Triathletes need every advantage that they can find in order to complete their race as quickly as possible. Whether it’s during the swim, bike, or run portions of the race, there are things that they can purchase to help them reach their ultimate goal. This is certainly the case with the bike and running parts, and a big factor in that equation is selecting the correct pair of shoes.
Top Triathlon Cycling Shoe Comparison Chart
Today, we’re going to look at why a good pair of cycling shoes are needed, what makes them unique, and then we will review some of the best pairs that you can find for sale this season.
Triathlon Cycling Shoes Buying Guide
The ‘tri’ shoe is very important because it can help you save time during your race. No one wants to be caught up at a transition point having to tie his or her shoe or anything like that. So, finding a good shoe can mean the difference in some very precious seconds indeed. Everything about tri shoes is done to help you ultimately go faster.
Triathlons are sometimes very strict on certain rules that all competitors must go by. However, shoes don’t have very many specifications set on them. Typically what happens is someone will complete the swim and then put on their tri cycling shoes. After completing the bike stage, they will take these off and put on a pair of normal running shoes. For some people, they prefer to use the same shoe for both running and biking. This is completely up to you, but you will have a little harder time finding the perfect shoe for you if this is the case you find yourself in! However, for the majority of people you’re going to want to have a separate shoe just for cycling and the transition in between the bike ride and the run.
Differences Between ‘Normal’ Shoes and Cycling Shoes
The first thing that is quickly apparent is that cycling shoes are designed with the transition totally in mind. These shoes almost always have Velcro. And believe it or not, they actually look good in a lot of cases! So don’t worry that they are going to look awful, if you are worried- at least partially- about the styles. They can still look very good. Velcro, though, is important because it requires so much less time as you come out of the water and then onto the bike and then as you get off the bike and look to put on your running shoes. Velcro comes undone very easily, so there’s no tying your shoes or having to worry too much with that. Another thing that Velcro does is allow you to start to take them off while you are on the bike itself. This is a pretty big deal when you’re racing. You can transition much more quickly if you are able to master this technique than you would be without being able to do it. It takes time and attention to detail to master this art, but you can do it with a lot of practice.
Another difference between cycling shoes and normal shoes, or what most would say was ‘tennis’ shoes, is that cycling shoes often have a spike in between them. This spike is like a cleat, and it helps you grip the pedals much better. Like we said at the beginning, you are not required to wear them, especially if you are a beginner, but many people that have become regulars at triathlons do wear them to good effect. Cycling shoes with spikes on them simply allow you to become more like one with the bike, so you don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off of the pedals as much.
A third differentiating factor is that cycling shoes for triathletes are very soft (in the lining) in comparison to nearly every other type of shoe. Because you are not going to want to wear any socks, you are going to need something that has some give to it while still keeping your protected. A good cycling shoe can do just that for a triathlete.
What Makes a Good Triathlon Cycling Shoe?
Here are a few things to look for in a good cycling shoe for triathletes:
- The show needs to be lightweight: this is probably pretty obvious, but any bit of speed is going to help you. In addition to that, you still have to be able to move freely, so you wouldn’t want a huge basketball shoe or a steel-toe boot for obvious reasons.
- You need a shoe that dries quickly and breathes well. Even for the bike ride, you’re going to want a shoe that is as breathable as possible. You’re going to be a little wet, so you want something that will air out well. No one likes to feel like they are all sweaty and/or confined to their wetness, so this is a crucial factor.
- Vents- Vents go hand-in-hand with having a breathable shoe. It is very easy to spot whether or not a shoe has vents. You need to know when they have them and when they don’t. This is why it’s so crucial for experienced triathletes to have a cycling shoe. Most normal running shoes are great and they are very breathable, but they just don’t have as much venting as what you’re likely going to want.
- The shoe needs to be very comfortable, so much so that you are able to wear it without a sock. The reason is pretty simple: you don’t have time to put socks on during a race! And what a nightmare that could prove to be anyway. Ever tried putting socks on right after a shower? Imagine how much worse it’d be after a long swim!
- Materials should repel odors: these goes with the previous tip. If you’re going to be wet from a swim and not wearing sock, you clearly will want something that isn’t going to smell like you killed a few skunks in route to the finish line. Every little bit helps, so this is definitely something you might want to look for.
There are other options available to you that are nearly as good for cycling in triathlons. These other types of shoes differ mainly in the way they enclose your foot, and they are for cycling in slightly different events.
For example, you could turn to mountain biking shoes. If you know you’re going to be on a course with a lot of hills, this might be something that you consider going with. These shoes are made with synthetics to be a little bit tougher and to hold up better. These are usually pretty extreme, but they may be preferred by some out there in the community for how tough they are.
