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Triathlon Bike Shoes Vs Road Bike Shoes – What’s The Difference?

If you’ve recently started entering triathlons, it can be a bit of a shock to find out how much extra equipment you need.

Some of your gear can overlap. For example, you can wear the same shorts for your cycle and your run, or use the same hydration system for both.

But shoes can be complicated. Technically you can wear the same shoes for your bike and your run, but it’s not advised.

So the next question is, what’s the difference between triathlon bike shoes and road bike shoes? And does it matter which one you use?

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about these two types of shoes so you can choose which one to wear in your next triathlon!

What Are Triathlon Bike Shoes?

Triathlon bike shoes are specifically designed for the cycling leg of your triathlon.

Like normal road cycling shoes, these shoes have a stiff sole and uppers and a cleat system built into the sole. But they have various features that set them apart from regular road bike shoes and running shoes.

First, they usually have a larger strap over the bridge of the foot, which opens wide and outwards so you can slip your foot in easily and not waste time fiddling with laces when you’re pressed for time during transitions.

Tri shoes also tend to be more well-ventilated than regular shoes. Most of them also have a sturdy heel strap at the heel, which helps make the on and off smoother and less hassle.

Pros

These kinds of triathlon-specific bike shoes have a number of advantages over normal shoes.

Their design is geared towards being super easy to get on and off, tighten and loosen. This is with the aim of shortening your time spent on transitions, saving you seconds that could be the difference between a decent race and a new PR.

The large front strap makes a big difference here. It’s absolutely a pleasure to get your foot in and out of these shoes, and the strap is easy to tighten to your preference.

They also typically have a large heel loop, which assists even more with quick on and off. Often, tri shoes are seamless, which means you don’t even need to waste time putting socks on if you want to get into them as quickly as possible. The lack of seams means there’s far less chance of chafing.

The extra ventilation means that your feet will dry quickly if they are still wet when you start your bike leg of the race.

You can pre-mount triathlon bike shoes to the pedals of your bike. When you come to transitioning, it’s as easy as slipping your feet in, closing the strap, and riding off!

Cons

There aren’t really any significant cons to triathlon shoes.

If you’re riding in colder weather, their increased ventilation may contribute to your feet getting cold easily, but this can be remedied by wearing warm socks.

Different Parts of a Tri Shoe

Large Velcro Straps

The prominent Velcro straps are easy to grab and open and close. Because the Velcro strip is quite large, it hooks closed nicely to offer a secure fit.

There’s also no fuss with these straps. You don’t need to waste time tying or untying laces. The only possible concern is that the Velcro may wear out quickly if you do a lot of triathlons.

Split Tongue

Tri shoes typically have a split tongue. This is to ensure comfort across the top of the foot and prevent pressure points. It also helps to stop the tongue from sliding down one side of the shoe and becoming a highly annoying chafing hazard.

Exaggerated Heel-Loop

Most athletic shoes have a heel tab that’s easy to grab and pull on or off.

Triathlon shoes usually have an exaggerated heel loop that makes it easy for you to pull them off and on with little effort.

Perforated Upper

Tri shoes are known to be quite a bit more ventilated than road cycling shoes. It helps your feet to dry off easily after your swim, and keeps you cool while you’re riding.

Soft Inner Fabric

Many triathletes choose not to wear socks. For many, this is to speed up transition times.

It also removes the risk of your sock bunching up or chafing while you’re riding. Once you’re clipped into your pedals, you lose precious time if you have to unclip in order to fix a rogue sock!

The fabric inside a tri shoe is soft and easy on the skin. This makes the experience comfortable whether or not you’re wearing socks.

Drainage Points

Another key feature of tri shoes is that they have drainage points. It’s another feature to help your feet dry quickly if they are wet from the swim leg.

And if you end up getting wet along the way, the shoes drain the water out easily so that you don’t have to sit with damp feet.

What Are Road Bike Shoes?

Road bike shoes are pretty similar to tri bike shoes, but have some features that are unique to them.

They typically have multiple straps instead of one large strap, which means you’ll need to spend more time strapping yourself in but you can get a good, comfortable lockdown.

They also most often use a kind of quick-lacing system in conjunction with these straps to lock your foot in securely.

These shoes have less ventilation, which means your feet may get warm in summer weather. On the other hand, they’ll stay toasty in cold weather, especially on early morning training rides.

Road bike shoes have a narrower design than tri bike shoes. This creates less lateral gliding motion, which can help to improve the power of each pedal stroke.

Their design makes them good for rides that aren’t pressured. In other words, if you have plenty of time before your ride to get your shoes on and get clipped into your bike, then road bike shoes are ideal.

Pros

Road bike shoes are somewhat more comfortable than tri bike shoes. They’re also often slightly more affordable, so comfortable on the feet and on the wallet!

Multiple straps allow for a tight but comfortable lockdown over the foot. They’re also super easy to open and close, so no more fiddling with laces.

These shoes are excellent for riding in cooler weather. They offer somewhat less ventilation than tri shoes, so your feet will be well protected from wind and water.

Cons

If you’re using these kinds of shoes in a triathlon, you’ll lose a bit of time during your transition.

Having multiple straps to open so your foot can get into the shoe comfortably and then having to close said multiple straps can add a few seconds to your time.

If you don’t dry your feet well after your swim, your feet may stay damp or wet in these shoes.

Either, you spend another few precious seconds drying yourself properly, or you have to suffer with damp feet for the duration of your ride.

The lack of ventilation won’t allow your feet to dry quickly, if at all.

Important Parts of Road Bike Shoes

BOA Dials

Road shoes most often use BOA dials in addition to their straps. This creates a proper lockdown, and they’re highly adjustable so you can get exactly the right fit and feel for your foot.

They’re also super quick to tighten and loosen, much more so than traditional laces. You get a better lockdown with less hassle.

Deep Heel Cups

Road bike shoes feature deep heel cups that hold the foot in place and prevent any inner movement of the foot. They’re typically narrower than tri shoes, so they have a naturally tighter fit than tri shoes.

This reduction in foot movement within the shoe also helps with a better power transfer from the feet to the pedals, to the drivetrain.

What Else is Important to Know?

Here are a couple of other features and functions that both road and triathlon bike shoes share.

Retention

This is the term for the attaching of your shoe to the pedals. Both triathlon bike shoes and road bike shoes use cleats underfoot to attach to the pedals of your bike.

This offers inherent stability as you’re riding and increases the power transfer to the pedals. It also offers a “pull” power, which makes the upswing of your foot an active motion rather than a passive one.

If you’re new to wearing these kinds of shoes, it can be somewhat unnerving to have your foot clipped onto your pedals. We advise doing several practice rides before going into competition, as you won’t just be able to stop and put your feet down like you can with regular shoes.

Many triathletes have fallen hard because they forgot their feet were attached to their bicycle!

Take some time to get used to this system and become well-accustomed to clipping in and out of your pedals before taking it to a competitive setting.

Stiffness

Both tri bike shoes and road bike shoes have stiff soles. This is to prevent extra flex while clipped into the pedals, which reduces the amount of power you get out of each pedal stroke.

Commonly used materials include nylon composite and carbon, both of which are lightweight but strong.

Cleat Systems

Whether you’re looking at road bike shoes or triathlon bike shoes, you’ll need to get yourself a pair that’s compatible with the pedals you’re using.

The majority of triathlon shoes use the SPD cleat system. These are compatible with most road bike and tri bike pedals. If by some strange chance your bike doesn’t have compatible pedals, it’s not difficult to buy and install new pedals.

The Wired Runner