Performance Review: Jordan Melo M8

Performance Review: Jordan Melo M8

words & images // Nick DePaula
Kicksology // Jordan Melo M8

Perfect If You’re Carmelo Anthony — Outstanding If You’re Not

Ever since the concept of a signature sneaker was born, the approach was pretty straightforward: Build a sneaker to the athlete’s exact specifications. Which is great. There’s been some classic cues born from that ethos, whether it was more recently a defining performance trait like Chris Paul’s brake-reliant medial rubber wrap, or Kobe Bryant’s insistence on midfoot lockdown and heel fit in a lower collar height.

For Carmelo Anthony, his line has bounced around a bit through the years between cushioning technologies, design inspiration and quite honestly, general interest, but this new upcoming season and his eighth signature model finally seem to be veering the series back on track. The best part is that they’re built to his exact specifications. If you’re not 6’8 and a silky smooth scoring pro forward, the good news is that the Melo M8 is an outstanding all-around and versatile performer.

The expectations through the years have elevated for every facet of the equation, with Melo gradually going from the $120 price point with his initial 1.5 model to now the $135 mark. Of course much more notably, he’ll also be gearing up for the first time as a New York Knick for opening day of an NBA season. With the NYC market a bit more daunting than Denver, the added pressures didn’t seem to weigh much on designer Justin Taylor. “This is the first time that we’ve been able to come right in and launch the Knicks colorway as the main launch, and we’re excited about that,” says Taylor. “Melo is really excited about that.”

While the Melo M6 and M7 that Taylor first worked on for Anthony featured slightly more complicated tongue and collar fit systems, the biggest shift this season is the much more traditional collar found on the M8. Melo himself is still extremely cautious of his ankles and the lockdown in his shoes, but I found that with some snug lacing up to the very top eyelet, the M8 offers great protection and a nice plush feel thanks to the partial fit sleeve. The fit isn’t quite as targeted as the past two seasons, but you won’t encounter any problems either, making the shoe’s entry point perhaps a bit more generally accommodating. Personally, I’ve never cared much for convoluted collar stories, prefer more range of motion and definitely never bothered with the optional fit sleeve included with the M4, so the modified throat to the M8 is a welcome change for me. The shoe should work better with ankle braces than past models, and synch up just fine if you like to lace and go otherwise.

Another big shift in the upper of the shoe is certainly the introduction of Flywire for the launch version of the model. Of course, we saw the lightweight containment panel first used on the M7 Advance last spring, but those were only made in limited colorways and didn’t quite have the volume of pairs that the M8 will see. As Taylor explains, the addition of Flywire to the mix for the 8 was a decision made later in the process. “Initially, we were trying to do a custom synthetic that was just going to be for Melo,” he begins. “But after the M7 Advance came out, and Flywire did really well on that shoe and he liked it, we decided that Flywire would probably be the best fit on this one.” To be completely honest, the panel didn’t really do anything for me performance wise. The cables are anchored to the eyestay and in theory anchor to each lace loop, but the version incorporated is more similar to the first generation panel that Nike Basketball used in 2009 on the Hyperize, and not nearly as evolved or well-fitting as more current iterations.

The shoe conforms fine, but as we’ve seen in the Hyperdunk 2011, a real benefit of Flywire can be when it’s used with a mesh base for added breathability and tremendous fit. Clocking in at 14.7 ounces, the Melo M8 isn’t necessarily all that lightweight — or “impossibly lightweight,” as the brand likes to call hitting the 13 ounce mark these days — and I’d like to see Flywire used in conjunction with a more holistic approach to lighten up the entire sneaker. If the Melo line continues to use Flywire, hopefully it’ll be with a more dynamic and targeted approach to really maximize the shoe’s ability to harness and hug the foot too. At $135, I get that in today’s retail ladscape there’s a thing called “visible value,” and maybe the addition of Flywire was more for marketing reasons in replacing a less compelling synthetic along the upper — all I’m saying is I wasn’t blown away by it in this application.

