Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Salomon Gets Some Road Vibe-Vibe Cushion Explained, First Runs Review Salomon Sonic

Salomon has been long known worldwide for its mountain focus. With impeccable construction, superb and innovative designs, supportive uppers, terrain and race length specific traction and features Salomon shoes, apparel, and packs are used by many of the world's top trail and ultra runners .

At Outdoor Retailer we heard about a new cushioning vibration reduction technology from Salomon called Vibe which will see its way into trail and road shoes in the near future. Well, the future is here, as starting in January Salomon will put Vibe in 3 "road" shoes along with several trail shoes. I put quotations around road as while there is no question these are road focused shoes due to their trademark Salomon supportive Sensifit uppers and plentiful coverage grippy Contagrip outsoles, they can easily do double duty on moderate trails.

At The Running Event I had a briefing with Simon Bartold, a fellow Run Shoe Geek and a world renowned podiatrist and bio-mechanist long involved in shoe design and sports medicine who has been recently working with the Salomon research and product team.

What is Vibe?

Vibe seeks to reduce energy sapping vibrations while still providing an efficient ride. So a Vibe shoe, such as the Sonic they gave me to test, combines a firm, responsive midsole with an eerie and real sense that shock and vibration are attenuated.  A Salomon bio-mechanist explained that the forces measured during stride are generally made up of 50% shock, 15% rebound, and 35% vibration. Vibration is a huge component of the input load and is mainly made up of tibial vibration. Beyond the muscle, skeletal and nerve impacts there is also the perceived comfort impact of reducing vibration.
Vibe Technology is made up of 2 components:
  • Energy Cell+  compression molded EVA midsole (black below) which is firm, likely to firm for road use without..
  • Opal (light blue below) are inserts of a Thermoplastic Polyproylene (TPP) material which is lighter and softer than TPU's such adidas Boost and Saucony Everun, and with different cushioning properties.  Notably, Opal seeks to reduce vibration and in an interesting twist seeks to also reduce the vibrations of shear or side to side forces.  Opal is not glued into the cavity in the midsole, this so has to provide less interference for its movement under load or have any interface of glue between it and midsole.  Not to worry it should not go anywhere or shift as i there is a layer of sock liner like material over it, stitched to the upper sides to keep it in place

Salomon Vibe cutaway
I notice right away that the structure of the Opal in the diagram below is almost like an open weave and not granules heated and bonded such as the TPU in the adidas and Saucony shoes. This might explain the more dispersed shock and vibration reduction I noticed in the Sonic, particularly in the forefoot, a soft pleasant feeling without any instability or mushy sinking. The heel of the Sonic with Opal insert, while firm is notably stable, with no bottoming out or shock/vibration from over firmness or over softness, again the combination of the firm Energy Cell+ EVA and the Opal insert.
Salmon Vibe PC: Salomon

The red fine print above is significant. Each Vibe shoe has a different approach to the Opal insert given the function of the shoe
  • The trainer Sonic I am testing has a 12mm thick Opal insert at the heel, 6mm thick at the forefoot. Given that the Sonic is a 26mm heel/ 16mm forefoot stack a good portion of the make up of the cushion in these areas is Opal.
  • The uptempo Sonic Pro 2 and top end road racer S/Lab Sonic 2 each only have a 6mm Opal heel insert with no Opal in the forefoot for more road feel. The S-Lab Sonic 2 is of particular interest to me as while I loved the trail performance and foot hold of its early predecessor the X-Series, I found them somewhat harsh on the road, the surface they were primarily intended for (review here). The new Vibe version should widen the versatility of the Sonic 2. 
Update: See our in depth review of the S/Lab Sonic 2 here. It's a sensational long racer!

Instead of listing stats for the 3 Vibe road shoes below you will find the excellent Salomon catalog pages with all the details.

