A triathlete’s armoury shines with many badges of honour. The form-fitting, X-rated tri-suit; an increasing number of bent safety pins in retirement from race-number duties; and, of course, footwear designed to transition, at speed, from an exhausting aquatic opener to a drag- and energy-reducing bike. Cue the tri bike shoe.
For triathlon newcomers, the tri shoe is a glorified bike shoe. It features the same cleat system as a bike shoe, the same stiff outsole and, in general, the same last. But there are subtle – and more explicit – changes designed to slip in and clamp in at breakneck velocity. The simplest and longest-standing ‘innovation’ is the heel loop, designed for a sharp yank as your foot either enters the shoe that’s already clamped into the pedal or laying on your transition towel.
Then there’s the speed and security system. In other words, not only further ideas for swift foot entry but also how your shoe deals with keeping your foot firmly in place. As you’ll see, a Boa ratchet is an increasingly popular method. You’ll also witness that many tri bike shoes employ reverse main straps, which run the opposite way to traditional road numbers. The downside of tri straps is that they can catch on the crank if they’re too long.
- What’s the difference between road bike shoes and tri bike shoes?
- Triathlon bike shoes: How should they fit?
- Bike shoes: 10 of the best for triathlon reviewed
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All the shoes here feature toe and heel bumpers, designed for ease of running in transition and to protect the outsole, while inner seams should be minimal for barefoot pedalling. Drainage and venting holes or strips come as standard, too. These tri touches pay off but remember: you still have a bike leg to ride once you’ve scarpered from T1. So comfort and a good fit is also crucial. Time to slide in and start the test.
Fi’zi:k Transiro Infinito R1 Knit
Knit weaves, more common in run shoes, have trickled into tri bike shoes with some success, as the Transiro Infinitos (294g) look and feel luxurious, especially barefoot. Concerns over heating proved unfounded.
Lack of hotspots goes for the closure system, too, the Boa mech working superbly for a swift transition and the most secure fit here without digging into your foot. The stiffness of the full carbon outsole maximises your efforts, while further concerns about that knit weave suffering post-swim moisture were alleviated by the shoe’s waterproofing treatment.
Verdict: Pricey but you know where the money’s been spent
Mavic Cosmic SL Ultimate Kona
The Kona is a crazily light 239g. This minimalism doesn’t stretch to its vibrant colourway, and its Hawaii love-in is finished off by the insole-imprinted Kona graphic. The look is matched by impressive performance. The full-carbon outsole is one of the stiffest we’ve tested, which equates to optimised power transfer, albeit some might find it uncomfortable.
Neat-looking outsole mesh vents add breathability and drain water, while weight’s cut further by the titanium cleats. Tri-specific features are abundant, including a durable-looking heel loop and a strip of Velcro beneath the insole.
Verdict: A high price but this is a fantastic, lightweight tri shoe
As you’d expect of Dhb, the Trinity is the most affordable (and heaviest, 314g) tri shoe on test. That means there are price-based concessions, the most striking being its nylon outsole that can’t match the stiffness of carbon but, to be fair, is solid enough for newcomers.
But the main criticisms stem from the design. The first is the upper that’s simply not a great fit, with just too much tongue and upper material. The main strap’s not quite wide enough near the buckle, so is liable to slip out.
On the positive, foot entry’s comfy, the heel loop’s solid and there’s a neat transition hook.
Verdict: Good price but requires a few design tweaks
Specialized S-Works Trivent
The Trivent’s (291g) described by Specialized as ‘the most engineered tri shoe in the world’. That tag is given a credible stamp by the patented heel-closure system, where the Boa wiring reaches out to the heel that’s collapsible, which you can then nudge back further to clamp onto the heel counter via magnets. It’s genius and more secure than you might anticipate.
You feel confident with every pedal stroke – and extremely cool as that heel and open tongue create the airiest shoe here. That’s great for summer and open-water dispersal but arguably too cool for early/late season races.
Verdict: Fast in transition, could do with an update
Bont Riot TR+
Compared to many here, at £145 Bont are almost giving away the Riot TR+ (306g). Yet this is the only shoe here that requires the extra outlay of an oven. That’s because these are ‘the world’s only carbon-composite heat-mouldable entry-level triathlon shoe’. Pop them in your oven for 10 mins at 70°C. Remove, slip in and off you go. Okay, it’s more involved than that, but it’s worth it as they’re assured once moulded.
As for power transfer, the carbon-composite outsole isn’t as stiff as pure carbon, but you won’t notice a huge difference. Closure is sound, but the drainage holes could be larger.
Verdict: Bargain and bespoke; impressive stuff
Louis Garneau Tri X-Lite III
We like the devil in the detail and, for the Tri X-Lite III (250g), it’s a neat transition hook on the inner that you can attach to your bike for a swift T1. Ease of entry’s heightened by a small strip of Velcro beneath the main strap to keep it open.
Of course, while a swift T1/2 is important, you still have many miles of riding. That’s where comfort and venting comes in. Key features of both are the shoe’s Power Zone for better arch support, a comfy padded foot entry and, for venting, mesh upper strips and drainage holes on the outsole. A solid carbon-composite outsole transitions power.
Verdict: A solid and reliable shoe that ticks many boxes
The overall verdict
For years, triathlon shoes were that by name only, bike-shoe manufacturers stitching in a heel loop and proclaiming its multisport versatility. Times have changed. As this speedy six show, evolution has seen various well-thought-out features to not only supercharge your transitions, but your bike leg, too.
Cue Fizik’s impressive Infinito R1 Knit, which has a knit weave that cranks up opulence as well as comfort. But it’s arguably the Boa ratchet mechanism that’s key to this shoe’s success. In the past, this clamp system’s provided speed and security but caused hot spots. Now it’s lost weight, grown in comfort and is just great. Yet nearly £350 for shoes is jaw-dropping.
Bont’s Riot TR+ is far more affordable but still packed with goodness, yet its USP is more about fit than transition speed thanks to its heat-mouldable attribute. Heating your shoes to mould to your foot isn’t a new idea but it’s one that Bont’s executed perfectly. But the winner is an incredibly effective shoe – Mavic’s Ultimate Kona. The vibrant number’s far from cheap, but cost is justified via that fine carbon outsole and many tri-specific features to see you fly through transition.