Positives: Flying-mount-friendly, light
Negatives: More wiggle, bad for cold days
Specialized S-Works Trivent (560 grams)
Rock it if: Every second counts
Strength: Best-in-test for easy flying mounts
Weakness: Some issues with fit security
Dare we say “game-changer”? The Trivent is the first with a drawbridge-style heel closure that opens rearward for easy entry—more are sure to follow. Mount the shoes to pedals, then, after a flying mount, just slip your foot in from the back and dial the Boa buckle to tighten the heel and instep strap. Pop the buckle to release the heel, jump out and go. Getting in and out was incredibly quick and easy. It’s also light, and features the brand’s stiffest carbon outsole and a no-tongue design for max venting. Overall the fit was snug and free of hot spots, but wearing it barefoot was a bit rough. There were some loose areas in the heel and instep, but as the shoe broke in, they got snugger. The one-way Boa dial does not allow micro-loosening to tune the fit.
Giro Mele (538 grams)
Rock it if: You want the combination of stiffness and well-cushioned comfort suited to training and racing
Strength: Supportive and customizable fit
Weakness: Quick flying mounts are tricky
With an Easton carbon-composite outsole padded by a footbed featuring three interchangeable arch supports, the Mele feels sufficiently rigid without any of the discomfort common with stiff outsoles. The fit is snug and soft, especially around the well-padded heel, and the variable arch support effectively tailored the shoe’s fit around the arch. These fit features, coupled with nearly complete toe closure, help the Mele serve as a training shoe as well as race gear. Ejecting from this shoe while rolling down the road was more difficult than with the other tri models, however. Its overwrapping toe and mid-foot closure caused some hot spots and minimized ventilation. The broad reverse top strap was easy to tighten and held very tight but was not the easiest to open.
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly IV Carbon (540 grams)
Rock it if: You need a narrow shoe built for serious racing
Strength: Über-comfy upper
Weakness: Low heel cup allows some slippage
The Tri Fly is as cushy as a running shoe in the heel and instep, without impeding performance on the lightweight racers. The upper stretches to conform to the foot where necessary, while remaining supportive, responsive and stiff. The impressively rigid uni-directional carbon outsole adds to the responsive feeling. The main flaw was the low heel cup that slips under high torque. Otherwise, the two-strap closure was very secure, and, unlike some of the other shoes, the Velcro upper strap reliably stayed open for flying mounts. With a wide-open design, lots of mesh, and venting everywhere, these can easily handle the heat of Kona’s Queen K Highway. And although the toe box is narrow and not as soft as the rear, the shoe is plenty comfy for barefoot riding.
Mavic Tri Race (590 grams)
Rock it if: You need barefoot comfort with a stiff sole at a cheap price
Strength: Outstanding value with cushy interior and roomy toe box
Weakness: A bit heavy and overbuilt
The Tri Race is a ridiculously good value, considering you get a carbon-reinforced outsole and true flying-mount capabilities. While the outsole flexes noticeably more than higher-end shoes, it’s plenty sufficient for most age groupers, especially since sprinting and stand-up climbing are not common in triathlon. It’s also the most barefoot-friendly of the group, with a supple, seamless sock liner and a soft, well-vented insole. The shoe could use some more ventilation in the outsole and upper, but the overwrap tongue doesn’t close the top completely, leaving an open channel for airflow. And the wide, reverse top strap works easily for quick on and off, and it stayed put during flying mounts.