Garth Fox - Scientific Performance Coaching
Scientific Performance Coaching

"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver. " - Mahatma Gandhi
Twitter   LinkedIn   LinkedIn

< Back to articles

Article - 26 September 2011

Triathlon: How much speed can you buy and what will it cost?

This article was written for Triathlon Plus Magazine:-

Pimp Your Kit

Spending money on upgrading your triathlon kit is easy. The question is will it make you faster? Whatever your budget, here is what you need to know when you go ‘speed shopping’.

Lance Armstrong used to refer to it as “The s**t that kills them.” I am talking about shiny new bits of kit that come in sexy packaging and promise PB’s. As triathletes, lets face it, if subtracting two minutes from your bike leg is a choice between a four week block of searing anaerobic intervals or a trip to the new bike shop that serves coffee as you step in, then well, mine’s a Latte. But when we do part with our hard earned cash in the hope of buying speed just how much bang for the buck are we actually getting? The fact is that whether you are a novice or an elite triathlete, throwing money at your performance, if done carefully and with some prior knowledge, can almost certainly improve it. If proper training, recovery and nutrition is the path to constant improvement, then equipment choice and deployment is the key to making the journey fast and comfortable. That said, for novice triathletes there is a ton of time to be shaved from your performance with minimal capital expenditure on your part. Free speed is there for the grabbing, if you know where to find it. Let’s take a look at the pound per second savings to be had out there, although exactly what constitutes a worthwhile purchase is between you and your wallet…

Big Money Upgrades

WETSUIT. Let’s start with the swim and specifically the use of wetsuits. The reason why wetsuits improve your swim split is due to the buoyancy they afford. Water is one thousand times denser than air so the more you can avoid it, the better. A wetsuit causes the body position in the water to be higher and more horizontal which reduces hydrodynamic drag. That is also why weaker swimmers have the most to gain from wearing a wetsuit. Take a look at any really good swimmer and notice how they appear to get up on top of the water. A wetsuit helps the average swimmer to get closer to this position resulting in lower drag and a lower energy cost for any given speed. A French research group showed that in already well trained triathletes, a wetsuit saves around 70-80 seconds over 1500m for the same energy cost. Weaker swimmers could certainly expect to save 90 seconds or more. British Triathlon guidelines stipulate that a wetsuit is optional when the water temperature is between 14C and 22C. But with today’s tri-specific suits being so quick to get out of, it is almost always going to be an advantage to don a suit. Moreover, you will also have more energy left to put into the subsequent bike and run legs which will further improve your overall time. Wetsuits cost between £100-650. More money may get you better materials, durability and an impressive array of technological tweaks but the important thing is to use one and for it to be comfortable, especially around the shoulders where flexibility is crucial.

Bang-for-buck: Using an average wetsuit price of around £200, the time saving it affords is about 90 seconds or £2-3/second.

Don’t Waste It: Practise getting out of your suit quickly. 90 seconds can easily be thrown away by simply taking too much time to get the thing off.

Bike Bling

The bike leg makes up the largest proportion of any triathlon distance. It is also the area in which real time savings can be made as well as potentially being a financial black hole. The biggest money items are the frame, wheels, aero bars and helmet. But if going faster on the bike means reducing aerodynamic drag and the bike only accounts for about 20% of the drag created, the rest being due to the rider’s body, is it actually worth investing in the latest aero machines? Well yes it is and here is why:

AERO FRAME. A team of researchers from Birmingham University have shown that using an aero frame/fork combination (ie Cervelo) can save  around 1m45s over a 40km time trial as compared to using a round steel tube frame/fork combination. Aero guru, John Cobb suggests the saving could be as high as 2m30s with frames which incorporate clever designs to shield wheels from the airflow. The reason being is that round, cylindrical shapes create more drag as the airflow is forced to separate more widely and this increases turbulence on the rear side of the object or frame. Wing-like and flared shapes, typical of today’s aero frames, result in much smoother airflow and reduced drag.

Bang-for-buck: For an aero frameset costing £2000-2500 this equates to around £16-20/second.

Don’t Waste It: Ensure that cables are not flapping about and that drinks bottles and pumps kept on the frame are not obviously sitting in the wind.

