Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Review Brooks Running Neuro- Bold, Radical, Concept Shoe. Does it Work?

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor Road Trail Run with Peter Stuart
Brooks Running Neuro

The Brooks Neuro is, on the surface, a 9.4 oz/266g, Women's 8 7.9oz/224g performance oriented trainer in Brooks Running's Propel Me speed category. 6mm drop. $129.95. Available March 2016. Fits true to size.

Brooks usually carefully iterates existing models with few radical concepts.  The Neuro is the most radical shoe I have seen from them since their Pure line launched what seems like an eternity ago in 2011.

By no means conventional, the shoe is packed with many new concepts and some innovation:
  • a wild outward appearance, 
  • a podded midsole outsole deeply carved out all the way to a very soft thin layer below the sock liner with a stiff skeletal forefoot and heel plates sitting just below the foot, 
  • a Dynamic Hammock system to support the mid foot,
  • most especially the Gearing Mechanism, a highly flexible rear of mid foot flex. The Neuro is by no means a conventional trainer design given this feature alone! 
Brooks Running

How well do all this work? And key doe it all work together?  The verdict, a "collection" of great new concepts, leading to a very fine speed trainer, but not a huge overall wow in this first iteration. We think some tuning is required.

Of course this is one shoe where the appearance is striking. Usually we don't focus on shoe "looks" but the Neuro is to put it mildly, distinctive.  A finely decorated somewhat "technical" looking upper of firm, thin mesh tops massive looking pods.
Brooks Running Neuro

Under the foot, more surprises,  the pods have deep carve outs running essentially to a thin layer of foam and fabric below the sock liner, literally no midsole in those white areas, a skeletal look and design. A fairly stiff but not entirely rigid brown plastic plate provides a platform between the landing and take off zones and the midsole/outsole.
In  a neat trick to the eye from the expected, the outsole black areas inside the pod rings, usually the harder material in shoe are actually made of the softer midsole pod pillar material, Brooks' BioMoGo DNA and the white rings and pads are very firm outsole material.
Brooks Running Neuro

Gearing Mechanism
Most uniquely the shoe flexes very easily, way back, at the second lace hole.
Brooks Running Neuro

Brooks calls this the Gearing Mechanism and describes it as follows: "The Gearing Mechanism works by allowing the heel and forefoot to move independently. Instead of being forced to move together (or limited) by the shoe, the Gearing Mechanism lets the runner move from heel to toe quickly and get a powerful toe-off."

Forward and rear of the flex point is quite stiff, reinforced by the brown plate seen below the midsole. At the midfoot one can twist the shoe with a completely free flex forward at the pivot point and also side to side but with a bit more flex of the front of the shoe towards the medial side than lateral side as the gap between pods at the flex point is greater on the medial side than lateral side. We assume this is to help direct the foot towards the inside for efficient toe off.

Brooks Running Neuro

The Dynamic Hammock cords, the lace holder yellow and black straps, sit below the outer white mesh and wrap under the foot and even back to the heel. The foot hold is outstanding, especially so considering the carved out midsole and high flexibility area at mid foot.  We feel this is achieved by the combination of the Dynamic Hammock and the fairly stiff upper material. The lace tightness can be adjusted individually in relation to their associated cords.

Very Flexible Yet Stable and Firm
Seeing the shoe without the details above or maybe even with the details above one might conclude this is a very soft flexible shoe, maybe one with poor stability. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neuro is plenty stable as a neutral trainer.
Neuro is stable and quite firm- noticeably so if one runs slowly back on the heels.  The white outsole material and pods are pretty much continuous from heel to toe, interrupted of course by the flex point and the gaps in the midsole, contributing to a firmer but not unpleasant ride. The materials themselves (outsole and pods) while firm feeling on the run are actually on the softer side.  The heel geometry design, mirroring the Brooks Pure line, does not have much of an overhang for a heel striker's comfortable lay down as for example many of the adidas Boost shoe do. The heel is rounded up and there is a firm and narrow landing back there.
Brooks Running Neuro
Brooks Running Neuro
What running styles and paces may Neuro be good for?
Neuro could also be called a "form training" shoe as it encourages keeping the landing forward so as to transition to the long fairly stiff platform in front of the flex point. Neuro does not have a smooth heel to toe transition for all speeds and stride types as for example Hoka can have. Land way back on the heel at a slow pace and it does not feel great, a landing with a thud and no where to go.  You need to run it correctly, accentuating a close to midfoot landing and rapid transition to toe off, all done with some focus, a good thing. The faster I went, with focus, finding the sweet spot was quite easy and I must the alternatives slow heel striking plod did not feel nearly as good!
Interestingly, I think the Gearing Mechanism has made the Neuro a really good walking shoe for me. It was outstanding on continuous climbs on the treadmill but somewhat less comfortable and responsive on downhills if I got to far back on the heels. Others have reported it is very good on trails but I haven't tried them on the dirt.

