Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Reviews & Comparisons: Next Generation Stability Run Shoes-Hoka Infinite, Brooks Transcend 3, Skechers GoRun Forza

Article by Sam Winebaum Editor Road Trail Run

Introduction
Stability and support run shoes have traditionally relied on a very firm "post" and or plastic elements at the mid and rear foot to "control" pronation. I have never been able to stand this approach at all. Yet, my 2015 Shoe of the Year was the Altra Impulse (review here) a stability shoe without any post, relying on outsole pods and angle of the midsole to provide the stability. Brooks tested me with their new Stride Signature program at Outdoor Retailer (see here) and said that my obvious heel rotation(bottom left quadrant) could benefit from their Transcend 3 stability shoe, a shoe with a conventional single density midsole and no posts but with other stability features.

Brooks Running Stride Signature Analysis

Now I was curious, so I put the Brooks Transcend 3, the Skechers GoRun Forza, and Hoka One One Infinite, all stability shoes of what I am calling a Next Generation of stability shoes to the test. The Forza does have firmer foam on the medial side, a post, but it is only slightly firmer than the rest of its 5 GEN midsole. The Infinite and Transcend 3 both have single density midsoles and provide the stability by other means: the outsole, the width of the platform, the upper, and especially a form of cradle for the foot where midsole and upper meet wrapping up above where the foot sits.
Left to Right: Brooks Transcend 3, Hoka Infinite, Skechers Forza
Comparative Basic Stats


All 3 shoes provide stability features that are far less obtrusive and noticeable than traditional stability shoes. Here is the quick take:
  • The Brooks Transcend 3 is the most flexible overall and smoothest running from heel to toe. It runs the most like a conventional neutral shoe, relying on its Guide Rails where upper and midsole meet, a flared pod (green below) on the outsole, and a substantial heel counter for stability. It is the most expensive by $50 and built of very high quality materials. Likely one will see superb outsole miles and overall durability over time, especially for heavier runners. 
Brooks Transcend 3
  • The Hoka Infinite has the most pronounced feeling of  having mid foot stability elements at the midsole level, particularly at slower speeds, as the platform is very wide under mid foot.  It has the roomiest, highest volume toe box (the widest of any Hoka to date for me and of the three in this test) and is the lightest by almost an ounce. It is stiffer than the other two relying on the effective Meta Rocker geometry to transition from heel to toe off.  It has a 5mm drop while the other two drop in at 8mm.
Hoka One One Infinite
  • The Skechers GoRun Forza has the liveliest forefoot feel with firm and responsive heel cushioning. It is the only one of the 3 with a denser medial mid foot foam  to provide stability but it has by no means a post feel, having a smooth transition in feel from front to back, side to side. It runs lighter than its weight. The toe box is the narrowest but this is deceiving as the soft fabric like toe upper and soft bumper conform and hold my foot just right and it flexes and stretch well.




Outsoles 

Left to Right: Transcend 3, Infinte, Forza
The outsoles and platform width play a significant role in what is felt on the road. In the case of the Hoka Infinite(middle) the platform under mid foot, at its widest, is a full half inch wider than the Skechers (right) and a bit less than half an inch wider than the Transcend whose outsole is flared out from the midsole. The Hoka also appears to have a somewhat straighter last than the other two, a characteristic of stability shoes. No question for me that the mid foot support is most felt on the Hoka particularly at slower speeds and is least least felt on the Transcend.  All three shoes have good rubber thickness but the Hoka's is the thinnest at the heel. The Transcend and Forza have a more flexible outsole pattern upfront than the Hoka.

Midsoles

The Transcend midsole is Brooks' Super DNA. It is a great feeling midsole. Very cushioned yet not mushy, quite responsive, and the most flexible of the three. Heavy runners will not be quickly pounding it flat. It's a single midsole material with no firmer inserts. It runs very smooth from heel to toe when combined with that nicely segmented outsole and upper with minimal firm overlays. Take a few millimeters off the stack, and thus some weight too, and Transcend would be an incredible go fast and long shoe.

The Infinite midsole is injected EVA. The only other Hoka I could see listed with injected EVA is the SpeedGoat. All the others have compressed EVA or RMAT and EVA. As in the SpeedGoat ,the injected EVA in the Infinite is very energetic with lots of snappy rebound off the road. Unlike the SpeedGoat, or for that matter the Clifton, the Infinite midsole is firmer but in no way harsh at all.  I wish they put the same material in the Clifton on a narrower underfoot platform than the Infinite. Yes, the denser injected EVA adds some weight vs. compressed EVA but I had none of the unstable mushy at slow speed heel that I feel in the Clifton with the Infinite.



