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Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T.

The Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. (F.K.T. stands for fastest known time) is an attractive, lightweight trail running shoe. Is it a shoe that also holds up as a daily trainer for those who run on hard city surfaces? See our verdict below.

columbia montrail fluidflex fkt running warehouse

One can almost tell by looking at a pair of the new Fluidflex F.K.T. that it has the soul of a fast shoe. It’s just 9.5 ounces in weight, and feels lighter on one’s feet. The shoe has a seamless upper and an outsole that is almost identical to the one on the bottom of the Montrail Fluidflex, circa 2013. According to Columbia Montrail – which provided a sample for review, the Fluidflex offers “enhanced mid-foot stability and a smooth ride on the trail.” Of this, there’s no doubt.

The Fluidflex has a minimal 4mm heel drop and a protective Trail (rock) Shield in the forefoot. The shoe appears to be semi-curved, is slip-lasted for comfort, and provides a snug fit. Notably, the shoe comes with a commercial grade, high quality, aftermarket-looking insole. It’s impressive and means that the runner who buys this shoe will not need to make a post-purchase drive to the local CVS or Walgreens.

The tongue on the Fluidflex is overly short, especially for a trail shoe, but this is a minor quibble. A second quibble has to do with the fit. My narrow feet wished for more headroom in the forefoot and a bit more space on the lateral side. My small toes were crying out for more space! Luckily, the upper loosens up with the passage of miles, so patience has its virtues with the Fluidflex.

columbia fluidflex fkt

On a dirt and rock covered trail one can feel the Fluidflex’s lugs dig in. These lugs may be relatively small but their strength becomes quite apparent on a newly mown grass trail. They dig in so well, so securely, that it feels like one’s running on clawed cat’s feet. Excellent!

On a hard-packed dirt trail, the shoe offers a B to B+ ride. The Fluidflex is just nimble enough to bring out the mountain goat in a runner. On a trail made up of large and small hard rocks the Fluidflex provides all gain and no pain.

Switching to an urban surface of concrete, the Fluidflex delivers straight ahead foot strikes with some bounce but not too much. It’s clear that this is a highly protective shoe, something that’s also apparent on asphalt. And this is a great tempo trainer; lock onto a pace and the shoe will stick to it like an auto set to cruise control. Nice.

The two flex grooves cut into the forefoot of the Fluidflex do indeed provide for a substantial amount of flexibility. This makes it a joy to use as an urban trainer. Whether you are a midfoot or forefoot striker, this shoe will accommodate your style. One caveat about this model is addressed to mild to moderate pronators: the current Fluidflex does not appear to be quite as stable as the earlier Fluidflex and Fluidfeel models – both of which I’ve run in.

This Fluidflex is consistent with earlier offerings from Montrail in terms of delivering on its promised smooth ride. If you ran in the La Sportiva Helios trail shoe, for example, and are looking for a similarly comfortable non-jarring ride, the Fluidflex is one to take out for a test spin.

One final and additional quibble before we arrive at the verdict. Because of the use of foam insoles, city and trail shoes are becoming increasingly soft. I would love to see a model from Columbia Montrail that offers additional firmness from the midfoot through the forefoot. Not a tremendous amount of firmness, but perhaps twenty to thirty percent more than is present in the current Fluidflex.

Verdict

At a price of $110, the Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. is a high value shoe. Its build quality is clear and the company has gone above and beyond in terms of details like providing an upgraded insole. While the shoe works well on both country trails and city streets, I believe its pluses are most readily apparent when it is used as a daily townie trainer.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-columbia-montrail-fluidflex-f-k-t/

Image credits: Running Warehouse; Road Trail Run

 

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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.

pearl-izumi-em-road-n2-14-men

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.

pearl-n2-cover--640x330

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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The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

Will Scarpa’s Modern Minimal trail running shoe put a spark in your step?

The Scarpa Spark is an attractive and clearly well designed and manufactured trail running shoe. According to Scarpa North America, this shoe is a “Mountain Minimal trail running shoe designed for moving fast and confidently on rugged terrain.” Does the Spark fulfill this goal? Read on to see my verdict.

Scarpa Spark (sharp)

I received the Spark in the ocean and lime color way (it’s also available in black and green apple). My first impression was that the shoe looks more expensive than its list price ($119). The Spark weighs 9.2 ounces and has a 6mm heel drop. The shoe has a EVA midsole of impressive size, which promised a good measure of protection for sore feet.

The Spark has a gusseted tongue and a lacing system that securely holds the feet in place. The shoe fits comfortably a half-size up from walking shoe size. The Spark is narrow in the back and in the mid-foot, while providing plenty of room up front for one’s toes. The heel counter is low and there’s plenty of cushioning around the ankles.

The Spark’s insole fit well and did not present any issues. The laces stay tied.

I could feel the Spark’s great cushioning the second that I stepped out of my front door. The first trail that I encountered was a crushed gravel one, and the toothy, rugged Speed Lite outsole provided good traction on this surface. (The Spark’s feel on the trail reminded me of a pair of Nike trail running shoes that I once owned, the Nike Air Terra Kimbia.)

