Monday, January 6, 2014

Six Feet. Under Ten - A Compareview

Two trends seem to be underway in early 2014, running shoes that are light yet cushioned. With 10 oz / 280 grams (for US size 10 Men) as the maximum weight for this compareview, it allows the inclusion of Skechers Performance Division's latest shoe (December 2013 release), the GoRun ULTRA, heretofore referred to as GRU. 

As Skechers' first foray into the ultra-cushioned segment, the GRU, with a stack height of 27 mm heel/23 mm forefoot (from +Peter Larson's recent blog post on the GRU), is one rather tall shoe. Here's a photo comparing the GRU to the stack-height King, the Hoka Eva Stinson Tarmac:



This compareview will take a look at the following six shoes:


  1. Nike Free Flyknit
  2. Topo RR
  3. Skechers Go Run Ultra (GRU)
  4. Skechers Go Run Ride 3 (GRR3)
  5. Karhu Flow 3
  6. Under Armour SpeedForm

Not all of the six are cushioned. But each of them is below 300 grams for my size 11 (and definitely below 10 oz for size 10) and chosen for specific reasons.


The Topo because it's Tony Post (ex CEO of Vibram) first creation after he left the five-finger perch, and because of the unique "ninja" look.



The Karhu because of its Fulcrum technology.



The Nike because of the unique combination of a full Flyknit upper and Free midsole.



The Speedform because it is UA's first inroad to the "serious runners" market (whatever this means).



Last but not least would be the 2 Skechers, because I've been a fan of their Peformance Division's products starting from the original GoRun.


Though all six are light, these shoes range from minimalist to "maximalist." Let the compareview begins.

FIT and FINISH:



I have wide feet, which plays a lot into my shoe choice. Fortunately, all six shoes fit my foot well from toe to heel.

I was a worried when I first looked at the Skechers GRR3, since they seem to have too many mixture of materials/overlay going on at the top (compared to previous iterations). The occasional upside of having more materials is a more structured (secure fit) shoes. Fortunately, in the GRR 3's case, this proves true, the shoes being more solid in feel than previous issues of the GoRunRides.



All six shoes have adequate to plenty of toebox room.


As the above photo shows, all six shoes provide ample toebox room, passing with flying colors in this department. The unique shoe here is the Topo, as its construction frees up the single big toe to point in any direction!

In terms of being most minimal, both the Nike and Under Armour take the crown. The Nike, with its one piece knitted-flexible-cloth upper, fits like a real sock, one that has the Free 5.0 midsole "attached" at the bottom.


The UA Speedform is also a work of wonders, having been conceived in a bra factory, using the logic that a woman's breast is the hardest to "cup" securely yet comfortably (it DOES sound like the challenge on the minds of shoe manufacturers/wearers). Combining bra "technology" and a spacesuit was presumably how the UA Speedform came about.



In terms of "technology at work," I would say that the Nike has won out against the Speedform, in terms of achieving the second-skin effect, shoes that disappear on your feet upon wearing (not necessarily when running in them).

The UA is no slouch either, being one of the most flexible shoes out there, and a seamless construction from front to back. The last of the minimal breed in this compareview is the Topo, with its ninja (tabi) split-toe construction, and BOA lacing system. The Topo is, thank God, comfortable to wear with a good fit and excellent construction quality.

The next three shoes are Karhu Flow 3, and the two Skechers. The Karhu has a fairly firm heel cup, while the Skechers GRR3 offers only slight heel support from the play of materials at the back of the shoes. The GRU has a heel counter, which is perhaps necessitated by its tall stack height (to help secure the highly-positioned feet in place).

Most important of all would be how all of the above work in real life, in terms of fit and finish. Here's my personal ranking from 1 (best) to 6 (least best):
  1. Skechers GRR3
  2. Nike Free Flyknit
  3. UA Speedform
  4. Karhu Flow 3
  5. Topo RR
  6. Skechers GRU

HEEL to TOE:

These six shoes range from zero drop (the Topo RR) to 9 mm differential in the Nike Free Flyknit (according to Running Warehouse). The Karhu is at 5mm and the UA is at 6mm.

Of interesting note would be the Skechers, since the insoles in both is designed to be removable. Without the insole, both Skechers are at 4mm drop. With the insole, both Skechers become an 8mm drop shoe.


Here's my initial verdict on this removable insole "system" of the two Skechers: 


** REMOVE the insoles for a better running experience **


WHO'S TALLER? YOU or ME?

The Nike (9mm drop) looking somewhat similar in profile to the 0 drop Topo

Two FRESH (!) minimal shoes, the Flyknit and the UA SpeedForm

Karhu Flow 3 holding its own vs the Topo "ninja"

Both under 299 grams, yet worlds apart.

GROUND FEEL

More ground feel does not necessarily translate to more comfort, thus the separate category here. As expected in shoes weighing less than 10 oz (US size 10 Men), the shoes here give good to great feedback, with 1 being the best to 6 being the least-best:
  1. Topo RR
  2. Nike Free Flyknit
  3. UA Speedform
  4. Skechers GRR3 (w/out insole)
  5. Karhu Flow 3
  6. Skechers GRU (w/ out insole)

It is no coincidence this particular ranking correlates closely to the weights of the shoes, with the Nike being the exception. Although the Flyknit is heavier (and higher-drop than the Speedform), its sock-like construction really produces great road feedback, more so than the lesser-weight UA.

All six shoes are less than 10 oz at US size 10.



RIDE and COMFORT

More important than all the above would be the feel, i.e. the ride and comfort of these six shoes.

In addition to construction and weight, another important comfort factor is usually the shoe's flexibility.