S-Lab Sonic Pro 2 Stats-PC: Salomon
S-Lab Sonic 2 Stats-PC: Salomon

Salomon Sonic
Salomon Sonic Stats-PC: Salomon
My early sample pair of Sonic weighs 9.5 oz, so less than the production weight listed of 9.9 oz/281 grams. Regardless, the Sonic is a lot of shoe for less than 10 oz. I would have no hesitation running them on any Park City single track as the upper is plenty supportive and the outsole bridges road to trail. There is no question that the Sonic retains Salomon's trail heritage and for me that is a good thing as I like a supportive neutral shoe and versatility for mixed routes of pavement and trail.
Salomon Sonic 
Salomon Sonic 
As to sizing, my pair of size 9 is a half size up from my normal and fits perfectly for road with a thin sock providing some needed front of the shoe over the toes room. While the forefoot fit is wider than what I have seen in other Salomon, my last being the S-Lab Wings and X-Series, the over the toes room is a bit low, maybe due to the fairly substantial (good for trail use) overlays. As time goes on the sock liner likely will pack down and the upper soften giving more height and comfort. Given the impeccable upper support towards the rear of the shoe, I think many will chose to size up a half for some extra toe room for the road. Update: While the toe overhead volume has increased at 30 miles at a half size up a thicker winter run sock is to much, a bit cramped and a thin sock to little. When new I could only use a thin sock.
The upper hold and lace up is easy and fast with a great secure foot hold and no pressure points except very slightly at the metatarsals. These are clearly more accommodating than older Salomon without being in any way sloppy. The upper material is a dense fairly stiff mesh, more akin to what is found in trail shoes. The upper could be a bit softer in the forefoot with fewer overlays at the metatarsals as there is bit of pressure there when flexing in a thicker sock.
Salomon Sonic 
Returning to Vibe...
Beyond some branding on the midsole wall, the secret sauce is inside... 
Recall the Sonic heel insert is 12mm thick out of the total 26mm  heel stack and the forefoot insert 6mm out of the 16mm there. One might think that so much "soft stuff" would impact stability or feel mushy but this is absolutely not the case due to the firm outer EVA Energy Cell+ midsole. I would repeat there is distinct and pleasant soft "feel" to the forefoot directly under the toes, with very little if any shock vibration sensation and no instability. At the heel, the sensation is of consistency and stability without any sensation of the heel compressing to far before the foot moves forward, again without shock or vibration, a most difficult combination to achieve. 
Salomon Sonic 
The outsole features Salomon's trademark Contagrip and plenty of it. The entire outsole is made of what I believe is a single firmness rubber which I measure in the low 60's on the durometer. Update: at 30 miles I have zero wear including on the left heel where I almost always wear rapidly due to a sidewards scuffing. If I have a single knock on the outsole, and in fact the shoe, it is that the forefoot rubber may be to firm contributing to stiffness up front, at least when new, and some slapping on the road. The flex and transition seems to be somewhat impeded in the area of  the first row of lugs after mid foot towards the front of the shoe. It is still early as I have only 12 miles on the shoes and I expect the flex to soften up (midsole and upper) but nonetheless the shoe is a bit stiffer at the initial flex point there than I like. This area is also backed up by Salomon's ProFeel, a flexible film which provides some stability analogous to what adidas and Salming do with their torsion systems. Update: at approximately 30 miles the shoes have softened in flex to the point that the stiffness and hesitation in transition is less noticeable.

Ride and Recommendations
As the trainer model in the line the Sonic has a stable, firm and yes thanks to Vibe a noticeably vibration and shock free ride, a difficult combination to achieve. As stated above, the transition is a bit more labored and stiff just in front of mid foot than I like and the Sonic is somewhat "slappy" on the road. These are relatively minor quibbles as the Sonic is easily on the legs, very responsive in feel and versatile, without being either mushy or overly firm. While I have not yet run trails in them, I am almost certain they will also perform admirably on moderate terrain. Salomon is clearly onto to something with Vibe and for me it is one of the key run innovations of 2016

The world wide list of retailers carrying the Sonic and Sonic Pro 2 is here

Update: See our in depth review of the S/Lab Sonic 2 here. It's a sensational long racer!

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Harold said...

I will be really interested to hear more about your thoughts on this shoe, it sound very, very intriguing and the colorway...well it is just about right. I know you like your shoes a little more snug than I do, how would you rate the forefoot to the AB3's? Thanks

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the preview!
Too bad they did not put any opal insert in the forefoot of the racier Sonic Pro 2 and Slab Sonic 2...faster paces may not "work well" with vibe?

Chad Payne said...

I would be interested to see a detailed comparison between the ISO Freedom, Boston Boost and the Sonic. I was leaning toward the Boston as my next shoe, but may wait for the Sonic depending on how it compares.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Chad, that's a great idea. The ISO Freedom and Boston are quite similar although ISO Freedom with lower drop is distinctly more low slung. Sonic is very different in ride. Firm without vibration with a responsiveness more like traditional EVA than the bouncier TPU in the other 2. The ride is excellent, very stable, the upper far more substantial on the Sonic almost trail shoe like. The Sonic PRO 2 which I hope to get a pair of might be closer in terms of agility to the other 2 as the Sonic is more a daily trainer.

Chad Payne said...

Thanks Sam! That was very helpful.

Asifur Rahman said...


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