Sunday, June 18, 2017

In Depth Nike Zoom Fly Four Tester Review: Supa Fly, Supa Dupa Fly

Article by Peter Stuart, Derek Li, and Dave Ames with Sam Winebaum 

Editor's Note: We are thrilled to present this 4 way review of the Nike Zoom Fly. Our testers include Peter Stuart from Los Angeles, a "late" forties sub 3 hour marathoner, Derek Li from Singapore a 2:42 marathoner (PR at Boston), Dave Ames a well known distance running coaching coach and sub 3 hour marathoner from Boston, and Sam Winebaum, Road Trail Run editor whose annual goal is a sub 1:40 half.

The Nike Zoom Fly ($150) is an 8.4 oz marathon racer/lightweight trainer with a 33mm. heeland a 23mm forefoot. Nike describes being "designed to meet the demands of your toughest tempo runs, long runs and race day with a responsive construction that turns the pressure of each stride into energy return for the next". It's got a full length carbon infused nylon plate and a Lunarlon mid sole. 
The hype is that it's a stiff shoe that provides both speedy propulsion and cushioning. So how does it roll? Is it bouncy? Yes. Is it stiff? Hell Yes. Do we like it? Read on to see. Warning, don't judge this shoe on the first half mile of running in it. It may take a while to break in. 

Upper and Fit:
Dave: I generally wear a size 9 in everything I log my mileage in.  I like a snug, locked in fit no matter if it's a trainer or a racer.  The Nike Zoom Fly is just that.  From immediate step in feel, the Zoom Fly wraps my narrow foot like a glove.  I instantly fell in love with the fit.  The upper molds like any good running shoe in my mind, should, wrapping perfectly around my arch, while leaving enough room in the toe box for my toes to splay.  Heels were perfect.  No issues with the heel counter being too firm, which with me can cause some bruising and calcium buildups.  Being a former Skechers Performance sales guy, I can compare the upper and fit to the Go Run 5.

Derek: I sized up a half size based on Sam’s initial impressions (see RTR article here)  to a US10. For reference, I wear a US10 for the Lunaracer/Streak 6, and US9.5 for the Pegasus 33. With thin socks, the US10 gives me just a little over one thumb’s breadth spacing in this shoe, which is fine for a trainer but I think I would probably go true to size if I were to use it as a long distance racer. At 248g for a US10, it’s a little over the upper limit of what I would consider for a marathon flat, but the ride is just so unique that I am sure many would not hesitate to use it as such, if they could not find it in themselves to pony up for the Vaporfly 4%. 

The Flymesh upper is composed of two very thin mesh layers sliding over each other, with the flywires embedded between the two layers on either side of the midfoot. It is actually thinner and more ventilated than it looks in photos. In terms of thickness, it seems closest to the Zoom Elite 9. Similarly, the heel cup is not as rigid as I expected based on the pics, and does not extend as high up towards the heel collar as it suggests from photos; this was a nice surprise as I do not enjoy having very rigid heel support in uptempo shoes. 

The tongue seems to have the asymmetrical appearance seen previously in the Zoom Streak LT3, and which I really liked because the bifurcation of the flap sat nicely on foot’s tibialis anterior tendon and that helped to “seat” the tongue and prevent it from being displaced during a run. 

In terms of overall fit, I find it to be just the right width and volume in the arch and toebox, but with perhaps just a little too much volume for me at the heel. With the laces fully snug, I still feel a bit of heel slippage at faster paces. This is likely just a matter of personal preference, but I felt the heel volume in the Streak 6 to be perfect for my feet, though I know some people find it quite narrow. This is first flywire upper that I can lace up fairly snugly, without causing any hot spots or arch discomfort, so no major complaints there.

Sam: I was sized a half size up and fit is just right for me with cushion socks. With thinner socks, or if I used them as race focused shoe, I would go true to size. Overall fit is excellent, well held for such a thin upper over such a high stack shoe.
The toe box is wide open with no overlays beyond the Swoosh. The only toe bumper stiffener is the black rubber tab up front.
Peter: True to size for me. The upper wraps the foot really well, has room in the toe-box and I agree with Derek that the flywire works really well in this shoe. There's no slippage and the shoe feels like part of my foot. The only issue I have, depending on what socks I wear, is the height of the arch collar at the achilles. Wearing a no-show sock led to some pretty bad irritation on the achilles. It's a firm collar and rises up kind of high. That said, with socks that go a little higher there's no problem. The tongue, while super thin, does a good job of staying in place and I didn't encounter any pressure spots on top of the foot.