The photo shows all six as plenty flexible, with the GRU being the least limber, due to the thickest midsole in the group.  

At one end of the spectrum would be the Topo, which gives the best ground feel and feedback, without much of a "ride." The tabi split-toe construction of the Topo does enhance the barefoot feel, ideal for days when we want to really connect with the pavement. 

This spectrum's other end would be the GRU, which at 27 mm heel stack-height provides a soft ride, with considerably less road feedback. Right smack in the middle would be the Karhu, which is a light all-around trainer. I don't feel the 'fulcrum' (inverted triangle in midsole area), which is perhaps a good thing. Nothing stands out and scream "new tech" in the Karhu, but the shoe just works like the middle-class is wont to do. Just below the Karhu, in terms of being minimal, would be the Under Armour. The Speedform is a special shoe, and it feels different when you first hold it. Riding this UA makes one feel fast (actual speed differs from one runner to another, slowpoke here speaking), an ideal speedwork or 5K race shoe.

My unscientific belief is a flexible shoe will increase our proprioception, heightening our awareness of foot-strides vis-a-vis our balancing act while running. In this regard, the Nike Free Flyknit, with its socklike (second-skin) fit and flexible Free midsole, provides the best combination of protection and comfort, while still allowing great road feedback.

The caveat is in the long-haul 'protection' department, as I have only taken the Nike up to 9 miles in one outing. I would hesitate to use the Flyknit, UA, Karhu and Topo for more than a half-marathon distance. For 13 miler and up, my shoe of choice in this group would be the GRR 3, without the insole.


The GRR3 (right) with the Newton Energy NR

The GRU (right) with the Altra Torin

The GRR3 (right) with the Adios Boost

Where does this leave the Go Run Ultra? The GRU, at least to me, feels a bit "tall" and marshamallowy, this coming from someone who enjoys the Hoka Bondi Speed (not so much the Hoka Eva Stinson Tarmac). Initially, I was not sure if it was Skechers' Resalyte compound being too soft to be thick, or the absence of a Hoka-like bucket seat platform, but my first ride in the GRU (with the insole) was a disappointment. Thankfully, things change for the better once I took the insoles out. The GRU, sans insole, is light yet very suited for recovery runs. It still feels tall (as would any shoe with stack height over 25mm), but with the insole out of the way, I am enjoying more road feedback, with my foot sitting deep enough in the shoe to be secure, and able to utilize the ultra-cushioning to full (positive) effect.



The GRU (right) towering over the original Go Bionic Ride

In terms of ride and comfort, the ranking from 1 (best) to 6 (least best) would be:
  1. Skechers GRR 3
  2. Nike Free Flyknit
  3. Karhu Flow 3
  4. UA Speedform
  5. Skechers GRU
  6. Topo RR

The Topo is listed at no. 6 simply because it does not provide a comfortable ride for the long run. It provides the plentiest road feedback, and it is great as a "stride don't strike" training shoe. It's just not a comfortable shoe that you want to "ride" in for the long haul, day in day out.


SUMMARY:

The six shoes here end up serving a different purpose for different days. If I have to name a favorite amongst these six, I'd have a hard time choosing one. 

For days when I need cushioning, I can reach out to the two Skechers in this group. 

For runs to remind myself to "stride not strike" and connect with the road, I would wear the Topo RR. 

For speedwork and races up to 10K, I'd grab the Nike first, the Karhu second, and the UA third. For races above 10K, the GRR3 would be my shoe of choice in this group.

These shoes have one thing in common, and that is each one has a sticker price. Though I cannot rank these six shoes in one category, I can give my subjective opinion on VALUE. Based on the Retail Price of each shoe at time of writing (shop diligently, many of these are available for MUCH LESS at time of writing), here is the order of BEST VALUE to LEAST, taking into account build quality and the overall utility equation:
  1. Skechers Go Run Ride 3 (US$ 80)
  2. Nike Free Flyknit (US$ 110)
  3. UA Speedform (US$ 120)
  4. Karhu Flow 3 Trainer (US$ 115)
  5. Skechers Go Run Ultra (US$ 80)
  6. Topo RR (US$ 130)

Mari Lari! **


** bahasa Indonesia for "Let's Run!"

5 comments:

  1. Hi Soekawan, since you rated both GRR 2 & 3 as best value among others, any chance to share which is better between GRR 2 & GRR 3?
    Appreciate your insight on them.. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. The GRR3 is the better shoe, without the insole. With the insole, the GRR3 is a bit too squishy for me. If you like a more responsive shoe (still adequate cushioning even without the insole), the GRR3 is worth trying (without insole). If you are looking for a cushioned ride as the primary objective, the GRR2 with insole will be the better shoe (comparing both with insoles). Of course, our feet may tell different stories :)

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  3. Was about to ask the same question, so that takes care of it ;-) I recently upgraded from the GRR1 to the GRR2 and do find the GRR2 quite a lot better, they feel more stable (wider?) and you can actually walk with them which can be useful! I have found I have to tighten them quite a bit though to avoid hurting my toes/toenails when picking up the pace. It doesn't sound like the GRR3 are much of an improvement in that respect?

    I take it the GRU hold the foot better to allow for trail running and downhill running? Som reviews say they wear out very fast on the road, have you noticed that too? I must say my GRR1 or GRR2 have been showing very little wear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The GRU outsole has no rubber outlays and will likely wear off very fast on tarmac surfaces. In regards to 'holding the foot better,' I haven't found that to be the case. I'm finding the GRU to be a bit loose, but others have sworn by them. The GoRunRides series thus far, IMHO, are the better shoe than this first iteration of the GRU.

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  4. Thanks, will definitely try to check out the GRR3!

    ReplyDelete