15 of the best triathlon bike shoes ridden, reviewed and rated
We’ve tested 15 of the best 2014 tri bike shoes for £50 – £275. We simulated a typical T1 transition, with wet and cold feet and tried to get the shoes on as quickly as possible. We opened them as wide as possible next to the bike and also attached them to the pedals for a barefoot mounting.
We aggregated out the user-induced fumbles and only had the shoes’ designs in focus.We rode them all as well; after all, shoes that go on easy but pinch after 10 miles are as much use as a cardboard wetsuit. The combination of both elements gave us the rounded view of each shoe we were reviewing.
What to look for – Tri Bike Shoes
The footbed of the shoe: a simple padded floor or a cool and comfy luxury item. Some shoes use shaping under the ball, instep and heel to manage pedalling pressure points.
The upper part of the shoe, generally built from a mix of lightweight mesh for ventilation and more solid, stretch-free fabric to create shape, spread pressure, stabilise the foot and provide an anchor point for the straps.
Cheaper shoes use reinforced nylon, with carbon fibre used for lighter, stiffer soles as the price increases. Inset threads determine which cleats they’re compatible with and vents can be added to dry and cool your feet.
A stiff section of upper that grips your heel to stop your foot rubbing. Some use reinforced rubber while others use hard plastic or carbon cups for stiffness. The heel tab for pulling the shoe on attaches to the back.
The section of the shoe over the toes. Normally reinforced to stop pain from accidental kicks and hold the shape of the shoe. Roomy toeboxes allow you to wriggle your toes while riding to restore circulation before running.
Most tri shoes use a main strap ahead of your ankle to keep your foot in position against the sole and a secondary strap to stabilise the lower part of the foot. Some use a single strap for entry speed.
The section over your toes and lower foot. Stability here is crucial to deliver power to the pedal without your foot twisting and sliding about. That can be hard to achieve with shoes that only use a single strap, though.
Currently on offer at £40, these DHB shoes are half the price of the next shoes up. The sole is set up for three-bolt cleats but is DIY adaptable for two-bolt cleats. There are no vents and there’s a lot of overhang on the cleat but they’re as stiff as shoes over twice the price. The single broad strap has a small stop notch that holds them open and there’s a short heel tab to help quick entry. The sole and uppers are roomy with no sign of the reduced cost in construction and they crush down well if you wait till you’re riding to put them on. Like most single strap designs, the fit is loose, which upset some power pedallers, but unlike some there are no pressure points. They’re a real steal for the money.
Weight (pair size 44) 666g
Baggy fit, but pain-free enhanced pedalling performance at an absolute bargain price
Spiuk Sector 1
These affordable Spaniards are power friendly and feature rich but fit wasn’t universally popular. The fibreglass reinforced nylon sole gets six mesh-backed vents under the toe and instep for quick draining and it can take three-hole, two-hole and even old SPD-R style cleats. Sole stiffness is average but the twin strap closure, firm heel cup and mostly leatherette upper secures the foot well for high-power pedalling. A small stop notch holds the shoe open for easy entry and it’s one of the few with a tab for elastic bands to keep the shoes straight on the bike pre-ride. Care is needed when tightening as the overlap under the fat tongue can dig in, particularly when out of the saddle.
Weight (pair size 44) 686g
Solid and very secure shoe for power pedallers but firm fit can cause pressure points
Rose don’t do an own-brand tri shoe but this stiff, high-value road shoe is still sound for long training or race miles. The flat shiny fibreglass sole gets markings and the three bolt fixtures shift sideways for easy cleat set-up. It’s noticeably stiffer than most shoes at this price and the cleat is well supported so there’s no obvious roll or engagement issues. You even get two small mesh vents for air con under the generous square toe. The insole is perforated too but some riders might want it more shaped to compensate for the very flat shape. A two-strap and metal ratchet closure adds a few seconds on entry/exit but they give good, hotspot-free security for the broad upper fit.
Weight (pair size 45) 698g
Not as fast on/off as a ‘proper’ tri shoe but great value for powerful big foot pedallers
Lake’s affordable option is a well built barefoot-friendly shoe with a distinctive twisty fit. The Lake uses the same sole as the DHBs which means three-bolt cleat fixing as standard and two-bolt with some DIY. Stiffness is OK but there’s a lot of cleat overhang and a tall, remote feel on the pedal. The two-part upper makes for a really obvious ‘sandal’ fit, with the secure forefoot section and the midfoot and heel section able to rotate separately. Despite generous toe sizing, the closed neoprene mesh front and snug heel cup stay very secure. It’s very comfy barefoot too. The excellent heel loop strap makes for an easy grab but the very secure lock notch needs a good tug.
