A look at the eight shoes featured in the 2016 Triathlete Buyer's Guide.
The draw: Ergonomic, adjustable insole
This shoe gives you a choice in the amount of arch support you want with the use of an arch insert on the insole (it comes with two options), and a removable button beneath the metatarsal to best match your ideal anatomical fit. The Boa closure system opens wide for quick transitions and allows you to easily adjust tightness with precision. The shoe is ideal for smaller volume and narrower feet.
The draw: Superior breathability
Outside of the toe tip and heel, the entire upper is perforated, allowing the whole foot to breathe. Intended to be worn sockless, the shoe has a soft, brushed interior without a lot of seams, which tend to irritate over long rides. Made of a nylon/carbon fiber blend material, the sole feels light, rigid and sturdy underfoot. The shoe’s double Velcro strap closure system reliably supports the foot with the right amount of tension while also allowing for a quick on and off. Clever caveat: The heel pad is replaceable, giving your shoes a longer lifespan if you tend to grind down the heel while walking in your cleats.
The draw: Slipper-like feel, suited for narrower feet
On the higher end of stiffness, the Trivent’s sole fosters a strong sense of connectivity with the pedal and energy transfer. The shoe’s cut feels narrow, which makes the foot feel like it’s wrapped evenly in snug support, but also makes this shoe a little tougher to get on. A wide Velcro strap on the top of the mid-foot and a smaller strap at the toes help open up the shoe a bit, though, and let you easily adjust to a precise tightness even mid-ride. Specialized claims this ergonomically designed shoe has been shown to increase power and efficiency while also promoting proper alignment of the hip, knee and foot to reduce the likelihood of overuse injury. We’re also fans of the eye-catching color scheme.
The draw: Stiff sole with wide adjustability range | The rigid but comfortably contoured foot bed is the first thing you’ll notice when sliding your foot into this shoe. Made of a carbon composite material, the sole allows for a strong power transfer through the pedal. The sole construction allows an additional 11mm of adjustment to double the standard SPD-SL cleat setting range. Also available in “Shimano blue,” the reasonably priced TR9 comes equipped with triathlon-specific features like drainage holes beneath the toes, a super wide Velcro strap for easy in and out, and a loop at the heel to shave transition seconds.
The draw: Foot-cradling support
Italian craftsmanship and an ultra-supportive foot bed are the hallmarks of this triathlon shoe. The customizable eSoles foot bed offers the most pronounced arch support of any other shoe in this roundup, and a substantial heel cup stabilizes the back of the foot without pinching. Tri-friendly features include a large loop at the back of the ankle (that you may notice while riding) and wide Velcro straps. Perforations on the top and sides of the shoe increase breathability. The lightweight carbon fiber sole is compatible with Look cleats.
The draw: Affordable functionality
Priced $80 less than the brand’s higher-end Tri Fly V Carbon, this shoe has a less stiff nylon/composite sole instead of carbon, but offers the same top quality upper. A solid option for beginner or experienced triathletes alike who want a functional, comfortable tri shoe without breaking the bank, this shoe also comes in a more muted black-and-white colorway. A large peekaboo hole and mesh paneling in the upper (and two small mesh screens under the toes) keep feet well ventilated. A rigid carbon plate beneath the supportive insert promotes a sense of power moving through the pedal.
The draw: Value-minded performance
The Cosmic Elite serves up many of the same tri-specific features and benefits of several of the shoes in this roundup but at a lower price tag. With its wide Velcro strap and large opening, it is one of the easier shoes to get on and off quickly, and a long opening at the top of the shoe and mesh paneling promote breathability. A more affordable option than Mavic’s carbon outsole option, this shoe is just slightly more flexible. Our tester identified a minor hot spot around the ankle from the shoe’s stitching, but that may vary by rider. Sizing seems to run a bit small, so make sure you try on before you buy.
The draw: Dialed-in arch support, best for wider feet
Giro’s tri-specific design comes in subdued all white or this shiny black with high-vis neon accents. The opening feels widest and easiest to put on and remove of all the shoes in this roundup. Cyclists with a bigger volume foot will find these cushy, especially just below the ankles, where there is soft padding. There are three different arch support pads that Velcro onto the bottom of the insole so you can choose the right amount of support for you. The gently cradling foot bed combines with a stiff carbon composite outsole to achieve a winning balance of comfort and rigidity.