Shoe Reviews: Cushioning Goes “To 11″ Across Run Specialty

Three new models are hitting our shelves in the first two weeks of February from three American brands and they all confirm what most of us already knew: That the minimalist running ship has sailed in favor of maximum cushioning and innovative, sometimes unique, styling (Brands like Hoka, Altra & ON are the new Vibram, Inov8 & Vivo). In addition to “boutique” manufacturers, running powerhouses New Balance, Nike and Brooks are getting into the game by serving up their own new models as the battle turns from who can engineer a shoe with the lowest drop to who can build one with the softest ride. We’ll take a look at these new offerings, each residing in a slightly different corner of the “maximalist” market. One thing’s to be sure, all three are certain to make a believer out of skeptic-minimalists and early-adopter-maximalists alike.



New Balance’s Fresh Foam 980 comes in riding high off the brand’s other stellar performance models (890v4, 870v3 & 1400 to name a few) and gives New Balance a hype machine we haven’t seen in years. The 980 features an all new outsole called Fresh Foam (no surprise there) engineered to be incredibly light and extremely soft. The secret lies in the alternating concave/convex honeycomb pattern that defies logic in it’s ability to cushion and react to impact as well as remain resilient and stable through the gait cycle. The 4mm drop ensures a natural ride while the no-sew upper wraps the foot without creating pressure points. The Fresh Foam 980 weighs in at 7.2oz for a women’s size 7 and 8.8oz for a men’s size 9. Verdict: Minimal meets Maximal, everybody wins. Limited release 2/1, full release 2/12. $110.



Next up is the Nike Flyknit Lunar2 (FL2). While not technically an all new model, it does sport a slew of updates, something slightly unusual in a sophomore release. The Flyknit Lunar1 (FL1) received an Editor’s Choice from Runner’s World in 2013 putting the pressure squarely on the FL2 to hit the mark. Nike’s Flyknit technology, for those who don’t know, is a one-piece upper sewn from a single piece of yarn on a machine designed specifically for the task. The upper’s production yields only a few inches of wasted yarn per shoe that is then recycled back into the manufacturing process. All that R&D leads to arguably the best upper in the history of running shoes. With no seems, a comfortable, stretchy tongue and a fit that flexes and molds to any foot shape, putting on the FL2 is one of those “ah-ha” moments when you thank the running gods for allowing this to happen. Updates to the FL2 from the FL1 include a 3/4 sewn tongue, double stitched upper for more support and a data-mapped, pressure sensitive outsole. As for the outsole/midsole cushioning, Nike’s Lunarlon foam brings the soft ride to the party and you’d be hard pressed to find anything squishier on the market. Lightweight (W 7oz/M 8.5oz) and with a more traditional heel/toe drop, the Flyknit Lunar2 changes the game again. Verdict: It’s light, it fits and it goes the distance, just like Bill Bowerman always wanted. Available 2/6. $150.



The final model of these February releases is the Brooks Transcend. Definitely all new and certainly a maximalist’s dream, the Transcend is support and cushioning on a level unseen from most main stream running brands. The Trancend’s SuperDNA midsole promises 25% more cushioning than the outgoing Trance 12 it replaces and its unique GuideRail system provides stability without an abrupt medial post. Other features leading to a more natural ride include IdealHeel, poached from the brand’s Pure line of minimal shoes, and Ideal Pressure Zones that distribute pressure evenly. While the Transcend is no lightweight (W 10.1oz/M 12.2oz), it doesn’t feel out of place competing against stalwarts like the Asics Kayano or Saucony Hurricane. In fact, with the level of cushioning Brooks has put into it’s newest model, it’s the other guys who should be worried. Verdict: A stability runner’s cushioned dream comes true. Available 2/1 now. $160

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