Friday, December 29, 2017

Brooks Running Launch 5 Review: A New Upper Relaxes the Launch. Too Much?

Article by Peter Stuart, Dave Ames, and Sam Winebaum

Brooks Running Launch 5
Weight: US M9 9.2 oz/261 g  US W8 7.9 oz/224 g
Stack Height: 28mm heel/18mm forefoot, 10mm drop
Price: $100. Available now.
PC: Peter Stuart
The Bottom Line: 
The Launch 5 is Brooks Running entry into the sub 10 oz performance trainer race.  It is a well cushioned, lively, somewhat bouncy shoe with a new largely unstructured thin, soft and very comfortable engineered mesh upper.  For two of us the upper and the narrow mid foot platform, in combination, contributed to making it less secure and stable compared to competitors and predecessors at faster paces.The third reviewer loved the Launch 5. 
The OG Brooks Launch is one of those shoes that has a special place in my heart. It’s got a cult following and was nearly discontinued and then revived at least partly due to geeky runners (including John Schrup) demanding it. In my own personal running journey it’s not only one of my favorite shoes, but a shoe that led me to find Rogue Running in Austin, TX and ultimately led to me reviewing shoes. Updates have been okay, but haven’t had the magic of the original. It didn’t go off the rails like the Mizuno Wave Rider line for me, but it hasn’t been amazing. I lost track of the Launch after a mediocre Launch 3, but here’s the 5 and we here at Road Trail Run are all getting out for miles in it. 

Sam: I have run in the Launch 2, 3 and 4. Each version has gotten slightly more lively and more flexible and less lumpy and ponderous for me, so more fun to run. The Launch 5 sees significant change up top with a soft unstructured engineered mesh upper without any of the overlays of the prior versions. This new upper translates to a more flexible shoe overall but also a slightly less secure upper with less of a performance fit and more of a comfort fit.  While Brooks says the the midsole and outsole is the same tooling, I sense a bouncier, slightly softer and less responsive ride, friendlier at slower paces but harder to control and push off squarely and securely at faster paces

Dave: I had only tried on the Launch 4 in Marathon Sports in Boston, previously.  Brooks was really never part of my rotation as the entire lineup was mostly quite stale and bulky.  Even the Launch 4 felt just “ok” to me in trying in on.  Fast forward to the 5 and with the much updated uppers make this shoe worth having more than a 2 sec conversation about. 

First Impressions and Fit

Peter: My first impression is ‘Hell yes!’. The upper is more breathable than previous models and looks terrific. It’s simple, made of engineered mesh and feels great on step-in. Fit is true to size. On my first run I thought “Oh, man, the Launch is back!”. It seemed that they might have captured the old magic again.
Sam: The fit is very soft and accommodating if a bit unstructured. I like the optic orange highlight around the laces making the “standard blue” upper pop a subtle bit. This is one very comfortable upper. While I was sized up half a size in the more substantial Launch 4 here I am true to size. In fact. I found the fit loose and not as well held at the mid foot as I might like with thin socks. I went to thin socks for my first run after feeling some significant pressure over my big toe walking around in them. While it was not enough sock at mid foot the toe issue went away by my second run but they do run a bit short,  pointy in length. I assume the sockliner had packed down a bit, often this occurs after a first run. Thereafter, I had no toe issues with thicker socks and a better mid foot wrap. I would not size up given the unstructured mid foot hold.

Dave:  The Launch 5 runs short for sure, as Sam mentions above.  I was shipped a 9, which I wear in almost all trainers.  I wouldn’t hesitate to say here that I probably should be running in a 9.5.  They are a tad small and on longer runs I was a bit “squeezed.”  

Sam: The upper is a one piece engineered mesh design with a partial height and length internal bootie connecting the tongue to the midsole using a fairly substantial minimal stretch fabric. 
Brooks Launch 4
The soft thin upper is a big change from prior Launch which had conventional mesh uppers, and comparatively, a very substantial midfoot array of thick overlays at midfoot, not to speak of denser mesh and an old school stitched on fairly rigid toe bumper which is now replaced with some stiffening of the mesh internally. 

