Choosing the Right Shoe
The three places your body contacts
the bike are critical to comfort and performance. Between the
hands, saddle area and feet the feet are the one most responsible
for translating fitness into speed. The primary link between
your fitness and your bike's ability to use it are your shoes.
Cycling footwear, and the small
subcategory of triathlon cycling footwear, is as sport-specific
as equipment comes. It is meant for one purpose only: Power
transfer. Everything else is an absolute distant second. As
a result, the process of buying cycling shoes for the first
time is an unusual one.
Cycling shoes, and triathlon
shoes especially, must fit much tighter than running shoes or
daily footwear. There should be no movement of the foot inside
the shoe whatsoever.
Few people buy their shoes tight enough. These are my feet,
my new running shoes on the left, my three year old road cyclng
shoes on the right. My heels were even when I shot this photo.
If there isn't this much difference in size between your street
shoes and your cycling shoes guess what... Your cycling shoes
are too big.
The most common problem (and hardest
to avoid) with cycling specific footwear is buying it too big.
Movement is the enemy. In a strange irony the symptoms of cycling
shoes being too big makes you think they are too small. Numb
feet, hot spots under the ball of the foot, blackened toenails
and even blisters are symptoms of cycling shoes that are allowing
minor movements of the foot inside the shoe. If the shoes were
tighter and restricted the movement some or all of these symptoms
The first step in getting the right
fit is trying the shoes on. One thought on sizing: Don't bother
trying to convert "English" sizes to "metric"
sizes. It doesn't really work. I wear a size 41 in a Sidi T-1
and Shimano TR-01 and have on a size 10 pair of expertly fitted
Lowa hiking boots right now. When I checked the "conversion
charts" they say I should have a size 42.5. Not even close.
You know the saying: "If the shoe fits, wear it."
Don't worry about what the size sounds like- go with feel and
make sure it is super-snug.
Shoes transmit power to the pedals. The union between shoe and
foot is critical.
Remember that your riding generally
begins early in the morning and many times on weekends. Your
feet will be smaller then than they are at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
Take that into account when fitting cycling shoes. Socks are
also critical. Lighter is better. With triathlon cycling shoes
it is best to plan for no sock at all. From sprint distance
to half Ironman distance no one should have any problem racing
without socks. Most people, myself included, prefer to train
with socks. While not everyone may want to spend the extra $150-$250
required to do this, I have one pair of "road shoes".
These shoes fit perfectly with thin cycling socks and have a
different closure system. I have another pair of "triathlon
shoes" specifically fitted to a bare foot and with a closure
system designed to enter and exit the shoe at speed while the
shoes are mounted to the pedals. Up to Ironman distance, these
are the shoes I race in.
When you try on cycling shoes don't stand up in them to test
the fit. You will never be standing in the shoes while using
them for what they are designed for. Even when pedaling out
of the saddle much of your weight is still on the handlebars.
Additionally, when you stand on the floor in cycling shoes
you distribute weight over the shoe sole differently than
you would when your shoes are clipped to the pedals. Because
of this, the shoes will always feel too small when you stand
in them. Remain seated while trying on cycling shoes. You
are looking for a fit that restricts all movement of the foot
in the shoe, with the possible exception of being able to
slightly wiggle your toes. Personally, I can't wiggle my toes
at all in any of my cycling shoes and they fit fine. Cross
your legs and try to move the heel counter or heel cup of
the shoe against your foot. If it budges the shoe is too big.
I guarantee you, the mechanical joint between the pedals and
your shoes is greater than the "fit joint" between
your foot and the shoe. When power is applied to the pedals,
if your shoes are too large, your foot will be the looser.
Your foot should fill the entire shoe with no movement inside.
Much tighter than normal shoes.
Sole stiffness is another aspect
of shoe performance. For years shoe design lagged behind pedal
design. As pedals became lighter and smaller shoe soles had
to become stiffer to more effectively translate power from the
entire shoe sole to a small pedal surface. At the same time
the shoe sole had to "insulate" the foot from the
sensation that the rider was standing on a walnut.
The most recent jump forward in
shoe design is the use of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber shoe soles
are stiffer and lighter than injection molded plastic. Two companies
leading the way with carbon sole triathlon shoes are Sidi and
Shimano. Sidi has offered a new carbon version of the venerable
T-1 Triathlon cycling shoe. Only in the pre-production stage,
the Sidi T-1 Triathlon Carbon was the lightest shoe in our test,
even when our test shoe was 1 full size larger (size 42) than
our other test shoes. Shimano's carbon soled tri shoe is also
light and stiff compared to plastic soled alternatives.
Carbon soles, like this one on the new Shimano TR-01, increase
sole stiffness, power transfer, comfort and make the entire
shoe lighter. Carbon soles are the "Gold Standard".
The subcategory of triathlon bike
shoes is defined by the construction of the uppers. Triathlon
specific cycling shoes are designed to be worn bare foot and
have a closure system designed for rapid entry and exit on the
bike. It's no secret that leaving your shoes attached to your
pedals in the single most important reduction you can make in
transition time. Triathlon specific cycling shoes are designed
to facilitate this tactic.
Sidi has previewed a carbon sole version of its excellent T-1
that may enter production this Spring. The T-1 Carbon (top)
was the lightest shoe in our test, even though our test model
was 1 full size larger than the other shoes we weighed. The
current T-1 with its excellent molded sole is shown below.
Triathlon shoes use a strap, that
when designed correctly, opens "away" from the drivetrain
of the bicycle to the "outside" or away from the bike.
