pair of cycling shoes without breaking the bank for the latest and greatest. Result: save.
The simplest of the three disciplines requires, correspondingly, the simplest kit. It’s an easy one; running shoes. This is trial and error, varying from individual to individual. It’s worth paying for a gait analysis if you haven’t before, to give an idea on what shoe you should get (supportive, neutral, that sort of thing) and then it’s up to you. Thing is, though, shoes can make or break your running. Imagine trying to do a mile run in high heels. That’s the extreme angle of things, but it highlights the matter: shoes are key. Result: spend.
So, those are my top-level thoughts on where you can save money versus where it’s a good idea to spend a bit more. I’ll have missed things out, but bottom line is if you wear it, spend. Buying cheap in these areas will most likely give you a harder time than the money you’d save would be worth.