What would I change
The upper is flawlessly constructed with overlays indistinguishable from the underlying mesh. The upper could be softer, in particular in the areas of the plastic lace holder overlay- all the upper overlays are a  a continuous single piece of the same overlay material bonded to the mesh, incredible precision construction. I noticed a bit of pressure over the very front of the lace holder due to the thick overlay there. A somewhat softer more breathable toe box, maybe achieved by removing some of the overlays, could also improve front of the shoe flexibility. The thin lightly padded tongue could be a bit longer or have an attachment elastic gusset to the upper.
Brooks might also consider "joining" the rear and front sections at the Gearing Mechanism flex with something more substantial  than the thin foam fabric in the center of midsole. This might assist in transitions at slower speeds.  The front stiff plate might be made a touch more flexible or the pods or some of the pods more deeply channeled upfront to give some more flex. Finally a heel design closer to the Launch 3 or Transcend 3 with less of an abrupt curve up and more of an overhang to the back might help those of us, like me, who do get back on our heels with the landing, more than on occasion...
Peter: I run in Los Angeles. I had a major beef with the breathability of the upper on this shoe. I don’t usually notice breathability issues, but this thing was a sweatbox by about 4 miles in.

Neuro vs. Altra Impulse
The Altra Impulse is livelier at speed for me as its long fairly stiff flex seems to achieve some of the same gearing as the Neuro. Prefer the 6mm drop of the Neuro to the zero drop of the Impulse Prefer the snug upper hold of the Neuro despite its stiffness and breathability issues.

Neuro vs. Nike Lunar Tempo 1
Both shoes are flexible and both have mid foot cords or straps but the ride and fit are completely different. Whereas the Neuro is firmer and more directed, the Lunar Tempo is slipper like with a very flexible toe area. The Neuro a very pronounced flex point further back and is stiffer upfront. Prefer the Neuro for faster running despite the additional weight and Lunar Tempo for longer slower comfort runs
Neuro vs. Ghost 8
The midsole feel is very similar to the Ghost, a bit deadened, both sharing BioMoGo DNA .  Prefer the more conventional heel geometry of the Ghost to the Neuro's and the Neuro's forefoot to the Ghost's. The Neuro has a distinctly more responsive transition at speed.  Ghost for slow, very easy runs, Neuro for tempo. Overall nod to the Neuro if you are a faster, forefoot runner.
Neuro vs. Salming Distance
About the same weight. Similar firm ride with Salming firmer. Salming transitions are somewhat hampered by stiff mid foot plastic elements and stiff forefoot. Both shoes that favor a faster tempo. Would give the nod the Distance for shorter fast runs and Neuro for longer runs due to it additional cushion.
Neuro vs 890
Peter: These two shoes both have lots of pod action going on. The ride, by memory as I didn’t have the old 890 v3 to do a side-by -side comparison, is actually pretty similar too.

Peter: I really like the ‘gearing mechanism’ and think it’s a harbinger of good things to come. While this shoe looks like it would be stiff to run in, that gearing mechanism really allows the flex. I’m a midfoot/forefoot guy and really enjoyed the relatively snappy ride of this shoe.
Sam: The Brooks Neuro is a bold  shoe packed with new concepts and innovation. While a bit stiff we liked the upper and the great hold of the Hammock System. The Hammock is a keeper. The ride is on the firmer side but is well cushioned.  The Gearing Mechanism favors mid foot strikers at faster tempos and cadence. They are not much fun at slower paces back on the heels. This is a good shoe to practice form with. While unconventional in design, the Neuro at pace runs quite conventionally and is stable and responsive.  We particularly liked its climbing abilities where the Gearing Mechanism feels like an advantage. We expect many of the concepts to be tuned and appear in future Brooks models in true concept car fashion!

Sam's Score: 4.65 out of 5
-0.2 for slower speed heel striking transition performance
-0.1 for upper stiffness and breathability
-0.05 for weight as a modern performance trainer.

The Brooks Neuro were provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions in this review are entirely the authors.

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