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.