On the note of visible value, one thing I won’t be complaining about at all is the cushioning that you can so clearly see. It is damn good. With a heel Max Air unit for stable landings and solid impact protection, the true gem of the Melo M8 is its forefoot Max Zoom Air bag. It’s exposed — a first ever for Jordan Brand — and it’s also placed directly between the midsole and outsole with no filler, so you get a hugely responsive and full-feeling 10 mm Max Zoom unit up front. If you’re a small guard looking for the lightest weight shoe, compromising a few ounces for this much cushioning might be worth it. If you’re a bigger forward and interested in having your feet feel good, this is where you should start in the hunt for your next shoe. “It’s tried and true,” Taylor says of the setup. “Plus, Melo loves the Max Air. You’ve seen in the last few that we’re putting the larger Air bags in the heel.”

Along with great cushioning all throughout the shoe, another real nice feature is the shoe’s support and robust midfoot shank. The TPU shank extends all the way from the heel of the shoe to the forefoot, and actually also helps to cage the forefoot Max Zoom unit for some added durability. Forefoot exposed Zoom bags can often bottom out or become less responsive over time without enough pebax encasing or support, but the cushioning held up great throughout my time in the M8. While I previously mentioned the need for the shoe’s Flywire to be a bit more effective, the large rand that runs throughout the upper nicely holds the foot over the footbed, and the stability of the shoe is a nice bright spot. If you’re a versatile forward like Melo that enjoys battling in the post or stepping out for jumpers and drives, the M8 should nicely complement a versatile style of play.

Moving down to the very bottom of the shoe is something even more tried and true than its cushioning system — herringbone. And as nearly every time, it works perfectly. You’ll find less need for swiping than most other shoes, and you’ll also really enjoy the transition and hold that the shoe’s outsole offers. Traction can at times rank highest in terms of what I look for in a shoe, and the M8 is right there among the best. The combination of traditional herringbone with a radiating siped pattern surrounding the pivot point is a great tandem, and hopefully not much changes from it for next year’s model.

All in all, the M8 was a joy to play in, and is well built, strong and stable. I would definitely love it that much more if it was around the 12.5 to 13 ounce mark, but if you’re a larger forward, it’ll feel tailor made to your game. The shoe’s cushioning, support and traction are all outstanding. I’d still like to see a more modernized version of Flywire in the shoe, as it could fit a bit better and should probably be more on par with Nike Basketball’s evolved Flywire of today, as compared to the more plasticky versions of years past. But, the effort to elevate Melo’s line with the company’s most celebrated materials and construction methods is a start. If you’re looking for more exact midfoot fit and lighter weight, you might want to check out a few models on the BB-03 last that are more narrow through the body of the shoe, like the Zoom Kobe VII and KD IV. (The Melo M8 uses the more generally accommodating QF-8 last.) If you’re after maximum cushioning, great support and want an all-around versatile performer, the M8 is definitely worth a look.

Jordan Melo M8

A- (92 / 100)

Comfort & fit: 4.5 / 5

Cushioning: 5 / 5

Ankle support: 4.5 / 5

Breathability: 4 / 5

Heel-toe transition: 4.5 / 5

Traction: 5 / 5

Weight: 3.5 / 5 (14.7 oz)

Best for: forwards looking for more impact protection, cushioning and support at the expense of weight and court feel

Colorway tested: Black / Orange Flash / Blue

Key tech: heel Max Air unit, TPU midfoot shank, 10 mm forefoot Zoom Air unit, Flywire upper, herringbone traction pattern outsole

Pros: cushioning; step-in comfort and plush bootie; dependable traction and stability

Cons: slightly too heavy for current market, midsole feels a bit substantial

Improvements: There really isn’t too much to alter here. Perhaps a few ounces could’ve been shaved from the tooling, and the midfoot could be improved for a closer fit.

Buying advice: At the $135 level, there are definitely several other great competing signature products, but if you’re not concerned about playing in the lightest weight shoe on the market and it’s impact protection and maximum cushioning you’re after, the Melo M8 is an outstanding choice. If you’re after traction, support and cushioning in a plush build, check them out. Bigger forwards will love these.

Available now: Jordan Melo M8

Performance Review: Under Armour Juke

Performance Review: Under Armour Juke

words // Zac Dubasik

images // Zac Dubasik

As a fan of sneakers, it was exciting to find out that Under Armour was entering into the hoops world a few years back. We’ve seen plenty of small companies try to enter in that world, with mixed results – but Under Armour isn’t a small company. Their apparel business gave them an instant sense of credibility – even though the footwear game is an entirely different world. How would they differentiate themselves though, and find their own identity? The thing I wondered most was how, and if, Under Armour could merge their success with textiles into their footwear – not through name recognition, but by literally incorporating it into their product.

