words // Zac Dubasik
adidas Crazy Light
Crazy Light, Crazy Good
While adidas has been making bigger and bigger waves in the performance hoops world for the past couple seasons, nothing has quite had the impact that the Crazy Light has. With its aggressive ad campaign, and industry-changing claim to weight fame – 9.8 ounces, the Crazy Light has marked a new era of adidas basketball shoes. But here’s the big question: Does lighter mean better? Or does it just mean lighter? There have been much lighter running shoes for years, but no one would dare consider them elite-level hoops shoes. For the claim of “lightest shoe in basketball” to actually matter, the Crazy Light has to prove that it is a great on-court performer, regardless of its weight. And the method in which adidas arrived at that 9.8 ounces is largely what defines whether it’s an exceptional shoe, or just a light one.
To achieve their impressive sub-10 ounce number, the team at adidas behind the Crazy Light employed a variety of weight cutting methods, from materials to construction. One thing they didn’t do however, which makes their achievement that much more remarkable, is chop height off the collar. “The fact that it’s lighter than any shoe, no matter what – low or high – is pretty impressive,” proudly proclaims the shoe’s designer, Robbie Fuller. The collar, while high, is extremely comfortable, and not overly restrictive, thanks in part to the subtle dip along the achilles. Make no mistake – it definitely doesn’t offer the mobility that a lower-cut often does, but it strikes an excellent balance between support, comfort, lockdown and range of motion. The collar also offers the most padding and protection in the entire upper. “We wanted to guarantee that we had the right support,” explains Fuller. As you’ll see in the first major weight cutting method, the rest of the upper is very minimal.
In order to put so much protection into the collar, the team had to reduce that much more weight in the remainder of the upper. That’s where SPRINTWEB comes into the picture. As Fuller was sketching designs of the shoe, he realized that the strong vertical and horizontal lines took on a web-like appearance. “You see webs in nature, and they’re really, really strong,” Fuller told me last month. “Air, and all of nature’s elements try to take them out, but they can’t. They still stay there. They’re breathable, lightweight and strong.” Seamlessly bonded to a nylon base, the SPRINTWEB is less than 1mm thick, yet is extremely strong. Thanks to a tedious testing process, the team was able to finally arrive at this point. According to Fuller, they tested “multiple, multiple base meshes, versus multiple different synthetics and bonding. And finally, after all of that, we found one recipe that ended up exceeding all of our expectations.”
As for how the SPRINTWEB-based upper translates to performance, the strength is evident. When tightly laced, I found it to be as supportive as traditional materials. Unfortunately, from a comfort perspective, its minimalism offers little in the way of padding. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as much as it is an inherent side effect of the drastic weight reduction. If you are a player who likes a plush and padded upper, this isn’t the shoe for you. There’s an area at the front of the shoe where the vamp, toe piece, tongue, and an additional reinforcing underlay all come together, which I had some comfort issues with. The underside isn’t as smooth as you’d hope for, and I had a bit of rubbing and pinching here. It’s worth pointing out that Nick DePaula, who also has played in them, experienced no such pain or discomfort in the toe box, but, if you have wide feet, this may be an area of concern.
The SPRINTWEB upper also offers little protection from outside forces. In other words, if your foot gets landed on, you will feel every ounce of the impact. For the amount of weight reduction in the Crazy Light, it’s worth the tradeoff, and of course, the web configuration also allows for another huge positive in the shoe — its breathability. This is about as good as it gets in a hoops shoe. Ever. With thin socks on, I could actually feel the air move through the toe and midfoot mesh. That’s not to say that the shoe and my socks weren’t thoroughly soaked after each and every wearing, but they were definitely cooler in the process. There’s more to the upper stability than just the materials though, and the method in which it’s secured to the tooling – stitching – plays a major part in its strength. It also provided another area to reduce weight.
“Just looking at the upper, that’s 30-40% of the shoe’s weight in a traditional basketball shoe,” explains Elysia Davis of the adidas Innovation Team [aIT]. By using an external heel counter, they were able to totally eliminate the heel portion of the upper. “So, now we have an upper that’s stitched to the heel counter, and so it’s just weight savings.” The heel counter on the Crazy Light is not just a heel counter, but also an extended portion of the shoe’s Sprint Frame, as previously seen in the Rose signature line. The TPU chassis wraps under the foot and becomes a midfoot shank, which the upper is also stitched to. This construction provided for a very secure base, and held my foot firmly over the footbed. It’s a much more minimal Sprint Frame than what was found in the Rose line however, and didn’t offer the protection from midfoot torque that the adizero Rose and 1.5 did. I’ve definitely seen worse, and they’ve actually achieved a commendable level of protection in such a light shoe, but players that are sensitive to midfoot support will want to take notice of this issue. While its support may not be up to par with the Rose signature line, its court feel and transition certainly are.
Another way in which the Sprint Frame factors into the weight reduction isn’t so immediately obvious, until you remove the stock “Crazy Light” sockliner. Under the sockliner, you’ll see something much different than in a traditional shoe. Fuller explains that “with a typical shoe, you have your midsole, and then you have the upper, and the upper has a Strobel board that is glued down to the foam. So, in between the foam, which is the cushioning part, and your foot, you end up having this – almost tramploline – of plywood that’s been glued together.” In the case of the Crazy Light, the insole is the only thing between your foot and the Sprint Frame – which sits directly on the foam. This method, according to Fuller, offers the “exact same amount of cushioning you would’ve gotten out of, for example, something that’s 30 mills [in midsole height]. You can get that out of something that’s 24 mills, because it’s already so much softer.”
