7 best triathlon cycling shoes

Based on reviews from 11 experts and 133 users. Learn how our rankings work or see our guide to triathlon cycling shoes. Updated Jul 2020.

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      Triathlon is a multi-sport race that includes three continuous and sequential endurance activities. The most common sequence of events in a triathlon is swimming, cycling, and running respectively.

      In this article, everything about triathlon cycling shoes will be explored. From the essential features to the best triathlon bike shoes, how they should fit, and many more. Read on to find out more.

      What are triathlon cycling shoes

      There are quite a number of cycling activities people participate in. And with each biking endeavor, a specialized kind of cycling shoe has been designed and engineered. 

      Footwear specifically used in the cycling part of the triathlon are essentially road cycling shoes but possesses a few tweaks and customizations for better performance in the mentioned sport. Since the cycling portion usually comes after the swimming segment, triathlon-specific cycling shoes are intentionally equipped with excellent water drainage and quick-drying features.

      But, this now begs the question...

      What is the difference between road and triathlon bike shoes

      Generally, both footwear types are quite the same. They both usually employ a three-bolt cleat system and the same sole constructs. However, road shoes customarily have a narrower design, and the closure systems used are more varied. Plus, they are commonly cheaper than tri shoes.

      On the other hand, triathlon cycling shoes’ design elements are mainly applied for quicker transitions and water drainage while on the saddle. Their insides are usually seamless for sockless comfort, which helps speed up transitions and prevent chafing.

      The closure is usually governed by a single strap to make putting on and taking off considerably quicker and easier. A heel pull-tab is also generally used for the same purpose.

      Lastly, most triathlon bike shoes commonly have excellent ventilation for drainage and drying purposes. This helps the wearer remain comfortable as he starts the cycling portion of the race.

      Since the two are mostly alike, one would wonder..

      Are triathlon shoes necessary?

      This is a common inquiry asked by beginners. The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems because both road and triathlon bike shoes have their pros and cons. But the choice depends on each individual’s preferences.

      Although the pros of each type have been mentioned above, finding out what works best for you is very distinct compared to the next person. You have to experience both and go through trial and error to determine if triathlon-specific shoes are your thing or if road shoes fit you better.

      However, based on consensus, you may find triathlon shoes to be more comfy and convenient if you’re a beginner, as the footwear has been reported to be easier to learn race transitioning in. Experienced triathletes, on the other hand, would typically buy both road and triathlon shoes for training and competing.

      If you’re a beginner and you’ve decided that you want to purchase your first pair of triathlon shoes, the next part is imperative.

      Factors to consider when buying tri shoes

      Your triathlon bike shoes are one of the most crucial components during the cycling part of the race. It serves as the primary contact point between you and your bike and also provides efficient power transfer with every push of the pedal.

      With this said, choosing the ideal pair is paramount to your performance in the race. Here are the main elements you need to know before making a purchase.

      Fit

      Getting the correct fitting triathlon shoes could very well be the most important factor out of all of these. So how should tri bike shoes fit?

      Your chosen pair should feel comfortably snug. Make sure that there’s no sliding action as you pedal, as this will cause rubbing and chafing. If the shoes you use are too tight, there will be pressure points and eventually blisters.

      There should also be no pinching nor sensations of losing blood circulation. Below are some tips to acquire the perfectly sized tri shoes for you:

      • Plan to fit your shoes at the same time of day when you would normally ride your bike. The reason for this is that feet swell throughout the day. So if you went to fit in the evening and you usually ride in the morning, it may end up being too big.
      • Bear in mind that triathlon shoes are customarily worn without socks. Hence, if you plan to go sockless, fit shoes without socks.
      • Take note that different brands fit differently. For example, a size 42 in Pearl Izumi could fit narrower than a Shimano in the same size. So make sure that you try on each brand’s offering to familiarize yourself.
      • Do not stand up and walk when you try your tri shoes on. Instead, find a bench, sit on it, and mimic pedaling motions. Observe if any movement, pinching, or rubbing is present.

      Sole rigidity

      The stiffness of the sole is one of the determining factors not just in tri bike shoes but also in cycling footwear in general. It is common knowledge that the stiffer the sole, the more accurate the power transfer is. However, most prefer a little bit of flex to maintain comfort.

      There are several types of sole materials: injection-molded plastic, nylon composite (nylon with a bit of carbon), full carbon, and unidirectional carbon fiber. These materials have been arranged from (L to R) heaviest to lightest, cheapest to most expensive, and most flexible to stiffest.