AERO WHEELS. The Birmingham University researchers showed that deep rimmed (40-90mm) wheels can save up to 82 seconds over standard box-rimmed wheels over a 40km time trial. Zipp, The high-end wheel manufacturer also suggest a possible saving of 96 seconds for a well trained rider using their 808 wheelset. Weaker cyclists would have more to gain as they are on the bike for longer. They do this by keeping the wind on the rims for longer, smoothing the airflow and reducing drag.

Bang-for-buck: Aero wheelsets are expensive. You can expect to pay upwards of £1500 for a set which means about £18-20/second.

Don’t Waste It: Pay attention to the rolling resistance of your aero wheel set. Ensure that bearings are in always in top condition, tyres and tubes are optimally inflated. Time savings from slippery aero rims can easily be lost simply because of poor maintenance. 

AERO BARS. Aero bars can dramatically reduce the silhouette of your frontal area and thus shave lots of time off your bike leg. The Birmingham University researchers found that bars which allowed a time trial position set-up, with elbows resting on pads, resulted in time savings of up to 2-3 minutes over 40km as compared with riding on standard racing handlebar drops. Clearly, this is the way to go but beware that speed tends to comes at the price of less comfort and power. As you lower your front end, the metabolic cost of cycling tends to rise (See Training Zone: The New Faster Way To Ride), reducing power output and even reducing running economy off the bike. But such is the time saving of riding in an aero tuck position that finding the right setup compromise should be your priority.  Clip-on aerobars are considerably cheaper than fully integrated aerobars and will serve the purpose of shrinking your frontal area. They will not allow the same level of fine tuning that a tri specific bike with an integrated front end will, and as such your position will not be optimal, but as an upgrade over riding on the drops, clip-on’s are the proverbial ‘no brainer’.

Bang-for-buck: A more aero front end could be achieved by simply incorporating clip-on aerobars or the more adjustable but pricey integrated units. Either way, they are great value. £1-3/second!

Don’t Waste It: As soon as you get up out of the saddle, your carefully honed aero position gets blown to pieces and you become as aero as a house brick. Stay in the tuck.

POWER METER. Other than as a way of improving the quality of training sessions, power meter’s have two very useful applications for the triathlete looking to ride faster. Firstly it allows you the ability to optimally pace the bike leg. Researchers from Liverpool University found that the fastest way to ride a flat, windless 40km time trial is by maintaining an even power out from start to finish. However, when hills or wind are involved, then a more variable pacing strategy where you dial in up to 15% more power on hills or into the wind, is faster. Using a power meter you can be confident that you are metering out your effort in exactly the right amounts to optimise performance. The second application is in getting the compromise between power and aerodynamics just right for the individual. As Uli Schoberer, the founder of SRM power meters and the ‘go-to’ time trial position guru for the likes of Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers explains “To evaluate a position I get the cyclist to ride hard over a set distance, take note of his average power output, then slightly change his position and repeat the process. Basically, the best position is the one which is the fastest in relation to the riders’ threshold power output”. Schoberer tests only on indoor velodromes to ensure that conditions are repeatable but for the average rider using the same stretch of road would give good results.

Bang-for-buck: Even time trial pacing can save in the region of 30 seconds over 40km. Aero position tuning may be anything up to 90 seconds. Costs start at around £1000 so  anywhere between £10-20/second.

Don’t Waste It: There is a learning curve required with this technology. If you lack the time or inclination to get the best out of the instrument then you may want to consider using a coach whoc can do the analysis for you. But remember, knowledge is power, literally!

AERO HELMET. Research tells us that filling in the gap behind the head with an aero helmet can result in around a 60-90 second time saving over 40km. Again, due to the smoothing of airflow and reduction in pressure drag created in our wake. The sleekest looking helmet is not always the fastest and you will need a wind tunnel or a power meter to determine the best shape for you. However, any will be an improvement over a vented helmet.

Bang-for-buck: Great value. A £120 helmet means around £2-3/second.

Don’t Waste It: Keep your head down and looking forward. Anything else runs the risk of turning your helmet into an airbrake!