As I moved on to an asphalt road, I found that this model provides a stable ride. Neutral runners and minimal-to-moderate pronators should be able to use it as a road trainer.

The Spark’s strengths make themselves known on two surfaces. On hard-packed dirt trails it’s as if a stability control system was turned to “on,” keeping all the yaws in check. On hard rock trails, the toothy sole grabs and controls the rocks and keeps them from moving you sideways.

On sidewalks, the Spark is likely best for mid-foot strikers. There’s not much forefoot flexibility, and the shoe is not built for natural heel striking. The relative lack of energy return and bounce on concrete results in one’s feet staying close to the surface (as with the Asics GEL Neo33 2), but this means that for some it will make a good mid-distance training shoe.

On a crushed gravel track, the shoe felt protective with one exception. My sensitive metatarsals sometimes complained when I was running laps in the Spark. It may be that this model could use some additional metatarsal area padding.

The Spark proved to be a very good fire trail runner. The outsole lugs provide just enough surface grip to make a runner’s feet feel safe and secure. I would have no hesitation about wearing this shoe on wet weather days.

The Scarpa Spark is a highly protective shoe considering its weight and price range. While the shoe does not feel “fast” in use, it nevertheless never feels like a boot. The outsole looks like it will hold up for several hundreds of miles of wear and tear. All in all, it’s a pretty impressive package.

Verdict: The Spark is a trail running shoe that allows one to move confidently on mild, moderate and rugged, challenging terrain. It also performs well off the trail. While it’s best suited for mid-foot strikers, runners of every ilk should be able to use the Spark as a safe, well-constructed and highly durable trainer.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-scarpa-spark/

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Pearly Queen

Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N1

Has Pearl Izumi produced a pearl in the Road N1 training shoe?

Pearl Izumi motion

Pearl Izumi. It sounds like the name of a new toothpaste (“It will make your teeth shine pearly white!”). But Pearl Izumi means “fountain of pearls” in Japanese, and the company may have produced a pearl of a product in the Road N1.

This is a neutral running shoe with a unique appearance. When I opened the box supplied to me by the manufacturer, I noticed that the blue and yellow colorway Road N1 looks somewhat like a triathlon shoe and a bit like a skateboarder’s shoe. While it is built on a semi-curved last, it hits the eye as being semi-straight, a factor that brings to mind the skateboarding shoe analogy.

The Road N1 weighs 8.2 ounces and has a low heel drop in line with being a minimalist-style trainer-racer. One retailer lists the heel drop for this shoe as 7mm, but it may be irrelevant as the shoe is said to possess a variable depth midsole (a “dynamic chassis”) which permits it to be used by heel, mid-foot or forefoot strikers.

Pearl Izumi may have invented the seamless upper and it’s immediately clear that the Road N1 possesses an excellent fit. The shoe holds on snugly to the entire foot and especially so the top of the foot, yet it is anything but uncomfortable. The toe box is relatively low but it never rubs on the toes.

This shoe has a nicely padded heel counter and there’s an efficient lacing system which is slightly off-center. The manufacturer’s attention to detail is reflected in the simple fact that the shoe’s laces are neither too long nor too short. They’re just right!

Initially, as you hold on to the Road N1 and test its flexibility, it feels a bit stiff. But this is not a problem on roads; it feels flexible enough in action.

When you first walk in this shoe, it feels like you’re walking on top of an air cushion, nice and soft. Interestingly, there’s been some debate and confusion about the feel of the shoe on the run. Pearl Izumi states that its midsole “promotes a smooth and quick running sensation,” which is referenced elsewhere as an “ultra-smooth” ride. But one retailer’s website states that the shoe has minimal cushioning and a “semi-firm” ride. Which is it? I’d say the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I view the Road N1 as delivering a cushioned firm ride on a par with the feel of the Mizuno Wave Rider 16 running shoe. Cushioned but firm is not a bad thing. In fact, it may offer the best of both worlds to a large number of runners.

I think that Pearl Izumi is correct when it highlights the shoe’s quick running sensation. When jogging on a crushed gravel trail, I felt I could run at a quick pace, especially because the midsole is highly, unexpectedly protective. Even though the Road N1 has no dedicated pad, the cushioning at its rear is mid-range, not too firm or too soft.

The Road N1 produces an agile and pleasingly bouncy ride on a hard-packed dirt trail; it allows the runner to move confidently, even as the trail twists and turns. The shoe is just competent on a natural trail since the sleek, flat sole cannot generate much grip.

This product also feels fast on urban and suburban sidewalks. Forefoot runners will find that they can get up on their toes in this shoe, taking advantage of the blown rubber outsole. What’s surprising about the N1 is that it possesses a good deal of inherent stability, more than one would expect from an “N” (neutral) series model. There’s a yellow colored support bar built into the outsole which works well.

