Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review Saucony Freedom ISO-Getting to the Essence. Low Slung, Energetic, Bouncy and Smooth. Best and Most Unique New Ride of 2016?

Article by Sam Winebaum and Peter Stuart

The Freedom ISO takes Saucony, and running shoes in general, in a new direction: low stack heights, a very smooth, continuous underfoot feel and ride, yet with plenty of cushion and bouncy response, topped off by a minimally structured but supportive upper, a new sort of "natural ride".

  • a low stack of 19mm heel/15mm forefoot made up of a single slab Everun TPU midsole, approximately 10% firmer than adidas Boost, and a slightly softer Everun top sole.
  • an outsole made of a single slab of a new translucent material called Crystal Rubber which also provides some underfoot structure. 
  • an ISOFit upper that is less structured than in other Saucony ISO models and with no heel counter.

The Freedom weighs Men's 9 9.0 oz/255 g, Women's 8.1 oz/ 230 g. It is a premium shoe at $160. It will be available in December 2016.
Saucony Freedom ISO
First Impressions
Sam: I don't usually comment on the look of shoes but the Freedom is striking.
The black color way with its camouflage silver and black  lines and speckling over a 3 D geometric pattern on the midsole wall transitions the upper color to the white outsole. This makes for a very stealthy, classy look, further enhanced by how low to the ground the shoe is. The translucent outsole with "Everun" showing through is a cool surprise.
Saucony Freedom ISO
There is also a very striking blue color way with orange and optic yellow color showing through the outsole we saw at Outdoor Retailer. (Saucony 2017 Preview here)
Saucony Freedom ISO
Sam: The on the run  result is a very smooth in transition, low to the ground feeling, a bouncy and relatively responsive ride with plenty of continuous feeling cushion, if a bit thin in the forefoot given the low stack. The Freedom has Saucony's ever evolving ISOFit upper, in this iteration less structured with minimal strap overlays and only a single Streamlined Support Frame strip of plastic for a heel counter.
As I described it after my first run it can thought of as the love child of a Boston Boost for under foot-bouncy cushion, New Balance Zante for simple 2 layer construction, and Nike Free or Lunar Tempo for unstructured yet supportive upper and relatively flexible natural feeling ride. For me it more than achieves and surpasses the strengths of each of these other shoes with the possible exception of lacking toe spring up front and being not quite as torsionally rigid as I would like.

Saucony Freedom ISO
The upper is made of engineered mesh with minimal overlays. The ISO upper design combines an inner slightly stretchy bootie integral to the tongue and then sewn down at the midsole. It is not connected anywhere to the outer ISO shell except for a tack at the level of the last lace loop.
Saucony Freedom ISO
This means the outer layer of engineered mesh and the 3 bands wrap the foot in a highly customizable way for different volume feet. Unlike the similarly priced but much more plushly cushioned Triumph ISO 3 (review here) or Zealot ISO 2 (review here)  the bands have minimal structure beyond thin strips of overlay along their edges.

There is no heel counter in the Freedom ISO. There is a single fairly soft strip of plastic, Saucony calls it the Support Frame to provide some rear of the foot structure. The rear heel label and Saucony logos on the sides are "black out" reflective material.
Saucony Freedom ISO
Sam: The Freedom fits me true to size. The fit is excellent for me. The ISO upper allows for a fit for different volume feet but I would not call them wide in the toe box.
Saucony Freedom ISO
Generally I find the more minimal ISO upper and bands works well, there are no pressure points anywhere with a smooth hold but might wish for a touch more substance to the band overlays to really hold the mid foot to platform.  I don't particularly miss a heel counter but might wish for a bit more substance, width and firmness to the Support Frame.  The tongue works extremely well, the ridged overlay providing grip for laces, a good interface between tongue and rest of upper, and just enough padding.

Peter: Fits true to size. The first thing that hit me when I stepped into the upper is how soft the materials feel. There’s a bit of stretch and step-in to the shoe feels great. I think they’ve finally figured out the whole ISO thing too. I’ve been really disappointed with the lacing and ISO on the Triumph and with the pro-lock on the Kinvara. It’s felt over-engineered, in the way and not particularly effective. That all gets solved here with the Freedom. The lacing is simple and effective, the materials pull taut and stay nicely in place around the foot. I like the tongue a lot too. It’s a bit reminiscent of the tongue of an Adidas Samba (just the little bit of rubber)-and provides just the right amount of padding. The upper completely disappears on the run.

