Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review Saucony Zealot ISO 2: The Zealot Abides. With Comparisons to Kinvara 7, Ride 9, and Triumph ISO 2

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

Editor's Note: Peter Stuart and Sam both had the opportunity to test the Zealot ISO 2. Peter in Los Angeles and Sam on the opposite coast in New Hampshire.

The Saucony Zealot ISO 2 is a 9.4 oz/ 266 g men's 9, neutral performance trainer. It features an effective update to Saucony's ISO-Fit bootie and straps mid foot upper along with the new chevron Tri-Flex outsole we have seen on all of Saucony's 2016 performance shoes.
Sam: While gaining an ounce over the Zealot ISO 1( RTR review here), this update has been for me a significant improvement in ride and fit over the Zealot 1. Gone is the very firm harsh heel and overall ride. Mind you this is a firmer heeled shoe, but no longer the rough ride as version 1 was. The forefoot is soft, very flexible, and well cushioned.

The result is a trainer and marathon racer best suited to faster paces with a lively firm heel with considerable pop off the road followed by a contrasting smooth and soft toe off from the flexible new chevron based Tri-Flex outsole. The ISO Fit upper, an inner bootie with soft outer straps to the lace loops really shines in this shoe as the mid foot is well held but never constricted. The front of the shoe is relatively unstructured in terms of any overlays with decent but not great toe room and volume yet is immaculately held, by the ISO Fit. This said Saucony sized us up half a size and many may want to do the same.  I found the color way sharp with its silver contrasting with the blue and green, says race car.

Peter: I stayed true to size and had no problems. it’s definitely a little shorter than the Ride or Kinvara, but that didn’t bother me. I agree with you Sam—the ISO Fit is a really well designed system to lock in the foot. I found the Pro-Lock to be over-engineered and felt it got in the way of the Kinvara’s flexibility.  The softness of the forefoot is a pro and a con, but I’ll delve into that a little more in the Ride section. Overall the Zealot is my favorite in the new line (which surprises me). 

Readers are likely curious as to the differences between models in Saucony neutral performance line. We have tested and reviewed all the models in 2016, except the Breakthru.

All the models above share the following:
  • a chevron Tri-Flex outsole replacing pods.
  • a heel impact zone the SRC, which is either all EVA or with an Everun TPU heel insert. Both methods are very effective but we prefer the SRC for its more consistent feel if a bit less rebound.
  • some inclusion of Everun TPU material which is longer lasting than the typical EVA and has high rebound characteristics.
  • very similar midsole geometries with a vertical inner (medial) side wall to provide some light stability, although all of these shoes are clearly neutral
So how do they compare?

Kinvara 7 (RTR review here)
Sam: K7 a light, snug, fairly stiff lightweight racer trainer. It is very stable and directed and is the stiffest shoe in the line. It's Pro-Lock system at mid foot  while effective in keeping the mid foot secure and stable on the light platform is a bit awkward feeling when laced tight. If light weight with cushion and some stability are you thing Kinvara is the speedster of the line.
Peter: I dislike the pro-lock and found the Kinvara to be more shoe than I wanted it to be. I found it to be a little too much work to push through he gait cycle. The Zealot just rolls down the road a little more easily—and I can really feel that Everun under the forefoot—would have been good to put it in the Kinvara.

Ride 9  (RTR review here) 
Sam: R9 is a versatile trainer, even racer if you like cush, with the smoothest heel to toe transition and overall ride of the line for me, likely helped along by its 8 mm drop. It's upper is not ISO Fit and as such has a snugger hold if a bit wider with more of sense of constriction up front at the last lace loops than Zealot or Triumph, or maybe this is because unlike Zealot my pair is true to size.
Peter: I like the slightly firmer forefoot of the Ride 9, but felt that it’s not as smooth a ride as the Zealot. I think it’s to do with the fact that Ride 9 forefoot is noticeably wider and a little longer, so there’s just a little more shoe to push. I also had some blistering issues with the Ride 9, finding that it compressed my toes a bit.

Zealot ISO 2
Sam: Zealot is more performance oriented than Ride and half the drop at 4mm with a fairly sharp rebound and contrast from a firm heel of thick outsole rubber to a soft flexible front of the shoe ride. It prefers to be run fast but is in no way unpleasant at slower speeds as its predecessor was. It is more flexible than Kinvara and heavier.

Triumph ISO 2 (RTR review here)
Sam: The T2 rides and feels somewhat similar to Zealot up front but is a bit more forgiving due to its Everun heel insert and additional heel stack It is a more comfortable long run shoe for slower paces than Zealot was for me.

