Is Your Best Tri Shoe a Road Shoe?

If you’re an Ironman racer primarily, or even down to 70.3, yes, your best tri shoe for the bike ride is probably a road shoe. Which drives manufacturers crazy! Because they toil to give you the features you say you need, a loop in the heel to pull it on quickly, good ventilation and water shedding, quick and easy closure. And then you buy the very shoe that has none of these features.

This isn’t a lecture! I’m with you, bro! And sis! More to the point, so are the athletes who make money at this sport, as we shall see, with this caveat: Are we talking 70.3 and up? Then yes. If Olympic and shorter, then no.

I’ve been occasionally wearing a pair of tri shoes early this year, both by Bont, the (now discontinued) Sub 8, and the current Riot TR+. And I’m here to tell you, Bont makes great tri shoes! They’re called the Zero+ and the VAYPOR S (both pictured below). I love Bont shoes! And Shimano shoes! Let’s talk about what the high-end Bont and Shimano athletes are riding, and I think you’ll see my point.

Patrick Lange, the winner of last year’s Hawaiian Ironman, wears Shimano for his triathlon racing, specifically the RC9, the popular road shoe in the S-PHYRE series with a Boa (rather than a strap) closure. This shoe is pictured above, with the Boa closures (tho my favorite color in this shoe is white).

Lionel Sanders was one of only two men among the top-10 finishers who used a dedicated tri shoe: the Garneau TRI X-Lite. The other was 4th place Sebastian Kienle, though it should be noted that Kienle’s Scott Tri Carbon is pretty roadlike, with a Boa closure (you'll see that shoe below).

Neither user of Bont’s shoes in the top-10 – 3rd place David McNamee nor 7th place Andy Potts – rode Bont’s tri shoes. Both were in Bont’s Zero+, which is great for them but out of my price range (about $1000 for a fully custom shoe, and it’s got the flap overtop as you see in the image above, but there are Boa closures underneath). If you can live with a production shoe (I can, or at least I do) then Bont makes Boa closure road shoes down into the $170-something range.

James Cunnama was in Catlike’s Whisper Road (below alongside the Scott shoe that Sebastian uses), Terenzo Bozzone in Sidi’s Wire Push, Patrick Nilsson in Fizik’s R1B, Ben Hoffman in Specialized S Works Road, all road (not tri) shoes with Boa closures.

Of the top-10 men in Kona, 8 wore road shoes and 2 wore tri shoes. Of these same top-10 men, 8 used the Boa closure system on their shoes. And it’s not just the men. Women’s winner Daniela Ryf, after dancing in her Biomac “ballet" cycling shoes in years past, won in 2017 in a very standard Boa closure road shoe (also, to my eye, without the midfoot cleat mount she was using with your Biomacs, but that’s another subject and I’m just eyeballing it).

Are you a short courser? Different story. Virtually all the ITU racers are in tri shoes with vents and strap closures (as Delly Carr's photo at the recent Yokohama WTS race shows, and a shot of the men's field would look the same). If Patrick Lange were to wake up one day in a parallel universe and find himself in an ITU race he wouldn’t be in Shimano’s RC9, but in its TR9 shown next to the RC9, that blue shoe in the image highest above that does not have Boa closures.

Long distance cyclists, defined by me, for racing purposes, as those who race 56 no-draft miles or longer, are very likely going to choose a road shoe, with road features, and road performance, over a tri-specific cycling shoe. However, they’re also likely to choose a Boa closure system because it’s easy and quick to adjust, is precise, and doesn’t require unfixing and refixing the velcro strap to get the fit just right (tho, note that Bont's athletes in Kona chose a shoe that is a little more difficult to adjust while you're riding because of that flap overtop, but they're opting for aerodynamics perhaps (?) over ease of adjustment).

Short coursers? Speed of entry trumps all the other features.

And finally... remember the Shimano road S-PHYRE, the RC9, that I mentioned I liked in white? Unless my eyes deceive me those are the shoes Daniela Ryf chose for Kona this past year (thanks Nick Salazar and TriRig for the pic). I don't know who Daniela's sponsors are or were, but I don't believe Shimano is one (note her component choice). Not that SRAM necessarily is one either. Just, it seems to me the Hawaiian Ironman World Triathlon Championship was won in this road shoe made by Shimano in both the men's and women's races. Make of that what you will.