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Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi EM Road N2

Has Pearl Izumi produced a well-balanced running shoe in the latest version of the EM Road N2?

Having had a positive experience running in the Pearl Izumi E:Motion (EM) Road N1 racer-trainer running shoe, I looked forward to having a go in another of their models. Fortunately, the company provided the EM Road N2 model – technically the second version of this shoe, the Road N2v2. For simplicity, I will refer to it as the Road N2.

Pearl Izumi states that this neutral model provides “the perfect balance of light and fast with just enough cushioning and durability.” Is this true? You can see the verdict below.

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The first thing noticeable about the EM Road N2 is the nice low-to-the-ground feel. As for the fit, while the shoe initially feels snug – a bit like a tennis shoe – it loosens up after some break-in miles. There’s enough room for the toes to splay naturally up front, but the forefoot appears to be a bit firmer than on the Road N1 model. In fact, the forefoot firmness seems to fall midway between that on the Road 1 (more flexible) and the Trail N2 (less flexible). For most, it should be just about right in terms of protecting sore toes and feet.

The Road N2 weighs 9.1 ounces, the same as the Trail N2, but it’s heavier than the N1’s 7.7 or so ounces (the forthcoming version of the N1 will weigh 8.6 ounces). In today’s running world, it’s a mid-weight shoe.

The fact that Pearl Izumi pays attention to the small details is reflected in the shoelaces. They’re just the right length, not too short or long.

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Upon hitting asphalt and concrete roads in the Road N2, one feels a pleasing amount of spring and energy return. Although it’s a relatively low shoe, heel strikers can pound away at will thanks to the brand’s dynamic (variable) offset midsole. The dynamic offset midsole eliminates forefoot slap and provides a light rocker panel feel, which easily transitions the foot from heel to mid-foot and on to the forefoot. This is a shoe that can be used by any type of runner, but mid-foot strikers will likely feel the most at home in it.

The heel cushioning on the Road N2 is not too soft, nor hard (more New Balance than Mizuno). The overall underfoot cushioning is what I would describe as soft-landing but firm in movement. Had I been blindfolded, I might have guessed that I was running in either the New Balance 890v3 or a pair of Asics Gel-DS Trainers. The key point is that my feet never felt beat up after runs in the Road N2.

What’s quite impressive about the Road N2 is the shoe’s excellent directional stability. This is not a floppy, sloppy, running shoe. You need not worry about your feet hitting each other, and there’s no sense of wasted sideways motion. Although the Road N2 does not feel fast like the Road N1, it’s a great tempo trainer. Set a pace and the shoe lets you almost effortlessly lock onto it and stick with it. And there’s a comforting uniformity in that each footfall feels the same and the ride feels the same on both feet. (It’s sometimes disturbing to run in a pair of running shoes in which the left and right shoes seem to have been manufactured in different factories.)

On a gravel-covered dirt trail, the Road N2 feels protective like the Road N1, but is less slippery due to a more traditional sole pattern. Using this shoe on a rainy day would not be a problem – something that’s not necessarily true in the Road N1.

It’s off-road where one realizes that the Road N2 provides an excellent mid-foot fit and support. On a hard-packed dirt trail the shoe feels limber but stable – and it winds up being a fine runner on a hard rock trail. You don’t feel the rocks underfoot and there’s virtually no slippage.

The Road N2 is a hybrid running shoe that would be a good choice for travel, especially when the traveler does not know what type of surface her or she will be running on at his/her destination, or whether the surface will be wet or dry. This shoe will pretty much have things covered whether you’re landing in Milwaukee, Seattle, or San Diego.

Verdict:

The Pearl Izumi Road N2 should work well for the person seeking a durable, protective shoe that can be used for slow, moderate or aggressive training runs on roads and trails. The shoe may work especially well for those who prefer to put in their miles on tracks, running at a rock-steady pace. The Road N2 can serve as a type of metronome for those oval runners.