Zealot ISO 2 The Details

The upper features Saucony's ISO Fit system. ISO Fit has a soft stretchy bootie inner layer with straps running from the midsole to the lace holes with no sewn connection from straps to the bootie in between laces and midsole expect at the very front strap.
The idea is to create a more flexible mid foot hold for various foot types and a more dynamic one where the motion of the foot is freer to flex while still being well held and not overly constrained. The general sensation is one of a tube of consistent support reminding a bit of the Salming Distance 3 (review here). I like the approach a lot in its second generation.

The Zealot ISO 2 is not a wide fit but a comfortable one. The front of the shoe is a relatively light dense mesh with only a soft thin overlay running from its start as a toe bumper volume enhancer, along the midsole, then up to the first lace loop. Nothing to get in the way of foot flex yet ,as the ISO Fit locks the foot down mostly at the second and third silver bands no sliding forward, something we notice a bit in the Ride 9. 
The Zealot is somewhat narrower than the Ride 9, largely due to its narrower on the ground midsole platform from mid foot forward. The difference is slight and difficult to quantify as the ISO Fit upper especially at the last lace hole is more relaxed and conforming to my foot than the Ride in that area.
LEFT Zealot ISO 2  RIGHT Ride 9
The midsole features the characteristic geometry seen throughout the line. There are vertical side walls on the medial side for a touch of stability. On the lateral side we see the green impact zone area, Saucony's SRC and deeper flex grooves into the midsole at the heel than for the medial side. Below the sockliner is a thin layer of Everun TPU contributing to the snappy rebound of the shoe.

The overall platform is slightly narrower on the ground than the Ride 9 in the forefoot area. When compared to the Zealot 1 which didn't have it, the SRC Impact Zone is a welcome addition which reduces impact from the still firm outsole and leads to a nice firm pop off the road from the heel at speed.
A lot of what one feels in the Zealot and the differences to the Ride comes from the outsole. While difficult to photograph the heel outsole rubber of the Zealot is clearly thicker and less podular than the Ride.
LEFT Zealot ISO 2  RIGHT Ride 9
LEFT Ride 9  RIGHT Zealot ISO 2

The Zealot ISO 2 has thick firm rubber at the rear of the shoe and one can expect many many miles of durability there.  

The front rubber being considerably softer will wear faster but likely evenly across the thick chevron bars. Our sense is that the front rubber is softer than on the Zealot 1 and even that on the Triumph ISO 2.

The firm heel rubber clearly contributes to the firm responsive heel with good rebound when combined with the SRC Impact Zone. When compared to the Zealot 1, Saucony has tuned the geometry and reduced the thickness of heel rubber and changed the forefoot rubber to a considerably softer Tri-Flex front outsole to  eliminate the harsh ride of the Zealot 1and improve flexibility.

LEFT Saucony Zealot ISO 2                                          RIGHT Zealot ISO
Sam: The Zealot ISO 2 ride is firm, stable and snappy at the rear of the shoe, forgiving and flexible up front. It is a study in contrasts best experienced at faster tempo paces. The real fun begins in these shoes when the pace picks up.
The ride at slower paces is fine with plenty of cushion and unlike many soft heeled low drop shoes, such as the Hoka Clifton, no sensation that one is missing the heel. I have had no problems running them slow and certainly there is none of the jarring feel of the Zealot 1.
The Hoka Clayton (RTR review here) with its softer foam heel and firmer forefoot, the opposite of Zealot construction, is also targeted at up tempo running.  Which do I prefer? Really a toss up with Zealot actually a bit more to my liking at slower speeds due to my heel striking and the lighter firmer upfront Clayton at speed. Compared to the Ride 9, the Zealot has a slightly more consistent and stable landing with less of the continuous smooth roll forward of the Ride 9. 
Peter: The ride of the Zealot is really smooth. I agree that you get more pop the faster you go. I’m surprised by how lively the shoe feels coming off the ground. I found a little more forefoot fatigue on long runs due to, I think, the softer forefoot. I’m also noticing some pretty quick wear on the bottom of the forefoot—there’s a lot of rubber there, so not a big issue—but it’s something to watch. The flexibility of the Zealot also adds to the fun. It’s nice and forgiving on an easy run, but gives you some oomph when you lay into it on the faster runs.
Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
Sam: The Zealot ISO 2 is a great up tempo shoe with plenty of cushioning and stability and no mush. It has a firm heel feel but not an unpleasant or harsh one. It would be a great choice as a marathon shoe. Not as versatile as the silky smooth and equivalent weight higher drop Ride 9, it has been a faster shoe for me and one that conveys a distinct sensation of firm pop off the road and then smooth toe off. It is also a great choice for those moving to a lower drop shoe but worried about heel stability and "bottoming" out the cushioning to something even lower.  I do wish it weighed less by including a somewhat less substantial heel counter and removing a bit more of the heel outsole rubber to soften the ride a touch. A small Everun heel insert in addition to the Everun topsole might also improve this fine shoe.
Peter: The Zealot ISO 2 is my favorite in the current Saucony line. It’s one of those shoes that I would never think would work for me given the specs, but it runs really, really nicely. It’s cushy when the running is easy and spritely when you speed up. The ISO fit system really locks the foot in and they are nice and flexible. I agree it could lose a little weight. To me the upper seems pretty thick. It’s not the best ventilated shoe, but it’s not a hotbox like the Neuro. I think it’s just as versatile as the Ride 9 and I think it runs a hair smoother and has a little more pop. It’s nice to have that extra cushion under the forefoot.

