An Insider Look at the Nike Air Max Fly By with Leo Chang, Charles Williams, and Delores Thompsonwords & interview // Nick DePaula

images // Zac Dubasik & Luis Sanchez

For the first time in three summers, last year we saw Nike Basketball’s Hyperdunk outshined by another of its creations as the Hyperfuse and its all-new aesthetic and construction made it arguably the more compelling product. Last August’s World Basketball Festival in New York City marked its official release, and as the Festival and eventual NBA season moved along, Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang was steadily working on the follow-up model to the Hyperfuse for this Spring. Once again featuring a similar fused upper, the Air Max Fly By aims to offer up even more support with an added collar strap and some additional impact protection through the heel.

To learn all about the design of the new Air Max Fly By and also how it differs from the Hyperfuse, Sole Collector spoke with Leo Chang and the rest of his Nike Basketball counterparts that played a huge role in the shoe’s refinement and development, including Product Line Manager Charles Williams and Footwear Developer Dolores Thompson. Read ahead for a detailed look at how the shoe came together.

Nick DePaula: So is the whole story around the Max Fly By that you added an Air bag and a strap to the Hyperfuse and called it a day? Or perhaps there’s more to it than that?

Leo Chang: [laughs] Well I’m gonna let Charles take this one then… [laughs]

An Insider Look at the Nike Air Max Fly By with Leo Chang, Charles Williams, and Delores ThompsonCharles Williams: It was more about having a different mindset. Once you get to that second half of the NCAA season, we wanted to have a product that would give this shoe even more innovation and even more technical prowess. We wanted to look at how we could give this shoe the best of both worlds. Bringing together Fuse, the lockdown of a collar strap and the impact protection of this Max bag we felt would give the consumer, and even more so the athlete, a real beneficial product for that last quarter of a season when they really need the extra protection.

NDP: And design-wise, where did that initial brief and insight take you, Leo?

Chang: Design-wise, I looked back at the Hyperfuse, and it was 12.5 ounces and really light, and we still looked at that shoe as being on the stronger side, but with the Fly By, I wanted to make it even stronger. For the guys that want a little bit more heel cushioning, we gave them the biggest Max bag we can possibly put into the shoe. For those that want a little more proprioceptive ankle protection, we added the lockdown strap. We wanted to bring a more modern solution to that, so we used HF welding and fused that into the collar. The seam that you see pressed in, that’s an actual HF compression process. There’s no stitching, and it’s really locked in there.

NDP: Is that a newer process for straps?

Nike Air Max Fly By HeelChang: We’ve been doing HF welding forever, but fusing it like this is new, and it just brings the concept together holistically for us. With the Hyperfuse, we took the opportunity to try a different mesh, too, and we had a really big, open mesh that really x-rayed like crazy. Going into the spring, we wanted to bring it a little more tighter and have something that felt a little more closed up. It just looks a little bit different and maybe it’s a little more refined of a pattern. Even just the structure, although we have a lot of protection with the strap around the ankle, the bars that you see on the base layer synthetic are the minimum that we can get away with for the best bonding on the shoe. It’s about an 8 mm width across the whole entire quarter and vamp area. There are a few more bars on the Fly By [than on the Hyperfuse], but we made them a little thinner and wanted to push the structure. Forefoot-wise, it’s a Phylon midsole, and we’re really just focusing on the heel Air bag.

NDP: Is the outrigger in the same zone?

Chang: It’s in the same zone. I think just looking at the midsole and how it breaks up, it might look like it’s different, but it’s in the same place. The rubber wrap in the heel not only helps out iconically with how the shoe blocks, but it also helps the lateral area in the heel.

Dolores Thompson: The bonding right in that area is always something that the factory brings up and has concerns with, because you’ve got Air bag, Phylon and rubber all coming together in one spot. Bringing the rubber wall up a bit there helps solve all of those problems.

Chang: And also helps with the durability and even aesthetically how it all comes together. It’s a lot nicer of a solution. Matt Nurse and the guys in the NSRL [Nike Sports Research Lab] talked about the key points of the foot for lateral stability. As you’re transitioning from heel to toe, the area where that rubber wraps up is really an area where we want to check off and make sure your foot is contained.

An Insider Look at the Nike Air Max Fly By with Leo Chang, Charles Williams, and Delores Thompson

NDP: When you designed the shoe, did you have all along a different court view from the Hyperfuse in mind, just so that it blocks totally differently?

Chang: Yeah, and we wanted to have it feel like it can hang pretty closely to the original Hyperfuse, but we wanted a few twists on it. We always throw out percentage changes and differences, but I don’t know what percent we said on this one. One of the things that I noticed, just in looking back on the design of the Hyperfuse was that the areas on the collar, and especially on the medial side, could maybe come together a bit better. Having the tie-in was nice, and the rest of it was just resolving those areas cosmetically and bringing them together. It does make for a pretty kick-ass three-color split.

Williams: I think the other element that made for a pretty tough brief that Leo was able to hit was, from my perspective, just making sure that the shoe could still stay sleek, very clean-looking and very wearable, without becoming cumbersome with the addition of some things. As much as we are inspired by the on-court elite athlete, we still know that there’re a ton of consumers who are inspired by the game and will wear them off-court. We want the products to be able to live in both worlds, and Leo definitely was able to bring that to life on the original Hyperfuse, and we asked him to make sure that this shoe should represent the same elegance and beauty that the initial one brought.