The mesh is very soft, among the softest least structured of any recent shoes I have tested with really no overlays anywhere in the midfoot. The upper is very breathable. 
The diagonal black lines and logo appear decorative and provide no apparent support. 
The heel and achilles collar is well padded, super comfortable and very secure. In front of that great heel collar the shoe could use denser mesh, or even, heaven forbid more overlays.  I found the mid foot upper a bit too comfortable and unstructured.  
TOP: Hoka Cavu has full mid foot bootie,
BOTTOM:  Launch 5 has a partial height bootie which does not extend all the way back to the lace up
The internal bootie is not full height to the laces and ends quite far forward in the shoe and not nearer the tongue which might help support the foot better.  The Hoka Cavu has a very similar upper material but its bootie is full height and ends further back making a noticeable postive difference in foot hold for me. Just making the bootie full height and length might improve the support. It sure works in the Cavu.

Peter: The upper is engineered mesh. It’s a bootie construction. It looks simple and clean and does its job. The ankle is amply padded and holds the foot in well. The tongue is on the shorter side, but is nicely padded.The lacing system is simple and effective. It’s a great, no gimmicks 
Dave:  The newly constructed uppers make a huge difference.  I never understood for the amount of money Brooks Running has and their spot in the run specialty wall, why the uppers and construction of their shoes were so bad.  They are far late to the party in uppers, but the Launch 5 has it all going in in terms of soft molding uppers.  I’ll second Peter on a short tongue.  What is it with run companies and the tongue?  It’s either short or way too long!!

Sam: The BioMoGO DNA midsole sure feels bouncier and softer than the Launch 4's and certainly the Launch 3's  which had firmer outsole rubber and this despite Brooks saying the "tooling" is the same in the  4 and 5.  It is a very comfortable cushioned midsole feel. Most of my testing was in colder conditions where midsoles tend to firm up so this is a pretty soft midsole material. The catalog calls out rubber in the midsole mix and I sure can feel it. It reminds me somewhat of the Skechers Performance 5GEN midsole foam but slightly softer.

While the forefoot feels similar, I wonder if they softened the outsole Midfoot Transition zone outsole rubber as the somewhat awkward transition I felt there in prior Launch is gone replaced with an easy but for my tastes somewhat sloppy overly flexible transition for this heel striker, most likely due to the upper being more flexible and having less hold with my foot moving more laterally than it should. The transition reminds me more of the Glycerin 15’s than the Ghost 10’s or Launch 4.

Peter: BioMoGo and DNA (two brooks compounds that have been around for a while) are combined here for a nice, solid feeling EVA midsole. There’s no TPU such as in adidas Boost, and it’s not particularly cutting edge, but it’s solid and it works.

Dave:  A powerful midsole allowing a nice midfoot forefoot land for me (when at high speeds).  First run out of the box was a tempo.  They do want to go fast, that’s for sure.  However, something about this shoe when running fast….fast turns sloppy (more to come in ride section)

Peter: The outsole is the same shape as previous Launch models. It’s almost like a figure 8 racetrack around the bottom of the shoe. The forefoot has plenty of rubber with some grooves in it to allow flex. The rear of the shoe has a circle of rubber with some breaks in the rubber on the lateral side. The part of this shoe that seems to be drawing some criticism from some of our reviewers is the thinner segment under the arch. For me it’s fine, but I largely land in front of that area. For heel strikers I’m hearing that the shoe may feel a bit precarious in the transition from heel to toe.
PC: Peter Stuart
Sam: Indeed as a heel striker I find the overall midfoot upper, outsole and midsole platform more “precarious” as Peter puts it so well and the forward blown rubber areas maybe a touch to soft for the midsole. I like my outsoles to provide some pop, the midfoot and the front of the foot platform to be stable without impeding transition. Here it seems the outsole is to0 closely matched to the midsole firmness.  The overall narrow mid foot platform and narrower yet figure 8 outsole, when combined with the new upper. is just not enough mid foot width and structure and thus not enough stability for me. The result is a very comfortable if a bit more unstable and for me “slower” combination.  

