Words by Lester Tan
Weight: +/- 240g (US 9)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm
Shoe Type: Neutral (Minimal arch support)
Fit: True to Size (Stick to your usual running shoe size)
Toe Box: Narrow to Medium Width (Flyknit stretches slightly over time)
Designed For: Road Running
Best Used For: Tempo Runs / Track Intervals / Road Racing (10km – 42km)
Not Suitable For: Easy (Recovery) Runs / Technical Trails / Routes that feature Sharp Bends
- Feels lighter than its actual weight when in use
- React foam is softer and bouncier than Nike’s Lunarlon foam
- Shoe stiffness encourages a quicker cadence at faster speeds
- Flyknit is breathable and dries quickly
- Rubber outsoles are durable (minor scuffing despite clocking >285km)
- Flyknit does not provide a secure foot lockdown (heel slippage)
- High stack height + soft heel may cause instability when making sharp turns
- Foam insole gets squishy when wet (doesn’t affect performance; just an annoyance)
- Slower runs are uncomfortable due to the stiff carbon plate
- Heel collar rubs against the Achilles Tendon (mid to high length socks are a must)
- Price (S$239)
Left: Zoom Fly
Right: Zoom Fly Flyknit
“Oh yes, the Zoom Fly Flyknit also comes with a full-length carbon fiber plate and React cushioning.”
“So you’re basically saying that it’s a Vaporfly 2%?”
I’ll put it as delicately as I can: The Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit is the budget-conscious iteration of its seriously hyped and ludicrously priced sibling, the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit. Personally, I have never ran in the Vaporfly 4% but have heard enough about it to surmise that the shoe’s performance is off the charts.
“Verified with Medals and Records.”, as Nike proudly announces.
The Zoom Fly, in contrast, does not even bear the claim of “Making Runners Faster.”
If you are expecting a shoe that replicates the performance of the Vaporfly 4%, I’m not sure if the Zoom Fly would be able to live up to what is expected. However, if your interest lies solely in finding a shoe that helps push your running performance up a notch, then the Zoom Fly Flyknit could possibly be the sole you’re looking for.
A $10 increment from last year’s Zoom Fly. Worth it? Definitely.
The original Zoom Fly retailed at $229; you could easily cop a pair at a considerably lower price point these days.
Sporting Lunarlon foam and a “Carbon-infused Nylon Plate” (still have no idea what that means. A juiced-up plastic plate?), the original Zoom Fly received mixed responses from runners. Some loved its responsiveness as an up-tempo shoe, others loathed its weight and lack of versatility.
Fast-forward a year, Nike has radically revamped the Zoom Fly – swopping Lunarlon with React and the plastic plate with the same carbon fiber plate used in the Vaporfly. The outcome is a significantly softer and stiffer shoe ready to take on the roads. Gone also was the thick mesh upper of the original Zoom Fly; the 2018 edition utilizes Nike’s Flyknit upper for a seamless sock-like fit that conforms to your feet. Given these three updates, is the Zoom Fly Flyknit a significant improvement over last year’s model?
NIKE REACT CUSHIONING: Soft, Responsive and Durable
There are three criteria of which I judge the quality of a shoe’s midsole cushioning:
- Cushioning: Does it soften the impact of my foot landings?
- Responsiveness: Does it provide a bouncy sensation when I run?
- Durability: At what point in the shoe’s mileage will the midsole lose its cushioning and responsiveness?
I’m happy to report that the Nike React has thus far met the expectations of all three criteria. In descriptive terms, I would characterize React as ‘pillowy’ and ‘squishy’ – akin to a stress ball made of a denser foam material. Feeling the ground with your feet is out of the question though; the stack height of the shoe (23mm forefoot, 33mm heel) eliminates any sense of how the terrain feels like. This is not necessarily a drawback as the stack height protects your feet from sharp rocks or stones encountered on the roads. However, it does create a tendency for your foot strike to increase in impact (your body’s way of acquiring feedback from the ground.)
Although React does provide ample cushioning, the softness of the foam does result in an element of instability that is prominent when making turns. While not a worry for long, flat stretches of road, this is a consideration to be had if your running route features numerous bends.
In terms of responsiveness, React is able to deliver a bounce with each step. This is an indicator of ‘Energy Return’ (the higher the rate of return, the lesser energy being ‘wasted’). According to Runner’s World, “Most shoes with traditional EVA foam tend to fall in the 50 to 60th percentiles. The best new foams are returning 70+ percent of the energy.”