Chang: Company wide, Spring ’11 is also when the rest of Nike’s categories are going to jump into the Hyperfuse mix. We created the technology, led it and launched it during the World Basketball Festival last summer, and actually, Rondo probably launched it during the Playoffs last year. For us, we wanted to bring the rest of the categories up to speed with that, and lead with the aesthetic and functionality.

NDP: Where are we going to see it show up? It’ll be a big March Madness shoe, and Russ [Westbrook] and Blake [Griffin] have worn it as well. Will those be the key guys wearing it?

Williams: With this one, we anticipate this shoe having one of those growing adoption rates as did the Hyperfuse. We started off early in the Playoffs with Rondo, and then we started the season with some pretty key guys, and then when you look to this point, there’s probably one-third of the NBA actually wearing that model. We would love to see that same rate of success, and we anticipate it becoming a shoe that’s just a heavily adopted model, based on the style and playability.

Chang: When you look at it, you can really see the progression from the original Hyperfuse and you can easily see the functionality differences. In Spring  ’11, the Hyperfuse Low will hit, so you’ll have the full breadth there. You’ll see Rondo wearing it, Deron Williams, and probably a lot of other guys start to hop into that shoe, and these two shoes will really wrap the whole collection up for us for the season.

NDP: Where did the Fly By end up weight-wise? Is it just a little more than the Hyperfuse?

Chang: The Max bag definitely adds some more, but I’m not sure where we ended up.

Thompson: 384 grams. [laughs] Give me a second, I have an app on my phone to convert that!

Williams: We’re cognizant every time we go out and create a new model — we’re about lightweight performance. We’re also cognizant that each shoe is going to be judged on its own merit. There’s a variance between shoes on where we landed, and this one is probably not as light as its predecessor, but still very light.

Chang: The Fuse uppers are as light as they can be, and the added strap will add a miniscule weight difference. The tooling is also as light as you can get with this bag. It’s lighter than the Soldier IV, which had the same bag and Zoom in the forefoot.

Thompson: I got it. 13.4 ounces.

[everyone laughs]

Chang: Somewhere under 14, depending on the material treatment, is great.

NDP: How else is the upper here done differently than the Hyperfuse?

Chang: Cosmetically, we just wanted to continue to do the x-ray look, and that just helps to show off the composite nature. Even down to the strap, the box-stitch that holds the Velcro through is x-rayed through to the other side. “Nike” is captured in there, and we took the x-ray thing to heart with everything.

An Insider Look at the Nike Air Max Fly By with Leo Chang, Charles Williams, and Delores ThompsonNDP: Is the actual three-layer fused composite all the same materials, too?

Thompson: The material package with this shoe is completely different. Two out of the three materials in the composite are different than the Hyperfuse, so we had to start over in wear testing to make sure that it could hold up and withstand March Madness and our Division I players. We had to go through the same level of testing as we did with the Hyperfuse, and we can’t assume anything.

Chang: That’s the crazy thing about Hyperfuse and Flywire that we’re finding. It’s a system, and any time you take out or adjust one material, you have to re-test everything to make sure that it passes the rigors of our basketball testing and our mechanical testing.

Thompson: Even with skins, you may have a very similar skin from one vendor to another, but you can’t assume that the physical attributes of those materials are going to be the same once you have them fused onto the shoe.

NDP: One of the things that stood out a lot on the Hyperfuse was the fabric wrap along the midsole. Did you guys talk at all about having that carry over onto the Max Fly By?

Thompson: On that one, it was a Cushlon midsole, and the fabric was used to also help with the stability a bit and the creasing. This is a Phylon midsole, so it wasn’t necessary.

Chang: Yeah, and the split-tear strength of Cushlon is really low, and we found through other shoes in the past that it hasn’t held up as well as we wanted. The fabric wrap was really there to make sure it didn’t tear or crease too badly. Sometimes in testing you’ll see extreme cases of the midsole tearing through to where you could see the Air bag, and we always want to prevent that. The benefit of Cushlon is that it’s super soft, but with regular Phylon here, we didn’t need to wrap it with fabric.

Thompson: We entertained it,  but the finishing of adding fabric in the heel where the Air bag, rubber wrap and midsole all meet would’ve looked horrible. [laughs] From an aesthetics standpoint, it wasn’t worth it. We put our investment into the texture that matches up with the mesh.

NDP: The forefoot, too, is Phylon throughout?

Chang: Yeah, and flexibility-wise, it should be pretty good. A lot of times when you have a bag in the forefoot you get the cushioning and responsiveness, but it is another element in the forefoot that doesn’t bend as nicely as a pure foam midsole would, so you gain a little more flexibility here.

Thompson: The thing that really makes this shoe so different from our other Max shoes is that it’s still sleek. So many of our Max shoes that we’ve done in the past can tend to look more bulky, as a result of having to have a wide area to bond the Air bag to. This still looks sleek, and it looks like it’s still in the same family as the Hyperfuse. Leo did a decent job. [laughs]

Chang: Good job team!

[everyone laughs]

Nike Air Max Fly By March Madness Strap

Nike Air Max Fly By March Madness Strap

Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang and Footwear Developer Dolores Thompson, joking around, as per usual.