Saucony Freedom ISO
Sam: In a first for Saucony, the entire midsole is made of a TPU material.  Saucony calls it Everun and it is formed by expanding beads of TPU with heat and pressure It is similar to adidas Boost but Saucony told us at Outdoor Retailer Everun is approximately 10 % firmer than Boost. Everun is moving in to most of Saucony's key performance shoes as a top sole just below the sock liner and in some shoes (Triumph ISO) also as a heel insert. Here it is the entire midsole.
There are no plastic reinforcing and stablizing elements as with adidas Boost shoes and by and large I do not miss them. The overall midsole feel is one of smooth consistency from heel to toe.  One cannot just comment on the feel of the midsole without looking closely at the outsole as the Freedom is an integrated 2 layer system and the outsole plays a key role, likely more so than in most shoes.

Peter: I must confess that while I really love the feel of this shoe, I’m not sure I notice any particular “bounce” to it. It doesn’t feel firmer than the Adios boost, that’s for sure. That said, I really like the feel of the Freedom. The Everun does feel even and runs super smooth.

Saucony Freedom ISO
The outsole is made of a translucent new compound called Crystal Rubber. It is a single slab of the same firmness from heel to toe with a solid substantial smooth landing zone at the lateral heel. The outsole appears to be of the same thickness from heel to toe. The chevron pattern lugs which Saucony calls Tri-Flex are similar in design to those in other current Saucony shoes but the chevrons here are narrower, with a consistent depth and fairly close in size from the heel landing pad all the way to the toe.
The firmness of the material seems to sit between what Saucony typically uses in the heel of current shoes and the softer forefoot areas. The result of the thickness, small chevrons, and single firmness material is a very consistent feel on the road from the outsole, from heel to toe.
So far the durablity has been excellent. The outsole to date has had excellent durablity after approximately 30 miles. Only very minor wear off of the very fine pattern in my usual heel wear area. I did note they were slippery when running on a wet wooden board walk.
Saucony Freedom ISO

Sam: The flex of the Freedom is somewhat unusual as a result of its outsole construction.  The forefoot area is not stiff it has a long flex, and is considerably more more flexible than say the Kinvara 7 but it also does not have the distinct toe spring of the adios Boost or New Balance Zante.  The flex point is further back than many shoes and similar to where it is in the Ride 9, near the front of the window through the outsole to the Everun midsole. In many shoes, including the adidas Boost this mid foot area is the location for some stabilizing elements.  Not here. The Freedom is not as torsionally rigid as the Adios Boost, Zante, or even Lunar Tempo.
Peter: Perhaps this is where the shoe gets its soft, quiet road feel. The outsole is flexible and soft (ish) and adds a nice layer of protection from the road. I wish it was just a hair thicker under the forefoot as I feel kind of fatigued on the balls of my feet when I take this shoe out over 10 miles. Interesting point about the toe-spring, Sam, I’ll take your word on the why. When I wear these side-by-side with a shoe like the lunar tempo I notice that I’m lingering on the forefoot of the Freedom for just a bit longer—so perhaps it is that the flex point is just a hair off. Glad you mentioned the slippery when wet factor. I noticed that when I run through a puddle these are a bit slippery, not On Cloudsurfer slippery, but a bit unstable. Haven’t run in rain, but would be a bit cautious in these.

Sam The article title says it all. Freedom ISO has  a unique and fun ride. Freedom runs comfortably at slower paces and at speed. The Everun midsole, Crystal Rubber combination is particularly smooth and  energetic with a distinct bounce off the road. Despite the low stack there is no noticeable vibration and shock while the cushioning is excellent.  New Balance's excellent Vazee 2090 also succeeds in reducing shock vibration with its N2 TPU layer but has a firmer less bouncy ride for me. The ride is definitely different than any Boost shoe I have run (adios, Boston, Energy, and Ultra). Saucony's TPU mix in Everun, combined with the outsole, seems to have achieved more bounce and a more fluid transition than Boost shoes, maybe due to it being slightly firmer.
Now taming Freedom... The bounce, the relatively unstructured ISO upper, lack of heel counter and relying on the outsole for stability makes the Freedom a bit wilder beast than the adidas, more natural feeling, with a bit more focus on form required by the runner to tame it all.

Peter: I’m a big fan of the ride of the Freedom. Sam, I think you got a bouncier pair than I did!!! Seriously, though, I don’t notice a ton of bounce, but I really like the smooth, quiet ride. They transition nicely, pick up speed really well and are just invisible on the foot. I’ve reached for them for most of my runs lately. I think they feel lighter than they are too. These feel natural without feeling minimal.

