Wow this triathlon thing can get expensive! I’ve been going over my “shopping list” the last couple of days and it’s really starting to add up. Apart from the actual race entry fees (the Perranporth Triathlon in a few weeks is £40 which isn’t too bad, but the Ironman is £345!) and swimming coaching (£60 per hour) and travel/accommodation expenses, there’s a whole bunch of equipment needed both for training and racing. It kinda got me thinking – what is the minimum equipment needed, or put another way – how cheaply can someone get into triathlon?
Minimum equipment for triathlon
Now a bunch of this is going to be stuff that a lot of people already have, but quite a bit is fairly triathlon specific and will involve an expense for anyone wanting to get started with the sport, so let’s take a look at each stage in turn:
Equipment for the swim
Well the biggest expense here is going to be the wetsuit, unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm enough that one isn’t needed. While a lot of active people may well already own a wetsuit it almost certainly won’t be suitable. Wetsuits for surfing, kayaking or diving for example are too bulky and restrictive for swimming efficiently, so at the very least you’ll probably want to “splash out” on a budget triathlon specific suit. From doing a little research the budget suits made by Orca look like a good deal for beginners.
After the wetsuit the swim stage isn’t too costly – a decent pair of goggles is essential, but anyone who already swims probably has a pair. Other than that, you just need a swim suit of some description – while a triathlon specific suit might be ideal for shorter races especially, I see no reason why beginners can’t get away with a normal swim suite or pair of shorts under their wetsuit.
Equipment for the bike
OK, here’s where it gets expensive! If you’re lucky then you already have a road bike you can use, if not then this is where you’ll need to be spending some real money. Triathlon bikes can be very expensive, but beginners are recommended normally to start on a normal road bike anyway. I come from a mountain biking background and have been riding Specialized mountain bikes for years, so I’m intending to get a Specialized Allez. There also appear to be good budget offerings from Scott, Trek and a few other brands. I think this is the one piece of equipment that it might be worth checking the second hand market for. I’ve seen some amazing deals on second hand bikes in the past, so shop around and check places like eBay and the classifieds ads in your local paper. There are a LOT of options when it comes to the bike though, so I suggest either grabbing the abslute cheapest second hand bike you can find, doing a couple of races, then selling it again and upgrading now you know what you want… or doing some real research before making the investment in a bike that will last. Apart from the make and model, you need to decide on frame size (get fitted at a local bike shop!), gearing (double, triple or compact chainset, size of cassette etc>) and a whole load of options like brakes etc. If you’re using clipless pedals then you’ll also need compatible cleated shoes. Note – when you’re budgeting, remember that most decent bikes won’t come with pedals so you need to include the price of whatever pedals you want in your budget (but many bike shops will give you a deal on the pedals if you ask!)
Apart from the bike itself you’ll need a few extras. First and most important is a helmet which is compulsory in all races, and essential for all training. If you already ride a mountain bike you’ll already have one, otherwise head to a local bike shop and try a few on for comfort, but luckily they are relatively low cost these days.
You’ll also need one or more bottles and cages for carrying drink, a pump, and preferably puncture kit and/or spare tube (and know how to use them!)
For clothing on the bike, you can either keep a tri suit on (if you wore one for the swim) or wear cycle shorts and a jersey. You’ll also want some gloves/mitts and last but not least some sunglasses to protect your eyes, believe me you don’t want to be flying down a hill and have a bee or a piece of grit from the road hit you in the eye!
Equipment for the run
OK so the major expenses were dealt with for the bike stage, and if you already run you may well have everything you need here. The most important thing of course is running shoes, and this is one area not to skimp. If possible visit a specialist shop and get fitted. Find a pair which are suitable for your foot type, and are comfortable – you’re going to be doing a lot of miles in them and a decent pair of shoes can make the difference between trouble free running and knee/ankle injuries.
Other than the shoes, you can probably get away with whatever you have available – shorts, vest/jersey and keep your sunnies on from the bike stage. You might also want a hat/visor if you’re running in a sunny climate, and as an optional extra you can go for lace locks which will help you transition faster, rather than wasting time tying shoe laces. Finally, a race belt might be a useful addition, allowing you to attach your race number and simply clip on rather than messing about with safety pins in transition (and some can attach energy gels too)
Wow that’s a lot of stuff, and potentially a lot of expense. Add to this items like energy bars/gels/drinks, magazines and books about the sport, and all manner of extras like heart rate monitors, cycle computers, bike tools and spares, wetsuit lube, muscle rubs, hydration systems and all manner of race and training aids you’ll see for sale in shops and online and you’ll quickly see that this is not the cheapest sport, but I believe it can be done on a budget if you’re careful about what you buy and stick to the basics.
Personally I’m currently looking around for a suitable bike (probably Specialized Allez if I can find one at the right price) and will need to invest in a wetsuit in a few weeks, but other than that I’m just going to use what equipment I already have, and focus on the training (while my wife is helping to satisfy my geeky gadget addiction by buying me a heart rate monitor for my birthday!)