On asphalt, it delivers a steady-paced, relaxing journey. This translates into a good choice for a race day 5K to half marathon shoe. One caution about the shoe is that it should not be used on rainy days, as the flat sole will produce a slippery ride.

The Road N1’s quick but shielding suspension makes it a natural choice for running training laps on a crushed gravel track.

Verdict: With the Road N1, Pearl Izumi has produced a shoe that’s light, fast and protective. It should serve quite well as a daily trainer for mid-foot and heel strikers. Some fleet-footed runners may place it at or near the top of their rotation when it comes to shoes they wear on critical training days.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A pair of Road N1s was provided by Pearl Izumi for review purposes. This shoe retails for $115.00.

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-pearl-izumi-emotion-road-n1/

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Pearl Izumi Men's Road N1

A running shoe review! We take a look at the Pearl Izumi E:Motion N1 trainer/racer.

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Zoot Your Own Horn

Running Shoe Review: Zoot Ovwa 2.0

Zoot Sports Ovwa 2.0

Zoot Ovwa 2.0

Back in the 2000s (2001-2003), Nike produced two excellent racing flats/lightweight trainers: the Air Myriad and the Air Ghost Racer (shown below). These were shoes built for runners who needed the smallest modicum of pronation control; technically, they were stability racers, but just barely. The best feature of these models was that the sole cushioning pads seemed to have been located in just the right place to support the runner moving at a steady pace. (I spent years searching for every pair of the Air Myriad and Air Ghost Racer that I could find in my size, or close to it.)

Air Ghost Racer

I had given up hope of seeing a modern version of the Air Myriad or Air Ghost Racer until I opened a box of shoes sent to me by Zoot Sports and saw the Zoot Ovwa 2.0. The Ovwa was originally designed for triathlon athletes and it’s a slip-on model. The Ovwa is so wildly colored — in brighter than bright blaze, safety yellow and green flash — that it makes neon-colored running shoes look conservative! (Those jogging beside you may need to wear sunglasses.)

The Ovwa is a snugly-fitting shoe for those with narrow to medium feet; however, it is not uncomfortable because the foot is surrounded by elastic. If you wear ultra-thin socks, you may feel a bit of irritation on your ankle bone; switching to standard or medium weight socks eliminates that. A half-size up, the fit seems to be just about perfect.

This shoe is a trainer for minimal pronators who want to run quickly. The forefoot’s blown rubber cushioning appears to be just as protective — and likely a bit more so — than that found on the front of the Tempo Trainer from Zoot. The heel cushioning is soft and it’s contained within a flared, squared-off heel. Squared-off heels not only look different, they also feel different in action. I’m a fan.

The Ovwa sits on a semi-curved last, it’s slip-lasted under the mid-weight insole, has a traditional looking grey colored medial post, and weighs 8.8 ounces. The 10mm heel drop means that it’s friendly to heel-strikers, while facilitating mid-foot landings. The rounded toe box is medium-low, not too high or low. Some runners will elect to wear this model without socks, as it has a fully lined interior.

The Ovwa is a very good track shoe. This shoe lets you land and bounce on the balls of the feet with relative impunity. The underfoot pads are placed in a way that makes it easy to maintain a quick and structured tempo on a track or on sidewalks.

The Ovwa provides decent protection for the feet on a crushed gravel trail and a close to heavenly ride on asphalt. The energy return from the shoe’s cushioning system allows you to kick your feet up high. Despite this, there’s a touch of European-style firmness in the mid-sole (something that was true of the Air Myriad and Air Ghost Racer). The shoe is cushioned but not overly soft.

Most will be able to use the Ovwa for competitive runs ranging from a 5K to a half-marathon. It should make a fine marathon shoe for small, lightweight individuals who need a smidgen of support underfoot for the 26.2 miles. The Ovwa is also a pretty good trail runner. It allows for controlled lateral movements on a hard-packed dirt trail, which supports fast-paced running on this type of surface.

The Ovwa makes for a comfortable walking shoe, so much so that I found myself keeping the pair on even for Plebian-style trips to grocery and hardware stores. If I rode a bike, I’d likely keep these on when doing so. (The shoe can, of course, be used if you suddenly decide to compete in a triathlon.)

I felt like these shoes were made for me. Maybe you’ll feel the same way.

Verdict: The Zoot Ovwa 2.0 is a shoe that’s light but very well cushioned for training runs on almost any surface. It’s a great shoe for mid-foot and heel strikers opting for fast-paced training and racing. The Ovwa should serve as a more than competent marathon shoe for mildly pronating, efficient runners.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Zoot Ovwa 2.0 retails for $120.

Note: The Sneaker Report website selected the Nike (Air) Ghost Racer as one of the 100 best running shoes of all time. The “Ghost” came in at number 75.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-zoot-ovwa-2-0/

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Coming Up Next…

Zoot Ovwa 2

A running shoe review! We take a look at the Zoot Ovwa 2.0 trainer/racer.

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