Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Long-Term Review of Vibram FiveFinger Speed

Simply put, it's the best Vibram model offered.  But nothing's perfect, so I have a review to write. ;)

I was told by a Vibram employee that the Speed was being brought to the United States in the summer, which is a long-overdue development.  I was asked not to disclose this information, so I kept mum, but since Birthday Shoes is now reporting the news, I feel free to confirm it.

Speed work, from Birthday Shoes

The impression I had in this post has been confirmed, with a caveat.  The Speeds are indeed not only the best-looking FiveFingers, and I'll include all the current and prospective models in that statement, but also the best for running.

As far as the looks go: people don't notice them.  As amusing as I find peoples' reactions to Vibrams, it does slow you down sometimes.  It's nice to have a stealth toe-shoe, and the Speed delivers.  And they're just downright good-looking.

As far as performance goes, they have the Bikila sole, but without the Bikila's extra EVA padding under the forefoot.  This improves ground feel and also maintains the natural dynamics of the foot, which I found to be lacking in the Bikila.  (I've not worn my Bikilas once since getting the Speeds.)  They also have a better, more comfortable interior than the Bikila.  I found that the strap attachment points on the Bikila caused me some blistering issues, especially if I snugged the strap down.  I like a snug feel across the instep.  I have had some minor irritation issues in the Speeds, from the seams around the laces, but it's been much better than my experience with the Bikila.

Compared to my other favorite running Vibram, the KSO, the primary advantage is the much more comfortable interior.  It's plush.  The KSOs have slightly better ground feel, but worse traction on slippery surfaces, so it's a trade-off (this is the caveat).  I've been reluctant to use the Speed as a trail shoe, due to their pretty exterior and white interior, but I have used the Bikila (which has the same white exterior and interior; Vibram, what were you thinking?), and the Bikila sole has just enough extra traction to be superior on the trail to the KSO, especially in slippery conditions.

When I ran the Reach the Beach Relay Race this fall, these were the shoes I chose to wear.  With a pair of Injinji crew socks, these were flawless.  Just enough protection to be able to run over gravel at night, and no blistering or abrasion issues whatsoever.  Of course none of my team-mates could believe I was going to run the whole thing in these, and I did bring my New Balance MT100s along just to play it safe, but I had no need for them.  The lacing does an excellent job of locating the foot in the shoe, and as I volunteered to do the worst downhill section in the race, this was an important consideration.  They did not disappoint.  (I'd tested downhill running in them in Colorado over the summer.)

I've tried to wear the KSOs a bit more since finishing that race, due to the superior ground feel.  I especially prefer the KSOs on tough trail runs, since they give the feet an extra workout that I really enjoy.  (Yes, I also have a pair of KSO Treks, but I find them to be just too much except for the roughest conditions.)

But the Speeds remain the first pair of shoes that I reach for in the Vibram line.  They're not perfect, but they're marvelous.

P.S.  The laces.  The first time that I saw the Speed I thought it was freaky.  The laces make it look like a regular sneaker, but it has toes.  Downright bizarre. 

I absolutely love the laces.  They make them a snap to put on (hence the "Speed" name, perhaps?), and even with socks on it's easy to get a good fit.