Review: Orca 226 Tri Suit
By David Alyea, QBike Editor
May 28, 2010
Living in Northern California, I've worn a wetsuit for almost every swim in the triathlons I've done. The only exception would be sprint distance triathlons, in which case I've always raced in jammer style swim shorts for 500 yard or shorter swims. Now that I'm racing in Florida, and 4 triathlons into the season, I've noticed quite a few competitive triathletes here wear tri suits. I have one - it's always been under my wetsuit when I race in it - and I wouldn't have thought to swim or race in it sans wetsuit. Well, after my last triathlon, I spoke with the guy 1st out of the water and 1st off the bike, who ended up 6th after the run. And he turned me on to the speed I was missing out on in these ocean swim triathlons I've been racing. I knew of 2XU and DeSoto and Louis Garneau, and he had on a tri suit that he swears by, a Kiwami brand with a zipper in the back. Determined to learn more, I started researching tri suits when I got home from that race.
The first thing I learned is that the materials in most tri suits are pretty darned advanced. Once you break the $100 price point, we're talking: silicone impregnated fabrics; compression materials; hydroseal leg openings; and even fabric that doesn't get wet! The "Oxygene-Hydrofuge" material in some Kiwami tri suits. You get the idea. Slippery materials, super mesh that is better than regular mesh, scientifically planned tri suit paneling with purpose. So I thought, ok, maybe there is something to this.
I headed down to Tri Village in Miami and tried on 6 different tri suits from 2XU, Orca, Louis Garneau and Zoot. The 2XU Elite was certainly a worthy choice, and I've always liked Zoot products. When it was all said and done, though, it was the 2009 version of the Orca 226 that won out. Even though they don't have any fancy sounding proprietary names to describe their suit fabrics! The thing was, I'm between M and L for almost the tri suits, and I intended to wear this for Olympic distance triathlons and shorter only, so I wanted a for-sure snug fit for use in the water without a wetsuit. It's my Florida tri suit for ocean swimming! The other things were, the color scheme grabbed my attention. I didn't want all black, and in fact limited black at all, since I'll be racing in the Florida sun. And it was a closeout from last year's lineup, so that was nice on the wallet.
The Orca 226 (2009 version) was the winner, and I made sure by trying it on 3 times! There is an Orca 226 Tech which is supposed to have a better chamois, and I think it does, at least by what it looks like - it appears to be shaped, and red in color, like the Sugoi RS Bib Shorts I wear during training. Alas, there was only size L in the 2010 model, so no go. And I was sold on the 2009 Orca 226 design. This version of the Orca 226 has a basic, very thin, fleece pad, which I figured to be uncomfortable. Well, luckily, I was wrong!
Bike Test ResultsI set out on a 35 mile ride, planning to suffer greatly. I posted on Slow Twitch to ask others about options for adding more padding to my Orca tri suit for the bike: (1) wear tri briefs underneath the tri suit; (2) add a DeSoto saddle cover pad (or similar); (3) any other ideas! The response from a few forum members was, just give my new Orca 226 tri suit a try and then report back. And, make sure to use chamois cream. This is another new development for me in Florida, as I've never had to use chamois products of any sort in California riding for any distance in training or racing. Must be the humidity and heat! I was in agreement with those people on the forum already, from my riding experience in Florida over the months. So after getting set up, I set out on the bike. To my great surprise, I got through the whole ride just fine! I stood up for relief 3-4 times, but after a while, I realized that I'd be just fine doing Olympic distance triathlons in this tri suit. And at 35 miles, I began to entertain the idea of doing a half Ironman in it - but I think in that case, the padded tri brief + Orca 226 combo will feel better. Since I bought a size M, it was snug, but just fine in the aero position. The one thing worth noting was that, unlike my tri brief + jammer combo I currently use for racing short triathlons, a lot of wetness pooled in the front part of the chamois. As in, when I stood up on the pedals, water (sweat) dripped down onto my legs and ankles. That was a strange experience. When I finished the ride and stood off the bike, I felt the front and back, and sure enough, it was pretty soaking wet on the front of the chamois, but not so much the back. I'm led to believe that my sweat is pooling in the front of the tri suit and dripping down the front, whereas with my jammer on, sweat shears off my upper body. Other than that, the bike ride with the Orca 226 - with the very thin, almost non-existant fleece pad - was just fine. I'm still surprised!
Swim Test Results
I swam on back to back days, same time of day, same swimming pool. I did different workouts, but I included similar sets in each for comparison. On the first swim, I wore my tri jammer (no tri brief underneath) and recorded the following times: 400y in 5:59; 4x100 in 1:29, 1:28, 1:30, 1:28. Now, this is not the most scientific test, because I'm working off of perceived effort. But I have to say this: I know my lifetime best times, both in solo training, in masters group swims, and in races. And I have a pretty darn good gauge on effort. If anything, I was more tired on the second day, having ran and swim the day before and having had a big Indian buffet lunch. Wearing my Orca 226 tri suit during the second day swim, I recorded these times: 400y in 5:34; 4x100 in 1:21, 1:22, 1:22, 1:21. These times, to me, were insane! I know the clock was right, and I know my effort was about the same. I also know that I can knock out "hard" 100 yard repeats touching in 1:24 to 1:26 if I really try, and that my all-time 100 yard PR is 1:18. But those are some fast swim splits for me! Suffice to say - the Orca 226 tri suit works! And by extension, yes, I would bet almost all the tri suits work - you will swim faster. That 5:34 for 400 yards - that's my top race pace with a wetsuit on! I'll be very curious to know how fast I can go on multiple repeats when I put some effort into it. At the end of the workout, I decided to try one nearly-all-out 100 yarder, and I did it in 1:15. So yeah - this tri suit is fast! It does raise the question, would any material give me the same speed increase? That is to say, is it just that I have on any tri suit that covers my torso that brings on a speed increase? I don't know. All I know is, I'm happy to see instant speed gains with my new Orca 226! To top off the swim review, there are two little hidden pockets in the back for gels, etc., and they didn't catch any water. As snug as this tri suit is, the rear end area had a little bit of looseness in the fabric. I could feel a little bit of air space in my back, too, but I must have got used to it quickly. And maybe all tri suits will have this happen. Or maybe it's just my body shape. But I did notice that feeling in the back. The zipper, which is in the front, was a bit of a concern, but it stayed up the whole swim, just like it's supposed to. So swimming in the Orca 226 in upcoming triathlons will be just fine - and fast!
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