The Nike Epic React Flyknit, one of the top rated running shoes from 2018, gets an update this year and Nike invited us to check them out. The condition was that we would cover 30km over any amount of sessions, split between two types of runners and then compare results.
Not too difficult a task, and we were enthused to see what Nike has done to improve the Epic React Flyknit 2. While the synthetic foam wars have tapered off somewhat and stabilised over the last two years, this doesn’t mean that companies have been resting on their laurels. Marketing departments just choose to promote other components over midsole design these days.
The Nike React foam is the brand’s current leading cushioning tech, and was originally launched in 2017 in its basketball shoes. By providing a sensation that is as soft and springy as it is squishy and stable, the foam met those needs of a sport that requires players to shift direction and speed in seamless motion.
React was finalised after testing more than 400 hundred combinations of chemistry and processing, and using scientific methods to dial in on materials with certain amenable attributes.
Nike claims that if you were to squeeze Nike React foam, you’d get a cushioning sensation, and as you let go, you’d see the foam quickly spring back to its original shape, which is where the energy return comes into play. That translates so well to a run because as it reacts swiftly to each step, bouncing back to its original state to ensure a consistent underfoot feel.
According to the data, React foam is 11 per cent softer, 13 per cent bouncier, and 5 per cent lighter than Nike’s own Lunarlon foam.
From basketball shoes, it was a no-brainer to take Nike React technology to running shoes.
I wore the Epic React Flyknit 2 was tried over two 5km slow runs, and another pair was used by triathlete Caleb Goh who wore them over two 10km sessions. We then compared notes on how they felt across two different styles of use, over a combined distance of 30km.
The shoe has a 9mm heel drop, and the standout feature is that the outsole only features reinforced rubber at the heel and forefoot. The React foam is apparently hardwearing enough that plenty of weight is saved having the material act as the outsole in the middle of the outsole.
One thing that was immediately apparent is that like most Nikes, they tend to be a little on the narrower side, but the Flyknit upper has enough stretch to accommodate wider feet while still being supportive. It’s a snug, comfortable and supportive shoe that is also very well ventilated.
The Flyknit material is entirely seamless, and you can use these shoes without socks if you are so inclined to. We don’t know how well they will stand up to washing though!
In theme with the shoes, I used the Nike Run Club app to track two sessions along the Punggol Waterway park. It’s a highly usable and free app, tracking plenty of parameters including your position through GPS from the mobile phone.
A low profile heel counter made of hard plastic does the job of keeping the shoe aligned on the feet, and the React foam is genuinely springy without that soft, spongy feeling of some other overdamped materials.
The shoe has a fast, springy feel that does feel more suited to a quick turn of pace, but even at a relaxed cadence it flows with your foot strike. The Flyknit upper is a paradox, stretching slightly to fit the foot without hotspots, but still being able to hold the shoe to your foot securely.
Caleb Goh, a Half-Ironman distance regular, represents the faster runners and over two 10km sessions he noted that the shoe has a very non-intrusive ankle collar. It feels a little like having a very supportive sole attached to your foot, with very little restrictions over the top of your foot. It’s great for runners that like the feeling of running without a restrictive ankle support.
They appear durable too, and with plenty of confidence-inspiring grip on tarmac.
The sweet spot of the Epic React Flyknit 2 appears to be for moderate speed sessions of around 10km. It’s not really optimised for fast sprints or intervals, as even though the React midsole was made for basketball shoes, the Epic React is designed for front to back motion and does not have much in the way of rotational support.
The Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 is available at nike.com and at select Nike stores at S$229.