By Jared Eborn
Long known for their rather unique taste in fashion when if comes to gear for races, triathletes of all skill levels are increasingly migrating away from the two-piece kits that look more at home on a traditional cyclist.
Now, in an effort to shave seconds, or possibly minutes, off their time, triathletes are quickly transitioning to one-piece skin suits previously an almost exclusive domain of elite triathletes or cycling time trialists.
Gear manufacturers are embracing the change and rolling out an array of trisuits that are fast becoming a fixture at everything from small indoor-swim sprint races to full Ironman distance races. As one might expect, the technology and price range are nothing short of impressive.
Ranging from simple $100 suits with barely a whisper of a chamois to fabrics incorporating carbon fiber wicking technology, the newest suits have athletes of all levels looking – if not performing – like seasoned vets of the sport.
We’ll take a look at three trisuits ranging from entry level to professional worthy in a quick review.
Pearl Izumi has jumped deep into the triathlon market and has a range of options. We were sent a pair of entry-level suits to give a test drive.
The Pearl Izumi Select Tri Suit is a sharp-looking model for those on a budget. With a price of $99, the Select comes without some of the frills associated with higher-end suits but provides a comfortable and functional experience. During my test session, I put the Select through a 1500-yard swim at the pool, an hour-long Spin class and a 5k run.
The swim was comfortable without much tugging or rubbing in the upper body or neck. With the full body suit, I could feel my body glide through the water. The only problem I found was when leaving the water.
The Select fabric and chamois absorbed the water and felt soggy compared to other tri suits I’ve worn in the past.
After a quick run upstairs and transition to the Spin class, I had dried out fairly well though the chamois gave me a bit of a squish when I mounted the bike.
For the next 60 minutes, I pedaled along with the rest of the class trying to pay attention to the fit, feel and function of the suit. The leg gripped stayed in place nicely and there was none of the expecting tightness around the neck and armpits.
The entry-level chamois, however, left something to be desired as I began to feel a bit uncomfortable after 30 minutes. I finished up the class, downed a gel and some water and quickly changed shoes for my run.
Again, the suit felt fine as it was completely dry and was performing admirably at transferring my sweat away. The five kilometers on the treadmill might have drawn a few puzzled looks from the walkers passing me on the indoor track, but as I motored along I had no comfort issues with the suit as the leg gripped held strong and the upper body section moved well with my strides.
Grade: B-. The Pearl Izumi Select is not for long-distance athletes. With an entry-level price and entry-level chamois, the Select does function perfectly well for the entry-level triathlete seeking a quality suit for a sprint distance race and will hold up just fine for an Olympic distance event.
Next in the test was the Pearl Izumi Elite tri suit with a suggested price of $130.
A step up in quality and price, the Elite has a slightly sturdier chamois and comes with an upgrade in fabric.
Putting the Elite to the test via another indoor tri, my experience was similar but different in all the right areas. The fabric repelled the water from the swim a little bit better and I was definitely less soggy as I left the pool. Still, water dripped from my body for a minute or two after the swim and my nether regions were definitely soaked.
Again, I felt no significant discomfort in the legs, waist or neck lines as I swam for 1500 yards. Flip turns posed no problem as I twisted my body every 25 yards, but that would not be an issue in an open water swim.
After the less-then-thrilling experience in the Spin class with the Select, I was a bit leery about how my bottom would like 60 minutes in the saddle with another entry-level chamois. But the Elite surprised me and I felt no discomfort despite forcing myself to stay in a seated position as long as possible while the Spin class instructor begged us to do a standing climb.
I moved to the run and, like with the Select, had a pleasant 5k on the treadmill.
Grade: B+ The Pearl Izumi Elite was a noticeable upgrade from the Select, but the squishy chamois and slow-drying fabric prevent a higher grade.
Finally, I stepped things up significantly and slipped into the TYR Carbon Zipper Back John.
With carbon fiber woven into the fabric, I felt fast just standing in front of the mirror. With a $270 price tag, I better be fast.
After a few wonderful experiences in the pool and Spin class with the Carbon, I gave the suit a real test at the Icebreaker Triathlon in American Fork.
The suit practically crinkles in your hand before being worn. But stretches wonderfully to fit your body like a glove. The TYR Carbon feels like a wetsuit in many ways and comes with a back zipper and an extra long pull cord.
As expected, the swim feels almost effortless as the material almost acts as a buffer to the water and your body glides from stroke to stroke. Because the amazing stretch in the fabric, flip turns posed no problems and leaving the water was a joy. Within seconds of exiting the pool, my suit had shed all water and I felt perfectly dry.
As I ran from the pool to Transition 1, I reflected back to the squish I had felt from other suits when hopping on the saddle. That was not the case with the TYR Carbon. Despite having a much more significant chamois, there was no squish and my bike ride was a dream as far as comfort goes.
Tucked into the aero position, the TYR Carbon moved well with my body and never gave me some of the telltale abrasions associated with many tri suits in the armpits or around the neck.
The leg grippers were beyond comfortable and my transition from bike to run was hindered only by my inability to put my shoes on quickly. A quick 5k run later I crossed the finish line just six seconds away from first place in my division – yes, six seconds away from first! Stupid running shoes! – and a huge fan of the TYR Carbon.
Grade: A The only thing preventing the TYR Carbon from getting an A+ is the price tag. Though $270 is nothing to some athletes, it is too much for most average-Joe trigeeks to part with. Still, if price is no object, the TYR Carbon is perhaps the best suit out there with pros, elites and average guys like me singing its praises.