Thursday, November 23, 2017

Xterra Vector Pro X3

It's getting to that time of year again, when the longer days and milder temperatures tempting us out of the pool and back into open water.  And if you live in Britain, that means it's either time to dust off your wetsuit or look to purchase a new one.

While arguably the UK triathlon wetsuit market is dominated (or at least, appears to be) by Orca and 2XU, there are a number of other brands worth a look.  One of these is American-based Xterra.

It's a name that you're far more likely to see on the far side of the pond than in Europe; but they appear to have a focused drive into the European market for 2011 and beyond.

Xterra at EtonXterra claim that their suits (specifically the Vector Pro x2) are "worn in more Ironman and 70.3 races than any other wetsuit in the world".  - quite how they back this claim up is unclear, but it certainly isn't difficult to find plenty of "x" logo'd wetsuits in photos from races around the world. Chris Lieto is one example of a well-known Xterra-wearer.

To support a current drive Xterra are making into the UK club triathlon scene (your own tri club may well have received a special offer from Xterra offering substantial cost savings), they provided me with the 2011 Vector Pro X3 wetsuit to test for TriathletesDiary.

First off, delivery was super-fast.  I spoke with their people in head office one day and the suit arrived the next, so speedy delivery is a given.  They also helped me select the 'right' suit fit - in my case a 'Medium Short' (I'm 5'9", 29" waist, but reasonably broad shoulders).

Unlike my 2010 Orca Sonar wetsuit (the main suit used for performance comparisons), the Xterra Vector Pro arrived without a wetsuit bag or hanger.  Not a big deal, but these were welcome additions when I bough the Orca.  The suit itself is very neat and tidy, but a bit plain looking next to some of the other leading brands - there are no 2XU 'velocity strakes' or sculpted body panels a la Orca 3.8.

At first glance, the suit lacks any stand-out technical features (you'll need to decide which of these 'features' will really save you time in the water versus serve your ego!), instead providing a focus on solid engineering and quality assembly.

The 'anatomical' arms are made of six pieces, promoting a more natural movement in the arms, together with a thinner shoulder material.  A 5mm neoprene is used on the front, with 3mm at the rear.  There is also apparently a 'super composite skin coating' to reduce resistance.Like many suits, the Vector Pro X3 sports catch panel on the inside of the forearm, but in all honesty these just appear to be strips of rubber (not like the mesh affairs on my Orca Sonar).

Putting the suit on, the fit in the main body was good.  However, despite being a 'short' I found that the legs and arms were a little too long for my liking - and did lead to some water pooling in the creases during the swim.  The neckline was comfortable however (something I could not say of the Sonar).

Into the water

The first I noticed in the water was that the suit gave me a nicely streamlined position - I'm heavy-legged, but I could feel that my butt and thighs were being held nice a high in the water, minimising drag.  Xtrerra doesn't make a play out of any special features to achieve this (other suit makers do), but whatever they've done seems to work very well.

The next thing I noticed was how much more natural my swim stroke felt.  It was only after trying the Xterra that I realised how restrictive my old Orca Sonar had been (those catch panels together with the forearm buoyancy cells might be to blame).  The shoulder material too feels like it has much more 'give' on the Xterra suit, which means my shoulders and lats don't fatigue as quickly as they do with the Sonar.

My kick also feels a bit more effective with the Xterra suit - I suspect this is directly related to my upper legs being held higher in the water and thus causing less drag.

Getting the fit right

With regards to the arms and legs, after two swims with water pooling in the creases, I resolved to eradicate the creases by trimming the suit (this does mean you can't return it, but instructions on how to do this are provided on the Xterra website).  I took about 1.5 inches off the legs and 1 inch off the arms - and it has made a big difference.  The arms now feel an almost perfect fit and there is no pooling of water in either the arms or legs that you would notice.

The one concern I do have is that when I exit the water, I do feel water from the body draining down into the legs.  While the body of the suit feels fast and comfortable when swimming, I do wonder if perhaps a snugger fit would stop this water collection and draining.

Racing with the suit

The one thing I haven't tried in earnest yet - and I will post an update once I have - is practice T1 with the Xterra suit.  However, it does feel like it needs a strong tug to get it off the arms and especially the legs.  Even though the trimmed legs are now shorter than my old Orca Sonar, it feels like the Sonar comes off easier - which is definitely something to bear in mind for racing.

I intend to do some T1 practices in the coming weeks and will report back.

Conclusion

The Xterra Vector Pro X3 retails at £400 (although you can buy for less if you look online or take advantage of the club sponsorship offer).  At that price, it is in direct competition with the likes of 2XU's R:1 (£315 on wiggle), Orca 3.8 (£396 on wiggle) and blueseventy Helix (£396).  While the R:1 may not be considered a 'top' wetsuit, the 3.8 and Helix both definitely are.

I haven't had the opportunity to test either the Helix or 3.8, but I can say that I was impressed with the Vector Pro X3.  While some may miss the more pronounced styling cues and 'features' of these other suits, the Vector Pro quietly goes about its business with aplomb.

Coming from the admittedly cheaper Orcan Sonar, I was left in little doubt that the Vector Pro felt like the better performer - less fatigue in the shoulders and back, better body position, more natural stroke.  Yes I might like the idea of 'velocity strake' or a more efficient catch panel on the forearm, but actually the suit performs very well as is.

A solid performer that certainly won't let you down in the water (and I'll report back soon on how it performs on the vital water-to-bike transition!).

UPDATE - FIRST RACE IN XTERRA VECTOR PRO X3!

So on 22nd May I had my first race in the Xterra wetsuit.  I'm very pleased to report the suit fared well; it was comfortable in the arms and - just as importantly - quick to remove in T1.  I did have a slight issue with the zip cord, but I think that's because it had become wrapped around my torso in the swim.  However, removal of the upper body and arms was easy.  I also found getting the legs off fine - but it's worth noting previous comments that I trimmed both the arm and leg lengths significantly (although within the limits indicated by seam tape on the suit) - you can see in the photo above just how much I shortened the arms.  Overall, the suit performed well and I was pleased I took the decision to use it in the race!