Monday, January 27, 2020

Endurance Junkie Sportwool Tri Suit

 

When it comes to selecting your race suit for triathlon, there’s no shortage of choice. But one company you may not have yet come across is new European-based brand, endurance Junkie (www.endurance-Junkie.com). The Belgian company has developed a small (thus far) range of triathlon-specific race clothing, most notably their ‘Sportwool’ tri suit.

The company claims to be the only manufacturer using the Sportwool (a two-layer system of merino wool and polyester) fabric to create a tri suit that both helps maintain a steady body temperature and wicks moisture away from the body like no other. The company sent me a suit to test their claims out.

 

 

First impressions

When the Sportwool suit arrived, I was immediately impressed with how it looked. It’s a pretty minimal design with an absence of gaudy logos or graphics – just a simple logo down the left-hand side of the suit and an orange band on the right leg cuff (not entirely sure why, but I think this looks really classy – taste is a subjective thing!).

Although a one-piece suit, it almost looks like a two-piece, with a shinier fabric used for the shorts while the merino wool is in evidence on the top. Joining the two is a tight-knit white mesh section running up the sides of the legs and under the arms, providing tons of breathability.

The suit is also unique (as far as I’ve seen) in that it has t-shirt arms, as opposed to the ubiquitous vest-style top. I think these are likely to divide opinion stylistically, but as you will see, in use they work just fine.

 

Bike

I tested the endurance Junkie suit three times on the bike; once for a 90 minute hard-effort blast, once on the turbo for an hour (to test the moisture absorption etc) and then on a longer steady ride. The first thing I noticed was just how comfortable the shorts were – I really liked the medium level of compression provided by the ‘carbon power lycra’ shorts material (in fact, I wondered how an entire suit of this material would feel…) and the pad was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever tried on a tri suit.

A note of caution, however, it is important to pay attention to the sizing guide when ordering the Sportwool suit, as it won’t stretch to the same degree as other tri suit materials. I mistakenly went for the regular body length when I really should have opted for the long (despite being a short-ass, my torso is relatively long compared to my legs). This meant that the top half of the suit was especially snug and I did have a couple of issues when down in an aero tuck. I don’t believe this would be an issue for anyone wearing the correct-size suit.

Aside from this minor fit issue, the Sportwool fabric was very comfortable – good at providing a reasonable level of wind protection on the torso and it did indeed wick away sweat easily.

The four pockets on the legs and just above the kidneys were small enough not to be noticed when empty, but also large enough to carry a gel (or a car key!) without causing any discomfort – all four pockets were easy to access on the bike or run.

A sweatfest on the turbo did manage to totally drench the suit, but I was again impressed that a) the shorts still felt comfortable (i.e. no chafing) and b) the top actually felt dry to wear, it was only taking it off that I realised how wet it really was.

The weather was warm on the last of the three rides and I ended up with a nice tanline around the t-shirt arms – not my best look, but more importantly a good demonstration of why arms on a suit might actually be sensible in a long-distance race.

 

Swim / Run

Designed as a long-distance suit, there is an assumption that the Sportwool suit will be worn under a wetsuit in the swim. In fact, endurance Junkie firmly state that the suit is not suitable for swimming in without a wetsuit (I’m guessing the fabric could get heavy and cause drag).

So for the final test I decided to swim with the suit under my wetsuit for three laps of my local lake (2750m approximately) and then go straight into a run – with the suit soaking wet, I thought it would be a good opportunity to sport any shortcomings in comfort and performance.

Getting the wetsuit on over the tri suit was no problem, arms included. During the swim, it actually felt (and I could have been imagining this…) that the merino wool in the upper body of the tri suit was doing its job and actually keeping me a little warmer than I would usually expect. This has to be a good thing in all but the hottest of conditions.

Coming out of the water, I took a couple of minutes to remove the wetsuit and don my running shoes, then set off for a mild tempo run – not a full-out race pace, but enough to work up a sweat in the morning sun.

Again, the shorts and pad felt great. I could definitely feel the pad, but it wasn’t intrusive, and again I was grateful for the mild level of compression provided against my quads. The upper body felt like it wasn’t really there at all, which is meant as a compliment!

Within 2km, the suit felt dry to wear, although patting it with my hands I could still feel it was damp on the outside – again, top marks for comfort. One interesting note; endurance Junkie claim the suit’s design can actually help lower your HR. It seems a bold claim, and I paid it no attention until I came to notice that I was running 4:45 min/km pace at an HR a good 5-6bpm lower than I would normally expect. Hardly scientific, but an interesting observation nonetheless.

 

Summary

There’s no doubt that endurance Junkie have got their work cut out to make an impression in the already over-crowded triathlon scene. But I can honestly say the product works – and for that alone they deserve a great chance. Instead of coming to market with a me-too product, they’ve taken a different approach – shunned the usual fabrics, the usual designs, the usual cuts and gone for something that succeeds in marking them out from the big boys.

At €126, it’s not cheap; and while some triathletes won’t be drawn away from their logo craze, for others that put performance or individuality above running with the herd, then endurance Junkie really is worth a look.

The one-piece design might also put off some long-distance athletes (I can confirm toilet stops not the easiest!), but the company does offer separate tri race shorts. If I was going long (and even if I’m not!), I’d want a set of these in my wardrobe – they really are the best race suit shorts I’ve tested in my limited ‘career’. There’s no mention of a separate top on the company website, but photos suggest it must be available or on the way.

In closing, I liked the suit a lot.  And if endurance Junkie don't ask for it back, I'll be wearing it in training and racing in the future...!

Check out the full range of endurance Junkie kit here: www.endurance-junkie.com