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Dress for Success

The bicycle, 18 pounds of carbon fiber and titanium components, can be yours for $7,000.

Husband and wife Ralph Perry and Katie Knight-Perry have two of them. They will be among more than 1,500 competitors in today's St. Anthony's Triathlon in the waters and on the roads of St. Petersburg.

The "racing machine," as Ralph calls it, is the big-ticket item in the full-time triathlete's "swag," which includes paper swimsuits and 5-ounce running flats and nutritional gel to suck down during an energy-burning bike odyssey.

Ralph and Katie, 65 and 62 respectively, have picked up the pace in retirement. Their job these days is to run, bike and swim. They succeed often enough among their contemporaries _ Katie is a former age-group world champ _ that corporate sponsors choose to clothe them, nourish them and put high-tech wheels underneath them.

In a typical week, Ralph and Katie swim 8,000 yards in the pool, bike 100 miles and run another 25. With Rue and Kathy Morgan, they conceived the St. Pete Mad Dogs, a club for folks who embrace the triathlon lifestyle. There now are close to 1,000 Mad Dogs worldwide.

"We don't grow old," Ralph says, "we enter a new age group."

THE SWIM today is expected to take place in water temperatures cooler than 78 degrees. Under those conditions, the sanctioning organization says wet suits are allowed.

+ Katie's full-body wet suit costs $200-$300. It's a nuisance taking off the body glove after nearly a mile swim in open water, but the tradeoff is the advantage gained in buoyancy and energy saved for the bike ride and run ahead.

+ In warmer water, Katie wears a "paper" swimsuit provided by one of her sponsors. It's lighter than the standard Lycra suit and doesn't retain water. $60.

+ Both Ralph and Katie wear contacts under their goggles, which go for $10-$30.

+ Triathlons provide the swim caps, which are color-coded by age group. The colors change all the time.

THE BIKE is a representative of the parts being greater _ and a lot more expensive _ than the whole. A mechanic assembled the many pricy pieces, which are bought individually. (By comparison, their $1,500 training bike came in one piece off the rack.)

+ The feature material with the 26-inch wheels is carbon fiber, which is lighter and more aerodynamic _ and hence faster _ than steel or aluminum. Each wheel costs $300 (the rims on their training bike might cost $100).

+ The tires are about as wide as your thumb. They are called sew-ups because the inner tube is "sewn up" into the tire, and the whole thing is glued to the rim. A spare can be stored in the pouch behind the seat. With a blowout, a triathlete might have a razor to slash the bad tire off the wheel. The spare has a compressed air cartridge that fills the tire to 150 pounds per cubic inch. A standard "clincher" tire with inner tube might run $25. "Sew-ups" cost $65 per.

+ The frame (see the word Zipp) is also carbon fiber. It is the dearest part of the bike at $3,500. Throw in Zipp's front-wheel fork for another $300.

+ The triathlete's bike has handlebars and aero bars. The former cost $50. The latter look like a "U," with the open end facing the rider. There are pads for the forearms and, where the hands finish, gear shifters for each thumb. The aerodynamic body position should show up as more speed, and that information is relayed to the cyclist by the computer mounted at the "bottom" of the U. The whole kit and kaboodle costs a little more than $200.

+ The seat _ there's nothing like the feel of carbon fiber on the tush _ goes for $90.

+ The pedals are $200 of titanium. The shoes have special cleats that lock into the pedals with a click.

+ Titanium is also the material for most of the silver-colored components, such as the two derailleurs, the brake levers and the cranks which are collectively called the gruppo _ a Italian word popularized by one of the world's two leading manufacturers of bike parts, the legendary Campagnolo. The gruppo cost about 2-million lire or $1,200.

+ Ralph's cycling shoes, with a stiff carbon graphite sole so he loses no energy pushing down, are worn without socks. The shoes cost $225 and are great for cycling, but to walk in them is to waddle.

+ The helmet is $150. Aerodynamic, of course.

+ Ralph wears his bike pants in a longer event, such as the 100-mile bike leg of the Ironman. They are padded and have a smooth "chamois" that helps prevent chafing. They are no seams where the shorts meet the saddle. He'll probably wear swim trunks today for the ride and run.

BY THE RUN all pretense and most of the equipment has been shucked.

+ Ralph and Katie wear racing flats that weigh about 5 ounces per shoe. A pair costs about $7 per ounce or $70.

+ Many of the professional triathletes wear heart monitors. The standard formula for maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Triathletes want to perform at 60-80 percent of that number.