By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
Louis Garneau continues to establish their position as a technical apparel innovator in triathlon with their new high-end TRI-300 triathlon cycling shoe. The shoe, which sells for $299.95, is a convergence of high end features and benefits into a quick-donning triathlon specific cycling shoe. Garneau’s triathlon cycling shoes have lead this category from early on as one of the very first tri-specific cycling shoe designs with a strap configuration made for multisport. The new shoe expands on tri-specific features with a unique system to hold the shoe upper open for quick donning in T1 along with ventilation, aerodynamic and custom fitting features.
The Pedal/Shoe Interface.
The TRI-300 uses an all carbon fiber outsole called “Exo-Jet”. Like SIDI, a unique feature of the LG TRI-300 is variable stiffness over the length of the shoe sole. This changing stiffness in the shoe sole provides stiffness over the area were the cleat is mounted to insulate the foot from feeling the cleat through the sole of the shoe. The rear of the shoe is slightly more flexible to prevent foot numbness and fatigue. This variable stiffness carbon fiber sole also allows large openings for ventilation and drainage, a key requirement especially for long distance triathletes. The use of the carbon fiber allows the vents to be designed into the shoe sole without compromising the performance of the sole.
The TRI-300 is a three hole pattern sole design, the industry standard. It works with Look, Shimano road, Time, Speedplay and other pedal systems that use or adapt to a three hole pattern. There are a series of lateral and longitudinal reference indices to locate cleats in same place when they are replaced due to normal wear. These index marks also help your bike fitter keep track of the changes they make to your cleat position as they fit you, a thoughtful feature bike fitters will appreciate.
Two key factors in cycling shoe performance are the thickness of the shoe sole (thinner is generally better) and the radius of the outsole. The radius or curve of the outsole is important since not all pedal cleats fit and function well if the shoe sole is too curved or radiused, especially below size 40. Louis Garneau molded the outsole of the TRI-300 to work perfectly with Look cleats, Time RXS and most other common cleat systems across the entire size range.
The TRI-300 has a lot of detail on the inside of the shoe including features designed to keep your foot cool in long rides. This could be a benefit for hot Ironman distance races where foot swelling during the bike can make the first miles of the run miserable. The insole of the shoe uses Ice Fil, a cooling fiber developed by Ventex that helps dissipate heat and regulate temperature. Ice Fil has become popular in race apparel like triathlon clothing and “arm coolers”. The insole is removable for cleaning, a thoughtful feature considering ultra-distance atheltes have to urinate on the bike and some of it inevitably winds up soaking your cycling shoes. The insole is also heavily perforated to continue the ventilation theme and uses multi-density material to manage the stability of the foot inside the shoe and damp road vibration. While a thick insole like this adds distance from the pedal axle, the comfort benefit is worth it especially at Iron distance. Louis Garneau also mentions the inside of the heel counter is impregnated with Ice Fil cooling fiber to reduce heat accumulation.
The “Thermoformable” feature of the shoe allows the fit to be customized by placing the shoe in a 150 degree Fahrenheit oven to soften the “flow packs” inside the shoe. Once softened the shoe can be donned and allowed to cool, creating a molded upper fit. This is may be an advantage for people with oddly shaped feet or bony protrusions at their metatarsal. It also seems to work well among narrow-heeled customers since the flow-pack material seems to displace away from wider areas of the foot toward the narrower areas, adding volume inside the shoe where it is needed. This compares to Shimano’s custom molded shoe program which can only be molded by the dealer with a Shimano heat molding oven and vacuum apparatus. The Louis Garneau molding method is much easier. That said, be careful about leaving this shoe in the trunk or interior of a car on a hot day after a race. The interior of a car parked in the sun can easily reach hot enough temperatures to soften the interior of the shoe. Prolonged exposure will simply re-mold the shoe. It would probably correct itself once you put the shoe on provided the shoe was still warm when you put it on.
The closure system on the TRI-300 is likely the industry best in a single Velcro closure triathlon cycling shoe. The very wide strap opens away from the bicycle to facilitate quick transitions with the shoe already clipped to the pedal. A heel loop that is very beefy allows the heel of the shoe to be pulled up while on the fly. Notches in the strap hold it firmly open so you can quickly put your foot on top of the shoe coming out of T1 before you slide your foot inside the shoe.
A particularly sophisticated transition feature is the small rubber band loop on the inside of each shoe. This small fabric loop allows you to pass a rubber band through the loop and then attach it to the crank arm, rear quick release (as in our photo) or the chainstay of your bike. This holds the shoes level while you are running through T1 on the way to the bike exit. While donning your shoes on the fly is an advanced transition technique you have to practice repeatedly well before race day this feature makes the process easier.
While the Louis Garneau TRI-300 may not be the absolutel lightest triathlon cycling shoe or have the thinnest outsole the small amount of additional weight added by the quick donning features and heat-moldable capability will pay tangible comfort dividends at both sprint and long-distance events.
Louis Garneau has been a leader in the triathlon cycling shoe sub-category since the category was invented. They also have “tweeked” the fit of the shoes with a width and volume that seems to work for the middle 80% of U.S. customers, while some Euro brands continue to be lower volume fitting shoes. The shoe sole design helps reduce vibration and road shock potentially keeping feet fresher during long, hot rides even on bad roads. This is not just an ultra-distance shoe since the closure system speeds transition with the detailed strap design, but you have to be skilled in transitions to make best use of these features. TRI-300 continues to keep LG at the top of this category and, given their recent level of innovation in triathlon apparel and their history of making tri-specific cycling shoes and the first commercially available, approved aero helmet, I’m not surprised this shoe is so good.