Almost all tri-specific clothing and equipment has been adapted from cycle-specific products in some form or another but in the case of the modern clipless pedal system, it’s the other way round. Created by Look in 1984, the French brand adapted ski-binding technology to make the first widely-used ‘clipless’ pedal system (named to distinguish them from toe clips) and they were initially used for triathletes to make transitions faster. After triathlon blazed the trail, French cycling legend Bernard Hinault became the first cyclist to win the Tour de France with clipless pedals, and the rest is history…
Except for one thing: a triathletes’s needs aren’t exactly the same as cyclists. And this is why tri-specific bike shoes differ subtly from road-specific shoes.
First, road shoes will usually have Velcro straps, ‘Boa’ ratchets or laces (for the traditionalists), to provide the most secure fit. A tri shoe will use straps and Boa dials too but in a slightly different arrangement. For instance, any straps are usually larger to make them easier to pull and adjust when you’re on the move. Another difference is the presence of heel loops. They’re there to help you pull the back of the shoes over your heels quickly when you’re on your way in and out of transition.
All 10 pairs of tri bike shoes here are compatible with Look and Shimano three-bolt cleat systems and prices range from an affordable £85 to a princely £230.
PS… Why did we describe Look’s pedals as the first ‘modern’ clipless system? That’s because the very first clipless pedals were actually invented way back in 1895 by Charles Hanson. You’re welcome!
How we tested
Tri-specific bike shoes demand a tri-specific testing procedure, and we created this by doing T1 and T2 mock-ups in each pair, as well as riding to evaluate their pedalling performance. As well as riding the same 61km training ride in each set we mocked-up a transition zone to test each shoe’s ease of foot entry and exit on the fly. We used the same Shimano SPD-SL yellow cleats throughout the testing period.
Interestingly, Ekoi’s TR1 uses a Boa dial and a Velcro strap over the tongue that, in theory, should provide a solid closure system. But we found the strap was so annoyingly long that it would catch on the cranks with every pedal stroke. We were forced to complete our tests rides with the strap slightly undone and, unless you have an unusually wide foot, we can’t see how this could be prevented without cutting the ends off. The soles provide good power transfer and our feet felt secure, despite the loosened straps, but the upper is extremely rigid, plastic and looks cheap. The heel loop is also too slim and difficult to grab. At over £200 we expected a lot from the TR1 shoes, but they came up short.
Verdict: Disappointing and a sky-high asking price 58%
Buy from www.ekoi.fr/en
The SC on Specialized’s Trivent SC shoes stands for ‘short-course’, which confused us as we found there’s far more actual shoe here than there is on Specialized’s top-end S-Works Trivent shoes. The SC pairing offer great power transfer and the inner is comfortable without socks. As a result of being quite rigid and difficult to open up, we found them a little tough to get on in our T1 mock-up. It’s a good job, therefore, that there’s a huge heel tab on the back, which makes life a little easier. The main strap sits well and tight on the outside of the shoe so there’s no overhang on the inside to worry about and there’s a handy little clip by the instep to offer an alternative place to attach elastic bands.
Verdict: great feel, but not the quickest in transition 78%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
Sidi is the shoe of choice for a bunch of professional cycling teams, and such revered Italian-made prestige comes at a price. Yet Sidi’s latest version of the T-4 Air tri shoe represents, dare we say it, comparatively good value compared to some of the shoes in this test. The uppers offer superb venting (very welcome on hot days), there’s a firm counter on each heel and the luxurious leather toe boxes hold your feet firmly in place. The main strap secures inwards and there’s no excess hanging over to catch on your cranks. The insoles are also well padded to counter the rock-solid carbon sole plate. Sidi fans know that shoes from this brand tend to come up a little small so, if you’re in between sizes, it’s best to go up one.
Verdict: A quality shoe in every way and well-priced 94%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Continue reading our guide to this year's best tri bike shoes (2/3)