Weight (pair size 44) 680g
Distinctive two-part fit but otherwise a solidly built, secure and barefoot-friendly shoe
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly IV
this is one of the best looking and barefoot-friendly sub-£100 shoes for narrow footed riders. The nylon and composite sole is very deep and usefully stiff with two- or three-bolt cleat compatibility, a natty Cuban heel and toe vents. The upper fit is very tight, so go up a size if you’re ordering online and even then there’s a lump under the ball of the foot that can really cause a pressure point. The open toe with neoprene trim around the cutout combines with a well padded collar to feel really good barefoot, though. The twin diagonal straps give good security too, although there’s not much Velcro overlap if you’ve got a tall foot. Strap lock notch and big heel tab make entry easy, too.
Weight (pair size 44) 568g
Stiff and secure – a good barefoot choice but definitely size up if you can’t try before you buy
Polaris’s lime trim shoes fit almost any pedal but the single-strap fit is both loose and potentially pressure point prone. The Equilibrium uses the same two- or three-bolt and SPD-R compatible sole as the Spiuk Sector. The raised centre rib with vents all the way along is matched to a vented waffle insole and mostly mesh upper to make it a breezy shoe. The mesh forefoot and sides with single-strap closure allows loads of twist movement which undermines decent sole stiffness. It needs a lot of wriggling to stop a pressure point under the tongue overlap and while the reversed strap wraps round to keep it off the cranks, this makes it awkward to peel off on the fly. There’s no strap stop notch for T1 either.
Weight (pair size 44) 596g
Cool and widely cleat compatible but sloppy fit, entry/exit and pressure point issues
Shimano has been making shoes to go with its pedals for over 20 years. This mid-price shoe is a great example of simply effective design. The sole only gets a six on Shimano’s stiffness rating but that’s on a par with most competition at this price. The relatively low height and excellent two- or three-bolt cleat support makes it feel positive under power, despite a long centre vent cut-out, and insole shaping helps fit without being obtrusive. Upper fit is instantly comfy whether socked or barefoot, with good stability from the diagonal cut tongue, reinforcing forefoot band and straight wrap strap. There’s a stop notch to keep the tongue open with a tall heel loop making entry easy.
Weight (pair size 44) 556g
Simple but effective fast-access single-strap design that’s stable, comfy and power friendly
Bont Riot TR
Bont have really created a Riot amongst the competition with their new £100 shoe. The fact that it took a lot of checking of websites and packing notes to believe it really is £100 says a lot. The unique canoe style with side wrap forming the lower heel cup looks amazing even before you realise you can heat mould it for an exact fit by warming it in the oven. The two-strap upper in soft leatherette looks luxe too. The broad sole only has basic position markers but gives great cleat support. The shallow base feels instantly connected and kicks harder than anything else here. It’s comfortable barefoot or in socks. This is a superb competition shoe that sets a whole new value benchmark.
Weight (pair size 44) 520g
Stunning looks, performance and custom comfort at a fantastic value price
North Wave’s Tribute is a proven performer with a comfortable boxy fit. The low-profile carbon reinforced sole is three-bolt and Speedplay cleat compatible with a mesh heel and insole vents. There’s a small keyhole over the toe too but otherwise it’s a mostly leatherette upper so they can get a bit sweaty in heat. The deep toebox means loads of pre-run wiggling room to stop numb toes and the soft heel and tongue sections meant these were one of the most popular ‘Cinderella fit’ shoes of our test team. There’s a clever Velcro strap holder, crank strap tab and broad heel pull for easy entry. The twin strap system means no obvious lift or twist so although the sole isn’t that stiff, drive feel was good.
Weight (pair size 44) 608g
Well proven, universally comfy (if slightly sweaty) carbon soled shoes at a decent price
Gaerne Carbon G.Kona
Gaerne’s flashy looking shoes are stiff and well vented but with a restricted front end fit. The carbon soles are three-hole or Speedplay compatible with good cleat support. Add reinforcing ribs on the sole and you get a good power push. The neoprene guard on the top strap stops pressure points. Sole vents, perforated uppers and a tongueless design keep them cool. An L-shaped strap stop and lock notch keep the shoe open for entry. Forefoot fit is more prescriptive though, with a tendency to nip if pulled tighter than its natural resting point, so it’s a shoe worth trying before you buy.
