Chest fairings, aero lunchboxes and custom cockpits... the non-UCI tech that makes triathletes go so fast

We take a look at some of the more outlandish equipment from this year's Ironman World Championships - some UCI legal and some most definitely not

Gustav Iden riding the Ironman World Championships in Kona
(Image credit: Getty Images)

OK, this is Cycling Weekly and if we do other sports we don't do them one after the other... but we couldn't help noticing at the Ironman World Championships (opens in new tab) earlier this month the fastest bike split was by Sam Laidlow at a staggering average speed of over 44kph for the 180 kilometres.

The British 100-mile time trial national competition record at 3:13:37 set by Marcin Bialoblocki (opens in new tab) in 2019 is equivalent to just under 50kph, but he didn't have to swim 2.4 miles before it or run 26.2 miles after it.

So how were the triathletes going so fast while still managing to save themselves for running a marathon?

As this is Ironman, athletes are allowed to do pretty much what they want, which means each year at Kona we see some wonderful bike tech appear. No one is constrained by the dreaded UCI rule book, so this means we often see athletes getting a creative with storage solutions, skinsuits with air-tripping texturing and even fairings stuffed down the suits. 

It gives us a chance to see how time trials might look without the UCI rules and sometimes it gives us an early warning about the tech that will appear in British CTT (opens in new tab)races the following year too. 

Let's check out some of the most interesting kit spotted on the Queen-K Highway this year.

Fenella Langridge’s massive helmet 

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I have met Fenella and, aside from being absolutely lovely, she has a relatively normal sized head. This is why I was astounded to see her riding along in a size XXXXXL helmet (OK, maybe fewer Xs but it was still pretty big). 

Fenella had an absolute stormer of a bike, spending a lot of the race off the front in her oversized Uvex Race 8. 

Langridge has spent some time in the wind tunnel this year as she’s supported by WattShop (opens in new tab). It’s likely that they’ve found the big helmet is faster than a smaller one as air can flow over the helmet instead of the shoulders - helmets are engineered to cut through the air with less resistance whereas shoulders are not.

The chest fairing 

Gustav Iden riding a tri bike with Kona lava in the background

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kristian Blummenfelt’s chest (see the pic of him on the Cadex bike below) has been a topic of much discussion and it seems that the other athletes want in. 

While Blu was born with his, many athletes have taken to stuffing fairings of some sort down the front of their triathlon suits, including Gustav Iden of Norway (above).

You will not be surprised to learn that this is not UCI legal. It's a technique that Andy Schleck employed in the 2011 Criterium International when he deployed a CamelBak down the front of his skinsuit. The following year the UCI updated its regulations to stipulate that hydration packs must be worn on the back, not the chest.

HED Jet 180 'donut wheel'

Sam Laidlow riding a Trek TT bike on the Queen K Highway, Kona

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When is a disc wheel not a disc wheel? When it’s a HED Jet 180. We've written specifically about the HED Jet 180 (opens in new tab) already, but seeing it on the course was certainly very interesting.

HED-sponsored athletes used them since disc wheels are banned in Kona due to high winds on course - though race days were almost perfectly calm for both the men and the women this year.

Lucy Charles-Barclay’s D2Z Endura Suit 

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Cycling Weekly tested this slippery kit earlier in the summer and gave it five stars in our guide to the best triathlon suits. The suit consists of aerodynamic chevrons (which are UCI illegal) but this suit always tests extremely fast.

UCI constraints on skinsuits mean that we often see some super fast race suits in triathlons since they’re not limited by the same rules.

Supersapiens glucose patches 

A man's arm with Supersapiens sensor

(Image credit: Supersapeins)

Supersapiens creates patches which can monitor blood glucose throughout the day. This means an athlete can see what their blood glucose is doing at any one time; Supersapiens can even be paired to a Wahoo device (opens in new tab) - something we are in the process of reviewing at the moment. This is especially useful mid race, as you can see the impact of timing your nutrition. 

Obviously, Supersapiens devices are banned during races by the UCI (opens in new tab)as they are able to transmit biological data from the rider to the team during the race - which is not allowed. 

Many pro cyclists use glucose monitors during training and it's possible that there's a few sneakily placed patches in the peloton.

Deep-dish custom aero bars

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UCI constraints on handlebars and equipment mean that cockpits on time trial bikes are kept relatively tame, though custom bars are often seen in the WorldTour - especially amongst TT specialists and GC riders. 

Daniella Ryf’s Swiss Side-branded custom aero bars were anything but tame however. They’re obviously doing something right as the Swiss athlete rode a blistering bike split heading out onto the marathon in first position. 

The bars are almost dish-like, holding her arms, a bike computer and a bottle all tucked up under her head.

'That' Cadex Tri bike

Kristian Blummenfelt riding a Cadex tri bike with Kona lava in the background

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We wrote about the Cadex triathlon bike (opens in new tab) back in July and the response in the Facebook comments was… mixed. 

The bike was ridden to an eventual third place by Olympic champion, Kristian Blummenfelt (pictured above). Everyone who has ridden it seems to agree that the bike is stiff, fast and has all the features you could possibly want in a bike. 

Aesthetically speaking it might not be what everyone wants in a bike if you look at those comments, but you can't argue with its performance.

Joe Skipper’s double tri-spoke

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On the same note as the HED Jet 180, the British athlete (who had Alex Dowsett and a host of Ribbl- Weldtite riders pacing for him at the Sub 7 Challenge (opens in new tab)) opted for a double tri-spoke wheelset from Revolver. 

The TroikerMAX is apparently the fastest wheel they’ve ever produced so I suppose two of them means twice as fast? 

The disc wheel ban has led to some very interesting wheel choices over the years and, having seen the double tri-spoke, I have to say I am a fan of the look. 

The launch of the Santara technology group

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Santara Group is, essentially, a marketing tool for sportswear and devices that the Norwegians find useful. That said, they make for an interesting follow on Instagram (opens in new tab) as you can see the cutting edge of measuring data from athletes. 

Santara was launched at Kona, and seem to be the brainchild of Olaf Alexander - coach and sports scientist. I would not be surprised to see Olaf Alexander making an appearance working for a world tour team in the coming years. If you’re into your training tech, this is the place to get the early scoop on what the next power meter will be.

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