Midsole and Outsole:
Derek: On first wearing the shoe, I noticed a subtle bump just around the level of the met-heads and a quick dip and roll forward, as I lean forward from my heels towards my toes. I have previously experience this with shoes that sported a more pronounced forefoot rocker, e.g. MBT Speed, and less so with shoes like the Zante, which sports a graduated softness gradient from heel to forefoot. 
Derek: The outsole rubber appears to be fairly thin and flexible, and I have already generated a little bit of wear at the forefoot after only ~25 miles, so I don’t expect this shoe to be a mileage hog, which is a shame given its price point, but I accept that there are trade-offs to be made in these instances. The rubber is quite tacky, and seems to offer sufficient grip for road use, but given the wear rate, I would be wary of taking it off-road.

Sam: The midsole is Nike's Lunarlon foam with of course that embedded full length carbon infused nylon plate. The cushioning is outstanding, particularly in the forefoot where they truly have that "maximalist" cushioning comfort feeling sitting somewhere between a Hoka Clayton and Hoka Clifton but with less mush and more stability than the Clifton from the full coverage outsole rubber up front and a touch softer than the Clayton. I really full coverage forefoot rubber and the Zoom Fly's is for sure full coverage.

Sam: The heel has a narrow pointed footprint on the ground at the very rear from of course that now famous "aerodynamic" pointed shape which I reckon is really more about reducing weight...

It's not a particularly narrow heel over all, certainly wider than the Zoom Streak 6, but it tapers at the far rear sides. While the cushioning is fantastic at the heel, as a heel striker I wish for some more width back there, a more rounded less pointy far back of the outsole for landing stability. Elites and mid foot strikers will have less of an issue but for me the stack is high and the landing ends up narrow and a touch unstable at slower paces. I did find that expect for a touch of calf and achilles soreness my legs were remarkably fresh after shorter up tempo runs.

Peter: The midsole, made of Lunarlon, is not as soft as other lunar Nikes shoes. I'm guessing the plastic carbon infused plate takes the softness out of the shoe. The stack heights are high, but the ride is pretty firm. There's cushioning under the forefoot, but it's not in the least bit mushy. The outsole rubber has a surprising amount of traction (on all surfaces wet and dry) considering it's pretty smooth. The forefoot does tend to pick up some tiny little rocks, but nothing like the Lunar Epic.

Dave: The Lunarlon foam in the midsole is totally on point!  I used this shoe for a variety of work over the past week, including a 2 mile warm up, 5 miles Progression (6:10, 6:00, 5:45. 5:35, 5:30) and 2 mile cooldown, in which this shoe really began to show its true colors.  Plain and simple, it's freaking fast. Very Fast.  The forefoot cush, through the help of the carbon infused plate keeps mile after mile smooth.  I am coming off some down months from my past marathon (injured going into it) and even at cranked up pace, my stride was never out of control.  I did not have to search for the perfect landing.  At higher speeds in the Fly, if you get lazy, the shoe will remind you where your foot strike should be.  The Lunarlon foam kept my legs, fresh....never feeling beat up.
I do not see any signs of wear and tear on the Zoom Fly after a solid week of training.  I ran in all conditions including, high heat, humidity, road, gravel and some finely mowed grass.  The full coverage of rubber on the forefoot did not slip, even on the most humid mornings.

Derek: Running in them took a few minutes to get used to; the ride is unlike anything else on the market, and it is what I imagined an Altra Torin with a traditional drop would feel like. I do not notice the forefoot dip as much once I start running, but it is very obvious that the forefoot feels softer and bouncier than the heel and midfoot in this shoe (because of the proximity of the plate). Even though the shoe itself is fairly rigid, the relative softness in the forefoot allows my toes to bend a bit at the metatarsophalangeal joints and that gives the shoe a fairly natural feeling toe off. Landing on the heel or square on the midfoot feels more like a traditional shoe, but overall the road feel is significantly dampened, compared to pretty every other shoe in this weight category. It actually feels like a Pegasus 33 on heel and midfoot strike to me.