From the very beginning, even the three variations of the un-released Prototype models featured Heat Gear linings – one of Under Armour’s proprietary materials. But moisture-wicking fabrics alone aren’t necessarily groundbreaking in their use in footwear. And that’s why the Micro G Juke is such an interesting shoe to me. It’s the first one I’ve worn from Under Armour where I felt that they took the incorporation of their heritage to the next level in footwear, with the introduction of a compression sleeve-enhanced collar. While it’s great that they were able to do that, the biggest question is how does that translate to performance?

From the moment I first stepped into the Juke, I was impressed. Not only was the comfort and fit fantastic, the collar system felt like something truly different. When laced tightly, the synthetic upper hugged the foot securely, and the compression sleeve provided a reassuring, yet unrestrictive, sensation that is hard to compare to any other shoes currently on the market. It gives an added sense of security, with basically no compromise to range of motion. This could easily be a false sense of security, because, as we know, true ankle support comes from stabilizing the heel. Luckily, the highly sculpted internal heel counter works in conjunction with the collar system to provide both lateral lockdown, as well as keeping the heel firmly planted to the footbed. My only issue with the collar system was that the large and heavily padded tongue didn’t fit inside the collar as well as it could have. It didn’t present a major problem, thanks to the give in the compression sleeve, but some tapering towards the edges of the tongue, or even a slightly thinner overall collar, could have made the fit and comfort that much better. My other issue with the upper is that, in the forefoot, I experienced some lateral slippage. While the fit through the forefoot was great, the upper didn’t hold my forefoot over the footbed quite as firmly as I’d like. Larger players and heavy slashers may want to look for something a little more secure.

Like all of Under Armour’s shoes to incorporate Micro G cushioning, the Juke’s ride is protective and balanced, yet still low. The full-length foam-based cushioning is smooth and responsive, and nicely resilient over the life of the shoe. Its court feel and transition are excellent, while still providing rigidity through a large midfoot shank. My only real issue with the shoe’s tooling was the traction. It wasn’t actually bad – in fact it is perfectly acceptable – but it just never gave me the sense of security I crave. As long as I was on a well-maintained court, I was fine. But a dusty court quickly had me focusing too much on swiping the outsole. When a shoe does so many other things “great,” it makes it that much more disappointing when the traction is only “good.”

I liked almost everything about the Juke, and found its playability issues to be mostly minor. An issue that is more concerning to me however is its durability. I’ll point out that these issues didn’t materially affect the shoe’s performance over my few weeks of testing, but did hurt my confidence in its long-term ability to hold up over a season. After only a few wearings, I experienced the compression sleeve beginning to separate from the collar. Stitches became unraveled and I’m worried about the sleeve potentially tearing away from and out the heel counter down the road. Less troublesome, yet still worth mentioning, is that the upper was very quick to show visual wear, particularly in the toebox.

Based strictly on performance, at $100, the Juke is a no-brainer. It required basically no break-in time, was protective, light, extremely comfortable and smooth. It’s an exciting shoe too, that I hope is a preview of the ways Under Armour will try to push design with its textile-influenced heritage. I liked the Juke so much that it made it tough to grade overall. Performance-wise, I had few major complaints, and really loved so much about it, but the durability issue with the collar is definitely a concern of mine, and cost the shoe a few points on the 100 scale. That said, at the time I finished playing in them, the collar still was secure and my issues with it hadn’t affected performance. As a game day shoe, or if you don’t have major concerns about a shoe making it through the entire season, the Juke is still an easy recommendation. Under Armour may still have some kinks in their hoops line, but the encouraging part is that the things they are doing right, they are doing very right.