Dave:  I think the Launch 5 lacks outsole in the mid foot platform.  The figure 8 construction gives me a sloppy unstable footing, due to the fact is it so narrow throughout the platform, where there should be more rubber.  I totally agree with Sam here that something is odd here.  

PC: Peter Stuart
Peter: I’m mixed on the ride of the Launch 5. My first two runs felt really good: quick, nicely cushioned and just enough road-feel to make it fun. My third, and longest, run in them was way less fun. I’m finding that the Launch really wakes up when I’m at a tempo under 7:30. When I get there it bounces and feels like it propels me through the run. At slower speeds the shoe feels a bit stiff. I’m hoping it breaks in a little more, but at this point I’m not sure how I feel about it. Update since I last added to this. Shoe just CRUSHED a Fartlek workout and felt great at all speeds. Has fully broken in and doesn’t feel stiff. 

Sam: I agree with Peter that as pace picks up the Launch starts to shine but is a bit harder to tame and more unstable as pace increases and seems softer and less decisive than Launch 4. At slower paces the ride is just fine, well cushioned and bouncy but not very dynamic or directed as one might expect from a 9.2 oz relatively light shoe. Much as with the Glycerin 15. but not the Ghost 10, I had to work to transition at slow paces, sort of forcing my toe off.  I disagree with Peter on stiffness. This is a relatively flexible shoe overall. One can’t get sloppy at any pace in this shoe, given the light hold of its upper and narrow mid foot platform as I found during my first slow run on tired legs in them and not focused it gave me some unusual for me post run heel pain and tighter than normal calves. I wonder if I was somehow rolling off the heel to mid foot area laterally?

Dave:  I have a problem with the footing in this shoe.  I feel very unstable laterally in the shoe, causing me to really be cautious rounding corners, etc (Like the Original Skechers Performance Ultra Road felt)  The figure 8 construction in the midsole is causing this in my opinion.  At higher speeds the shoe is all over the place, but for slower recovery days or just general aerobic days of 8 to 10 miles, it just doesn’t feel smooth.  I ran a few tempos, a Fartlek session and just some good old fashioned hilly miles in the Launch 5.  If I want to go fast, I’ll reach for the Skechers Performance Razor or the Zoom Elite 9, instead.  I feel fast and confident in them.  It’s not that I don’t like the Launch 5, but something just feels OFF.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Peter: While I have great memories of the original Launch, it seems that many other shoes have come along that live in that same space--light(ish), nicely cushioned and fun. The Launch, however, maintains its pedigree as a terrific all-around lightweight trainer. It’s solid at slow speeds and picks up a bunch of personality and attitude when I step on the gas. I think Sam and I disagree about the upper. I think it’s really great--just enough to solidly hold the foot without being overly engineered or gimmicky. At under $100 I think the Launch is a great buy and fun shoe for any day of the week. 
Sam: The Launch 5 is a great value for a solid fun to run, all around lighter trainer. For Brooks fans it is a lighter alternative to the Glycerin 15 with for me a similar easy going ride.  The Launch 5 is clearly more comfortable on foot and livelier and bouncier than its predecessors but for me it is not as efficient in moving me forward at a variety of paces. 

I think Brooks went too far with the upper change to a very unstructured mid foot upper over the existing narrow mid foot platform which makes the shoe design live in a world between comfort, bouncy fun and performance, not quite figuring out exactly where it is. For me it now leans more towards comfort and bouncy fun than the steady stable performance of its predecessors. 

I found it softer and more flexible under foot than the Launch 4 was. It reminds me of the Saucony Freedom in that respect  but with somewhat less bounce and a much better heel hold and  heel stability. Both are shoes that put a premium on good form, as Peter has but I don't!  and control and are relatively soft.  Was Brooks trying to have it compete with the likes of the Freedom and Hoka Cavu using the existing Launch platform and a new upper? The midfoot mesh could be stiffer/denser with a real saddle as the Freedom ISO 2 will have...They might also pull it off with the same upper if the bootie ended closer to the tongue and was full height as in the similar construction Hoka Cavu. I think this upper would work better on the wider platform Ghost and soon in the Ghost 11 we will see a new FitKnit upper (Fall 2018 preview here), with it seems from seeing more structure than  the Launch 5's. 

