Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Brooks Running Launch 4 Review: Smoother Running. Softer and More Flexible Upfront. Lighter

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor Road Trail Run

Brooks Launch 4
9.0 oz/255 g (M9); 7.5 oz/213 g (W8)
10mm drop, 27mm heel/17mm forefoot
$100. Available January 2017
Brooks Launch 4
The Brooks Launch 4 trainer drops almost an ounce to 9.0 oz/255 grams compared to the Launch 3 (review here), improves the heel landing, softens the forefoot rubber, increases flexibility while largely retaining its snug foot hold and plenty of toe height volume. The result is a Launch that I truly enjoy running in as a well supported yet relatively light daily trainer. Best of all it remains at a very fair $100.


Upper and Fit
Brooks Launch 4
The fit is pretty much the same as far as I can tell. I was sized up half a size which worked just fine with thick or thinner socks, the rear of the shoe and narrow width snug foot opening really is key to foot hold. I wish all shoes had a narrow foot opening at the back of the shoe.
LEFT Brooks Launch 3 ; RIGHT Launch 4 
At first glance it looks almost identical to its predecessor. There are subtle upper changes which include a softer material and shorter toe bumper, fewer 3D printed overlays in the area of the last lace holes but also a more substantial half height saddle.

The lace up is impeccable, the thick tongue, fat laces, and substantial overlays in the upper half of the saddle really hold the foot well and without any pressure points. Nothing noticeably different there.  The top box is slightly more comfortable due to the softer toe bumper material and removal of the last lace area overlays.
LEFT Brooks Launch 3 ; RIGHT Launch 4 
Midsole and Outsole
The overall geometry of the midsole appears largely the same as the Launch 3 with the same BioMoGo DNA midsole material, a blend of Brooks pace adaptive cushion material with the reliable and  environmentally friendly BioMoGo. Not sure what the difference is but the Launch 4 cushion and especially so at the heel is more dynamic, less lumpy and dead feeling. Likely changes in the heel geometry, see below for those changes.
LEFT Brooks Launch 4; RIGHT Launch 3 
The most noticeable and positive change is to the forefoot. Softer, more flexible due to deeper grooves, with a longer surface area with 4 channeled bands of softer rubber there is now plenty of cushion and a decently energetic toe off feel. The very firm black rubber at the toe is replaced with the same firmer rubber as at midfoot.
Brooks Launch 4
The firmer rubber of the Launch 3 combined with the 17mm stack made for a somewhat harsh cushion up front. Launch 4 silkier, easier to transition and forgiving now and in keeping with the training purpose.
LEFT Brooks Launch 4; RIGHT Launch 3 
The heel area also sees some subtle changes, what Brooks calls the U-Groove crash bad design, U as in You with deeper, bigger cavity to dissipate shock in the center of the heel, a bit more rear of the heel rubber coverage and more and deeper flex grooves.  It is hard to tell if the far less lumpier/ blockier heel landing is coming from the outsole or the change to DNA from BioMoGo DNA or some combination but I like the changes a lot!

The center of the outsole are where things don't go quite as well. The orange X shaped Midfoot Transition Zone is firm rubber and is for me a noticeable and firm "barrier" between heel landing and toe off for me, a discontinuity between a great heel and a great forefoot.  They are very torsionally rigid in the midfoot which I think overly restricts the foot especially as what comes next, the new forefoot, is flexible. Yes, it does provide some stability as do in that area the great adidas Boston 6 (review here) and Salming Distance D4 (review here) but here its to much, to wide I think, putting the shoe into the light stability category in some ways and with less of the impulse spring effect of the other two. Not a bad thing as those wanting a bit of stability or heavier runners will love the Launch 4.  I like a bit of guidance to toe off stability at mid foot but in the Launch 4 it momentarily interrupts the otherwise smooth flow.

Ride and Recommendations
Unlike the Launch 2, or even improved Launch 3 which were fine, long lasting shoes but uninspiring trainers for me, the Launch 4 is a shoe I am increasingly reaching for. The ride with the exception of the awkward midfoot transition zone it is superbly cushioned and relatively agile. The new, more flexible, softer forefoot really livens things up. Not the most energetic or fun of sub 10 oz trainers, Launch 4 is reliable, durable, fits me perfectly and is well cushioned for long miles. With its substantial mid foot transition zone it can also serve mild stability guidance needs and heavier runner seeking a light shoe.

Comparisons
Saucony Ride 9 (review here)
The Saucony Ride 9 has a firmer forefoot and heel feel and weighs 0.2 oz more. The Launch 4 upper is superior in fit and is less constricting over the metatarsals . Not quite as energetic or as smooth in transition as the Ride, which also has a mild stability feature, I would pick the Launch for easier slower long miles and the Ride for faster long runs.

adidas Boston 6 (review here)
0.2 oz lighter the Boston 6 is far more agile and energetic, bridging training and racing brilliantly. The Launch 4  is more supportive, less fun, and more cushioned and is a better choice as an every day trainer for less speedy runners or those seeking a more protective ride.

Sam's Score 4.75 out of 5
-0.25 for awkward firm transition at midfoot, interrupting what is otherwise a smooth ride.

Launch 4 was provided at no cost to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.


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