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Pedal Science Blog: Choose Your Shoes

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach.

This week our resident bike fitter Nick Thomas discusses the difference between normal cycling shoes and triathlon specific cycling shoes.

The transition is often described as the fourth discipline in triathlon as a slow transition can result in the loss of several places. With this in mind triathlon shoe were created to enable the athlete to save time when changing between swim-to-bike and bike-to-run.

The aim of a triathlon shoes is to enable the athlete to fasten and unfasten them as quickly as possible. Unlike a road shoe which can have a ratchet or/or dial system to achieve a secure fit along the length of the foot a triathlon shoe usually has one or two Velcro straps across the top of the foot. Triathlon shoes also often have a loop on the top of the heel to provide some leverage so the shoe can be fitted more quickly.

There are pros and cons to triathlon shoe design which should be considered before choosing a race shoe:

  • Positives:

The simplicity of the straps results in the shoes being fitted and removed quicker than a road shoe. It’s possible to attach the shoes to your bike and fasten/unfasten the shoes while riding, thereby saving further time in transition: more experienced athletes will run barefoot through transition and attach/remove the shoes while they’re on the bike

  • Negatives:

Because the fastening on a triathlon shoe is simpler the fit tends to be less secure than a road shoe. This results in more foot movement which can then lead to loss of power (as the contact between the foot and bike is less rigid) and excessively fatigued muscles in the foot and lower leg. This is undesirable as these muscles are required to maintain an efficient, propulsive gait when running. There are several other factors to discuss when deciding which shoe to race in:

  • Event distance:

There is more relative time to gain or lose in transition during a sprint or standard distance race so saving a few seconds wherever possible is logical. For an Ironman a few seconds saved in transition will be negligible when the loss of efficiency over 112 miles is taken into account.

  • Speed:

The faster you are the more a few seconds in transition will affect your result: for most people these gains will be negligible and won’t greatly impact on their final position.

  • Skill:

Attaching and removing shoes while riding takes skill and not enough people practice in training. Unless you’re slick (and safe!) you’ll be much better doing it in transition and running carefully in your shoes between each discipline


Well-fitting road shoes provide a more secure fit and will maximise your efficiency when cycling. Triathlon shoes are advantageous if you’re fast, competitive and looking to save a few seconds in transition. Only fasten/unfasten shoes when moving if you’re well practiced and have the necessary skills.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.

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