The Forza is the only shoe of the three with a dual density midsole of 5 GEN Resalyte, and it is brilliantly executed with a smooth, barely noticeable transition from softer laterally to firmer medially for that support.   I didn't care for the Strada where the stability was largely through a thick firm outsole material at mid foot. The shoe flexes very easily upfront but the flex stops where the firmer material starts on the medial side, so not a long flex, but the flex extends a bit further back on the lateral side where the midsole is softer. The black zig zag material in the photo above is the firmer Reslalyte and it extends towards the middle of the shoe generally under the yellow outsole in the picture below from what I can see.
It doesn't feel like much more under the arch than the usual Skechers M-Strike and quite frankly it is less noticeable than say the Ultra Road where the foot rolled off a soft heel and then bumped into the M-Strike for me. I believe the smooth transition is due to the fact the firmness of both materials is fairly close and the outsole at mid foot while significant in coverage is not to firm. The heel feel is particularly good. Firm and stable with very nice rebound, far better for me than the Ultra Road. Reminds me of... a slightly firmer Hoka Huaka heel, one of my favorite shoes of the last few years.

Midsole Upper Interface
Before we move to the uppers, we have a special category as the Infinite and Transcend rely in part for their stability elements on a foot cradle between the upper and midsole with the foot sitting below, the black below the blue upper in the next picture. The Transcend uses Brooks' Guide Rails. I worried this approach would make the shoe stiffer, as it does the Hokas, but this is not so as the height of the Rails tapers down towards the forefoot. With the flexible outsole this is why I called the Transcend the most "neutral" feeling of these three stability shoes. I do worry a bit that those with very wide feet will bump into the side of the rails towards the front of the toe box. I might have stopped the Rails a bit earlier or made them a bit lower yet towards the front.

The Infinite uses Hoka's tried and true Active Foot Frame where the foot sits deeply into the midsole for a "cup like fit". The Frame is somewhat higher onto the upper than in the Clifton 2,. With its wide platform and firmer midsole the Foot Frame surely contributes to making the Infinite a true stability shoe, yet one that is also suitable for more neutral runners. Despite the non profiled outsole the Infinite will likely be a very fine Ultra choice due to its stability, cushion and light weight.


Uppers
All three shoes have outstanding uppers. Their fits are slightly different. I have no issues with any of them and appreciate their comfort and great front to back foot hold.

The Infinite has the roomiest most polished upper on a Hoka yet for me and the roomiest most accommodating of the three tested. No awkward toe box. Plenty of noticeable toe splay room, very decent volume yet a good foot hold. A bit roomy and a bit loose for my taste but those with wider  and higher volume feet or planning Ultras are liable to be happy.  The dense mesh and overlays are noticeably softer than the Clifton 2. In particular the firm part of the toe bumper on the Infinite does not extend nearly as far back as on the Clifton 2. This said the Active Frame on the Infinite is a bit higher than Clifton's but I did not notice. The first toe overlay in the Infinite starts at the second lace hole whereas the Clifton's starts at the first lace hole for a more relaxed front of foot hold in the Infinite
Hoka Clifton 2 Left, Hoka Infinite Right
The Forza has a very soft fabric like upper similar to the new GoTrail Ultra 3. There are considerable seamless overlays at mid foot but they are not constricting.
At the toe, the fabric is soft as are the toe bumper overlays, the softest front upper and toe bumpers of the the three. The result is a very comfortable toe area with no slop or extra room making this the snuggest of the three and also in many ways the most comfortable toe area and for me the most agile and responsive.

The Transcend 3 upper, what can I say. This is a luxo, highly evolved upper. A very thin,fine "fishnet" like mesh sits above an inner layer with the white areas, actually laser cut out of the mesh below then adhered to an inner layer. The top fishnet is free floating. This should be the most breathable upper of the three and one that will drain well.

The heel counter is firm and substantial with outer TPU elements and it is long, by far the most substantial of the three. The heel collar towards the laces is well padded but not overly padded as many "premium" shoes are and has a layer of fairly black dense material on the outside below the foot entry area, which seems to provide additional support.