Under Armour Juke

A- (91 / 100)

Comfort & fit: 4.5/5

Cushioning: 4.5/5

Ankle support: 5/5

Breathability: 4/5

Heel-toe transition: 5/5

Traction: 4/5

Weight: 5/5 (12.6oz)

Best for: Guards and small forwards looking for a well-rounded team shoe

Colorway tested: Black/Black/White

Key Tech: Micro G foam, TPU midfoot shank, HeatGeat CS compression sleeve

 

Pros: cushioning; comfort; compression sleeve; transition

Cons: traction, durability

Improvements: if you can’t beat herringbone, use herringbone; stronger stitching to attach compression sleeve to upper; taper tongue to better fit compression sleeve

 

Buying advice: The Juke is easily one of my favorite shoes of the year, but I have concerns about it being able to last a season for most ballers, due to quality and construction issues. Based solely on how it plays though, it’s an easy recommendation. It would be an outstanding value at $100 if it weren’t for the durability issues I experienced.

Available now: Under Armour Juke

Performance Review: adidas adiPower Howard

Performance Review: adidas adiPower Howard

words & images // Zac Dubasik

When I finished testing the Super Beast last season, I was actually disappointed to move on to other shoes, since I liked it so much. I’ve even returned to it throughout the year on the rare occasions I wasn’t testing something else, or when I just needed a break and wanted to play in an old favorite. It wasn’t without its issues, but they were mostly small ones. So, going into playing in this year’s adiPower Howard, I had pretty high expectations, since it is a very similar shoe.

If you haven’t already noticed, the adiPower Howard reuses the tooling of the Super Beast. And that’s a positive thing. I know there were fans of the PURE MOTION-based TS Beast, and while it did offer better court feel, I prefer the Twist torsion and Alive cushioning of the Super Beast and adiPower Howard. I’m someone that really places a premium on court feel, but I still feel that what you gain in protection in this case more than makes up for that small loss, because court feel is still excellent. Last season, when I spoke with the designer of the Super Beast, Robbie Fuller, he explained that, “One of the key elements of PURE MOTION is that it’s designed for what happens when force is applied, and the same thing happens with nano. It’s designed to activate once force is applied to each of the elements.“ The more you push the Alive cushioning, the more I could feel it protect. What makes that so important is that it doesn’t ever feel mushy. It contracts where you apply pressure, but stays stable throughout the rest of the midsole. It may not have the responsiveness that the quickest players want, but for anyone looking for maximum protection, it’s as good as you’ll find.

And speaking of protection, the Z-shaped TWIST torsion system was designed to geometrically control and protect the foot “so it literally wants to twist the right direction and oppose the wrong,” says Fuller.  “This new solution really takes advantage of the powerful movements that a player like Dwight initiates. It’s a simple solution that can prevent injury and increases the body’s efficiency.” I found the system offered just the right level of stability. You can feel it help control the foot, but in a very natural and unobtrusive way.

Rounding out the shoe’s tooling is the traction, which I found to be similar to other shoes using the Cilia traction surface — and that’s a fairly positive thing. It doesn’t have that perceivable and reassuring squeak, but is solid. On a dusty court, you will have to swipe, but when clean, it offers reliable footing and great traction. Because there are so few negatives with the adiPower Howard, it’s one of the few areas left for some slight improvement.

So, while most everything about the shoe’s tooling is great, none of it is new. If you liked the cushioning, court feel and traction of the Super Beast, you know exactly what to expect. The biggest issue I had with the Super Beast was with the upper. It was good, but the shape didn’t quite have that one-to-one fit with my foot, and that was accentuated by the bunching created by the metal eyelets. I loved the way the SPRINTSKIN hugged my foot, and even offered up some non-bulky abrasion resistance, but the shape just didn’t allow it to flex with my foot as well as it could have. With the adiPower Howard, that issue has been fully corrected. The metal eyelet covers are gone, which helps shed a little weight, and allows the shapelier upper to flex much better. What that means is that the shoe feels even more mobile and quick, thanks to achieving superior fit. Combine that with the fact that it drops over a full ounce from the Super Beast, an already lightweight sneaker when it comes to “big man” shoes, and you’ve got a shoe that can appeal to more than just the biggest players on the court. It will probably still be a little too much for some players, in an era of sub-10 ounce hoops shoes, but it could easily appeal to any player that likes a higher cut and more protection in the upper.

