Q+A: Should I wear cycling tri shoes for my first triathlon?



Q. I'm training for my first triathlon. Will I be quicker if I wear trainers for the cycling and running (so I don't have to change shoes) or if I wear cycling tri shoes (which I haven't used before), then change into my trainers?

A. If you wear trainers you'll save the 30 or so seconds some people spend switching their shoes in second transition (T2), by which point you'll be out on the run leg, some 200 metres down the road.

However, you have to take into account what has happened on the bike leg. Trainers are designed to offer a degree of shock absorption but bike shoes are stiff, to maximise your power transfer to the cranks.

Efficient racing

You have to ask if, as a newcomer, the inefficiency of wearing trainers on the bike for more than an hour will cost you more time than the 30 seconds you'll make up in transition. I would say the answer is yes, which means you're not really gaining when you get off the bike by staying in trainers; you're actually trying to claw back some of the time you've lost on the bike.

Practise makes perfect

However, your question is not just about which option is better; it's also about understanding the needs of a triathlete entering their first race. Never try anything new
on race day you haven't practised in training because this could be disastrous when combined with the stresses and strains the day may bring.

Tri bike shoes are a lot easier to use than you might think and using clipless pedals (though initially challenging) soon becomes second nature. Your first triathlon is really about having fun, getting through the event and enjoying the experience.

I've seen too many first-timers become intimidated by other competitors' bikes, when they should just focus on getting the best out of themselves. For what it's worth, the guys in the first Ironman in 1978 got round just fine without clipless pedals, aerobars or fancy nutrition. The challenge of the event was there, irrespective of which equipment was used.

Bryce Dyer

Bryce Dyer  is Senior Lecturer in Product Design at Bournemouth University's School of Design, Engineering and Computing, and is a member of the Design Management Institute. He is conducting research into sports technology used by elite athletes. He is a passionate cyclist and triathlete and has competed internationally in his age group in four sports, in events ranging from a 1K track pursuit to Ironman.


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just to add to the advice re: 

"the inefficiency of wearing trainers on the bike for more than an hour will cost you more time than the 30 seconds "

if its a very short first timer tri then you will only be on the bike for maybe 25 minutes and then theres not so much of a case to change shoes - even if you are used to riding clipless, thats what i think - but im often wrong, so the missus says


Posted: 16/06/2011 at 22:44

Chrissie did her first tri on a borrowed bike, in trainers and toe clips..... enough said.

I say save the money and do a tri without before you buy the shoes and pedals...you might decide it's not for you and if you're new into cycling with shoes and pedals it'll add to the things you need to learn and stress about. 


Posted: 17/06/2011 at 05:44

I did the bike section of my first tri in trainers... on an MTB.  I wasn't even the worst equipped person racing.  That award went to the young lady riding a sit up and beg with a basket on the front and a heavy U lock attached to the frame.
Posted: 17/06/2011 at 11:25

The advice is correct , however the question as the chaps have pointed out is , whats the race goal ?

If you want to try out triathlon and see then just do it in trainers.

If you know you are already comitted you may as well crack on with proper shoes etc , power increase is in the order of 5-10% 

Also how long to the event , you are going to fall off because of not unclipping at some point ... think about how youd be if this happened on race day , personally I am impervious to embarrasment which is why ive raced in black and yellow lycra....


Posted: 17/06/2011 at 11:48

Imeccentric wrote (see)

Also how long to the event , you are going to fall off because of not unclipping at some point ... think about how youd be if this happened on race day , personally I am impervious to embarrasment which is why ive raced in black and yellow lycra....

Falling off for failing to unclip is a requirement when racing in black and yellow
Posted: 17/06/2011 at 12:43

I will be doing my first tri in my runnning shoes on my hybrid bike .

There's enough to get my head round as it is, without worrying about shoes and clippy things


Posted: 17/06/2011 at 14:50

bburn plodder, I did exactly that last weekend and still managed to be 2nd woman overall!
Posted: 17/06/2011 at 22:49

Wow, well done puffin.
Posted: 18/06/2011 at 07:21

It was a very small race and it seemewd that people struggle with the swim so if you're a good swimmer and runner you can make up for being slower on the bike.
Posted: 18/06/2011 at 16:26

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