The other option is the traditional road cycling shoe. They’re typically made from carbon or plastic and they don’t usually have any grips on them. They sometimes have vents, but they may not be quite as good as the ones intended for triathletes. This type is heavily dependent upon the weather you have in regards to the ventilation system.
One last thing has to be said here. These types of shoes are going to have all kinds of different enclosures available. A lot of times those will be the only differences they may have with tri cycling shoes. But that can make a big difference to you. Some of them require a clip-in system. Some have little loops on strings that look very complicated. It may be great for you if you feel that Velcro is annoying, but it may hinder your time. So you have been warned!
This is a section to discuss the cleats that you can find on the bottoms of your cycling shoes. You don’t have to have them, but they can help your performance a great deal if used correctly. First of all, we’ve not found a case where cleats are included with the shoes. The shoes simply have the capability to have cleats fitted onto them. Please don’t get the two mixed up! It’s easy to assume everything comes together, but it’s unfortunately not the case.
The other thing to mention is that not all cleats and compatible with all shoes. And then not all shoes are compatible will all pedals. It’s a little technical and difficult to explain, but some pedals are made by companies that also make shoes. It simply takes experimentation, expertise, or knowing someone who is very knowledgeable about this area to know for sure if you’re stuff will work well with one another!
How they Should Fit
Many people probably will think it doesn’t matter much how well the cycling shoe fits you. After all, you’re just riding a bike. So it’s not a big deal. It couldn’t come off could it? Wrong. It certainly could come off without the right foot. But even more depressingly, you could see your foot slide around in a ridiculous manner for hours. No one in their right mind would purposely do this to themselves, so you have to make sure you do get the right fit. The best way to do this is to try to find a shop for triathletes and go in and try some on! You can always go back and order online later, but you just can’t replicate the trying on experience when you’re online.
The first thing to know is that they should fit snugly. This doesn’t mean too tightly. Imagine if you have that spike on your shoes and you are pushing AND pulling the pedals as you speed along. Now, your shoe is too tight, though. The tightness causes your toes to rub the front end of the shoes, and you’re suddenly developing painful blisters that are sure to make you scream once you start running. Bad things can also happen with a loose shoe, however. You could see it slide off, or you could have it sliding back and forth making your ride very uncomfortable. Your pedal control will be plain terrible this way, and you’ll be much more dangerous as well.
You don’t want to be able to move in your shoe. Yes, you read that correctly. Your power is very important, and by moving you are decreasing it! So, that means you want something is tighter than a typical shoe you would normally buy. Once again, this doesn’t mean you want anything too tight because, as stated before, that will also cause your great problems later on.
A great tip is to try on shoes after you’ve either exercised or during the time of day in which you typically do. This could help your shoes match up better with the shape and feel of your foot, and it could save you a lot of discomfort during your race. And, don’t try them on with socks unless you’ll be riding with them!
Also, you need to select something that will fit your pedals. Or maybe you need to select pedals that will fit your shoes! Either way, it’s well worth keeping this fact in mind as the two are going to be working together in conjunction for you.
Price and Quality
Depending on what you want, there are options all over the price range. You can find shoes that will fit your needs at both ends of the spectrum: high and low. The higher-priced shoes typically are much lighter and are made of better materials. This, as a result, will probably last longer. Better materials also can lead to you have more and better ventilation, which is never a bad thing to have during a triathlon. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get any good budget-friendly shoes, however. You just have to know that you can’t expect as much quality as you’d receive from a higher-priced pair.
Best Triathlon Bicycling Shoe Reviews
#1 on our list is a really nice looking shoe from Louis Garneau that comes in two different colors for men. The shoe is made from synthetics on the lower end, but it has a ton of ventilation to help your foot breathe much more easily. The closure system is Louis Garneau’s “power flex” Velcro system that helps not only keep it strapped in but supports you very well without supplying unnecessary pressure. The sole is actually made of nylon, which makes it even easier for your foot to breathe and to repel water. The “Power Zone” offers better arch support and greater power transfer than any previous models offered by Louis Garneau in the triathlon space. There’s an anti-slip membrane to hold your heel in place and helps reduce power loss.
Louis Garneau has added double velcro straps which help to pre-position the shoe on the bike to help with transition speed. The reinforced nylon outsole is very nicely ventilated and the Coolmax Ergo Air insole allows for all-weather riding/training.
Be advised that cleats do not come with shoes typically, and from what we can gather, this is the case here. For a moderate price, this is a great pair to take a look at.
