Best triathlon shoes of 2022: ridden and rated

Having the right shoes is a critical part of helping you stay comfortable, aero and efficient while on the bike.

Triathlon
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Leave no stone unturned when preparing to unleash your watts during the bike portion of a triathlon. Having the right shoes is a critical part of helping you stay comfortable, aero and efficient while on the bike. 

No matter whether it’s a short course triathlon or a long course triathlon, the bike portion of a triathlon is usually the longest.

Cycling is also frequently an anxiety inducing part of a triathlon due to the number of mechanical issues that can occur, the need to be comfortable on the saddle of your road bike or triathlon bike - and an aerodynamically optimised position - for a long period of time hours, plus the fear of muscle fatigue or cramping. 

For triathletes, having the right equipment is everything, cycling shoes included. But unlike for standalone cyclists, triathletes generally need cycling shoes that offer a softer upper, a bit more breathability, and easy-to-use fastening systems. 

We put some of the market’s most-popular tri shoes to the test. Read on to find out which came out on top. 

The best triathlon shoes

Best Triathlon Shoes 2022 - Shimano

(Image credit: Kristin Jenny)

Shimano TR901

Specifications

Sizes: 36-50
Colors: Black Pearl, Blue
Weight: 230g (Size 42)
MSRP: $275 USD

Reasons to buy

+
Soft mesh upper
+
Responsive sole 
+
Easy-to-use fastening system

Reasons to avoid

-
Thin insoles
-
Best used with Shimano pedals
-
Limited color options (and one is neon blue)

The Shimano TR901 are a descendant of the classic Shimano TR9 tri shoes from years ago. One of their two color options is a shiny neon blue, so it’s hard to miss when a triathlete flies by in them. 

The TR901 features Shimano’s proprietary Dynalast. Dynalast optimizes the toe-spring section of the shoe and promotes a “smoother, more energy-efficient” upstroke, according to Shimano. Dynalast is definitely noticeable in this pair as the shoes are extremely responsive and almost springy from the power phase to the upstroke. 

The TR901 also features a classic triathlon build for a shoe, including two velcro straps per shoe  and synthetic heel loops at the back to optimize bike mounting. This is the shoe choice of five-time Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf, and we can see why.

However, the insoles that come with the shoes are thin and are best replaced by aftermarket or custom insoles. Plus, to no one’s surprise, the shoes are also best used with Shimano pedals for maximum optimization of your triathlon bike setup. 


Best Triathlon Shoes 2022 - Bont

(Image credit: Kristin Jenny)

Bont Zero+

Specifications

Sizes: 36-50
Colors: 2 - Black/White, White/Black
Weight: 230g (Size 42)
MSRP: $425 USD

Reasons to buy

+
Based on 20,000 foot scans
+
Heat molding at home
+
Most aerodynamic of this batch of shoes

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of heel loops
-
Limited ventilation and fluid drainage 
-
Expensive

The Bont Zero+ has quickly become a favorite of numerous pro triathletes (including Jan Frodeno, Lionel Sanders, and Mirinda Carfrae) in recent years. 

The Bont Zero+ Research and Development Team clearly took the construction of this shoe very seriously - they scanned 20,000 human feet to create the basis for this shoe. From the golf ball-esque aerodynamic texture of the shoe’s upper to the carbon chassis, the shoe exudes luxury. 

Outside of the 19 sizes, narrow, wide, and standard width options, the Bont Zero+ can be heat-molded at home to meet an individual’s unique foot shape, arch height, and width. The shoe can be heat molded as many times as needed as the cyclist’s anatomical journey evolves. 

The sole is quite stiff and offers great power transfer. The heel cup isn’t the tightest we tried, but it wasn’t necessarily lacking, either, especially if one opts to do the at-home heat molding. 

The two biggest drawbacks from a triathlon perspective is the lack of sole-based vents and ventilation in general. The shoe has some ventilation on the top but none on the sole. For some, this could cause major blistering and discomfort. 

Secondly, the shoe lacks any heel loops to make mounting easier. It’s possible to clip in the shoes and let them dangle, but practicing mounting with such a configuration would be a “must-do” before attempting to execute this in a race. 


