By Tom Demerly.
Technology in our sport isn’t just about $10,000.00 bikes and $2500 wheelsets. Any first year triathlete will tell you the best upgrade in speed technology is stretch shoe laces. Stretch shoe laces, or “speed laces” enable you to slip your shoes on without tying or adjustment to save time in transition. If you are fast it takes about 10 seconds to put on a running shoe and tie it with conventional laces. That’s a total of about 20 seconds to don both shoes and tie them. With speed laces that time is reduced to about 4 seconds, a savings of 16 seconds or more.
Stretch shoe laces come in a variety of styles that replace your existing laces. They work in almost every running shoe design. Triathlon specific running shoes from brands like Zoot and K-Swiss are built with a stretch upper and no conventional shoe laces to make putting them on faster. Speed laces convert your existing shoes to triathlon specific shoes. Used correctly they never come untied- you simply slip them on. Because there is some stretch to the laces they may also improve comfort during long events if you are prone to foot swelling.
The things that separate speed lace designs is the closure and adjustment system. Some are lightweight, easy to install and simple. A few are more complex. Let’s take a look at the most popular choices:
Xtenex laces are the only speed laces that provide precise control for shoe width adjustment with the laces. Xtenex stands for “indeXed-TENsioning-nEXus”. Xtenex claims the laces reduce the movement of shoe laces that changes how your shoe fits, especially in width.
I’ve raced in Xtenex laces many times and their claim is valid. You can precisely tune the fit of a shoe using their laces. Xtenex also makes different laces for use in hiking boots, military footwear and most athletic applications.
The Xtenex lace is a fabric sheath with a stretch core that is knotted to produce small bumps along the length of the laces. The bumps are evenly spaced and disappear when you pull the laces tight. When you pull on the laces, shrinking the bumps in them, they pass through the eyelets. When released the bumps come back securing the lace’s position and adjustment on your shoe. The laces are permanently knotted together and cut to length after you are certain their adjustment is perfect.
Xtenex laces have more “compression” than you may think, so they are best installed a little loose to begin with, then tuned as you use them. Install the laces with your foot in the shoe. Xtenex has a great YouTube video that demonstrates their installation.
Lock Laces are a relatively simple patented elastic lace system with a few unique features. The tip of lock laces is slightly curved to make installation easier. This works well, especially in shoes with odd eyelets. The lace is a polyester stretch fabric with an elastic inner core.
Lock Laces use a spring loaded cord lock with individual openings for each side of the lace to make adjustments in length and tightness and have a plastic finishing tab on the end.
The laces work great and are easy to set up. I particularly like these since they are a little more robust than other stretch laces that feel fragile. The novelty of the bulb on the end of the laces is lost on me, but it does help keep the free-running ends together and finished the laces off. The plastic end cap bounces around if you don’t adjust the laces short enough. It can be tucked under a lower lace to prevent movement.
Yankz may be the first speed laces I ever used going back the 1980’s. The system is simple and easy to use, if not super secure. The free-running end of the laces slide through a little cord-lock clamp to adjust how tight they are. The excess laces are retained by a little triangular hook that grabs the laces toward the toe of the shoe. A reader named Alex pointed out that, in these photos, they are technically installed upside down. This seems like the intuitive installation. According to the instructions you begin lacing these from the top down toward the toe. I’ve used them both ways and detected no difference in performance.
To size Yankz you cut the laces to length then carefully melt the ends using lighter or other safe heat source.
I found Yankz work best when you simply tie, then melt, the tips of the laces together after they come out of the clamp closure. Then you don’t need the little triangular hook. Once you discard the triangular hook they become a simple and easy to use system. When installed according to the instrutions, lacing from the top of the shoe down to the toe, the hook appliance becomes more important. If you do decide to not use the lower hook to hold the excess laces be careful to get the length of your laces adjusted precisely before cutting and melting. An advantage to using the supplied end hook is you can move the laces from your old shoes to your new ones. If you melt the tips together you’ll have to cut them.
The version of iBungee laces we sell are simple and easy to install. They are simply a stretch lace elastic cord and an outdoor cord lock. You could fashion them yourself in the cordage aisle at your local outdoor store but buying them readymade is more convenient.
There is a version of iBungee laces that use a series of screw-on “zero friction” eyelets. I prefer the simpler version without eyelets. At well below $10 this is likely the most performance you can buy in the sport per penny.
iBungee laces are easy to install and adjust. Once installed you slide the cord lock over the tips of the laces and cut to length if need be, melting the ends to prevent fraying after knotting the free running end. Cheap, simple and good.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Easy Laces when one of the company’s founders told me the product was originally developed for people who could no longer tie shoes due to health reasons. One of the company’s owners cannot tie conventional shoes and was inspired to solve the problem with stretch shoe laces. “We wondered why we were getting so many calls from athletic people” she told me, “Until someone told us that people in triathlons use them to get their shoes on faster.”
Easy Laces are an original and they are a beautifully simple product with quaint paper packaging. The company is literally a home-industry. The laces are lightweight, very durable (I’ve never seen one break- ever) and use a simple closure for both free-running ends of the laces. They add almost no weight to your shoes. As with most lace systems, Easy Laces are available in many colors to match or clash with your shoes to make them easier to find in the transition area.
I’m still using Easy Laces in my lace up shoes since they are simple, light, inexpensive and give me a warm fuzzy feeling when I buy them.