Monday, July 23, 2012

Triathlon Pants

I have an Olympic-length triathlon coming up and I recently purchased a pair of triathlon pants. You see, I've done three sprint-length triathlons already, but all of them have featured a swimming segment in a pool. I don't know why this makes a difference, but since I own a competitive swim jammer (a suit that runs from waist to just above the knees) already, I have always worn the swimsuit during the triathlons--even for the cycling and running segments. Now that I'm graduating to a longer-distance triathlon event, I feel buying a pair of pants made for triathlons makes some sense.
I am a strong swimmer and an equally strong cyclist. I'm not fast at all while running. Most (amateur) triathletes are the opposite of me--they are great runners, do well with cycling, and poor swimmers. So I figured I'd buy my triathlon pants from a company that is best known for making swim suits: TYR. By going with TYR, I at least know that the product will be excellent in the water, and for a competitive swimmer like myself, that's important. I didn't want the pad in the crotch area (or any other design feature of the pants) to interfere with my superior swimming ability. 
So how different are triathlon pants from cycling pants or competitive swim jammers? I can't speak for all types, but in comparing one set of each that I own, I find these differences:

type triathlon shorts cycling shorts swim jammer
brand TYR competitor Nishiki Speedo endurance
fabric 80% nylon/ 20% spandex 88% nylon/ 12% spandex 50% polyester/ 50% PBT
pad insert 10" back-to-front; 5.25" at widest point; 3/16" thick 12.5" back to front; 7.5" at widest point; 3/16" thick none
inseam 9" 10" 12"
panels 13 7 8
pockets three none none
drawstring waist yes yes yes
grips around leg openings thick dots thin ridges none

The fabric matters for several reasons, the most important being that spandex (Lycra) is quickly broken down by pool chlorine, so fabrics with high spandex content will wear out quickly if worn in a pool. A lot of triathlons are not in pools, so it's fine that the TYR shorts are high in spandex. The Speedo endurance fabric contains a different elastic fiber (PBT) that is more chlorine resistant than spandex. In fact, I have swum more than 140 miles in my Speedo Endurance swim suit and it has not yet worn out (though the color has faded).
The number of fabric panels these shorts are made from matters because the higher the number of panels, the better they are supposed to fit. I imagine there are a lot of assumptions with this general rule, but as you can see, the triathlon shorts have more panels and I really do think they conform to my body more than even the Speedo endurance swim suit.

Conforming to the body is good for several reasons including aerodynamics in air and water, as well as muscle support. The muscle compression that these shorts and other products provide is promoted by manufacturers as a way to speed blood flow and improve muscle efficiency, but I am very doubtful about those claims. Nevertheless, there is a certain macho feeling that one gets when they wear tight-fitting fitness clothes and this can act as a placebo effect to improve performance. On the other hand, there is a negative aspect to these shorts in the way they hug the body. The more they conform, the more they reveal hints of the male anatomy. I've gotten completely comfortable with the Speedo swimsuit in this regard, but the pads inserted into the cycling shorts and the triathlon shorts create an exaggerated bulge in the front that could cause some embarrassment. The triathlon pants are probably the worst offenders here, because the pad is shorter from front to back than the cycling pants. As a consequence, the pad in the front doesn't come up as high, and it is much narrower there as well. The smaller pad dimensions tend to emphasize the male bulge rather than obscure it, as the larger pad of the cycling pants do. Oh well. The smaller pad is probably good for allowing greater leg motions during the run segment of a triathlon, and if someone is sensitive about this issue, he can always wear a pair of regular shorts over top. But not when swimming or cycling, as you don't want extra water and wind resistance during the race.
I have worn the triathlon shorts on both a bike ride and a run. I will soon test them for swimming when I visit the pool next. But so far the shorts performed well (no chaffing) and I expect they will work great for my upcoming Olympic-length triathlon.
Now...what should I wear as a shirt? They sell a top that goes with the tri shorts, but it's expensive and I don't see why I need it. I'll probably just wear a compression shirt made by UnderArmour, but the one I own right now has colors that clash with my tri shorts. Perhaps I should fix that problem by buying another shirt? I'll decide soon. Stay tuned for a race report!

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