Tackling three sports at once has a strange effect on triathletes: It makes them famously open-minded. Always in learning mode, tri guys and gals flock to clinics to improve their swim-bike-run, pay online coaches big bucks for training advice and love to experiment with far-out, supposedly performance-improving gear — often long before their single-sport counterparts. Here's a look at some of the hottest innovations for which triathletes are currently opening their minds and wallets.
Likes: It works, offering a good alternative to lace locks. The hatch lies flat when open, allowing you to slide your foot in and quickly close it up tight and comfy by securing a Velcro tab. You pre-fit the shoe by tying the traditional laces beforehand. The shoe includes built-in holes in the sole to drain the water that can pool at your feet after being doused at aid stations. The reduced heel cushioning and flat profile encourage the popular forefoot/barefoot-style low-impact running form.
Dislikes: The laces can come untied, unlike lace-lock systems.
Price: $110. (208) 622-1055 or (208) 622-1000; http://www.scottusa.com.
A gentler bit
ArmourBite Performance Mouthwear: Custom-fitted mouthpiece that places a 1/16-inch-high yellow pad on top of your bottom molars in an attempt to prevent triathletes — as well as runners, tennis players and other non-contact athletes — from clenching their teeth. That supposedly will relieve stress, increase oxygen flow and direct more energy to athletic performance.
Likes: It does stop teeth clenching, seems to reduce stress and add relaxation, and probably saves some energy. BiteTech, the inventor, claims the device helps open air passages and lowers levels of cortisol, a natural stress-related chemical that can inhibit performance. The 2007 Hawaii Ironman champion, Chris McCormack, has worn one for the last year. "I'm not a fan of techy devices, and I thought this was a joke when I first heard about it, but I changed my mind when I tried it," he told me. "It does keep me more relaxed and I think aids performance." The mouthpiece also prevents teeth grinding, weighs next to nothing (1 ounce) and is practically invisible, so it can be worn any time. It is more comfortable and form-fitting and less impinging than an off-the-shelf $5 mouth guard.
Dislikes: Expensive and time-consuming. It requires a visit to a dentist to make a custom wax form and requires a two-week wait for the final product.
Price: $495 (includes fitting and mouthpiece). (877) 248-3832; http://www.bitetech.com.
A new spin
Rotor Q-Rings: Oval-shaped bicycle chain rings from Spain that supposedly provide more power and waste less energy than conventional round chain rings by matching a rider's natural biomechanics. Designed for use by all cyclists — mountain, road, triathlon.
Likes: They worked for me, providing a natural-feeling pedal stroke that seemed no different from my normal compact road drive-train yet allowed easier and faster all-around riding, especially on out-of-the-saddle hill climbing in higher-than-usual gears. A Rotor-equipped mountain biker told me the same thing, and a scan of Web reviews generally (but not always) concurred. Following the recommended setup, with the apex of the oval at the 11 o'clock position and the right crank arm at 4 o'clock, the unusual shape seems to encourage a faster turnover. Rotor says the rings do this by extending the time you spend in the down-stroke (4, 5 and 6 o'clock — when 90% of all power is produced) and by shortening your time in the "dead spots" of the stroke. This also supposedly makes it easier on the knees. It took me about an hour to swap out my old round rings for Q-Rings and raise the front derailleur 3/4 inch to clear its taller height. Highly adjustable.
Dislikes: Pricey. Memories of Shimano's long-ago discredited ovalized Biopace system (which had major design differences) remain strong. Some may need a break-in period for their leg muscles to acclimate to the new stroke.
Price: $265 (for both compact and standard double chain rings). (866) 391-0493; http://www.Rotorbikeusa.com.
HED Third Brake Lever: Additional brake lever that fits on the end of an aerobar. Must be installed by a bike shop ($10).
Likes: Makes you safer and faster; no need to come out of the aero position to grab handlebar brakes. Weighs just 15 grams — less than a water bottle. Kit includes lever, mountain hardware and brake slitter.
Dislikes: Will actuate front or rear wheel but not both.
Price: $90. (888) 246-3639; http://www.hedcycling.com.
Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." firstname.lastname@example.org