Turning your precious power into forward motion starts at the shoe—the direct connection between rider and machine. Finding the right pair is key for comfort and performance. Triathlon-specific shoes can help save a few seconds out of T1, but they lack some training-day functionality boasted by many road shoes. Sturdier road pairs can serve as race shoes if you can tolerate a little wasted transition time, typically fit more securely and are better for year-round training. We tested shoes of both styles to help you find your perfect match—whether you need a specialty race shoe or an all-purpose road pair.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
Positives: Better foot-to-sole hold, more insulation
Negatives: Slower transitions, heavier, less ventilation
Shimano R170L (500 grams)
Rock it if: You want budget-friendly high performance and aren’t picky about the closure system
Strength: Stiff, light, durable and (comparably) inexpensive
Weakness: Little micro-adjustability or ventilation
While just a few scant grams above the ultra-light category, this remarkably affordable shoe is still plenty light for serious riders and boasts a well-built upper and stiff carbon-composite outsole. Serious sprinters and bigger pedal mashers may feel the shoe flex underfoot, but not many others. There’s plenty of toe room—really nice on all-day rides—and the security of the heel cup and asymmetrical straps impressed when out of the saddle and cranking hard. Where the shoe falls short, however, is the ratchet closure. Only one-click adjustments are possible in either direction, making it a pain to tighten and almost impossible to loosen slightly. Venting is poor, with only a few small mesh openings.
Sidi Wire SP Carbon (600 grams)
Rock it if: You want fine Italian dress shoes suited for cycling
Strength: Incredible stiffness, impeccable construction
Weakness: A bit heavy for a top-end shoe
If any cycling shoe is worth $500, this may be it: The synthetic leather upper supplely wraps the foot over every contour while leaving ample wiggle room for toes. Even the thinnest ankles don’t budge in the snug heel cup, and it’s adjustable for wider ones. The ridiculously stiff carbon outsole offers a scant 4mm stack height, while dual Boa-style ratchets (although tough to grab on the fly) dial smoothly and securely, spreading impressively even pressure across the entire upper. For all its comfort and unflappable connection with the ride, this is not an ultra-light shoe. At 600 grams, it’s 20 percent bulkier than Shimano’s $200 offering. Minimal mesh in the upper could mean hot feet in warmer temps.
Louis Garneau Carbon Pro Team (526 grams)
Rock it if: Pro-level fit and features are worth it, but paying for style isn’t
Strength: Snug, secure fit and excellent ventilation
Weakness: Minimal cleat adjustability
These fit as securely as any shoe in this test, no matter how explosive the effort. The one-piece, overwrapping tongue blissfully cradles the foot, and its soft, grippy heel cup locks the foot in place. The top buckle micro-adjusts easily and can be moved to dial the best fit, but the Velcro on the lower straps felt a bit flimsy. The carbon outsole is very stiff and helps keep total weight down. While not quite on par with some top-end shoes, the sole is sufficiently robust for most serious competitors. Interchangeable insoles are claimed to be weather-specific; we didn’t notice much difference, but overall the ventilation is ample and evenly distributed.
Bontrager Race DLX (600 grams)
Rock it if: Comfort and fit is more important than performance
Strength: Outstanding performance and fit for the price
Weakness: A bit heavy and lacking ventilation
While a bit heavy and overbuilt to be called a “race” shoe, the Race DLX provides the best value of the bunch. It is the perfect training shoe to complement a separate pair of dedicated tri race shoes. This feature-packed, affordable shoe has a cushy interior and tongue for a semi-narrow slipper-like feel, although it lacks arch support unless used with Bontrager’s aftermarket insole. The ratchet buckle offers multi-click tightening for quick closure, and one-click micro-adjustability for a secure fit with plenty of adjustment. The nylon outsole flexes noticeably under sprint or stand-up climbing loads, but is stiff enough to provide a nice blend of efficiency and comfort for long training rides. Venting may not be sufficient for really hot days.