Dave:  Great price and it will get the job done….if you are a Brooks fan (To me, Brooks was like either like it or not).  But…. the 2018 Brooks line (RTR Brooks 2018 Preview), including the new Ravenna 9, which I am in love with, is going to wow you (review coming soon).  So my thoughts are changing for next year with Brooks.  But anyhow...the Launch 5 could pack so much more punch...and it doesn’t.  It is unstable and just doesn’t feel as fast as some of the other trainers in this category (Razor 2, Zoom Elite 9, On Cloud X, Salomon Sonic RA) - - Launch 5 needs to go back to the lab for some re-working.  Again, just my take on it.  Others may just love this shoe if they were previous Launch fans or run exclusively in the Brooks line.

Peter’s Score 9.0 /10
.5 takes a little while to break in. 
.5 not particularly innovative

Sam’s Score 8/10
-1 for mismatch of upper support to narrow midfoot platform
-1 while well cushioned something is lost in getting to dynamic transitions and toe off, again due to the upper foot hold or maybe a softer midfoot and forefoot outsole

Dave’s Score 8.5/10
-1 for unstable ride due to a narrow midfoot platform
.5 lack of pop after a while.  It lost its MOJO.


Launch 5 vs. Launch 1 
Peter: I wish I still had a pair of the original Launch around to do the straight head-to-head comparison--but I don’t. The Launch 5 reminds me of the original in that  it’s a simple, fun shoe. Lace it up and don’t think about it. It’s a good ride. 

Launch 5 vs  Launch 3 (RTR review) and Launch 4 (RTR review)
Sam: The Launch 5 has a more comfortable but less supportive upper than its predecessors. The 5 is clearly more flexible as a result of the new upper with softer rubber than the 3, a shoe I found quite lumpy and ponderous with the ride much improved for me in the 4. I would still slightly lean towards the 4 over the 5 when use of the shoe is for faster running. For slower running the comfort of the 5 would win out.  On balance I prefer the 4 over the 5.

Launch 5 vs. NB Zante V3 (RTR review)
Peter: In a similar category--Zante is a little more of a slipper--more flexible, a bit lighter. The Launch is more protective under the forefoot and has a little more bounce to its ride. Launch is a versatile long run shoe that can pick up speed with the best of ‘em. Edge to the Launch.

Launch 5 vs.adidas Aerobounce (RTR review)
Clearly a competitor in the $100 class the Aerobounce has a similar soft bouncy midsole but finishes things off with an overly soft outsole. The ride is quite similar to the Launch's but has less pop due to the soft outsole. While not quite as supportive as I would like the Launch upper is clearly superior and more comfortable with its softer mesh than the Aero's which suffers from a high instep volume stiff overlays, and an overly wide heel collar. 

Launch 5 vs. Hoka Cavu (RTR review)
Peter: Launch is more flexible and has more bounce to it. More fun to run in for sure
Dave:  More shoe with the Cavu and I can use the Cavu for longer runs.
Sam: Agree with Peter that Launch is more fun to run especially slower and has more bounce but I will take the superior upper hold and stability of the Cavu despite its stiffness when the pace picks up. 

Launch 5 vs. Hoka Mach (RTR review)
Sam: Lighter by more than a full ounce, somewhat stiffer, with a great supportive, comfortable denser engineered mesh upper the Mach is more refined and versatile and can even run trails, something I would not dare to do in the Launch.

Launch 5 vs. Saucony Zealot 3 (RTR review)
Peter: The Launch and the Zealot are not dissimilar. I think the Launch feels a bit more refined and more stable than the Zealot.
Sam: I say the Zealot is lighter and far more stable with its wider mid foot platform with no wild carve outs or figure 8 outsole directly under mid foot as in Launch and its ISO Fit upper, also of the light engineered mesh variety holds my foot  better to the platform. While the Launch 5 is more easy going and softer at slower paces, the Zealot performs better at faster paces for me.

