What Makes Triathlon Cycling Shoes Special


My first pair of cycling shoes were road shoes simply because they looked more comfortable. Now that I am a couple of years into triathlon, I wanted to look at the difference again and learned why triathlon shoes are so special.

Triathlon cycling shoes are designed for short-distance triathletes who look to save time during the swim-bike transition. The combination of one big velcro strap, a wider opening, and no inside seam will make you faster (~10 sec) while still being comfortable even though you don’t wear socks. Triathlon shoes also have enhanced ventilation, which helps remove the water after the swim portion.

Disclaimer: The Triathlon Tips of My Tri World are reader-supported. When you buy through links, I may earn an affiliate commission.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRIATHLON AND CYCLING SHOES

See below the key differences between the two types of shoes:

Triathlon shoesCycling shoes
built for fast transitionsbuilt for comfort
best for short-distance racesbuilt for training and all distance triathlons
wide openingnarrow opening
poor fit adjustment (one or two velcro straps)great fit adjustment (for a better power generation? Maybe)
generally, no inside seamgenerally with inside seams
heel strapno heel strap

Looking at the Fizik brand, here is the visual difference of their popular tri and road models in the same price range:

Fizik Transiro R4 vs Fizik Tempo R5 Overcurve
(Wiggle affiliate links)

DEEP DIVE ON THE FEATURES OF TRIATHLON SHOES

I listed below the five features which make triathlon shoes interesting. The first three are related to time-saving and the last two to comfort:

VELCRO STRAP

Most triathlon shoes will have one big velcro strap that lets you tighten or untighten your shoes really easily. There are no micro-adjustments possible like the ones you will get with the BOA system but remember that you are looking to save each second possible!

On more expensive models, you might get a second strap or even a BOA system for adjusting the lower part of your feet.

WIDE OPENING

Triathlon shoes will have a wider opening than most road bike shoes, making it easier to enter your shoes. The S-Works Trivent Triathlon Shoes (link to their website, no affiliate) is probably the most extreme example I have seen.

HEEL STRAP

Looking kind of funny or weird depending on your taste, the strap that you can find on the heel side of triathlon shoes has multiple purposes. You can use it for tying your shoes onto your bike with an elastic, for putting your shoes on, and for removing your shoes before T2 (bike-run transition)

NO INNER SEAM

The lack of seam in the inner part of triathlon shoes makes those more comfortable riding with no socks. 

VENTILATION

The ventilation systems on triathlon shoes will make your feet dry faster after the swim portion and keep them cool before running.

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF TRIATHLON SHOES?

If you opt for triathlon shoes, you really want to follow those tips to get the most out of them:

  • No socks: I wrote a full article on “Socks vs. No Socks” In this case, you are after time, so go for the no-socks option. It will save you 10-15 seconds.
  • Pick the right shoe size: make sure to try triathlon shoes without wearing socks 😉
  • Attach your shoes on your bike: putting an elastic through the heel strap, tie the left shoe on your back wheel quick release, and the right shoe on your front derailleur.
  • Practice: you won’t save much time on race day if you don’t know exactly what you should do: shoes tied on the bike, flying mount, get into your shoes, …

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF ROAD SHOES?

The main reason to opt for road shoes is comfort. Even the triathletes who race in triathlon shoes generally train in road bike shoes. Here is what you should look after:

  • Pick the right shoe size: make sure to bring a pair of cycling socks when trying them on.
  • Try different systems: whereas I would avoid shoes with laces for obvious reasons, I recommend trying the different systems and seeing which helps you have the best fit. In recent years, the BOA system is the most popular. Some shoes use only one, some two. Some combine it with a velcro strap.
  • Use insole if needed: I used to feel pain in my feet after long rides. After a shoe shop made insoles for my feet (~100€), the pain was gone. Unfortunately, those are not really breathable. I recently discovered that Specialized sells some with different arch support options (link to their website, no affiliate). I might try those with my next pair of shoes.

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