Cheap Speed

Not all time savings come with a huge price tag. Take tri specific cycling shoes for example, with quick release fastenings and finger loops mean that, with a little practice, you can get them on and off while on the bike saving anything up to 1 minute through transition. Equally, using elastic laces instead of regular ones, means your running shoes you can be slipped on in seconds without having to dither over tying knots, saving perhaps 20 seconds every race for the price of a cup of coffee. Wearing a figure hugging one piece tri suit with no wind catching pockets and race numbers that are neatly held in place with no flapping corners, all add up to perhaps another 30 seconds of time savings. Every triathlete, regardless of wallet size, should be nailing these little tricks as they really are easy pickings. Once you are confident that you are not letting race time slip carelessly away, your next stone to upturn could be some or all of the upgrades discussed depending on your motivation and financial situation. However, it is always worth remembering that although you can and should buy a certain of amount speed, becoming a properly quick triathlete will depend much more on how much you want to work at it. Good thing too.

View the full article >

Read the previous article: Runner's World Article:The Latest on Endurance Nutrition

Read more articles >

Contact Garth for a chat about your requirements >

Read our frequently asked questions >

Try our Bespoke Training Camps, High Performance Coaching, or Sports Science services >

  • When I met Garth in 2013, in my late 40s, I was already in reasonable shape. Or so I thought! The programmes Garth has set for me have coaxed me along to a much higher fitness level.

    Brian Shea, Investment Banker, Surrey

    Read the full testimonial >

  • Hi Garth
    Many thanks for a truly memorable weekend. The training, teaching and experience was fantastic: I was still reliving some of those climbs on the plane home! It was also great to meet your lovely family.
    Thank you again and I can’t wait to get back down for another weekend of precision training.

    David Persaud, London May 2015

    Read the full testimonial >

  • I was fairly new to cycling. I loved it, but felt like I had reached a plateau - I was suffering from frequent illness and injury, I didn't see much reward out for the extra effort in, and consequently my motivation was starting to falter. By good fortune, the gurus at Cyclefit recommended Garth Fox - and I haven't looked back since.

    Max Kirby

    Read the full testimonial >

  • {Garth is} a man of integrity, who seems to be driven by nothing more than a desire to help others to achieve their dreams - be these to finish a sprint triathlon, or to qualify for Kona - Garth will be at your side (sometimes literally!) every step of your journey. You're in safe hands.

    Professor Alison McConnell, BSc, MSc, PhD, FBASES, FACSM.
    Professor of Applied Physiology, Brunel University, UK. Author of "Breathe Strong, Perform Better"

    Read the full testimonial >

  • My goal after having two children was to get back to at least the level of 10k running performance I was at before having children, which was 50 mins. Under Garth's highly professional guidance I recently managed a time of 45 mins and came 6th in my age group! I am ecstatic and have already set my sights on a triathlon next year. As Garth always tells me, the limits are only where you set them. Thankyou!

    Karine Seguin - Head of European Business Development – Financial services sector, London

  • Garth's success in the field of sports physiology begins with his passion and respect for endurance events and the human body. He has a deep understanding of the connection between training, racing, recovery, and nutrition and how proper balance in life can optimize one's performance.

    Michi Weiss - Pro Ironman Triathlete.
    2011 Xterra World Champion, Olympian and 4X Ironman Champion.

    Read the full testimonial >

  • Garth's enthusiasm for endurance sports physiology seemingly knows no bounds. He has a great understanding of the human body and how it responds to rest and training. He's also one of those rare people who have both communication and analytical skills, when most people only have one or the other.

    Phil Mosley - Elite Triathlete & Coaching Editor of Triathlon Plus magazine

    Read the full testimonial >

  • Garth really knows how to connect the dots between training and performance. His enormous expertise in physiology and sports science makes his training interventions very perceptive and his ability to tease out the precise adaptations required for the desired improvement in performance with different training stimuli is uncanny.

    Peter Leo - U23 Triathlete - Student of Sports Science

    Read the full testimonial >

Latest Article:
Run Your Best Marathon..


Bespoke Training Camps
High Performance Coaching
Sports Science Services
About Garth
About Peter Leo
About Health & Fitness
In the media
Frequently Asked Questions

Share with your friends:

© 2020 Garth Fox. Website design by Ambrose Fox - Tailored Web Solutions.

Associations & Memberships:


Click here to log into Training Peaks >