Dave: This is where the shoe gets a tad tricky.  The Zoom Fly is meant to go fast.  My only issues with the shoe are that I found a hard time on recovery days and easy long runs, staying smooth.  Even as a natural running teacher, I consistently had to continue to check my gait at slower paces of 7:30/7:45 per mile, making sure I was landing correctly and transitioning nicely from heel strike to toe off.  Note: I am a slight heel striker and supinator and have many years of low drop shoes in me, including Skechers M Strike Technology.  The 10mm drop in the Fly could have played a bit in this for me, when training slower.  After a few runs, I began to figure the Fly out a bit more.

When going fast, this shoe is smooth like buttah!  Even at higher stacks, which I am totally not used to, it provides plenty of cush, serious snap, and a quick transition rate from heel to toe.

Sam: The ride is cushioned, vibration absorbing yet at the same time firm. Stability is fantastic up front less so for me at the heel when run slow. That heel midsole outsole taper is not as friendly to slower paces. The ride is smooth and very fluid at moderately fast tempos, i.e. marathon paces but I found it harder at faster tempos, half or 10K paces, between 7 and 8 minute miles for me. I struggled to roll off the front of the shoe, up and away at those paces. This is likely due to my poor knee drive and lack of strength. This is not a shoe for shuffling along!

Peter: Firm, snappy and just enough cushioning. Over long miles I'm finding a bit of forefoot fatigue--perhaps due the stiff plasti-carbon plate.  The Zoom Fly does roll through to toe-off really easily and is a really enjoyable ride overall. I find them to be best at Marathon Pace +/- 30 seconds. They want to run at tempo and feel really good doing so. I don't find them to be terrific when I push to HMP or faster. 


Dave: I had some seriously epic runs in this shoe.  I'm also extremely critical with the way a shoe works with my foot.  It's very, very nice.  After finally figuring out the higher stacks and running some slower miles in it, I think I have it nailed down.  It's important to understand that the Zoom Fly can be for any type of runner.  Do not let the Fly fool you that it is for elites, only (I'm so washed up!) It will help you get the forward lean you are looking for in your stride.  Heel strikers will especially notice that even with all of the forward propulsion, the protection in the heel is there, but maybe Nike could add a tad more?  I know Sam was looking for a bit more back there and he may be right.  All in all, I'd add this to my rotation, any day.  (Saucony Ride 10, Go Meb Razor, Go Meb Speed 4, Zoom Elite 9)

Derek: The ride is extremely smooth with a wickedly fast transition once you figure out the sweet spot for landing and rolling through the shoe. For me, it’s almost Clifton-like with a Zante transition. The forefoot cushioning and bounce is right up there with the Altra Torin and Hoka Huaka for me. The shoe feels best at slightly uptempo paces. At slower paces, I find myself instinctively landing more forefoot to take advantage of the softer cushioning. 

Sam: Nike is, pardoning the pun, breaking new ground with the Zoom Fly and its cousins. Taking a cue from Hoka, it is combining light weight with outstanding cushion.  It has a unique ride and a promising one.  By using the stiff plate, Nike not only stabilizes all that light foam and superb light upper but they are pioneering a new and radical underfoot geometry for what one might call "gait management", to maximize running economy,  a key part of the strategy for Nike's Breaking 2 project.
Dynamic, generally well mannered, light, and protective it deserves a close look as a race shoe by those whose race goals are in my view  sub 1:37 for a half marathon, have some strength and drive or as a faster days trainer for most all runners.  It does not seem to be as effective as a slower paces trainer for heel strikers such as me due to the pointed heel geometry and some difficulty rolling off the heel and also not as of yet for me at my sub marathon race paces rolling up and way off the front. It comfortably fits in at about my marathon pace which is kind of neat given the goal for the shoe.
As a slower older runner (about 1:40 half) the Zoom Fly has worked well for me as a faster trainer but given its weight, combined with difficulty getting it up to race paces I think I need to run them so more to find the groove, work on my core strength and speed or go all in for the Vaporfly 4% which my sense after my Boston Marathon hotel lobby jog is clearly much lighter and seemed to have a more pronounced fall forward effect which I think would help me at those race paces.

Peter: I'm not sure I'd classify the Zoom Fly as a race shoe. For me it's an uptempo daily trainer. I know that might be splitting hairs, but it doesn't have the same speedy snap of the Zoom Streak 6. It will be interesting to see how the Vapor Fly fits in to the equation. I do like the Zoom Fly. I just got back from 15 miles in them and they were a delight for most of the run. They flow through toe-off nicely, fit well and provide a pretty excellent balance of firmness and cushion. 