Peter: The Razor is a lighter, faster shoe, but the ride of each is great. Buy both. 
Dave:  Razor all day.  M Strike midsole screams fast.  Unstable midfoot platform in the Launch 5, doesn’t.

Launch 5 vs. On Cloud X (RTR review)
Sam: The On Cloud X gets the engineered mesh upper right with a substantial supportive saddle. The ride is considerably firmer than the Launch. Cloud X is a go fast shoe that if you prefer lots of road feel can also work as a trainer. If I had to choose one shoe between the two for all my running I would lean towards the Launch.

Launch 5 vs. Salomon Sonic RA (RTR preview, review soon)
Sam: half an ounce lighter and much more shoe all around from its thick well segmented geometrically decoupled outsole with a burly superbly fitting and supportive upper and with its effective firm vibration reducing midsole, the upcoming Sonic RA, while somewhat stiffer transitions just right for me and overall just runs smoother and with more confidence at all paces than the Launch. I would run trails in the Sonic RA but wouldn't consider it in the Launch which tells you something.

The Reviewers
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running for 45 years and a run shoe geek just as long. He is still at it, recently clocking a 1:35.24 half marathon.
Peter Stuart is a near the 50 and over age group and has recently run sub 3 for the marathon and sub 1:25 for a half
Dave Ames is sub 3 fit and is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business. He knows his shoes having worked managing multiple running retail stores and in wholesale for shoe brands.
For Peter, Dave, and Sam's  full run bios see our Reviewers Bio Page here.

Comments Questions Welcome Below!
The Launch 5 was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Anonymous said...

Hmm...sounds like the upper is for the "every man" runner (170+lbs bigger frame) but the sole is for the svelte elite? Sizing, does this measure same as Revel and Ghost 10?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Brooks do you have any idea what this is?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous, Sizing should be same as Ghost 10 but a touch pointier. Haven't run Revel. Exactly, the upper isn't enough for those of us with either a few extra lbs. or like me sloppy form. As far as IG it is not a Fall18 Brooks see preview here The midsole sure looks like Pebax given stack height-big and color-white and the fact they are a racing shoe. Pebax is in the Vapor Fly and excellent new Reebok Floatride Run, Run Fast, and Run Fast Pro see here I will ask over on the Running Shoe Geeks on FB.
Sam. Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all reviews here You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated.

Keep_Moving09 said...

Hi Sam,
Quick question - I decided to order the Launch 5 because I have enjoyed the 4's. I wear a size 8.5 in my 4' would the 5's fit similarly? I'm hoping they won't be too tight. Thanks!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Keep_Moving,
You will find the mid foot as stated in the article far less structured and the toe somewhat pointy. The mesh is much much lighter than the 4 with no overlays to speak of. Unless you have a very wide mid foot I would stay true to size.
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the well-balanced review. Having run about 200k in the Launch 5 (coming from the 4), I agree with the consensus.

The positives for me are:
- more breathable
- better heel padding avoiding achilles rub issue I had to carefully lace around to avoid with the 4
- same lightweight, lively-ish everyday/long run trainer for 64kg runner

The (slight) negatives have been:
- feels softer under foot than the 4 making them a bit spongy cornering/off-camber (perhaps this will improve with a few more 100k of compression)
- manufacturing size disparity: left shoe was looser out of the box (annoying because that's my smaller foot)
- possibly shorter in the front-to-lateral toebox (UK 9.5 in both 4 and 5)

The happy medium is somewhere between the 4 and 5, I think, but I wish Brooks would do a model somewhere between the Launch and the Hyperion: ~225g, responsive, form-fitting, long-run race type shoe. Meanwhile that remains Boston/Adios territory for me.

bringmemyfix said...

I think the Brooks Asteria was the shoe I was looking for. Suits my dead straight (yet neutral) foot. Now considering replacing my Launch with Ravenna when they’re past it. Minimal-stability looks like the way forward.