Most runners will find the Road N2 to be a very competent 5K, 10K or half-marathon shoe, and some will find it protective and stable enough to run a full marathon. The Road N2 is not the flashiest shoe on the market – and perhaps not in Pearl Izumi’s own catalog – but it does most everything quite well.

Yes, this is a well-balanced shoe. All in all, it’s another clear water pearl from this brand.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2v2 retails for $120.00.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-pearl-izumi-em-road-n2/

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Running Shoe Review: Montrail FluidFlex

Is the Montrail FluidFlex a WYSIWYG trail runner?

In the past, I had an interesting experience with the Montrail FluidFeel running shoe as it looked like one type of shoe (heavy and bulky) but ran like another type (light and nimble). So I was interested to see if this would be the case with Montrail’s FluidFlex model. Read on to see the verdict.

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I came across the FluidFlex at Fleet Feet in Davis, California. The shoe has a surprisingly racing flat-like look for a trail running shoe, but then it weighs only 7.6 ounces; it’s quite light. And it looks bold in coal with red Montrail side lettering and a yellow FluidFoam midsole. I wound up buying the FluidFlex hoping that the shoe might prove to be as light, fast and flexible as it appears to be.

I can say right off that the FluidFlex offers great cushioning in a lightweight shoe. It’s nice to walk in and only the asymmetrical lacing system lets others know that this is not a racing flat. The fit is narrow and secure but not tight because of the highly flexible upper. The fit at the rear of the shoe is exemplary; one’s heels and ankles are well surrounded and protected.

The FluidFlex fosters such a smooth ride while running that I began to think of it as the Montrail Glide runner. The shoe has a floating sock liner which adds to its uniqueness. On the road, the shoe’s high level of flexibility allows the feet to go through the proper landing cycle — heel, then mid-foot, then forefoot. The shoe does not interfere with one’s normal foot strike, and allows the feet to land flat.

The feel of the FluidFlex on roads and trails is quite similar to the Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N1 and the La Sportiva Helios. On asphalt it simply feels good to run in.

On a track the FluidFlex makes one feel like Steve Prefontaine, possessing the ability to put in some strong, fast laps. The heel padding is soft but the landing is secure and anything but mushy. The fast and steady nature of the shoe is maintained on a crushed gravel trail.

The FluidFlex has a flared sole that supports and reinforces a high level of lateral stability on a hard-packed dirt trail. The hybrid nature of the “town and country” sole underfoot provides just enough grip on a hard-rock trail to keep one traveling straight ahead rather than slipping and sliding. The sole also allows the feet to move sideways while in motion. It may be counter-intuitive but this provides a reassuring measure of stability control.

Montrail FluidFlex

The FluidFlex feels low-to-the-ground and it has a minimalistic 4mm heel drop. For some runners (especially long-term heel strikers), this will signal the need to break in the shoe slowly and carefully. In my case, I initially experienced some soreness in my calves and stinging in my heels. But this was only temporary.

The Montrail FluidFlex lives up to its name, providing fluid flexibility in a shoe that’s more protective than it’s looks would indicate. While it may be a lightweight shoe, it’s quite durable in use. My well-used pair has minimal signs of wear on its still vibrant black and yellow sole.

Verdict:

The Fluid Flex is a WYSIWYG trail running shoe. It is the shoe that it appears to be and more.

Runners, whether fast or slow, should be able to use this shoe as a trainer on a wide variety of surfaces. It will serve as a good marathon trainer and race day shoe for some competitors and as a fine 5K to half-marathon shoe for many. Joggers with inflexible feet and runners fast enough to chase cheetahs will benefit from the shoe’s ultra-flexible, blown-rubber cushioned forefoot.

The FluidFlex is an excellent trainer to run in even if you never go near a natural trail.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Montrail FluidFlex retails for $90.00.

This review initially appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-montrail-fluidflex/

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