Friday, July 08, 2016

Review Brooks Mazama - A PR Race Machine

Article by Jeff Valliere
9.3 oz/ 264 g US Mens 9, 6mm drop (23mm heel, 17mm forefoot)
October 2016 general release. $140. Available now at REI

I have run in 4 or 5 different versions of the Cascadia (11,10,4,5,6) and the Pure Grit 3.  While I very much enjoyed both models, each had their unique or common limitations, such as weight, speed/agility, responsiveness, traction, torsional flex, etc….  Both shoes fit me very well and I appreciate the fit, quality and protection, but neither begged to go fast and only the Pure Grit could handle a bit of speed when pushed.  

A recent run with my friend Scott revealed that he has been working with Brooks for a number of years to make a shoe that was lighter, faster and more performance oriented (yet still maintain similar levels of protection and cushion as the Cascadia for long distances). Enter the Mazama, the realization of Scott's dream shoe. Below, Scott and I talk Mazama on a recent outing on Green Mountain in Boulder. This guy has some serious credentials, if you have to ask, well then....

Upon first unveiling, I was struck by the vibrant neon yellow of my test pair.  Though I typically prefer more subdued shoe colors, I really like the yellow on the Mazama.  Coupled with it’s sleek and refined design, this shoe looks screaming fast and race ready.
The Mazama feels quite light in the hand and upon lacing them up on my feet, I knew immediately that this shoe was going to be a hit, as they felt light, springy and were practically revving to get out on the trail and go FAST!

The double layer mesh upper consists of a very effective pattern of multi-directional overlays that provide excellent structure and great support. I really appreciate this approach, as a broad web of overlays help to increase structure/support while effectively distributing pressure. Ventilation is excellent, as I ran in the Mazama on days in the mid 90's and never once thought about my feet being the least bit too warm.
Nice and airy in here
The rubber toe bumper is sturdy and can handle rock stubs well, but is not the least bit intrusive.
The laces are somewhat thin, but have just the right give and integrate perfectly with the lace eyelets, enabling perfect snugness on the first try. Even on longer, more technical runs, I have not had them come loose whatsoever.
The gusseted tongue is thin and minimal, with essentially no padding, but is quite effective and comfortable. There is even a lace garage built into the front of the tongue, though I never once remembered it while running or felt a need to use it.
Moderate padding in the heel, light and forgiving while providing excellent heel hold and comfort.
Initially, I thought the Mazama was a bit long and narrow, they certainly look it, but I found them to fit quite well, even a bit roomy in the forefoot, plenty of space for splay/swell, yet still provide very good control in technical terrain with no unwanted movement.
Length is a touch long, maybe by 1/4 of a size, but I never found it to be an issue and in fact, over time, came to appreciate the added space.
The heel cup is minimally padded and for the most part, flexible around the collar and a bit more rigid lower down, with very adequate support and protection (especially for such a pared down shoe).

Midsole & Outsole 

Though the midsole is somewhat on the medium to thinner end of the spectrum, I found it to be very substantial and surprisingly adequate for longer distances. Cushioning is firm, but has a enough give to smooth the ride, even at faster paces on hard pack, pavement and rock.
This thinner midsole also helps facilitate a very low to the ground feel and equates to an amazing sense of control and stability at any speed, on just about any terrain no matter how technical.
Editor's Note: The Mazama has the decoupled mid foot design of the road Neuro (review here) which Brooks describes as follows: "Decoupled midfoot design allows the heel and forefoot to move independently for a powerful push-off"
Brooks has added what they call a propulsion plate to the Mazama, which sits below the forefoot midsole foam. I was admittedly unsure what to expect here, but was pleasantly surprised, even somewhat amazed at how well this shoe pops at toe off. I felt it to be a benefit at just about any speed on any surface, but for me, it really shined on the uphills when I was pushing hard.
The propulsion plate also doubles as a very effective rock plate, which I found to be nearly as protective as a Cascadia.
The Mazama is super stiff fore and aft, but does have good torsional flex.  Despite being stiff though, it is not board like and there has been no heel rub.