- Good price
- Very breathable
- Great colors
- The sizing is tough because it’s in Euro sizes
- They do run small as well
The Scott brand is ubiquitous in the triathlon community so it’s no surprise that an elite racing shoe from Scott makes it to our list. This shoes comes with no tongue but has a wraparound strap in its place. This offers a more secure fit with or without socks. No plastic outsole here – no sir! We’ve got full carbon on the outsole and that provides exceptionally efficient power transfer. The idea is that its 9/10 rating for stiffness gives it ultimate power transfer for shorter, high-powered events, but it has just enough comfort to get you through a longer competition.
The microfiber and nylon air mesh form the upper to give you a snug, breathable and very “custom” feel. The BOA closure strap on the top of your foot gives you a fast, very adjustable fit which you can customize (dial-in) on the fly. If that’s not all enough, consider the arch. It’s customizable by offering removable ErgoLogic insoles that come in a variety of contours for a very personalized fit.
All this comes at a bit of a premium price, but this is one of those shoes that raise the bar a bit. The price will make it inaccessible to some, but so it is with most premium products from Wolf ovens to Lamborghinis!
- Very customizable
- Superior construction
- High stiffness rating to cater to triathlon racing specifically
- High Price
If you don’t mind paying a premium price and don’t mind the label of “unisex,” you can get a decent looking cycling shoe with lots of premium qualities. Instead of having just one enclosure, this shoe has two. They are both hook and loop. This could either be a blessing or a curse for you, so you should be aware of that. Like most other Shimanos, it is capable of having a cleat installed, but they will probably work best along with the Shimano pedals as well. These are also made from synthetic leather, and they are very breathable and lightweight to help you battle through your race.
- Two hook and loops for extra security
- Works well with Shimano pedals
- Very breathable and light
- Hefty price
- Not very pretty, especially for the ladies
This shoe from Pearl Izumi (also an iconic name in the triathlon world) is in a moderate to highish price range. This pair of shoes has two hook and loop enclosures like the previous item on the list. It has a strap on the back to pull to take off easily as well as having a lot of ventilation to help your foot air out after your swim. It does allow you to equip cleats to them if you desire, and it has a grip in the back as well if you like that option. The rubber heel in the back is especially helpful for the transition stages as it has great grips and is very good for walking.
The bonded, seamless upper offers all-day riding comfort and durability, while the carbon fiber forefoot inserts give you the stiffness you need for efficient power transfer.
- Very good shoe for walking and transitioning
- Great ventilation
- Two hook and loops
- 3-bolt road cleat & SPD compatible
- The black looks kinda pitiful
- While adequate, it’s not a feature-filled premium shoe
This option is interesting because it is supposedly made from real leather. If so, this means the shoe is much more comfortable and will fit you very well, but it will have a harder time with a wet foot. So keep this in mind! It has two hook and loop enclosures like most of the entries we’ve seen thus far, and it’s breathable but doesn’t look to have near as much ventilation as the others we’ve seen. This may be an issue for some. It does have an adjustable footbed, which is a big plus, it can be a little more inexpensive than some others depending on the size, and it’s got a couple of nice color options as well.
- Two great color choices
- Very comfortable
- Very light
- Not as breathable
- They run small
Now we’re raising the bar a little bit with the aesthetics within the Pearl Izumi brand! Unlike its male counterpart, this women’s version of the Tri Fly V from Pearl Izumi has an excellent look to it that not only performs like a premium shoe, but has the looks to turn heads. Not only that, but with the carbon sole, you’ll have the power transfer advantage that all carbon shoes offer over their plastic competitors. It’s very breathable, has two hook and loop enclosures, and is very comfortable on your bare feet. It’s on the lower side of pricing at most sizes as well, so that will certainly help!
With its replaceable heel bumper and built-in longitudinal arch support, Pearl Izumi offers the ladies a shoe that is more than worth considering.
- Good price
- Good comfort
- Superior construction (with carbon sole for power transfer)
- Comes in two color combos (hot pink/orange and grey/white)
- They fit tight (small)
- Won’t fit mountain bike cleat needed for some indoor spinning bikes
Conclusion & Recommendations
Triathlons are a very tough endeavor to face, even for the most seasoned of veterans. And any little advantage can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. For beginners, you’ve probably never even thought about such a thing as a cycling shoe. And that’s alright, but we’ve helped to show you why you need them after all. This is a very important part of any race. It helps you grip your pedals, controlling your speed, they allow you to better transition through the long and grueling races, and they allow you to breath much more easily during the longest part of your race and training. No matter what you’re looking for, you can rest assured that the guide above and the reviews will hope you get an idea of where to start as you looking to set a brand new personal best time!