React, belonging to the latter category, provides a noticeable pop in your stride. Honestly, running in the Zoom Fly Flyknit feels almost as if you’re running on springs. Several have commented that my running form appeared distinctively bouncy when I ran in the shoes. From a first-person perspective, I can’t help but agree; I felt as though there was a tiny explosion in the shoe that lifted my foot with each stride.
Durability-wise, I’m confident that React would last beyond 600km. Although wrinkles have appeared in the midsole, these signs of wear are purely cosmetic. I actually like how it mimics the wrinkled look of Zoom X. After more than 285km in the Zoom Fly Flyknit, React still feels brand new. It is still able to deliver the same softness and responsiveness today as when I first brought the shoes out for a run. Definitely a plus compared to other midsole offerings on the market today.
FULL LENGTH CARBON FIBER PLATE: The Propulsion Sensation is real!
Because of the carbon fiber plate embedded within the React foam, the Zoom Fly Flyknit is an incredibly stiff shoe. Think of a heavily cushioned track spike – that’s basically what the Zoom Fly Flyknit is. I could hardly bend the shoe at all with my hands! The plate, in turn, acts like a spring when compressed, releasing all the stored energy and ‘propelling’ you forward.
This, I believe, is the reason why Nike decided on a 10mm drop – the differential allows for more energy to be stored when your heel presses down against the plate during each foot strike.
When running fast (tempo pace), the propulsion sensation is prominent. It feels almost as though the shoe has taken control of your legs, forcing you to increase your cadence just to keep up. If you’re thinking that that’ll be exhausting, consider this:
Based on an analysis of my heart rates across different training runs, it turned out that I actually exerted lesser effort in keeping with a faster pace. In fact, all of my runs in the Zoom Fly Flyknit featured a faster-than-average pace compared to runs in my Altras. The difference ranges from 15s to 25s faster per kilometre. I kid you not (my Strava records are proof!).
If this occurred only a handful of times, I would’ve postulated a mere placebo effort. But for the results to replicated across more than 20 runs? That cannot be a coincidence. I thereby conclude that the Zoom Fly Flyknit has somehow improved my running economy by X%. This is excellent news for those (like me) who are unwillingly to shell out $350 for a pair of Vaporfly 4%.
However, the stiffness of plate is also the Zoom Fly Flyknit’s greatest drawback. While the shoe excels at faster-paced runs, slower runs in the Zoom Fly Flyknit can be uncomfortable. In my experience, the plate works against you if you’re going ‘slowly’ (I’m talking about easy-paced recovery runs). Specifically, it feels as though your feet are restricted in its natural motion as insufficient force is generated to bend the plate at easy pace.
The carbon fiber plate is stiff; your feet are trying to bend them, but they just wouldn’t give. There are only two outcomes of this:
 You’ll end up running faster than planned, defeating the very purpose of having a recovery run.
 You’ll want another recovery run to recover from this recovery run.
Alas, this is not a worry for faster runs as sufficient force is generated to bend the plate, resulting in the shoe’s distinct propulsion sensation.
Granted, the Zoom Fly Flyknit isn’t designed with easy runs in mind; it’s an up-tempo shoe worthy for racing. However, it also means that the Zoom Fly Flyknit simply isn’t a versatile shoe capable to handling a variety of paces.
It’s built for one purpose only: getting from Point A to B as fast as possible.
FLYKNIT: Breathable, Dries Fast, Stretchy
Last but not least, the Flyknit is a welcomed update to the Zoom Fly. This is actually my first experience with Flyknit and I have to say that it’s one of the best uppers I’ve tried. Thin, breathable and stretchy, the Flyknit essentially conforms to your feet, acting as a sock. As I have a habit of washing my shoes after long runs (they get soaked ☹), I took it as an opportunity to test how quickly Flyknit dries. As it turned out, Flyknit is the fastest-drying upper I’ve ever used (it took less than a day to get from dripping wet to dry). I could wash the Zoom Fly Flyknit in the morning with the confidence that the shoes will be ready to go by the evening.
That’s how amazing the drying property of Flyknit is.
While the Zoom Fly Flyknit is by no means a wide shoe, Flyknit does stretch over time. This allowance is appreciated by wider-footed runners like me who often struggle to find racing shoes with a decent foot width. I even found that my toes had some wriggle room in the Flyknit; the mesh upper of the previous model constricted my toes. For my wider-footed brethren, fret not – the Zoom Fly Flyknit is a shoe that I believe you can get away with. The stretchiness of Flyknit, however, comes at a cost of lacking in stability features. This is noticeable especially at the heel collar where I can detect a slight heel-lift and movement of my heel whenever I make turns around the track. While my heel never actually slipped out of the shoe, this slippery sensation does contribute to an overall sense of insecurity for the foot. It also means that there’s some energy being ‘wasted’ in every stride. Fortunately, I had no issues having a good forefoot and midfoot lockdown.
