This whole business of engineering better shock absorbing technology for running shoes is one of the most competitive segments in the sports footwear business, and now to further shake things up, Nike has launched another revolutionary piece of engineering into the mix.
The Joyride cushioning system goes about its business by absorbing impact shock with the help of thousands of tiny TPE beads placed in capsules in a shoe’s midsole, and RUN Singapore were one of two media outlets from Singapore that were invited to Seoul, South Korea, for the official Asian launch of the technology.
The first Nike shoe to feature this is the Joyride Run Flyknit, a shoe that the brand claims is designed for the reluctant runner. Of course, what it aims to do is to win the wearer over with its light, flexible, and plush feel. For seasoned runners, the big question is of course, is this another gimmick that’s designed to be different just for the sake of it, or does it really work?
Nike’s engineers claim that the Joyride was inspired by beanbag chairs. Pack a shoe’s midsole full of cushioning beads, and every step you take should feel like you’re stepping into a comfortable, conforming surface.
The brand’s Product Line Manager, Will Moroski, explains that they went through more than a hundred test samples of the design before coming to the conclusion that a four-pod midsole works best for running shoes.
An early test sample simply packed all the TPE beads into a large open midsole, but testers discovered that the cushioning beads simply migrated to low impact zones under the foot and the experience became a lumpy, uncomfortable feel after just a few minutes of running. Maintaining four small, compact pods along the full length of the midsole, placed with the help of pressure maps, completely negated this problem.
The shoe certainly looks and feels unique. A see-through outsole shows off the cushioning beads, and the in-hand experience is that the shoe is light, flexible, and very soft. There’s only a thin sockliner separating the bottom of your foot from the cushioning pods. It’s a strange paradox in that as you press down on the inside of the shoe with your fingers the midsole feels overly soft, but once the impact is spread out over a wider area, like when your heel hits the ground, the spread in pressure makes it feel more resilient.
While the shoe has a nominal drop height of 7mm, the actual ground feel is quite dynamic, and Nike claims that product testers have said that they do feel like zero-drop shoes at certain points of compression.
The shoe’s collar also deserves special mention, as even though it looks like there’s a traditional padded ring around the ankle, it’s a bootie fit, cleverly disguised beneath the collar padding.
In motion, the shoe is one of the most flexible pairs we’ve tried this year, and despite doubts about its overall dynamic stability, it controls foot movement quite well. The Joyride pods are noticeably soft, but do pack out at the bottom of every step to give you a solid foundation to push off from.
Nike tells us that the materials involved have been road tested to guarantee durability. The beads do not break down or pack up, and every shoe size has a different fill amount to maintain an even density across the range.
It certainly does what it promises, and it’s much more stable than it looks. The outsole rubber compound also proved to be decently grippy on wet surfaces during our test run, which was conducted in the middle of Seoul after a rain storm.
It’s not really a shoe for marathon distances, nor is it branded as a competition shoe. The soft beads are great for slower sessions of 10km or under, but for half marathons or longer they can feel too soft for a quick turn of pace.
In the grand scheme of things, this is not the first time that a footwear manufacturer has attempted to use cushioning beads in a shoe, but Nike has perhaps really cracked the formula for a durable and versatile system. The Joyride system is making its debut here, but will soon be rolled out across to other product lines.
The Nike Joyride Run Flyknit arrives in Singapore in late August. Shop online at nike.com, or find it at selected Nike stores.