Derek's Score 9.3/10
-0.2 for durability (considering the price point)
-0.5 for weight 
Dave's Score 9.5/10 
-.5 for Ride at slower speeds
Sam's Score: 9.4/10
-.3 for narrow, unstable landing at slower paces from the pointed rear heel geometry
-.3 for difficulty to roll past the plate at faster paces
Peter's Score 9/10
-.5 for high ankle collar, causes some irritation
-.25 for forefoot fatigue perhaps caused by plate
-.25 for some early signs of compression in the cushioning, perhaps indicating durability issues.


Nike Vaporfly 4% (available July)
The Zoom Fly is part of Nike's Breaking2 project line. It differs from the upcoming July release Zoom Vaporfly 4% ($250), see our try on preview at the Boston Marathon here, in the following ways:
  • weighs significantly more but a still svelte 8.35 oz vs the 4% at an amazing 6.5 oz
  • substitutes a carbon injected nylon inner plate for a pure carbon one,
  • uses Lunarlon foam instead of the 4%'s  Zoom X Pebax foam which is claimed to have 13% better energy return than standard EVA and weighs 2/3 less,
  • has 2-3 mm more front and heel midsole stack, 
  • has a similar upper but one with Flywire instead of the more conventional lace up of the 4% and with a substantial heel counter where the 4% has none but does have a medial overlay (see below),

LEFT to RIGHT: Pegasus 34, Zoom Fly, Zoom Streak 6, Zoom Elite 9
Nike Zoom Elite 9 (RTR review)

Dave: They are both fast.  However, after a while in the Elite 9, I began to feel a bit beat up.  The Fly allows me to have a bit more underfoot.  I like that.  I also felt much more snap in the Fly and a far better transition rate from heel to toe.  I realize I can take the Fly up to the Marathon Distance, whereas the Elite 9, I would keep in the Half Marathon range.  

Peter: Just reading Dave's reaction. I have the opposite take. I did a long run in the Elite 9 last week and felt totally refreshed afterwards, did a long run today in the Fly and felt a bit beat up in the forefoot. I think it's nice to have the zoom air pod in the forefoot of the Elite 9. I also feel like I can push the Elite 9 a little faster. That said, side-by-side (one on each foot) it does feel like the Fly rolls more easily through the gait cycle. 

Nike Zoom Streak 6 (RTR review)
Dave: I am a huge fan of the Streak 6.  A solid tempo shoe, track work shoe and as we all know, race day shoe.  I rotate the Streak 6 with my Go Meb Speed 4.  The only thing I can gain by using the Fly is more everyday mileage (now that I have it figured out) and the ability to run longer in it.
LEFT to RIGHT: Pegasus 34, Zoom Fly, Zoom Streak 6, Zoom Elite 9
Sam: The Streak is a 10K race max shoe for me while I certainly can go longer but slower in the Zoom Fly. They both share a firm narrow heel landing but the Zoom Fly attenuates the shock far better at the heel and overall. Ironic that the Streak 6, with its firm somewhat harsh but responsive ride, was Nike's 2016 flagship race shoe and this year the super cushioned Zoom Fly and Vaporfly is likely to be the goto race shoe for many faster racers including the 2017 winners of the Boston Marathon.

Peter: LOVE the Streak 6. Definitely still my choice for everything up to a half. Would definitely take the Zoom Fly over the Streak for a marathon. More cushion, fast transition. They're both great shoes, but the Streak 6 feels more like a race shoe to me.

Hoka Huaka/Clayton (RTR review Clayton 2)
Derek: The Zoom Fly feels most like a Huaka in the forefoot, very bouncy but with a little more give in the foam, whereas the heel feels more stable like a Clayton. Overall in terms of vibration dampening, it beats both of these Hokas hands down though. If you ever wondered how the Huaka would fare if it weren’t a zero drop shoe, then the Zoom Fly would come pretty close. The only difference is the Zoom Fly is overall a stiffer shoe than both Hokas, courtesy of its carbon-infused plate.

Dave: Anyone who knows me knows I am not a Hoka fan, by any means.  However, as in anything, like in my profession of coaching, in order to understand your topic of interest you need to study what you agree with and what you don't.  I've logged some Clayton miles.  It's not a bad shoe at all.  However, the Fly just fits my foot better.  The uppers are not even in the same league, as the Fly is just beautifully constructed.  As far as the ride, the Fly is just built to be smoother for my stride.  I never got much out of the rocker system in the Clayton, a lot due to the fact that my foot was always swimming in it.  The snug race like fit of the Fly helped me find level landing much better.