Heel lockdown is once again aided by carefully placed padding in the collar, which left me fully locked down. The heel notch creates plenty of room for range of motion, while still offering security. Breathability still isn’t great, but isn’t an actual problem – especially in a shoe that is this protective. My only real complaint left with the upper is that I would still like to see the SPRINTSKIN on the medial side as well. But to be fair, that would probably result in a shoe that costs more than the $100 retail of the adiPower Howard.

Summing up my thoughts on the adiPower Howard is a simple thing. I think it’s basically the Super Beast with a better upper. Considering that the upper was the main area of the Super Beast with room for improvement, and pretty much all of those issues were addressed, it should be no surprise that I found the adiPower Howard to be a really fantastic shoe. It’s at the very top of its class and should be the starting point of any center’s sneaker search. It offers almost everything you could ask for in a big man shoe – cushioning, abrasion resistance, support – yet still is light and fast. What makes it so impressive is that while it’s my new standard for a big man shoe, it’s use isn’t limited to just big men.

A (97/100)

Comfort & fit: 5/5

Cushioning: 4.5/5

Ankle support: 5/5

Breathability: 3.5/5

Heel-toe transition: 4.5/5

Traction: 4/5

Weight: 4/5 (14.1oz)

Best for: all players other than smaller guards

Colorway tested: Royal/White/White

Key tech: SPRINTSKIN upper with mesh backing; Twist torsion; Alive cushioning; Cilia Traction surface

Pros: cushioned and protective without sacrificing too much court feel and being too restrictive; plays light; fit

Cons: could have better breathability

improvements: SPRINTSKIN on medial side of upper

Buying advice: The Super Beast was an excellent shoe with few issues. The adiPower Howard corrects those few issues, and basically sets the new standard for what we can expect from a modern big-man shoe, now standing in a class of its own. At $100, this is a very easy recommendation for any player looking for a protective, yet mobile hoops option.

Available now: adidas adiPower Howard

Performance Review: adidas adiZero Rose 2

Performance Review: adidas adiZero Rose 2

words & images // Zac Dubasik

When the Crazy Light launched this past June, it unofficially launched a new era of adidas basketball. Sure, last season marked their return to the signature shoe world, but it was the Crazy Light that first brought back that level of anticipation that had been missing from the brand since the heydays of the TMac line. “I think you’ve seen pretty clearly that adidas Basketball has focused on being the lightest weight brand, and we set the tone with the Crazy Light,” says the Rose 2’s designer, Robbie Fuller. Considering the years of R&D that went into the Crazy Light, along with its success, it makes total sense to begin incorporating elements into the signature line of its biggest star: Derrick Rose. So, it’s only logical to use the Crazy Light to compare and contrast the models.

From the ground up, you’ll see many similarities between the two shoes. Perhaps the most visible is the SPRINTWEB upper. There is less SPRINTWEB found on the Rose 2 than on the Crazy Light, but it is more targeted. Rather than being found throughout the entire upper, it’s limited to the midfoot. From a performance perspective, it offers excellent lateral support, but remains flexible where you want it to be. It’s also very breathable. The addition of a heavier leather toecap (or synthetic, depending on the colorway) has the performance benefit of adding support, but also offering a cleaner and more style-friendly aesthetic. I found the toe shape and proportions to be spot on, and both extremely comfortable and stable. That’s just one of the methods where the adidas team merged style and performance benefits though. The most drastic has to be the unique collar strap system.

For years, the adidas Y-3 line has quietly been producing some of the company’s most intriguing shoes, bringing a high-fashion perspective to the brand. And while some of their models have been a little too “out there” for me, I’ve loved some too – specifically the Kazuhiri. So it was particularly interesting to me when I first saw leaked images of the Rose 2, and noticed the awful familiar lateral and medial elastic collar straps. “Not only did it solve a style need, it also solved a functional need, because he wears an ankle brace, but a lot of people don’t,” begins Fuller. “There’s always that adaptation that needs to happen around the ankle. And this is perfect. Perfect. If you’ve got an ankle brace on, it stretches to fit. If you don’t have one, it stretches just enough to support your ankle without a brace. We were so excited, and it’s an awesome marriage of function and style.”