The outsole on the Mazama performs quite well and is extremely versatile. The directional lug pattern and depth are such that they provide excellent traction in most conditions.
Being that I tested the Mazama in June, I mostly ran in dry conditions, however I was able to test the Mazama on a favorite test piece run an hour from home, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak, two 14,000 foot summits that straddle the Continental Divide.
Here I was able to find a bit of mud, wet rock and several sustained patches of snow, as well as dirt road, technical singletrack, scree and talus. The Mazama hooked up quite well on all of it, where I felt confident pushing my limits and never had a slip or moment of doubt or hesitation. The rubber compound is sticky enough to work well in the wet and cling to just about anything. The lugs are also low profile enough that the Mazama can easily handle handle spirited sessions on the road.
I initially worried that the large gaps in the forefoot outsole (where you can see the propulsion plate/rock plate) would pick up small stones, but I have yet to have that happen.
It has been very difficult for me to come up with any dislikes or areas where I could deduct any points for the Mazama, but over time, one did eventually emerge. Around the 35-40 mile mark, I started to notice significant tread wear in the forefoot of the shoe where I toe off. I will confess to running primarily steep and rocky trails here in Colorado, but that is the case with all of my runs in all of my shoes and this level of wear occurred very quickly. I have yet to notice any compromise because of it and the tread behind where I toe off is holding up very well still.
Wear in the rear 3/4 of the shoe is minimal.

The Brooks Mazama is a serious speed demon and screams to go fast. These are geared for racing on just about any terrain, at almost any distance, as they are light, stable, comfortable, well cushioned/protected, have great traction and unprecedented response at toe off. I think this shoe will satisfy those looking for the most high end performance on race day, PR attempts, uptempo runs, or just a shoe that is light and spirited for everyday training runs. Tread wear was my only real concern with this shoe, but as I noted above, I do run steep rocky uphills almost exclusively, so premature tread wear at toe off is not a complete surprise. For those who runs less rocky, less steep terrain, I don't think tread wear would be as much of a concern.

Score: 4.8 out of 5
-0.1 for tread wear
-0.1 for being a bit long in the toe

Quick Comparisons:
New Balance Vazee Summit  (RTR review. here Jeff's Score 4.7)
Both are quite light and have great cushion/protection for such light shoes.  The Mazama is more responsive and the upper gives a bit better foothold.

Saucony Peregrine (RTR review here. Jeff's Score 4.65)
Similar weight, fit, response and overall feel, but would give the performance edge to the Mazama because of slightly better rubber compound and response, however the Peregrine may be more durable over time.

Salomon Sense Pro 
Both are light, fast and versatile with similar ride height and tread depth.  Cushion is slightly better in the Mazama and is a bit more responsive.  Upper fit advantage goes to Salomon (have not yet tried the Sense Pro 2)

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra SG 
The upper of this shoe is hands down the best I have ever experienced, so hard to top.  However, I would prefer the Mazama most days because of slightly more forgiving cushion, comfort and response.  If I were in steeper, off trail conditions, I would opt for the Ultra SG for traction and slightly better control in technical terrain.

Hoka One One Speed Instinct 
I have not run in the Speed Instinct yet, but just my initial impressions from trying them on is that this shoe will be a close competitor.  Similar well supported upper and overall flex of the shoe.  The Speed Instinct seems to have a bit better cushion (a higher stack at least) and the outsole appears to be more durable.

From top to bottom, all under 10oz (US Men's Size 10) Salomon Sense Pro, New Balance Vazee Summit, Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra SG, Hoka One One Speed Instinct, Brooks Mazama, Saucony Peregrine 6

The Brooks Mazama was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
All Photos Credit: Jeff Valliere

Reviewer Bio
Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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Kevin Douty said...

good overview. If you've had a chance to run in the speed instinct, how would you compare it to the Mazama. I'm looking for a 100k shoe... any thoughts on the Mazama at that distance?

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks Kevin and thanks for reading. I am currently testing the Hoka Speed Instinct (so stay tuned for a full review soon), but just going off my initial impressions, (I have 20-25 miles on them), I think it is a great shoe, but it has some key differences from the Mazama to consider.

Both are about the same weight, traction is similar, both fit me very well, are stable, comfortable, well cushioned/protected and I could see running a 100k in either one, no problem.

The Mazama has a more lively and responsive feel to them, especially on the uphill and when pushing the pace. Though cushioning is less than the Speed Instinct and a bit more firm, it has better protection if you are running on rocky terrain. I found that while running on my usual rocky trails in Colorado, I would get the occasional zinger in the heel with the Speed Instinct despite the added cushion, as there seems to be a foamy unprotected area in the center of the heel. Not a huge deal, if you are running smoother trails, it actually may never happen.

One other consideration, I find that the Speed Instinct is a bit warm, at least a good bit warmer than the very well ventilated Mazama.

Though much shorter than a 100k, I am racing the Barr Trail Mountain Race on Sunday (12.5 miles/~3,800 vert.) and will be using the Mazama. It was a toss up, but I find that when I am wearing the Mazama, I feel like the shoe is just taunting me to go my fastest and push my hardest and it will handle it. Though I do like the Speed Instinct, I have not yet felt that feeling.