Best Triathlon Shoes 2022 - LG

(Image credit: Kristin Jenny)

Garneau Tri X-Lite 3

Specifications

Sizes: 39-50 EU
Colors: 2 - White, Drizzle (a.k.a Silver)
Weight: 250g (size 42)
MSRP: $269.99 USD

Reasons to buy

+
Extremely well-vented
+
Velcro fastening system

Reasons to avoid

-
Upper is stiff, mostly made of plastic
-
Sizing runs a bit small
-
Limited color choices

This was one of the more affordable tri shoes we tested, and it held up to shoes twice its price, for the most part. 

The shoe reveals its lower price point via its intense use of plastic in the upper. While the plastic is internally covered with a mesh so as not to rub bare feet the wrong way, the upper is very stiff and will take a rider some time to soften over the miles of usage. 

The heel cup is tight and holds the foot in place nicely, but the insoles are extremely thin. Riders may want to look at aftermarket or third party insoles or inserts to maximize their comfort, especially during long races or dies. 


Best Triathlon Shoes 2022 - Pearl Izumi

(Image credit: Kristin Jenny)

Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Pro

Specifications

Sizes: 39-49
Colors: White only
Weight: 237g (size 43)
MSRP: $250 USD

Reasons to buy

+
Wide toe box
+
Sole has three vents
+
Tight heel cup

Reasons to avoid

-
Boa fastening system could be tricky to use in a race
-
Plastic upper beneath fastening system digs into top of foot

The Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Pro is laden with features that would make any triathlete salivate: a tight (but not too tight) heel cup, a wide toe box, solid insoles, and three vents on the sole for max water drainage. 

This depends on personal preference, but we found the Boa fastening system to be a bit cumbersome on this shoe. It took numerous turns of the Boa hub to get the shoes adequately tightened, which could eat into time rather spent settling into the bike leg post-swim. 

While most of the upper is a soft mesh, the Boa system’s cables rest on a plastic piece which sits directly atop the foot. If the Boa system is over-tightened, the plastic can start to dig into the foot, creating numbness and even chafing. 

The shoes offered great power transfer, especially when climbing, and seemed to get the geometry of a tight heel cup and wide toe box just right, which was aces over long, hilly rides. 


Best Triathlon Shoes 2022 - SWorks

(Image credit: Kristin Jenny)

Specialized S-Works Ares

Specifications

Sizes: 36-49
Colors: 6 - White, Red, Team White (aka black external heel cup), Lagoon Blue, Black, Maroon
Weight: 245g (Size 43)
MSRP: $425 USD

Reasons to buy

+
Specialized’s proprietary Body Geometry features
+
Amazing power transfer
+
Great arch support

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be difficult to get on
-
Limited ventilation
-
Best for narrow feet
-
Expensive

The Specialized claims that the S-Works Ares road shoe is “1% faster than any shoe Specialized has ever made." And that's largely due to the shoe being a true road cycling shoe, with next-to-no opportunities for water drainage and just one sole-based vent. 

The shoe also takes a few seconds to get on and properly adjusted via the two Boa systems on each foot. In a triathlon, precious seconds in transition can make or break a race. It could be a gamble to spend time wiggling a wet foot into these narrow, tight shoes.

On the flipside, though, for triathletes whose strengths lie on the bike (especially over long distances), it could be worth it to sit down, get the Ares situated, and then smash on the bike course. The soles have a stiffness of 15 (compared to most tri shoes which have a stiffness of 10), and the power transfer as a result is unmatched by any other shoe we tried in this batch. 

The Specialized Body Geometry aspects of the shoe also result in excellent arch, ankle, knee and hip support, keeping the key parts of your body happy across the miles. 

This is a shoe where weighing the pros and cons will be unique to each individual and their cycling goals nested within their larger triathlon aspirations. 

I think the shoe itself is fabulous, but is not great for triathlon.

What to look for in shopping for triathlon

What makes triathlon shoes different than road cycling shoes?

Triathlon shoes are different than cycling shoes for a few reasons. First and foremost, they generally have “vents” across the top, sides, and sole of the shoe. While cycling shoes may have one or two mesh vents in the sole, tri shoes will usually have two-to-four vents in the sole, a more open top-of-the-foot, and perforated material on the sides. This is to allow for maximum water and sweat drainage as triathletes emerge, dripping, from a swim and must now settle into the bike leg.