I’m a player that doesn’t use ankle braces, and I found the collar to be solid, but different. I like to lace my laces as tight as I possibly can, so I wasn’t immediately excited about the fact that the main points to anchor my ankle were elastic. But when fully laced, I did feel supported. The elastic also worked wonders for range of motion. The shoe’s cut feels much lower than it actually is, thanks to the maneuverability made possible by the elastic straps. My one remaining concern is how the elastic will hold up over time for players who lace very tight. I had them pulled so snug that the two ends almost met in the center, which pulled at the straps the entire time I had them laced. After a few weeks, it didn’t feel like the elastic had weakened, but I could see the toll it was beginning to take on the straps. I would have liked to have seen those straps have a little less give, for a little more support from up top. One last note on the lacing of the shoe is that I found the tongue overlay, which the laces go through, to be a bit of an inconvenience. I wasn’t able to get my fingers between the laces at the lower points because this strip of material was in the way. I was still able to lace plenty tight through the forefoot and midfoot, but it was more of a hassle than I’m used to for a simple task. There is always the easy fix of simply lacing over this, which I’d recommend if you plan to often be lacing tightly.

The elastic straps alone might not be an ideal lockdown method for a hoops shoe, but the reason they do work is because of the outstanding level of lockdown in the heel provided by the SPRINTFRAME. If you’ve been following the past few Rose shoes, it’s not the first one you’ve seen, but it’s the best. Fuller explained that a “difference between this one and the 1.5 and 1, is this has an enlarged Sprint Frame. If you put them next to each other, it’s massive compared to the last one.” The heel counter portion of the SPRINTFRAME locks you in from the back so well that it allows the collar straps to offer more range of motion, without sacrificing heel stability. The support continues through the midfoot, where it offers much more rigidity than past Rose shoes, and especially more than in the Crazy Light. This bigger and more thick SPRINTFRAME obviously comes with a cost: weight. But luckily, the transition is smooth enough that the increased weight doesn’t actually hurt the shoe.

The midsole of the Rose 2 is also configured very similarly to the Crazy Light, right down to the materials. “It’s the same premium sourcing foam, which is injection molded. And what you get from that is a very consistent rate,” says Fuller. But while the foam itself is the same, the construction is different. “On the Crazy Light, the Sprint Frame is stitched to the upper, which allows us to make the midsole a little bit lower to the ground, and you get more cushioning, because you are standing straight on the foam. In this case, we wanted to give him enhanced protection,” says Fuller. That enhanced protection also means that the midsole thickness through the midfoot and heel are slightly higher than on the Crazy Light. But while increased thickness may imply a softer ride, I found it to be quite the opposite. The cushioning is still good, but not nearly as good as the Crazy Light. The heel feels great, but I found the forefoot to be a bit too firm. It is however, as designed, more protective with this construction.

Up until this point of the review, everything about the Rose 2 points to an “A” grade. There are plenty of flaws, but nothing that hurts the shoe too much. And that’s why the traction is so disappointing to me, because I like so much about the rest of the shoe. While the Crazy Light had some of the best indoor traction in recent memory, the Rose 2 struggles with dust. Storytelling on a signature shoe is an essential part of what makes something a signature shoe, but I’m extra disappointed when it comes at the expense of traction. The volcanic splatter pattern looks cool, but just didn’t handle dusty floors well. I played on many different courts over my few weeks of testing, and experienced good and bad. There were courts where the traction was a dealbreaker, and there were courts where it was perfectly fine. I did find some improvement as the traction broke in but in real world playing conditions (aka, most non-NBA or D1 courts), I found myself swiping very often. From a durability standpoint, this traction will be able to hold up for playing outdoors, unlike the Crazy Light. But indoors, I was disappointed by it more times than not.

The Rose 2.0 is a great signature shoe. Its storytelling elements, attention to detail, and overall quality and value are all on point. As a performance shoe, it’s really good, but could have been a solid “A” with some relatively minor tweaks to the traction pattern. If you have the luxury of playing on clean courts though, it’s still an easy recommendation for guards looking for a shoe offering both maximum support and speed.

Grade Breakout:

best for: Guards looking for maximum support

colorway tested: Black/Red/White

key tech: Sprint Frame, SPRINTWEB, elastic ankle straps

pros: support, comfort, protection, cut

cons: traction very slippery on dusty courts, elastic straps have too much give

improvements: less storytelling, more stick in the traction pattern; less give in elastic straps

buying advice: The adiZero Rose 2 isn’t the lightest shoe made my adidas, but for guards looking for maximum support, it’s an easy choice – as long as you have the luxury of well-maintained courts. Over my few weeks of weartesting, I found that the traction broke in some, but was still less than ideal on a dusty court.