Sam's Score: 4.7 out of 5
-0.15 for weight
-0.15 for heel firmness at slower speeds, versatility
Peter's Score 4.7 out of 5
-0.15 for weight
-0.1for thick upper
-0.05 for sometimes too soft feeling forefoot.

The Zealot ISO 2 was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run by Saucony. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Click Here for RTR's Latest Running Shoe and Gear Reviews. 
Over 30 in depth Road and Trail Shoes reviews in 2016!

Peter Stuart's Running Bio

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.

Sam Winebaum's Run Bio
Sam is the Founder and Editor of Road Trail Run. He got the run and gear bug early, testing some of the earliest Nike shoes in the 70's, in high school, when Nike had their original R&D in his hometown. Early 100 mile weeks and lots of trail running led him to a HS 2:37 marathon, (2:28 PR), 2 junior division victories and 2 top ten all time junior times at Mt Washington, and the 1976 Division 1 NCAA XC championships with his Dartmouth team mates. Fluency in French took him for work to Switzerland where he ran many classic mountain races (30 in one year including ski marathons) and met his wife Dominique, also a marathoner. Raising a family and with entrepreneurial and consulting ventures in materials science, in-store media, early internet social media, and electronic medical records his competitive running took a long hiatus. He got back at it 10 years ago when work took him to the mountains of Park City, UT.  His annual goal is to break 1:40 in the half, and if he can...,qualify for Boston. Always a tech, shoe, and gear geek he is also the wearable tech columnist for Competitor Magazine.

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Unknown said...

Fantastic review, guys. I've been waiting for this one. The Zealot ISO is currently my favorite shoe, I was just hoping the 2nd version would ride softer, which seems to be the case.

The only thing that makes me nervous is that you mention it rides more narrow this time around. The original Zealot ISO had a nice roomy toebox, which is why I love it so much. The Ride 9 runs a bit too narrow for my taste, so if the new Zealot is more narrow than the Ride 9, I'm afraid I'll hate it. Good thing I'm stocking up on original Zealots with all the clearance sales going on!

Sam Winebaum said...

It's tricky between the Ride and Z2 Jeremy. For me at least while the Zealot is narrower up front the foot hold at the very end of the laces is not as constricting as Ride's due to the ISO Fit and the overlays upfront.

amadeus303 said...

Awesome review, guys! Was the weight gain on the shoe noticeable? I may just be getting spoiled with all of these moderately cushioned trainers at <9oz, but I had really high hopes for this shoe until I saw it gained over an ounce. I absolutely HATED the Kinvara 7 - it feels like a dead sole to me - but the original Zealot has become a staple in my rotation. Stable, firm enough for decent response, and the ISO upper matches my foot really well. I tend to like a little less shoe for open/standalone runs, but the Zealot feels great coming off the bike in T2. That said, I don't need any extra weight in a long course race... I'm already just trying to hang on at that point!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Michael, it's been a while since I ran and gave away the Z1 but if I recall the Z1 felt lighter but... was quite punishing on the legs and especially at the heel for me. The Z2 is heavier but for me has a far livelier heel pop plus is more forgiving up front as well, which may help on the run after T2? I like the K7 it is light and stable but it is stiff and that may contribute to the dead feeling you experience. Have you tried Boston Boost or Hoka Clayton? Thanks for reading!

Sam, Editor Road Trail Run

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B.A.C said...

Great review on the new version of the Zealot. The Z1 is my current go-to for just about everything except for 5ks and speedwork and I'm interested in checking out the Z2. Sam, reading Peter's bio at the end of the article struck me as right where I am - after 6 marathons I'm stuck between 3:20 and 3:25. Any chance you could pass along his email address so I could ask him a few questions? I'm at bradleycrater at yahoo.com

guymac said...

I really like the Saucony Peregrine 6 (trail shoe); is the Zealot ISO 2 the closest thing to it? I have the Kinvara 7 but need a little bit more cushioning for higher mileage.

Sam Winebaum said...

If you are looking for a road Saucony either Ride 9 or Zealot ISO 2 would be good choices. The Ride has a somewhat more consistent cushion feel heel to toe than Zealot which has firmer heel area contrasting with softer forefoot feel. I prefer the Ride to Zealot. Both will have more cushion than the Peregrine.