If you’re going to perform at your best, you’ll need a tri-suit that works with you, not against you. Andy Blow tests 10 to their limits to help you find your second skin
How we tested
The suits were tested back to back in a pool for their non-wetsuit swimming potential with intervals at race pace, and shortly afterwards on a turbo trainer (again back to back) for comfort on the bike. The suits were still wet at this stage to simulate the conditions you’d experience on race day. Run testing took place outside with two to three standard energy gels in the pockets of the suit (if applicable), to see how well they coped with the bouncing around that occurs on the run. The suits were also shown to a number of athletes for their views on the look and feel of the materials, and the overall design, to give a more balanced opinion on aesthetics.
This is one of seven suits released by 2XU for 2011. It’s a ‘go everywhere, do anything’ suit that slots between 2XU’s Elite suit (for ITU-style short-course races) and their long-distance Endurance suit, and incorporates ICE-X technology in the fabric to reflect infrared rays and keep the wearer cool. There’s a substantial pocket for gels and other items. The 70D fabric is soft to touch and smooth against the skin, so chafing should be non-existent or minimal. The chamois pad is very comfortable on the bike and non-intrusive on the run, and there are leg grippers to stop the shorts from riding up. The only grumbles would be that the rear pocket is loose, allowing gels to bounce around on the run, and that the front zip could be longer for better cooling on hot days. Otherwise a great suit, if a little pricey next to Orca’s 226 (overleaf).
Verdict: Comfy, but would benefit from tighter pockets and a longer zip. 80%
Danish brand Fusion has been making steady progress for a few years now and has a high-quality line-up of swim, cycle and running apparel. The company’s tri-suit for 2011 is very similar to its excellent 2010 offering and comes in a choice of vibrant colours, like the vivid red seen here. So you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd, if only for the suit you’re wearing! It’s a comfortable, slim-fitting suit with a triple pocket on the back and a long front zip – perfect for increasing airflow on hot days. One nice feature seen only on this suit is the fleecy panel behind the pockets, to stop gel packets and bars rubbing your back on the run. The fleece pad in the seat does an okay job on the bike but could be improved with a proper chamois for long-distance events. Manufacturing quality is high, so the suit should last a long time.
Verdict: Eye-catching and durable. Chamois could be added for long distances. 86%
Sugoi’s Turbo suit, like Fusion’s, is little changed from its 2010 model. As before, the appearance and feel are excellent, and the colour scheme is unique and classy. However, the pockets on the rear could still do with being mounted a little lower on the back for ease of access. The absence of leg grippers means that the legs do tend to ride up some of the time, which can be annoying. The chamois however is excellent, especially for a suit at such an affordable price, and a generous front zip makes this a good suit to wear in the heat. It would be most suitable as a long-course suit. The Sugoi could well sell on first impressions alone – it feels great as you hold it in your hands. Again, the price also counts strongly in its favour, and in terms of styling it’ll appeal to those wanting to stand out in something a little different from the rest.
Verdict: Classy looks and quality feel, but lack of leg grippers is irritating. 79%
The Distance suit is aimed at the Ironman market, with features to make the 8-17hrs spent racing more bearable! The material is highly hydrophobic. Coupled with a low seam count and compressive fit, this makes it very fast (for a long-course suit) in a non-wetsuit swim. On the bike and run the athlete benefits from improved cooling from the ColdBlack fabric treatment, which reflects infrared light. The chamois is probably the best on test. The pocket on the rear has a flap to improve performance in the swim and stop items escaping, and leg grippers stop the shorts becoming hot pants on the bike. But the material is less breathable than a mesh or other lightweight fabric, and the zip could also be a little longer for venting purposes. Though aimed at the long-distance market, this suit’s also great for short-course and non-wetsuit events.
Verdict: Good all-rounder, but fabric is less breathable than most. 85%
Sitting below the Aeroforce Nano and Elite, Aquaflo is this season’s entry-level suit from tri specialist Zone3. It’s well made with flat-locked seams throughout, a robust and well-protected zip, and an innovative foam chamois to reduce water absorption from the swim. Down the middle of the back is a silver ‘Air Stream’ mesh strip, which is said to increase airflow and cooling on the bike and run. It’s hard to say whether it achieves this, but it certainly does no harm in trying. The two pockets on the back make it more suitable for wetsuit swims and long-distance events, but they would benefit from being a little tighter to stop gels slopping around when running. Overall, it’s very substantial, and hence a bit heavier than many of the others on test. However, it also feels like it will last longer, so represents excellent value for money.
