Cycling shoes--what do I need to know before I buy?
March 23, 2012 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Doing my first (sprint) triathalon in about 6 weeks and need to start looking into gear. I don't have real bike/spin shoes yet, only good sneakers, and I'm ready to bite the bullet and get some. Anything specific I should know before I go into the store and ask someone knowledgeable for advice? Are there different types or are all bike shoes pretty much equal? (For instance, I'd love if I could get one pair and it would work for spin class + both the bike and run portion of the tri.)
posted by lovingkindness to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are different types of bike shoes. There are:
* commuter shoes: look like real shoes, flex somewhat like real shoes, but have an SPD cleat recessed into the ball of the foot. They're usually kind of heavy and not as comfy as sneakers, but they work well for biking to work or the store. (Disclaimer: I rode recessed-cleat mountain-bike-ish shoes on my road bike for YEARS. They were very heavy when compared to road bike shoes, but I loved them.)
* road bike shoes: thin, very stiff, lightweight shells with a protruding big flat SPD-L/Look or competing-style cleat sticking out out of the ball of the foot. Their entire focus in life is to transmit all the power that's coming through your ankle onto the cleat. They have zero flex so walking in them is silly. Running doubly so. They usually have velcro or clicky strap closures so you can slip your foot into them, flip a strap or two, and immediately go.
* mountain bike shoes: like road bike shoes, but with SPD-style cleats that won't clog with mud and some pointy cleats sticking out the sole for when you have to walk/haul the bike.

The tri athletes I know simply keep their road bike shoes clipped into their bike. The run up to the bike, and either pop them off or slip their feet in. While they're getting going, they reach down and cinch up the velcro straps on the top/side of the shoe.

You absolutely cannot walk or run in good cycling shoes. They're incredibly inflexible. Very comfy on the bike, very impractical off the bike.
posted by introp at 8:42 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tri shoes generally have a single strap that opens wide to allow a bare foot to easily slide in/out during transition. Nicer tri shoes will have a soft lining to help avoid blisters and hot spots while wearing the shoes without socks.

Tri shoes will generally have a 3-hole cleat pattern, and most spin bikes utilize a pedal system that uses a 2-hole pattern, so tell the people at the shop that you also want to use the shoes for spin classes, so they will make sure they're not selling you shoes that aren't compatible with your spin bike pedals (unless you're allowed and want to bring your own pedals to spin class).

Road shoes will work just fine for getting into triathlon. Mountain shoes will work just fine as well, and mountain shoes will generally always utilize a 2-hole cleat pattern. Road shoes can be either 2- or 3-hole (and some use both).

Again, tell the people at the shop that you want to be able to use the shoes for tri and spin, and they'll know what to rule out.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:44 AM on March 23, 2012

I would recommend doing your first tri with your running shoes and saving your shoe purchase until after the race.

If you're not used to the cycling shoes it can be difficult to get used to clipping in and out. With the added pressure of having to get onto your bike right after the mount line, you don't want to have to worry about whether or not you'll be able to clip in quickly (or get into your shoes if you keep them clipped into the bike).

Also with a sprint distance, unless your route is incredibly hilly, you may not save much time by wearing the cycling shoes since you will have to change to running shoes for the run portion.
posted by statsgirl at 8:49 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just did my first sprint tri last Saturday and wore a pair of trail shoes for both. It was an off-road tri though, so mountain biking and trail running - but they were fine.

A lot of people say that for your first Tri you should concentrate on just getting through it, and aim to make transition as simple as possible, so using the same pair of shoes would be fine (if you're just aiming to finish rather than get the fastest possible time, as often recommended). You'll pick up loads of tips while you're there about what works for other people and can base your shopping decisions on that ahead of your next tri.

(on preview, what statsgirl said)
posted by penguin pie at 8:50 AM on March 23, 2012

Please don't try to leave your shoes clipped to the bike and ride into them. I've seen far too many crashes due to that. Even if you practiced and got really good at it, you'd save something like 10 seconds. Does 10 seconds matter to you enough to risk it?

You aren't going to find good bike shoes you can run the run leg in. If you could, everyone would be using them.

I'd say you should either stick with running shoes and flat pedals (maybe with toe clips), or get an SPD system of pedal and shoes. You can use these for spinning and they are almost always easier to walk/jog through transition with. There are some great light and stiff two bolt commuter shoes. The Bont C1 is stiffer than you can imagine and a decent weight. Try to get a shoe that doesn't flex at all. It will make a huge difference in pedaling comfort.
posted by advicepig at 9:04 AM on March 23, 2012

For your first sprint, don't over-think or over-gear. Just use flat pedals with cages/straps and your running shoes. You'll save more time in T2 than fumbling with ALL your gear at once, the first time around - I still regret having run pictures with my cycling gloves still on form my first sprint. :)

What gear you need next will come naturally. I'd bet taking a bucket for transporting your gear will be more useful than bike shoes/pedals, since you'll have a transition seat. Don't forget a headlamp if it's an early start!
posted by kcm at 9:13 AM on March 23, 2012

tri bike mounts is always good for a few laughs.

I ride a lot (not that I'm any good) and long ago ditched the clipless, they don't really have much benefit for slow pokes like me... bmx pedals are really grippy if you're worried about feet slipping around, and their wide size seems to prevent hotspots for me.
posted by glip at 2:09 PM on March 23, 2012

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