Review: Zoot Custom SS Race Tri Suit
Nov 10, 2019
article & images by Nick Salazar
We generally love all kinds of equipment, be it bike frames, or shoes of any kind, or the heart of your rig, the bars. But in our obsession over gear, there is something of great importance that often gets overlooked: apparel. The tri suit is with you from the first stroke of the swim, through your last step across the finish line. And finding comfortable, snug-fitting clothing that meets your needs is often a challenge. A few months ago, I saw Ben Hoffman racing in a very snazzy setup from Zoot. I haven't ever reviewed a Zoot Suit, and I thought it was time to remedy that deficit. So I went through a full-custom design process with Zoot, and built their Aero Short-Sleeve Race Suit. This is a review both of that process, and then of course the final result.
Background + Design Process
My favorite road kit was something I got from Felt long ago, a custom rig made by someone called Squadra. The materials, fit, finish, and overall cohesiveness of product is perhaps the best I've ever seen. But I simply enjoyed the kit, and never looked into it further. But going in to write this article, I discovered a nice surprise. Squadra is the name of the factory that Zoot wholly owns, and which Zoot uses for all of its apparel. So how did my wonderful experience with the road kit translate to the Aero SS Race Suit? That's what this article is all about.
First up is the design process. And it was very similar to what I've experienced with EPIX. First, I sent in some inspiration artwork, consisting of photos of some of my earlier custom kits, as well as some kits and even frame graphics that I like. About a week later, Zoot sent back some starter ideas. These are full kit designs, each with a slightly different style, and take on the inspiration art. In theory, you could go back and forth, adding your own details or requesting changes until you're happy. But I didn't go that far. After seeing their first designs, I got to work making the final look, settling on the final design pretty quickly. We then lock everything in with a signed PDF, and they get going. The entire process from initial inspiration, to Zoot's draft ideas, to final design, was a matter of days. Zoot then executed construction promptly and efficiently. The final suit is very faithful to the intended design, and anywhere that a graphic element on one panel is supposed to align or continue onto an adjacent one, it does so perfectly. There are no errant wrinkles, mis-aligned panels, or shoddy construction. It's all quite amazing.
Fit + Construction
Individual fit is very important, but part of how a suit fits will come down to how the fabric cuts were designed. In this regard, Zoot does a perfect job. Sitting in aero, there are very few wrinkles coming up over my shoulders and on to my back. This gives the wind a nice clean path to take, and ultimately means a faster ride. For me, the suit is extremely comfortable. And while that is of course an individual thing, it's obvious that Zoot put a lot of care into exactly how each panel fits in the overall schema of the garment.
In some other articles, we have reviewed suits with a quasi-separate jersey, which we first noticed in the Castelli Sanremo. This "sanremo construction" as we sometimes call it, has the effect of acting a bit like a bibshort with an attached jersey. Zoot makes something like that, which they call the Ultra Dragzero suit. The suit in this review is different, and is just a single continuous suit. Sometimes, I prefer the sanremo construction. Usually for road suits. But in this case, I really like the traditional design better, for one simple reason. Zoot completely eliminated the waistline seam, using an uninterrupted panel of fabric that covers the entire front of the torso. It is, for me, the most comfortable possible suit construction, and I love how Zoot executed it in this case. As far as I'm concerned, this is pretty much perfect. There aren't a lot of suits that eliminate waistline seams, but I always tend to prefer those suits.
Moving down, we find a very nice chamois that is quite substantial and functional, not merely the "thick napkin" you get with some tri suits out there. At the same time, it's plenty comfortable for the run, and is not noticeable. Best of both worlds. I don't know exactly what the secret is, but it works.
Colors are VIBRANT and accurate, and really match what my calibrated monitor showed me during design. This is the first time any orange on my suit has really come out the way I designed. The color is always the same: we translate the hexadecimal web color #F80 into whatever the closest color is in the colorspace of the suit manufacturer's printers, but it has never worked out quite right. I had come to expect that a vibrant orange is a bit of a crapshoot in custom garments. But Zoot finally proved you can actually deliver a good vibrant orange, if you pick the right company.
Pockets aren't super abundant: there's one storage compartment on the back, which spans the entire suit from left to right (you can see in the image, my hand goes all the way through). This would be my biggest (and really only) gripe with the suit: I think this pocket could benefit from a different construction, because I fear losing something out of it. In practice, I haven't lost anything yet, but I don't feel super secure about how this tubular pocket works. There are also no leg pockets, or anything on the front. Not a deal-breaker for me at all, but some folks really want those.
I really struggle to find faults with the suit. Overall, the suit left me wanting more. Not because something is missing, but because I want to complete my lineup with a road kit, some two-piece suits, etc. I just want more of Zoot's stuff, because it is really really good.