Recommendations and Conclusions
Sam: The Freedom ISO is a superb new addition to the Saucony line, not to be confused with any other Everun shoe in their line up or for that matter any adidas Boost shoe.  While not particularly light at 9 oz it is definitely a performance trainer but one without the usual shock and vibration of conventional EVA based shoes and with a distinctly energetic, bouncy ride. The simple construction in 2 layers made up of the Everun mid and top soles and Crystal Rubber outsole take some of the best of TPU midsoles (Boost) and simple two layer construction (NB Fresh Foam) and combine them in a new way with the result a unique and fantastic ride. The ISOFit upper contributes to the seamless feeling on the foot. I would only wish for a bit more toe spring and toe area stack and a bit more structure to the upper, particularly at the heel counter to make it an ideal marathon shoe for me. Otherwise this is a shoe I can't wait to run every day and one whose ride truly makes me smile. Highly recommended.

Peter: This is, by far, my favorite Saucony in the last few years. I’ll dare to say that this is way closer to what I want a Kinvara to be than the last few iterations of the Kinvara itself. Where that shoe has felt increasingly built up and over-engineered (especially pro-lock lacing), the Freedom feels natural and organic. I disagree with you Sam on the additional structure in the upper. I like the Freedom upper as it is. I do agree that a little toe-spring and a couple of mm under the forefoot would be great improvements to an already enjoyable shoe. It’s super fun to run in. My biggest beef with this shoe is the price. It’s hard to recommend a shoe that’s $50 more than the Nike Pegasus 33 or other somewhat similar shoes.
Overall I think the Freedom is a great addition to the rotation and I’d highly recommend them.

Sam's Score 4.85 out of 5
-0.05 for lack of toe spring
-0.05 for a bit more upper structure, particularly at the heel and more torsional rigidity
-0.05 for weight and price
Peter's Score 4.8 out of 5
-0.1 for lack of toe-spring/forefoot fatigue
-0.1 for price—It’s a lot of money for a daily trainer.

The Freedom weighs Men's 9 9.0 oz/255 g, Women's 8.1 oz/ 230 g. It is a premium shoe at $160. Available December 2016.

Peter: I tried to figure out what shoes this reminded me of and do a bunch of back to back runs and short bursts with a Freedom on one foot and another shoe on the other…

Freedom vs Kinvara 7 (review here)
Sam: The Kinvara 7 is far stiffer and has a more structured, snugger upper and firmer cushioning. Two completely different rides and interesting as Kinvara was the original more natural, low drop shoe from a major brand. The Freedom is more comfortable and smoother running all over from upper to the bouncy Everun underfoot, if a bit harder to tame if tired when form gets sloppy. 

Freedom vs. Zante v2 (review here)
Peter: As much as I’ve liked, and raved about the Zante, I think the Freedom beats it at its own game. Sure, the Freedom is heavier, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. Going back and forth between the two, the Zante feels stiff by comparison. The Freedom disappears on my foot in comparison to the Zante. The Zante does have a more aggressive toe spring, and feels a bit more cushioned under the forefoot.
Sam: I have only run in Zante v1. Clear nod to the Freedom. The Freedom has a far less constrictive upper. The underfoot on the run smoothness is similar but I miss the toe spring of the Zante. The Freedom is livelier and more cushioned if a bit less responsive and snappy. 

Freedom vs. New Balance Vazee 2090 (review here)
Sam The Vazee 2090 is the closest comparison to Freedom for me. Similar weights, prices, and both statement type shoes. The 2090 upper foot hold is superior to the Freedom's, the use of a vibration dampening layer effective over the firm Revlite but the ride and transition does not quite have the smoothness, bounce and leg friendly feel of the Freedom.

Freedom vs. Adidas Adios Boost 3 (review here)
The Freedom is made of much softer materials and is a more forgiving ride. I’d race in the Adios and when going fast I enjoy the torsional rigidity, but for a daily trainer the Freedom provides a smoother ride.
Sam: I agree with Peter's comparison, no question Freedom is more daily trainer and for me a more suitable marathon shoe than the adios, with adios a better shorter distance racer.

Freedom vs. Nike Lunar Tempo (review here)
Peter: These are the most similar ride I could find. They both run smooth and flexible and disappear on the foot. The Lunar tempo is considerably less expensive and seems to give me ever so slightly less forefoot fatigue. Edge goes to the Lunar Tempo.
Sam: The Lunar Tempo are like slippers, all over. I ran my last Boston in them and had happy feet. The Freedom is slightly better fitted in the forefoot and more speed ready. Despite the additional cost and weight the Freedom is a far livelier shoe with more personality and is more versatile for faster paces. 

Freedom vs. Nike Pegasus 33

These are sort of apples vs. oranges, but worth comparing. I like the Zoom Air Pod under the forefoot of the Nike, and find that for longer miles it’s more forgiving. The Nike certainly feels like more shoe than the Freedom and isn’t as fun to run in, but it’s a good workhorse and is considerably cheaper. I also noticed that I roll of the front of the Pegasus a little quicker than the Freedom.

Saucony Blog article about the Freedom ISO here

The Freedom ISO was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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