As impressive as the weight of the Crazy Light is, the cushioning stands out just as much. From the moment I slid them on, I was a fan. While many adidas shoes I’ve worn in the past have taken some serious breaking in for the cushioning department to liven up, if they ever did, this is as good as I’ve felt from them right out of the box. I’ll admit that I was skeptical before playing in them, as cushioning is often an element that has to be sacrificed in the name of weight reduction. Fuller credits two main points to their ability to simultaneously reduce weight — and still improve cushioning — the first of which was premium sourcing. “Not all coffee is the same; not all foam is the same,” laughs Fuller. As for the second area, it came down to sculpting. “[We knew there were areas] where it was alright to have more cushioning, and then you want to have a little more support [in other areas]. On the final shoe, the depth of the groove is really shallow in the front, and then goes to thicker, and then really thick in the back. You can have the ultimate in cushioning, but then when you get to the front, you need stability for slowing rollover.” The heel offers excellent protection, and even a level of responsiveness not commonly found in foam-based cushioning setups. The forefoot, while a bit on the firm side, was stable and protective. Perhaps this is an area to look to improve on going forward, but the cushioning is still a huge improvement from past seasons.
As for the aforementioned “Crazy Light” sockliner, that’s one of two that the shoe ships with, and the one you’ll need to go with in order to maximize weight reduction and get to the full 9.8 ounce claim. Also included is a “Crazy Comfort” version, which is slightly heavier, but true to its name, is noticeably more padded and comfortable. The name is actually a perfect description, because it doesn’t necessarily add protection or cushioning, as much as it just adds comfort. That said, the “Crazy Light” version isn’t uncomfortable, just more minimal. Is it a given that a high majority of players will opt for the “Crazy Comfort” insole instead, bringing the shoe a few fractions above the listed 9.8 ounce and oh-so-sexy sub-10 threshold? Sure, and perhaps some savvy marketing demands entered into the equation there.
Going back to the bells and whistles, the shoe’s outsole may look rather simple, but there’s actually quite a bit of thought behind it. The zone-specific outsole not only has targeted traction patterns, but careful attention was even paid to its thickness. “Generally, a rubber outsole – for ease of development and construction – is the same thickness everywhere,” explains Fuller. “But that’s not what the wear patterns are; that’s not what the traction needs are. By having it thicker along the edge, and thinner through the midfoot, we’re able to cut weight without sacrificing any traction.” As for the traction patterns, it employs a rotational pattern in the pivot zone, and a thin herringbone-like pattern in the cutting areas. As for how it functions? In a word, outstanding. You’ll have to swipe on dusty courts, like with all shoes, but it’s one of the year’s best from a traction standpoint. Every movement is reliable.
As good as the Crazy Light is, there’re definitely areas for improvement. The fact remains that this magical 9.8 ounce number is really just an arbitrary figure. Nothing actually “happens” when you cross that 10-ounce threshold. And while it sounds nice, and is marketing friendly, in reality, most pairs sold will be bigger than a size 9, and in turn, heavier than 10 ounces anyway. If a little more rigidity and protection would have been built into the Crazy Light‘s midfoot, it could have been an even better shoe than it already is, and possibly have entered all-time territory. The heel counter portion of the Sprint Frame is actually larger than it looks. Because of the stitched construction, part of the counter actually falls behind the upper, extending up to about the middle of the bottom Stripe on the heel. The problem is the whole chassis is relatively thin, and more flexible than I’d like. If rigidity could have been added, whether it be through a different material, or through a different molding process – even if it would have added a slight bit of weight – it would have made for that much better of a shoe. Some elements, such as the lack of padding in the upper, are just a sacrifice you have to make if you want to go as light as possible. I’ll gladly make sacrifices in weight if it means less sacrifice to support, and maybe future editions of a Crazy Light-like shoe will be able to add support without also adding weight. Personally, I’d rather be writing that it’s the best shoe it could have possibly been, than that it’s the best sub-10 ounce shoe that it could have possibly been. Regardless, it’s still a great shoe.
Lastly, there’s the price. This is the most expensive adidas shoe in quite a while. Since 2006, and the TMac 6, to be exact. In a way, the price of the Crazy Light may be a referendum on the value ballers place on light weight. Without visible cushioning tech, or being an actual signature model, will players be willing to pay $130 based on weight alone? It’s hard to call any shoe that costs $130 a great value, because there are so many good shoes out there that are cheaper, but if you want the lightest shoe out there, you can’t go lighter at any price.
So much more goes into what makes a shoe good or bad than its weight. And what makes the Crazy Light such a good shoe isn’t the fact that it’s 9.8 ounces in a size 9. It’s the fact that its cushioning, breathability, traction and court feel are all excellent too. Saying the Crazy Light is a great lightweight shoe is actually selling it short. More accurate would be to say that it’s a great shoe, that’s also the lightest out there.
pros: weight; court feel; traction; cushioning; break-in period; breathability
cons: lack of padding in upper inherent from such minimalism; midfoot torque
improvements: smooth out interior edges; add rigidity to Sprint Frame
buying advice: Without being able to support and protect a basketball player, the Crazy Light could have easily become a high-top running shoe. But, despite, not because of, its industry leading weight, the Crazy Light is a great shoe that I thoroughly enjoyed playing in. At $130, it’s not cheap, but, if you place a high value on weight, you can’t get a lighter shoe at any price.
Available now: adidas adiZero Crazy Light