      Retention system

      Triathlon-specific shoes’ closure systems are distinct from the typical cycling shoe. Generally, bike shoes are offered in an array of cinching options such as dials, speed lacing, lace-up, and ratchet buckles. So if you prefer more closure choices in your races, you can check out road bike shoes.

      Triathlon shoes, in general, usually employ Velcro straps and heel pull-tabs to open up broader and quicker than regular cycling shoes. They commonly use a single large Velcro strap, or sometimes a complementary smaller second strap is also provided. This is to speed up foot entry and exit.

      Moreover, the straps customarily fasten and open up oppositely as regular cycling shoes. On a bike shoe, fastening is done towards the lateral side of the shoe, and opening it goes towards the medial. 

      While a lot (not all) tri bike shoes fasten toward the medial side to make on-the-fly adjusting easier while on the bike. 

      Drainage and drying

      Triathlon cycling shoes feature a lot more mesh in its upper and ventilation pockets in its soles. This aids in quicker drying time and drainage of water since the athlete is transitioning from swimming onto cycling.

      Apart from drainage and drying, another effect of this design is lighter weight.

      Price

      Triathlon bike shoes are available in a wide range of prices. There are some relatively cheap ones, but they tend to belong in the higher-priced spectrum compared to road shoes due to lower demand. The place of a tri shoe in the price spectrum lies mainly in the materials used and weight.

      Shoes that fall on the higher tip of the scale are usually lighter, have stiffer soles, better ventilation, and supple upper materials.

      Frequently asked question

      What are the best triathlon cycling shoes?

      Shoes and pretty much anything that people choose to wear is subjective. The best pair of shoes for a particular person might not work the same for the next individual. But, in general, these things can be measured based on essential factors.

      For the best triathlon cycling shoes list presented below, most have been included due to either of the following criteria: stiff soles, high-quality materials, fast transitions, super lightweight, and excellent ventilation.

      • Fizik Transiro Infinito R1 Knit
      • Sidi T-4 Air Carbon
      • Mavic Cosmic Ultimate
      • Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6

      What are some of the tri shoe models designed for wide feet and women?

      Most cycling shoes employ a narrow fit that is generally shaped on men’s last. Hence, female riders and cyclists with wider than average feet tend to encounter difficulties when trying to find their perfect fitting pair.

      Not obvious to everyone is the fact that not all cycling brands offer wide and women’s iterations of their footwear. So it is nice to be knowledgeable about which brands do.

      Pearl Izumi, Sidi, Giro, and Shimano are some of the companies that produce women’s triathlon shoes. Some of the reported best triathlon shoes for women are Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Select V6, Sidi T-4 Air Carbon, and Shimano TR5.

      As for wide iterations, Bont, Sidi, Northwave, and Shimano are some of the brands that offer them. Best triathlon cycling shoes for wide feet are still subjective. But to give a few examples of ideal tri shoes for wide feet, here are some: Northwave Tribute and Bont Riot TR+.

      Are there triathlon shoes that could be used for cycling and running?

      To put it simply, there’s no footwear available in the market (none yet, at least) that could be used for both cycling and running in triathlon competitions. Designing one would probably be very difficult since these two sports require opposing sole requirements.

      However, some triathletes have tried using running shoes in the cycling portion of the event. They also detail that they use toe clips with their pedals to keep the shoe in place. Although this could be practiced, it is important to note that it has been proven, and therefore recommended, that using cycling-specific footwear enhances performance efficiency.

      What are some of the shoe-and-pedal combinations recommended for triathlons?

      There is no single combination of shoes and pedals that will work the same for everyone. Although reviews are a big help in finding out which products are of excellent value, the best way to find out if a shoe or a pedal is ideal for you is through trial and error. 

      But to help you stir in the right direction, below are lists of top-rated tri bike shoes and pedals.

      Shoes:

      • Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6
      • Sidi T-4 Air Carbon Composite
      • Specialized S-Works Trivent

      Pedals:

      • Look Keo 2 Max Carbon
      • Time Xpresso 6
      • Shimano 105 SPD-SL Carbon

      7 best triathlon cycling shoes

      1. Bont Riot TR+
      2. Shimano TR900
      3. Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Select V6
      4. Mavic Cosmic Elite Tri
      5. Sidi T-4 Air Carbon
      6. Giro Raes Techlace
      7. Mavic Cosmic Elite