The result is support at the top of the foot and then lower via the Guide Rails where upper meets midsole with the center areas of the upper easily flexing and very conforming This combination along with the great midsole creates the smoothes, most flexible and cushioned ride from heel to toe of the three shoes tested.

The lacing system is outstanding in combination with the a firm but well padded tongue. There is no excess gratuitous padding one often sees in "premium" shoes. All function here, I think. At $170 you truly get what you pay with this upper.

Subjective Comparison
In an attempt to quantify what I felt running in these shoes I created the following table. Low score (1) is best for me. The differences between shoes were slight. They are all great shoes and all work well for me but they do have their differences.



Conclusions
  • The Brooks Transcend 3 is the most flexible overall, smoothest running from heel to toe of the three tested and runs the most like a conventional neutral shoe relying on its Guide Rails and substantial heel counter for stability. It is the most expensive by $50 and built of very high quality materials. Likely one will see superb outsole miles and overall durability over time, especially for heavier runners. 
  • The Hoka Infinite has the most pronounced feeling of mid foot stability elements at the midsole level, particularly at slower speeds, as the platform is very wide there. It has the roomiest, highest volume toe box (the roomiest of any Hoka to date for me) and lightest weight (as it has the lowest stack)  by almost an ounce of the shoes tested. It is stiffer than the other two relying on the effective Meta Rocker geometry for transition from heel to toe.  It has 5mm drop while the other two drop in at 8mm.
  • The Skechers Forza has the liveliest forefoot feel with firm and very responsive heel cushioning. It is the only one of the 3 with a denser medial mid foot foam  to provide stability but it has by no means a post feel, with a smooth transition in feel from front to back, side to side. It runs lighter than its weight. The toe box is the narrowest but this is deceiving as the soft fabric like toe upper and soft bumper conform and hold my foot just right and it flexes and stretch well.
Have you run the Transcend 3, Forza, or Infinite? What are your impressions?

The shoes in this review were provided at no cost to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely our own.

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8 comments:

ntyhurst said...

"Brooks tested me with their new Stride Signature program at Outdoor Retailer (see here) and said that my obvious heel rotation(bottom left quadrant) could benefit from their Transcend 3 stability shoe"
I feel like i'm missing something; 'benefit from' in what way? what is the claimed benefit of the stability features here?

Jeff Valliere said...

Nice reviews and comparisons. Though I do not need a stability shoe at all, I often don't mind them on the trails (perhaps liking other attributes of the shoe so much that I can easily overlook the stability aspects). I too really liked the Altra Impulse and it is good to see more manufacturers getting away from the post, which in my opinion could often make the shoe feel overly stiff, klunky and not particularly enjoyable to run in.

Andrew Burong said...

Really like this review Sam. Nice work

sam winebaum said...

Ntyhurst, The benefit for me from what I understand and feel running the Transcend 3 is that while I do not per say need the full posting of a stability shoe the alignment from the Guide Rails keep my heel from rotating out as much. I also feel I am tracking straighter overall while not being hamstrung by an overly stiff flex. Hope this helps. I have also asked Brooks bio-mechanist who designed the system and with whom I had not much time to chat at OR to chime in. Thanks for reading Road Trail Run.

Stephen Vivian said...

Thanks for the comparative review Sam. Very informative. I have been considering giving Hoka a try after someone recommended I try the Stinson. My issue is an arthritic big toe joint so I need to reduce flex and add some stability as I am a pronator. I need room in the toe box to accommodate a wide foot and swelling in the joint. All this being said, the Infinite sounds like a great option, esp. since flexibility is actually a negative for me since the big toe flex aggravates things. Supposedly the meta rocker should provide an assist for my condition although I don't understand how.

Does the shoe deliver the typical Hoka cush and how is the sizing on this shoe?

- steve

sam winebaum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sam winebaum said...

Hi Stephen, Thanks for reading! Infinite has customary Hoka cushioning. It is firmer than Clifton. It is stiff in the forefoot so that should help you. As far as width it is on the wider side for a Hoka, wider and higher volume upfront than Clifton. The mesh and overlays are quite soft and compliant. The only thing I might worry about for you is if the ridge of the foot frame might bother your toe. I don't feel it but have an average width foot. I am not familiar with recent Stinson. All in all worth a try. A fine shoe. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook at "roadtrailrun.com". The Running Shoe Geeks group on Facebook is another great place for advice. I am an admin and if I see your name come up will "admit" you. Sam

sam winebaum said...

Stephen, I would add the Infinite fit me true to size.