Luvuyo Bangazi | Fancy gear and high costs hinder growth of triathlon

Luvuyo Bangazi
Luvuyo Bangazi
Image: Twitter/@luvuyobangazi

Triathlon, unlike many single sports codes, has relatively significant barriers to entry when you consider the cost of equipment, race fees and all the logistics that go with it. 

For example, if you want to do all the events in the Ironman African series like East London 70.3, African Champs and the Durban 70.3, you won’t get away with less than R10 000 in entry fees alone.

That figure excludes your gear, nutrition, accommodation, travel, etcetera.

My understanding is that most international brands such as the Ironman series are dollar based and that sort of standardises the entries as athletes tend to want to race all over the world.

The value of our currency also does not do South Africans any favours.

Most triathletes I know are, by nature, very competitive A-type personalities that are consistently looking for marginal gains.

We look for these gains both on and off the course and for that we become easy prey for all sorts of gimmicks.

OK, maybe not all of it is a gimmick but one has to weigh up the costs versus the benefits.

To illustrate the point, the open water swimming industry has made huge strides in developing faster and more efficient equipment and often these wetsuits are endorsed by professional triathletes.

My quandary is, how much of a difference will a R10 000 wetsuit make for a poor swimmer like me?

A few days ago I shared an advert for a second-hand triathlon bicycle retailing for just under R90 000.

A friend replied to say he could purchase a small sedan for that price.

It may be so, but the intended customer for that specific bicycle probably drives an expensive four-wheel drive German SUV and is not deterred by the price tag.

What is of interest to me is whether or not there is value in highend equipment for the average Joe or is it all just trading on hype.

You will, for example, see an advert for an aero helmet claiming to save you four watts on average. My issue is whether the small gain is worth the extra expense for the average age grouper.

My conclusion is that gear choice is not so much about performance improvement when it comes to agegroup athletes but merely about what one can afford to make him or her happier.

This choice is largely influenced by opinion-makers, celebrity athletes and the flashy advertising we see on industry news outlets.

I can also confess to being sucked into believing that I needed to get the best equipment money could buy and that would somehow help me go quicker.

For a period I was an ardent fan of the one and only Craig “Crowie” Alexander, a multiple Ironman World Champion at the time.

I searched and bought the same brand of bike that Crowie rode and even bought the same running shoes to top it off. I guess there is nothing wrong in emulating our idols and going for the best we can afford but the negative effect is that this trend makes it difficult for new entrants to enter the sport.

The price bubble that is created makes it harder for previously disadvantaged athletes to acquire the basic equipment they need to enter the sport and so the status quo remains.

I also recognise the fact that the sport is fairly small and that contributes to higher prices for equipment, but something has to give.

For triathlon to grow it has to be accessible and sustainable or else it remains elitist.