Clips Shoes and Transitions; What Are Your Options?

The combination of sports in triathlon can cause some serious confusion – and not just in new entrants. There is a bewildering array of kits available and it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Added to the problem is that there is not always triathlon-specific equipment available. This can cause problems in some areas – for example, shoes.

Surprisingly, there seem to be few options for triathlon-specific cycling shoes, despite the fact that there are some problems in using regular cycling shoes during a triathlon.

The major problem with using road cycling-derived shoes in a triathlon is the transition. Clipless shoes are clearly designed to be used for cycling, not for running. The huge profusion of the cleat underneath your foot throws you off balance, making you slower and unstable, and also causes wear on your cleat.

But if you’re faced with a run from the transition area to the start of the bike leg, you might think you have little choice. What else can you do but run in transition in your clipless shoes? The answer is to run in bare feet, with your shoes already clipped into the pedals of your bike.

Should You Leave the Shoes on The Pedals in The Transition Area? 

Many triathletes can be seen running to the start of the bike section barefooted. That’s to avoid running in their cycling shoes, which can be slow. One does not necessarily have to do it – but it might make you faster.

Keeping your shoes clipped onto your bike pedals instead of attaching them and running with them on is certainly faster, but it does require more practice and preparation to perfect. The perfect time to hone your skills would be during brick sessions when you should be practicing your transitions anyway. Take some extra time to prepare your bike beforehand and try it.

This all depends on the transition area having a smooth surface that isn’t painful to run on. If part of the transition area – or the run to the start of the bike leg – is gravel

Then this would be incredibly painful to run on and may mean you have no choice but to wear your cycling shoes.

One key tip is to use rubber bands to keep your shoes in place.

That ensures that your pre-clipped shoes stay upright, so your foot will always be on top of the shoe. That means you don’t have to mess around with spinning the pedals around which, with the weight of a cycling shoe added to them, would be tricky and time-consuming, distracting you when you should be focussing on getting going on the bike leg.

What you need is to grab two rubber bands. One should be attached to the rearmost strap of each shoe, connecting it to the rearmost stay or rear axle of your bike. Whilst the hold is flimsy, it should be enough to keep them upright until you put your foot on them, but weak enough to ping off when you start cycling.

Should I Use Running Shoes or Clip-Ins?

Ideally, you will use both in a triathlon – but in many shorter distances, you may want to just use running shoes.

That’s because as the distance of the triathlon reduces, the race becomes shorter. As the race gets shorter, the transition becomes proportionally more important as an element of the race. 

However, if you’re racing longer than sprint distance triathlons, it would be better to use both trainers and cycling shoes.

That’s because cycling shoes offer a more stable base for your foot on the pedal, which enables you to transfer power much more efficiently than wearing running shoes.

Not only does that stability mean you can go faster, but it also improves your cornering.

Because your foot has that more stable base, it allows you to move your hips more, and the secret to cornering on a bike is excellent hip movement. It allows you to transfer your weight and distribute it over the bike for grip, to maintain balance and momentum, and to ensure smooth, stable cornering. (Source)

For more on this, we highly recommend that you check out our post on “Why Wear Cycling Shoes? Does It Make A Noticeable Difference !

Running out Of And into the Transition Area, Should You Run with Bike Shoes On?

You can run with your bike shoes on, but it might be easier – and faster – to avoid it.

If your bike is a long way away from the exit of the transition area, that can mean you are running for a long time with your clipless shoes on. There are many reasons to avoid this.

The first is that the clip underneath the shoe can become damaged or blocked.

If you’re running on grass or soft surfaces, then small clumps of mud or surf can become embedded in your cleats. That can make clipping in more difficult and reduce the lifespan of cleats and pedals. Meanwhile, every step you take on hard surfaces like gravel or tarmac will cause an impact on the soft plastic of the cleats. That will wear away the cleats a lot faster than normal and significantly shorten their lifespan.

The other reason to avoid is time.

Running in clipless cycling shoes is deeply uncomfortably, ungainly and slow. This is for a reason; they aren’t designed to be run in! As well, the way the cleats sit can throw you off balance, which makes you more likely to fall over and possibly injure yourself.

You can of course buy cycling shoes with recessed cleats. However, these tend to be heavier shoes, more of a boot, designed for casual cycling, bike packing, or mountain biking. The weight of the shoe will really slow down your cycling, and the extended upper will also cause you discomfort because you won’t have the mobility your ankle requires.

Finally, they are so heavy that they are bound to make your feet sweat a huge amount – and that can be hugely uncomfortable, especially on the run! However, there are some regular cycling shoes available with recessed cleats. The most prominent is the Shimano SPD system. (Source)

Clipless vs Cages and Transitions Pros and Cons! Which One to Use?

When it comes to clipless vs cages, there’s only one choice – clipless.

Clipless pedals were first popularised in the 1980s. They were initially hugely popular in the triathlon community before becoming accepted in cycling. That is because they allow for faster and more stable transitions than cages, as the rider doesn’t have to reach down to pull their foot out.

It is also because cycling at that time was a hugely traditional sport, and it was not until Bernard Hinault won his fifth and last Tour De France in 1985 using Look cleats that they became popular amongst cyclists. (Source)

The overwhelming majority of triathletes now use clipless shoes and cages are rarely seen, most often on vintage bikes – and only because they are period-accurate.

That’s because the benefits of the clipless shoe over the cage are very pronounced. It’s also because the sport has transitions anyway. If you are running into transition and stopping to grab your bike, helmet and sunglasses anyway, then the extra time it might take you to put your clipless shoes on is more than paid back by improved performance and speed on the road.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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