Available Now : adidas adiZero Rose 2

Performance Review: New Balance 1420

Performance Review: New Balance 1420

New Balance 1420 Side

words and photography // Shawn Datchuk

Initial Impression

New Balance has made an incredibly light-weight running shoe in their New Balance 1420 race-day road flat. When I opened the box, the bright red base and silver “N” caught my eye. The jet-black tongue and laces matched a nest of black accents along the heel. A circle of white punched along the sole, wrapping around the entire shoe.

As I removed each shoe from the box, I was surprised that they each felt light as feathers. Grabbing the heel and tip of one shoe, I compressed it, and the midsole bent easily. For those of you who tend to underpronate during running, the flexibility signaled a great find (a quick test to see if you underpronate: the outer heel of your shoes wear down first). Many running shoes feature a stiff, cardboard-like bottom that reduces flexibility and increases discomfort, forcing your stride into their pronation. The REVlite midsole of their 1420 model was rubbery, allowing your stride to freely strike the ground without a stiff feeling. My excitement quickly gained thinking about running in these shoes.

Inspired by the best-selling 890 running trainer, the 1420 has a welded upper, welded seams and no-sew material application to reduce chafing, which was certainly the case. The synthetic/mesh upper felt soft and smooth. In the past, I had mesh shoes that felt abrasive and rough to the touch. This was not the case as the mesh did not brush roughly against my hand. I instantly thought: Another good sign for long runs – this shoe will not grind against your skin. For anyone who has run a 5K, half or full marathon, a smooth inside lining of a shoe is worth its weight in gold.

New Balance 1420 Close

Fit

All the design elements of the shoe suggested a minimalist design, which means less cushioning and less shoe details that could weigh down the running experience. What the New Balance 1420 lacks in cushioning and detailing, it makes up for in fit. The shoe rested comfortably on my feet. Many minimalist shoes can feel skin-tight and stick closely to the sides of the foot, but New Balance has struck a nice compromise. The shoes did not have a lot of wiggle room, but they had enough cushioning to make a comfortable fit and offer just the right amount of support without restricting movement.

New Balance 1420 Close Shot

The fit confirmed my initial impressions: I have never worn such a light shoe. As a lightweight performance shoe, there is minimal cushioning, but the REVlite foam did offer a thin layer of cushioning. I did notice that the thin tongue felt a little too thin. I could feel the laces cradle against the top of my foot, and I wondered if it would dig into my feet during long runs. I tend to tie my laces fairly tight, so I loosened them a bit. The thin, silky mesh allowed plenty of air into the shoes, and I did not feel warm or uncomfortable. And as an added bonus, the tongue tag doubles as a pin loop, so if you need someplace to put your racing bib pins, you’ve got it!

I jogged on three difference surfaces: concrete, pavement, and indoor track pavement. The shoe reacted well to each surface and the laces did not dig into my foot. New Balance constructed these shoes to provide a pleasing amount of support to the feet. Quick turns or slight gradients in the ground did not result in a tight or snug feel along the outer walls, common in many cheaper running shoes. My foot did not slide along the bottom of the shoes, meaning the snug fit stabilized my foot and I did not get any blisters.

The sole of the shoe had a surprising amount of traction. I ran on a rainy Sunday morning, and I experienced only a small amount of slipage on the blacktop. Rain did easily soak through the mesh lining, making my socks fairly wet, but that’s understandable for a shoe with such a breathable upper. Not the most ideal shoes during jogs in the rain, but the excellent traction made up for my wet socks.

New Balance 1420 Sole

Overall

I jog with a weekend warrior mentality: routinely through out the week but get in 5k’s and half-marathons a few times a year. These shoes rocketed to the top of my list of preferred jogging shoes, by far the lightest shoe I have ever worn. The fit and flexible mesh provided comfortable support. I highly recommend these shoes to other weekend warriors or those looking for an ultra-light race-day flat.

New Balance 1420 Pair