Verdict: Great value, robust and well made, but pockets could be tighter. 83%
The Comp is Sailfish’s entry-level long-distance suit for the 2011 racing season, and its vivid electric blue colouring should prove popular with those that like to make a statement. The fit is a little more generous than the other suits tested here, making it very comfortable on the bike and run, but if you’re on the small side you’ll need to be sure it’s tight enough to be sufficiently hydrodynamic for non-wetsuit swims. The chamois is excellent and represents a significant step up from the same suit in 2010, which had a fleece pad. The pockets on the rear of the suit and on the lower legs mean it’s possible to carry significant amounts of nutrition for a long run, although the ones on the back are a little high and getting items in and out takes a bit of practice. The absence of leg grippers on the shorts is a little bit annoying, though.
Verdict: Roomy suit with leg pockets for long events, but no leg grippers. 88%
PEARL IZUMI SELECT
Pearl Izumi has been producing quality sportswear for over 50 years. Originally a cycling brand, the company now makes kit for cross-country skiing, running and triathlon. This is its entry-level suit for 2011, featuring mesh panels under the arms for ventilation and silicone leg grippers for comfort on the bike. It’s a fairly basic garment with no bells and whistles (not necessarily a bad thing) and simple monochromatic styling to match. The single pocket on the rear has a neat ‘envelope’ opening, to allow easy access but keep things contained on the run. The fleece seat pad is a little disappointing, especially from a company with such great cycling heritage, but this wouldn’t be a problem for short-course racing. The sizing is quite generous and the front zipper is very long, which makes for good ventilation in hot conditions.
Verdict: No stand-out features, but well made and competitively priced. 79%
226 is the number of kilometres covered in an Ironman, so it’s no surprise that Orca’s suit has a number of features to catch the eye of long-distance athletes. It has a slightly thicker chamois for comfort on the bike, two pockets on the rear and one on the chest, and Tri-Enduro mesh in the upper body for ventilation and wicking. It fits snugly but also comfortably, as you’d hope from a suit that’s to be worn for 8hrs-plus. The pockets have covers over the tops, to stop anything bouncing out on the run and improve the hydrodynamics if you swim in it. The mesh panels and long front zip make it a great choice for hot races. The Hydroseal leg hems stop the suit riding up when on the bike, but they do feel quite tight at first, and might be a little restrictive for anyone with quads of steel! All in all, an excellent product with a competitive price tag.
Verdict: Great long-distance suit, packed with features and sensibly priced 92%
Zoot’s Endurance suit is aimed at short course athletes, who need a suit that’s quick in the swim as well as on the bike and run, and don’t require any pockets for nutrition. The back zip should make the suit more slippery through the water, but the downside is that it’s harder to ventilate on the run. The surprising thing about this suit is that, despite being for shorter, faster events, it’s made from a relatively heavyweight material. Plus it lacks any hydrophobic coating or swim-specific fabric, which would help in a non-wetsuit swim. That said, once on it’s a good-looking suit with excellent leg grippers and a nice snug fit. The lack of any zip on the front means there’s no chafing at the neckline, and the fleece seat pad is adequate for the relatively short spell in the saddle required during a sprint or Olympic-distance event.
Verdict: Well made and stylish, but could be slightly quicker in the swim. 80%
SPEEDO LZR RACER COMP
The LZR Racer Comp sits at the bottom end of Speedo’s 2011 TriathELITE range, though it doesn’t feel like a budget item. It’s classy looking and fits closely, without being super-tight. The shorts have gel grippers and a decent foam chamois that’s one up from a simple fleece liner, but a little way behind the pads in some of the more expensive suits. Two small pockets on the back hold a couple of gels each and red ‘utility loops’ (small elastic tabs around the waist) are there to hold more gels. They’re a good concept but in reality it’s difficult to add to them on the move. A mid-length zip gives adequate ventilation, but the top of the zip would benefit from a cover, as it can chafe your neck with extended wear. This suit would generally be better for wetsuit swims as, if worn alone, the pockets and utility tabs will increase drag in the water.
Verdict: Comfortable entry-level suit, but the utility loops aren’t that helpful. 82%
As suit technology improves, it’s a case of finding the suit for you
As tri-suits become more event specific, the best in this test will depend on what your intended usage is. The Orca 226 would probably be our choice for long-distance/Ironman, particularly in the heat, as the mesh upper body is very cooling and the pockets are fantastically accessible and secure. Coupled with a decent pad for cycling and sensible pricing at just under that all-important ton, it’s hard to see why you’d look elsewhere. If you’re racing in an unsupported event and need to carry lots of nutrition with you, the leg pockets on the Sailfish Comp will be invaluable. If you’re swayed by appearance, the vivid red of the Fusion Multisport certainly stands out, and it won’t let you down on quality either. For short-course events, the Blueseventy Distance would be a good choice, with its hydrophobic fabric making for speedy non-wetsuit swims. The Zoot Endurance would also be in the mix, though there are perhaps better lightweight short-course suits out there if you want something super-fast. As for entry-level suits, both the Speedo LZR Racer Comp and the Zone3 Aquaflo are fantastically well made for around $140 and would be hard to beat at that price, though the classy colour scheme of the Sugoi Turbo will no doubt tempt a few athletes on its smart looks alone.