Can techy new gear buy you more speed? I hoped so when I lined up at the start of the recent La Paz Triathlon in Mexico's Baja California Sur state with some of the most innovative bike and swim gear I'd seen in a while. When the day was done, I was stunned: I'd made a quantum leap. Feeling remarkably fresh, I blew though the finish line 20 minutes faster than ever, breaking three hours for the first time in my life, finishing fourth place in my age group and even coming in before dark at the world's only afternoon-start "Moonlight Triathlon." Was it these breakthrough products that transformed me from laggard to stud? As it turns out, probably not as much as I initially thought. An hour later, a friend informed me that I'd missed a turn and unintentionally cut three miles off of the run course. Most likely, I'd have finished seventh at best in my category. Bottom line: The novel inventions here offer real benefits to triathletes. Who knows? If you train right and pay attention to the route, you might even shave a minute or two off your personal record.
The skate pedal
Nikola Innovations lateral motion pedals: These pedals slide an inch (25 millimeters) sideways through the pedal stroke. The motion reflects Ohio inventor Nick Stevovich's attempt to create a more powerful and safer, biomechanically efficient movement pattern that combines cycling with the lateral propulsion and joint ease of skating.
Likes: The motion is smooth, enjoyable and efficient, and it feels similar to normal cycling. I felt fast but don't know for sure. Nikola claims studies show that lateral motion pedals deliver an average savings of more than two minutes in a 40K time trial and a 7% increase in peak wattage; 70% of users report increased power. Stevovich says that while everyone may not get faster, most will experience easier hill climbing and fewer knee and hip irritations and injuries. I would agree on the hill climbing, especially while standing. An athletic-injury specialist I spoke with, Dr. Eric Tortosa, speculated that the design would increase power due to fuller leg extension while subjecting the medial compartment of the knee to less load and injury risk than regular pedaling. The pedal comes with standard three-hole Look-style cletes.
Dislikes: It's expensive and heavy. It requires extra care during setup and an oversized 8 mm wrench to install and remove.
Price: $339 for the 502-gram stainless steel model; $549 for the 370 g pair of titanium; nikolainnovation.com
Poor man's tri-bike
Redshift Dual-Position Seatpost: The seat post pivots forward, converting a slack-angled road bike to a steep-angled tri-bike that brings the rider closer to the handlebars in a classic aerobar position.
Likes: Instantly turns your everyday road bike into a tri-bike. Putting wind-cheating aerobars on a road bike usually stretches riders out too much; that's why dedicated triathletes usually buy a specific bike. But this seat post, designed with a parallelogram pivot just below the seat, can move 50 mm fore/aft on the fly. You just reach down for a split second and push or pull the front of the seat to move it. Being able to go back and forth at will to match my mood and the terrain definitely kept my legs fresher, firing my muscles differently and unkinking my aero-position stress.
Price: $169. redshiftsports.com
Redshift QuickRelease aerobars: The clip-on aerobars with pads feature integrated quick-release clamps that allow you to put them on or take them off in seconds, instantly converting your road bike to a tri-bike or back.
Likes: Works as advertised — simple, fast, effective. Aerobars are by far the No. 1 performance enhancer for a cyclist, and these make it easier to set up a road bike for tris than any other brand. Once you bolt the simple slotted bases on your handlebars in place (it took me about 10 minutes with an Allen wrench), the aerobars slip on and off in seconds. A huge range of fore and aft adjustability (a couple turns of four Allen bolts) lets you dial in your ideal aero position. Plenty of add-ons are available: bigger pads, additional stack height, water bottle holder, computer mount and several extension shapes. Combining the aerobars with Redshift's Dual-Position Seatpost gives you the ultimate quick-change machine, with the speed and efficiency of a true aero position, and the quick handling and comfort of a normal road bike.
Dislikes: None — although at 630 grams, it's 100 grams more than some other aerobar models.
Price: $179. redshiftsports.com
Perfect at first
Tyr Swim Shades Mirrored Goggles: This silicon-gasket goggle has a frameless design that attaches the gasket to a one-piece polycarbonate shield lens, making them look like cycling glasses.
Likes: Very comfortable and cool. The extra-puffy gaskets sealed my deep-set eyes remarkably well during 25-minute pool sessions. The straps have a simple, secure release button that allows for quick, easy adjustment. As I lined up on the beach on race day, the mirrored shield-style lens made me feel stylish and confident. In the water, the solid shield seemed to plow through the water.
Dislikes: I started getting some minor leakage in my left eye in the choppy Gulf of California. After about 2/3 of a mile, I gave up and did the rest with my eyes shut. Online, I found others who also had experienced some leakage.
Price: $19.99. tyr.com
Roy M. Wallack is the author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100 — and Beyond." roywallack.wix.com/bike-for-life