Weight (pair size 44) 562g
High performance, cool shoe with good drive but check forefoot fit before you buy
DMT’s innovative and slick looking shoe is surprisingly comfortable and transition friendly. The low profile carbon sole uses an obvious broad stripe carbon lay-up which produces an extremely stiff feel underfoot. There’s a neat ‘memory’ template that sits underneath Look cleats for pinpoint replacement. There’s no venting though and, with just a few inside edge perforations on the shiny upper, they’re potentially sweaty in summer. The Boa tightening winch and neat clamshell closure makes them very aero though. Once you’ve flipped the flap open they give a secure fit across a wide range of feet. They are definitely better with socks at first as the edges are quite hard, though.
Weight (pair size 44) 566g
A bit sweaty but a distinctively aero and hard driving, supportive and comfortable option
Fizik K5 Uomo
The K5 delivers Fizik’s distinctive styling and features for almost half the price of the £300 K1 by using a carbon reinforced nylon sole rather than a T700 carbon fibre unit. This adds 40g to each shoe and reduces stiffness to adequate rather than aggressive levels but you still get ridged positioning markers and a flat profile for great cleat support. Metallic mesh side panels with faux snakeskin straps, embroidered toe and heel logos and a chrome strap clip give Italian loafer styling. The tall heel and accurate shaping means overall stability is good too with only slight torque twist at slow revs and no obvious pressure points. The tall heel strap makes entry easy but the main strap stop notch is not very secure.
Weight (pair size 44) 584g
Luxurious looking and comfy but performance is adequate rather than amazing at this price
Specialized Trivent Expert
Specialized’s techy Trivent proved divisive among testers. The silverised carbon sole reflects road heat and, together with an open upper, makes for a very cool shoe. The sole kicks hard, with good heel security stopping lift. The tall heel loop, elastic band hook and notched strap make access easier but initial feel is sharp round the tongueless edge. The short, stiff main strap makes accurate tensioning hard at first and there’s little hook and loop overlap for high arches. Twist in the midsection of the upper is noticeable, and it can dig in around the ankles. Body Geometry bumps underfoot are a love/hate feature too.
Weight (pair size 44) 574g
Potentially good hot weather shoe, but definitely check the fit before you buy
Vittoria THL EVO Carbon
Vittoria’s THL’s aren’t subtle but they’re softly comfortable if you’ve got a suitably Italian-shaped foot. Carbon sole stiffness is OK rather than amazing but sideways shift on the three-bolt fixings gives great cleat support and fine adjustment. Mesh-backed vents under the toe and insole add air con to the underside. The fabric toe gives better forefoot security than most single straps but there’s still some movement over the cleat and around the heel when pulling up or twisting. Even with plush padding, overall fit is long and narrow. There are elastic band loops but the stop notches on the straps are minimal and easy to pull through.
Weight (pair size 44) 584g
Eyecatching Italian fit single strappers, but loose feel and niggles don’t match the price
Mavic Tri Helium
The priciest shoe in the test delivers an outstanding performance once you’ve sorted the overlong strap slap. The full carbon sole gets the instep centre cut out and a big toe sole vent for impressive cooling. Hard plastic T-bar sections on the toebox and heel cup combine with a cleverly cut main strap, tongue and stiff mesh for a locked down feel. The result is the closest you’ll get to having your feet moulded directly into the bike in terms of power transfer. Entry is easy with the big heel loop and the stop notch holds the shoe wide open. The long, rubber-ended main strap slaps against the crank every rev, potentially peeling it open, but Mavic have designed it to be trimmed to suit.
Weight (pair size 44) 564g
Outstanding fit, drive and comfort from an ultralight shoe, but strap may need surgery
We’re not sure whether it’s a reaction to the squeeze on the global economy or just the fact that decent materials and good design don’t have to cost a fortune. Whatever the reason we’re increasingly seeing affordable test gear making the really pricey stuff look like an unnecessary indulgence. For a start DHB’s £50 shoe matched most pairs nearly twice the price to take our value award.
Apart from the stunning post-strap-surgery performance of the Mavics, which gain them our Peak Performer award, few of the shoes over £100 added a completely positive performance that was worth the extra money. Especially when Bont’s new £100 Riot has genuinely blown the rest of the competition out of the water with an ultra light, pro level, heat-moulded custom-fit performance to our Overall winner title.
Mavic Tri Helium
Bont Riot TR