Sam: The Clayton is a more versatile shoe for me. It has an outstanding wide heel landing, some forefoot flexibility and a nice responsive bounce from RMAT outsole under firmer EVA. It's upper just doesn't compare to the Zoom Fly and overall the ride is not as elegantly smooth or even as well cushioned. The Clayton I would take for all daily training and longer races at all paces the Zoom Fly has a narrower utility for me.

Zoom Fly vs Skechers Performance Go Meb Speed 4 
Dave: If we want to talk fast, then the Meb Speed 4 needs to be in that convo.  The snap in the Fly and Speed 4 are very similar (even at completely different stacks) In fact, I almost had to double check on my Progression run the other day and see which shoes were on my feet.  They both boast a big time quickness in heel to toe transition rate.  Toe box on the Meb Speed 4 is much wider.

Zoom Fly vs. ASICS Noosa FF
Derek: The Noosa FF isn’t a shoe that pure runners would think of to try, but ASICS did a very good job with this shoe, and the forefoot softness and bounce of this shoe at uptempo paces comes pretty close to the Zoom Fly. The main difference is the heel which is on the firmer side compared to the Fly. The Fly transitions faster and smoother, with a rockered feel at the front, but the Noosa is the lighter shoe. Both have very good vibration dampening properties, although the Zoom Fly is just a bit better in this regard. Both are pretty close in terms of price-point. I think for people who find the Fly a little too soft up front, the Noosa would be a very viable alternative. The Noosa also seems to be the more durable shoe, as after nearly 250 miles, I have seen hardly any outsole wear.

Zoom Fly vs. adidas adizero Boost 3
Sam: This is the world marathon record comparison. The adios Boost currently holds the official world record while the elite version of the Zoom Fly, the Vaporfly Elite, holds the fastest un official marathon time. The adios retails for about the same price as the Zoom Fly and weighs a bit less. While the Zoom Fly has more cushioning for sure its unusual and stiff geometry is not as easy for me to run as the adios is at all paces and is, at least for me so far, also not the speedster for sub marathon races the adios is. Zoom Fly seems to be most appropriate for me as an uptempo shoe something the adios also excels at but with easier in the legs cushion in the Fly. 

Zoom Fly vs. Skechers GO Meb Razor (RTR Review)
Peter: Surprisingly when you run in these two shoes side-by-side they are VERY similar feeling. The Razor has a slightly softer ride and, lacking a plate, is a little more flexible. For long miles I might choose the Razor over the Zoom Fly. They're both terrific shoes.

Reviewer Bios
Dave Ames is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business, training athletes of all ability levels from 5K to Marathon.  A formally competitive runner in High School and College, Dave focuses the majority of his time now on his athletes, but maintains the love for running and racing by keeping sub 3 Marathon, fit.  His previous work in the run specialty industry consisted of managing multiple run shops across the US, then switching over to the Corporate wholesale side, most recently via Newton Running and Skechers Performance.  Dave can be found on Instagram @ameforitruncoaching and his website

Derek Li is a family physician by profession, and has been running marathons for the past four years. He started running for triathlon training in 2003, and now focuses purely on running in a bid to run all the Marathon Majors. In his free time, he likes to review running shoes and related products at his blog Running Commentary.

Peter Stuart. My running career got off to a slow start…in high school I was told I ran like a race walker and was thus relegated to race walking on the track team. I got back into running about 15 years ago and then into triathlon. Triathlon really rekindled my love for running, so about two years ago I hired a coach and really focused on the half and full marathons.  I broke a bad habit of putting in tons of moderately hard miles (and no easy or hard ones) and after plateauing at 3:25 (with some disastrous marathons in there), this past year I brought my marathon under 3:00 and my half under 1:25. Along the way I’ve developed a bit of a shoe problem.

For a superb initial review of the Zoom Fly from the perspective of a Dr. of Physical Therapy and also a fast runner see Matt Klein's initial review of the Zoom Fly here

2 pairs of the Zoom Fly were provided at no cost, one was purchased. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credits: Derek Li, Peter Stuart, Sam Winebaum
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Jamie R said...

Where did you find those colors of the Adios Boost 3's? I have a lighter teal version, but that color you have is awesome!

sam winebaum said...

Hi Jamie it is a great color way the #AktivAgainstCancer color way. adidas sent them to me and I too am having problems finding them in stores. Will inquire.