Years ago, this test would’ve comprised 10 pairs of shoes billed as tri-specific. It made sense – tri is a sport with numerous products aimed solely at multisporters, such as tri-suits and tri-bars.
But unlike those proven innovations, tri shoes gained that multisport tag due to the most marginal of gains. How? Well, primarily down to a large heel loop for easier entry, greater venting to let out water from the swim (many of you will ride barefoot) and a reverse closure system. This means you can exit T1 with your feet atop of the shoes and happily ride away knowing the open strap flops away from the frame and chainring instead of into them (a neat idea but unless you ride with open straps for several minutes, reverse closures really aren’t of a huge benefit).
But these tri-specific tweaks provide such a minor difference to the majority of recreational triathletes that many manufacturers put forward their bike-specific models for this test, arguably relying on two far more important factors: fit and power transfer.
Power transfer derives from the shoe’s outsole. Originally, designers created a stiffer outsole as it was comfier than a shoe designed for walking, but now they create stiffer soles to maximise the flow of power generated from you, the triathlete, to your bike. It’s why carbon fibre is the material of choice for most high-end shoes; carbon enables the sole to be stiffer, lighter and thinner. Finally, all 10 pairs are compatible with Look and Shimano three-bolt cleat systems.
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How we tested
With 10 pairs to test, we set up a mock sprint-distance course comprising T1, a set ride and T2. The ride was the most important aspect as comfort and fit were the key criteria – comfort particularly as, to mimic triathlon, we rode barefoot with wet feet. Speed and ease of foot entry and exit covered transition, achieved on the fly, although we’re well aware that many triathletes, especially those new to the sport, will slip into their shoes before rolling their bikes out of T1. That’s fine, and only highlights further the importance of comfort and fit. We assessed breathability via dampness of shoe and foot, and used the same Look cleats and Look Keo pedals throughout.
These are one of the few shoes (284g) here billed as tri-specific, its name deriving from the reverse closure system of the main strap, the heel loop and impressive breathability via two sections of mesh upper, a perforated insole and further mesh spots on the outsole. Unusually for a ‘tri’ shoe, it also features a supporting Boa IP1 dial to lock down the midfoot, which is more practical in transition than the Boas seen on the Fizik as they spin bi-directionally to loosen or tighten. The carbon outsole features titanium; its impact is impossible to quantify but the cadence felt fast and efficient. Its profile is also low and produces a tactile connection with the pedals. Just watch the sizing, as our EU 46 was the tightest on test.
Verdict: a quality shoe, but slightly on the tight side, 82%
Buy from www.bikeinn.com
A tri shoe complete with camo design and a drawbridge? Yep, the budgetary and creative powers of Specialized have been used to full effect in the Trivent (292g). And the drawbridge is potentially ingenious. A traditional upper-closing Boa system reaches back to the heel. When you release the Boa, the heel releases, too, which can be pushed back to cling onto the base of the heel via a magnet, ensuring a wide opening to slip your feet in and out of. It mostly works well, though the magnet doesn’t always stay put. Perhaps surprisingly, your feet still feel stable even when pushing it out of the saddle, but we found the heels dug in slightly. Another innovation is the plastic hook for keeping an elastic band in place in T1.
Verdict: ingenious foot-entry but score affected by comfort 78%
Buy from www.cyclestore.co.uk
Like the equally affordable Shimano TR5s, the Tri-Sonic’s (305g) most captivating feature is its comfort, especially around the heel cup. Northwave’s method of construction – thermowelding – also adds comfort by reducing stitch count. It’s a normal tri strapping system of reverse main strap and traditional second strap and, as exhibited by the majority of strapped systems here, is an ideal length.
The heel counter’s rather crude-looking yet does add strength and stability – as, to a degree, does the fibreglass and carbon-reinforced outsole, though a stiffness rating of eight highlights it lacks the power transfer of higher-end models. Venting in the upper and sole is adequate, while a heel loop nods to a swift T1.
Verdict: comfy and punches above its price tag, 81%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk