Do You Need Triathlon Shoes?

I am frequently asked by beginning triathletes which shoes they should purchase: triathlon shoes or road cycling shoes? This is not always an easy question because both shoes have their pros and cons. The choice depends on your experience, the type of races you participate in, and how you ride.

There are many varieties of tri and road shoes out there. The array can be confusing to many beginners, who often choose based on what is most popular, what the salesperson recommends, or what is the cheapest.

The Pros of Triathlon Shoes

There are several advantages of purchasing a tri-specific shoe.

  • Triathlon shoes typically are seamless so they can comfortably be worn without socks, making for a quicker transition.
  • Tri shoes have one strap that opens outwards and road shoes have multiple straps that open inward.  This makes taking tri shoes on and off considerably quicker and easier.
  • These shoes feature a pull tab at the heel. This makes it quite easy to remove the shoe at the bike-run transition. And if you prefer to have your shoes on the bike as you transition from T1, the pull tab provides a way to easily anchor the heel of the shoe to the bike for a flying start.
  • Triathlon shoes have greater ventilation, keeping your feet cool as you prepare to run.

The Pros of Road Cycling Shoes

The road shoe is not without its advantages for triathletes, however.

  • The narrower design means less lateral gliding motion. Consequently, there is a stronger pedal stroke, which can improve your power.
  • Some triathletes find road shoes with multiple buckles more adjustable, leading to a better fit.
  • Road shoes generally tend to be less expensive than tri shoes.

Consider Your Experience Level

If you are a newer rider, you may find tri shoes more comfortable and convenient, especially if you are still learning transitions. And take into consideration that if you are racing sprints or Olys races more than the longer races, speed of transition matters more. Some triathletes buy both pairs and the train in road shoes and race in tri shoes. My opinion is that if a triathlete only has the budget for one pair, go with the triathlon shoes due to the ease of transition and option to go sockless.

In the end, it’s a personal preference, so be sure not to use price as your only determinant; your comfort and race goals should be most important.

Ken Koontz is a triathlon coach with Life Time Endurance based at Life Time Alpharetta in Georgia. With more than 35 years of endurance racing under his belt, Ken brings both personal experience of racing all distances of triathlon and his exercise science credentials to his coaching.