Alas, the biggest issue for the Flyknit construction is the height of the heel collar. This is the only reason why I’d advise against going sockless in the Zoom Fly Flyknit.
Without the protection of mid-length socks, the heel collar would undoubtedly saw through my Achilles tendons. Heck, I even had a minor cut despite wearing mid-length Compressport socks. While this issue subsided over time (either the Flyknit somehow got softer or my skin got thicker), I made a mental note never to wear shorter socks whenever I take the Zoom Fly Flyknit out for a run. For your own sake, I implore that you do the same.
Wear. Higher. Socks.
Other miscellaneous details that no shoe company ever talks about… But runners care about.
There are two other details of the Zoom Fly Flyknit that warrant some attention.
First, the insole. Unlike Altra, Nike uses an open-cell foam insole that is softer and generally more durable (reverts back to its original form after use). The outcome is a softer insole that adds to the plushiness of React. The drawback is that open-cell foam insoles tend to absorb moisture like a sponge, resulting a squishy noise whenever the insoles are soaked. While this does not impede the shoe’s performance in any way, the noisy squish squish squish of each step can get really annoying over time. Not to mention the general disgust felt when one runs on wet sponge. Unfortunately, because the insole is, well, inside the shoe, it’s unable to dry as quickly as you’d like. In other words, be prepared to have a relatively squishy shoes for long runs in Singapore’s infamous tropical heat.
Top-Left: Zoom Fly Flyknit’s insole (Top)
Top-Right: Zoom Fly Flyknit’s insole (Bottom)
Left: Open-Cell Insole (Notice the pores)
Secondly, the outsole. The Zoom Fly Flyknit provides ample rubber at the forefoot and heel to improve the shoe’s durability (which is outstanding, by the way). As a forefoot runner, my prime consideration for an outsole is whether it provides sufficient traction under both dry and wet conditions. While the outsole thread pattern for the Zoom Fly Flyknit isn’t particularly aggressive, it does provide decent grip on most paved surfaces regardless of the weather.
However, the shoe’s grip does not fare well once off-road. I found that even on grass fields, the shoe’s traction noticeably declined. In fact, the Zoom Fly Flyknit felt slippery whenever it’s not used on the road. Combined with the absence of ground feel, my confidence in using the shoes for anything other than the road or track is shaky at best. Personally, I would never take the Zoom Fly Flyknit out on the trails despite its racing potential.
Left and Right outsoles after 288km of use.
Being a dominant forefoot-striker, the heel rubber remains in pristine condition.
Comparisons to similar Nike offerings?
Zoom Fly vs. Zoom Fly Flyknit
The Zoom Fly’s Lunarlon midsole is harder and bottoms-out quicker than React. While the nylon plate isn’t as stiff as the carbon fiber plate, the Zoom Fly does succeed in providing a similar propulsion sensation at higher paces (but suffers the same drawback at relaxed paces). The combination of FlyMesh and Flywire provides a more secure foot lockdown but loses out to the stretchiness and breathability of Flyknit.
Forget the Zoom Fly; for a $10 increment, you’ll get a significantly better shoe.
Zoom Fly Flyknit vs Vaporfly 4% Flyknit
Zoom X is the unicorn of Nike. Marketed as having an 85% energy return, Zoom X is not only Nike’s lightest foam, it is also the most responsive. And most expensive. Still, Zoom X suffers in terms of durability compared to React. Runners lucky enough to own the Vaporfly 4% are forced to treat the shoes as gold, only taking it out for the occasional race. For a $350 pair of shoes, that’s sad. Unless you’re an elite professional who’s gunning to win the competition (not merely break some personal best), I do not think it’s a wise idea to spend so much on a pair of shoes that aren’t meant for amateur runners in the first place. It is true that the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit would outperform the Zoom Fly Flyknit. But it is also true that the Zoom Fly Flyknit is already race-worthy shoe in itself. For the limited use you’ll get out of the Vaporfly 4%, I just don’t see a compelling enough reason to purchase a pair unless for the reason I already stated.
The Left-fielder: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35
As a foil to the Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit, there are also the recently-launched Nike Pegasus 35, and Air Pegasus 35 Turbo. Will they work as training shoes to complement the competitive power for the Zoom Fly?
Check out our summary of them here.