Traditional cycling shoes (and some lesser triathlon designs)
have straps that open toward the center of the bike. When your
straps open toward the center of the bike they can interfere
with the chain and get fouled in the frame after you remove
your feet from the shoes. This is dangerous. Usually the triathlete
approaching the T2 transition from bike to run is rapidly becoming
"task saturated" and has to steer the bike, avoid
collisions, maintain speed and remove their shoes simultaneously
all in a matter of seconds. This requires practice on an indoor
trainer first but also requires a shoe with straps that facilitate
This is the critical tactical moment in your swim to bike transition.
Shoes are left clipped to pedals in the transition area. The
athlete enters the shoe on the bike while pedalling. A well
designed shoe makes this safer and easier. Practice this on
an indoor trainer first.
The tongue of triathlon shoes is
missing so it can't get pushed forward in the shoe when the
wet foot is forced into the shoe at the beginning of the ride.
The inner is largely seamless to prevent irritation with no
socks. There is often a "pull tab" at the back of
the shoe to facilitate easy donning.
new Shimano TR-01 on the left features a well-designed
strap that opens away from the drivetrain. The older
Carnac TRS-1K (right) uses an annoying design that,
when open, can become fouled in your drivetrain
as you pedal.
There are currently about eight
to ten triathlon specific cycling shoes available in the U.S.
This list is not entirely inclusive, but includes the ones
most readily available. Noteworthy shoes not in this list
are the Time Triathlon shoe, The Lake Triathlon shoe and the
new Pearl Izumi triathlon shoe which was not ready before
our article. Here is a very quick overview of the shoes we
have sold and used:
Since we have a new scale and
we're weighing everything (you asked for it) we decided to
compare weights of the popular shoes we sell. Since the shoes
are rotating during the pedal stroke shoe/pedal weight is
quite important. We weighed all size 41 shoes (my size) with
the exception of the Sidi T-1 Carbon pre-production sample
we had. It was a size 42 and still tested lighter than any
other shoe. Click on the chart below (By Seth Kirkendall)
to see a graphic representation of the relative weights of
a pair of size 41s.
For years the gold standard of
cycling triathlon shoes has been the Sidi T-1. The T-1 is
a perfect, or nearly perfect product. All of the perfromance
requirements merge in a reasonable compromise to form the
best triathlon shoe available during the previous five model
years. No one else came close until this year. the T-1 is
a "family" of triathlon shoes that include the standard
T-1, a "women's specific" size T-1 in a different
color, a very limited edition "World Championship"
edition T-1 (Super hard to find- if you see some, buy them!)
distinguished by the Arc en Ciel stripes and white color and
the new Carbon Sole T-1. The Carbon T-1 is "slated for
production" this spring but may or may not ever happen
depending on the volume of orders. Keep your fingers crossed
they make this in production volumes. It would be the best
triathlon shoe ever produced in my opinion.
The venerable Sidi T-1 family featuring the limited edition
"World Championship" version (white) and the women's
specific version as well as the proposed "super T-1"
with the carbon sole. This has, for years, been the standard
against which other shoes are judged.
The new Shimano TR-01 is a very
pleasant surprise. To me, previous Shimano shoe efforts have
been disappointing in fit and quality. But not this one. It
fits fantastic (I have absolutely "average" D width
feet with normal arches) and has a very good upper design. The
carbon sole is light and stiff. It is at its best with Shimano's
excellent new SPD SL pedal (the "Lance" pedal) or
other Look pedals. some users on the Slowtwitch.com forum report
good results with Speedplay pedals although we have not tested
this yet. The shoe is lightening fast to don and doff. the toe
box feels great. No problem going Ironman distance in these.
Shimano gets it right: Beating Sidi to the punch with a outboard
opening strap and carbon sole the Shimano TR-01 may be the nicest
shoe out now, until the Sidi T-1 Carbon becomes available. As
it is, the fit of the TR-01 may be better for some. It is a
fine shoe in all respects.
Another pleasant entry has been
the DMT R3 Triathlon. the currently available version features
a strap that opens inward toward the centerline of the bike
and into the drivetrain. DMT's U.S. distributor says that only
exisitng stock will be shipped this way and subsequent shipments
will include the new strap that opens away from the drivetrain.
the fit on the DMT's is the surprise. It is spot on: Snug, supportive,
not too tight but "right there". I could easily go
112 miles in these and get off to run in relative comfort. This
is a heavy shoe with a lot of upper, so it is at its best in
the bigger (size 43+) sizes for a rider who needs some beef
in his/her shoes. All in all a good offering.
The Carnac TRS-7K is the evolution
of the TRS series of triathloon cycling shoes. One of the originals.
The TRS series started out with a nicely rounded, high toe box
and somewhat of a tendency toward a wider fit than perhaps Sidi.
To me, however, the shoe has changed and not for the better.
It feels oddly narrow but too long. The strap, despite years
of evolution, still opens into your drivetrain. The shoe is
heavy but is built to last. I have an old pair of TRS-1Ks that
I still use occasionally and like, but not as much as I like
my Sidi T-1s and my new Shimano TR-01s. the Carnacs are good-
don't get me wrong, but they just don't fit me and that darn
strap thing drives me nuts.
We weigh the shoes, all size 41 (my size) except for our size
42 pre-production Sidi T-1 carbon, which was lighter than anything
even though it was bigger.
In the final analysis shoes selection
is an individual thing but certain principles apply. A carbon
sole is emerging as the state of the art. A strap system that
opens away from the drivetrain of the bike is a big advantage
and you hone your tranition skills. And, above all else, a tight,
unyeidling fit is critical to the most important place you interact
with your bike: The Direct Connection.
The brain they call Seth. U of M Engineering student Seth
Kirkendall crunches the numbers for our shoe article. Awesome
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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