I love getting questions about the sport of triathlon. Several of my friends, family and coworkers who follow my racing are not triathletes themselves, so the many facets of this unique sport fascinate them. One of the most common questions I get is, “what do you wear?”
This season I have the privilege of racing in apparel made by Louis Garneau. I was fortunate enough to have a kit designed specifically for me by their Garneau Custom team, but the same quality pieces I race and train in are available to the masses- pro or novice.
So, this post is for those of you who would like to learn a little bit about what a “race kit” or a “tri kit” involves. Whether you’re getting ready to make a purchase or just plain curious, read on to learn a little about what we crazy triathletes wear on the course.
What is a “kit?”
I remember the first time I heard the term “kit” thrown around in a casual conversation among triathletes. Too embarrassed to ask for clarification, I assumed it was something only serious racers or pros donned during competitions. Not so. A kit simply refers to technical apparel designed to be worn together, both for functionality and aesthetics.
As with many sports, there are a variety of styles available. Much of the decision on what you wear comes down to personal choice, but I will say that I choose my apparel based primarily on comfort and functionality over what looks cool and trendy. Fortunately, I haven’t had to compromise in this area working with Garneau.
The Tri Kit: Good triathlon apparel is designed to fit like second skin; minimizing chafe and offering comfort throughout a long day. The main aspect that sets tri-specific apparel apart from cycling apparel is that it is constructed to perform superbly across all three disciplines. Tri kits are primarily reserved for races, with sport-specific options being utilized during training. One can choose between a two-piece kit and a triathlon suit, which is one piece. There are pros and cons to each.
I’ve always preferred two-piece kits. Separate top and bottoms allow for more sizing options, which I’ve found helpful since my body doesn’t always fit the mold of XS/S/M/L across the board. I also like the accessibility for bathroom breaks if necessary. Tri suits offer one-piece comfort and less drag, but take longer to peel off in a cramped porta-potty (more on that later).
Triathlon kits come in a variety of styles; from the swimsuit-like motif you might see on the ITU circuit to more substantial designs for long course racing. No matter the style, there is usually a thin chamois sewn into the bottoms. This allows for a little extra padding on the bike but is also quick drying so as not to feel like a heavy diaper on the run. Triathlon-specific tops, shorts and suits feature a variety of pocket options and this varies from brand to brand. Personally, I love having pockets both on the top and shorts, something that Garneau has featured on several of their styles. There are tank-top styles available or the latest trend is sleeved jerseys, the latter of which I’ve begun wearing this season. I’m digging the protection from the sun and additional real estate to plug my partners on the Course Tri SS Jersey.
Cycling-specific options include a jersey and either shorts or bibs.
The jersey: A cycling jersey is designed to fit fairly snugly, but is comfortable enough to wear for hours (or for post-ride socializing). Jerseys feature larger pockets for carrying a cell phone, flat change, food, even water bottles. They also are cut for more coverage in the back so when you’re leaning forward it doesn’t hike up and expose your fair skin to the sun. One more advantage of the jersey is that it offers more protection if you have the misfortune of taking a tumble during a ride vs. a tri-specific model.
Shorts vs. Bibs: For years I avoided bibs because I thought they looked silly and I erroneously assumed the straps would be less comfortable than plain old shorts. (Plus, the suspender-like style caused my inner farm girl to associate them with my grandpa…not a high-performing endurance machine.) At the insistence of some cycling friends I gave bibs a try a couple years ago and I’ve never looked back. Bibs are comfortable, sleek and consistently moving in harmony with your body on the bike. I love them! The only downside I’ve found with bibs (and this pertains primarily to women) is the accessibility when nature calls. Which leads me to…
Full disclosure: I do not stop to pee while racing. So that quick-drying tri chamois I discussed above is especially important for me during a race. This practice is common among elite racers, but many triathletes still stop to go, which could be the deciding factor between a two-piece and a one-piece for you. Peeling off a wet tri suit when a bathroom emergency strikes can be frustrating and sometimes catastrophic if you don’t get it off in time.
Training is another story, and being able to stop for a nature break during a long ride without undressing from top to bottom is important to me.
The downside of bibs is that in order to take off the suspenders, one must take off the jersey. On cooler rides when a jacket or vest is involved, your quick nature stop could take several minutes and chill you to the bone. Men don’t struggle with this like women do. But there is a solution! Take the design of the Garneau Women’s Course Race 2 Cycling Bib. It features a front hook closure that allows for quick bathroom turnaround without anything more than unzipping the jersey. Just unhook the front closure, slip it up over your helmet and hook it to the top of your bra strap at the shoulder.
This provides enough clearance to get the shorts down and take care of business without having to fish for the dangling strap afterward. Just pull it back over your head, re-secure it and you’re on your way. Initially, I was concerned about the front hook being bothersome, especially in the aero position, but I completely forget it’s there until I need it, at which time I am nothing but grateful!
It took me years and a lot of trial and error to learn the intricacies of triathlon and cycling kits. I’ve had many friends (triathlete or not) who have said, “this may be a dumb question, but…” By all means, please ask! I am more than happy to share my personal experiences and expertise in the world of triathlon, and hopefully save you some time (and skin) in your training and racing endeavors. Use the contact form below with your questions. Happy training!