Monday, July 02, 2018

Brooks Levitate 2 Review: Smooth, Weighty and Substantial Road Cruiser

Article by Jeff Beck, Dave Ames, and Sam Winebaum

Dave:  Brooks has been a company completely off my radar for a number of years.  Poor biomechanical performance, general mass production of “chunky” trainers and a ton of weight and stiffness just let the brand fade further and further away from my foot.  However, in 2018 the brand really took a step in the right direction coming with a stronger aesthetic look, re-tweaked fun DNA Loft midsole materials in the Ghost 11 and Glycerin 16 and just plain more enjoyable shoes to run in.  The Ravenna 9 (see RTR review) was outstanding earlier this year and I pounded over 500 quality miles in it. I had heard decent things about the Levitate 1 (did not run in it other than try it on) so I was intrigued to see what all the hype was about in the 2.

Jeff: Unlike Dave, Brooks has been the backbone of my running shoe assortment for a while. Between giving the Glycerin a shot every year, and dabbling with the Ghost, I am solidly a Brooks fan. That said, I was intrigued with the Levitate last year, but the shape of the toe box made it a non-starter for me. When I saw pictures and read early reviews that the Levitate 2 changed all that, it quickly became my most anticipated shoe of the year.

Sam: Don't let the considerable 11.7 oz weight scare you off! By far the heaviest roads shoe I have run in for years, and gaining a bit over Levitate 1, the Brooks Levitate 2 with its innovative DNA AMP PU midsole skinned with a supportive sliver TPU skin is all smooth and supportive. I ran the Levitate 1 and was surprised by its smooth almost pneumatic cushion and measured yet noticeable "energy return". Amply cushioned, well shod with a full smoothly and quietly transitioning durable outsole it is a shoe I reach for when I want to really save the legs and still move along at a moderately decent pace. If you were a Leviate 1 fan not to worry the ride is the same. The changes here are to the upper.

Approx. Weight: US M9 11.7 oz /332 g
Sample US M8.5 11.4oz / 322g
US M11 12.9oz/ 365g
            Levitate 1: sample US 8.5 11.1 oz.
Stack Height: 26mm heel/18 mm heel, 8 mm offset
$150. Available July 2018

First Impressions and Fit
Dave:  Well Levitate is a heavy one.  That’s for sure. In fact, it gains weight from the 1 (11.7 vs. 11.4oz) but that’s kinda what you expect from the big dogs in run, such as ASICS and Brooks when they roll a "premium" trainer.  The new FitKnit upper is quite nice and when you slide the L2 on you forget a bit about how heavy the Levitate actually is (for a minute) My size 9 was spot on and the FitKnit upper wrapped my foot extremely well.  I’m always skeptical about the use of a knit collar (it ruined Skechers Go Run 6) - - but it works decently here and I had no issues with lacing or sloppiness/movement in the ankle/heel collar.

Jeff: There’s an elephant in the room, and we need to talk about it. It’s the Levitate 2. It’s an elephant. My size 11 came in at 12.9 oz, which might make it the heaviest shoe I have put on my foot in some time. The Glycerin 16 was heavy, but the Levitate 2 was nearly a half ounce heavier. That said, once it went on the foot, I was not thinking about the weight, nearly as much as I was thinking about how well it fit my foot. I’m usually a 10.5 in most shoes (except Nike, where I am an 11 across the board), and I may have been able to get away with a 10.5 in the Levitate 2, but the 11 gave my toes plenty of room to splay out, without being too long. It is definitely a little more narrow than the Glycerin 16, and while the G16 didn’t feel sloppy, the Levitate 2 holds the foot just a little bit better.

Sam: Fit is true to size for me as was the Levitate 1 and Ghost 10 and 11. The Levitate 2's new FitKnit upper is the big update here. I think it is stunning looking and a sharp, but in no way overdone, contrast to the Levitate 1's kind of boring all blue and sliver motif.  All in all the new upper improves the fit and comfort of the Levitate 1 and upper I had no issues with. My question trying them on was if the upper was overdone in its support and density, particularly at the rear of the shoe reminding me of many ASICS, all of which adds yet more weight.

Dave:  The FitKnit upper is nice.  This is definitely an area Brooks worked very hard on in 2018.  Frankly, before that, their uppers were just stale.  FitKnit brings them back into the game. It molds like a glove and provides a comfortable feel for those general recovery miles and or long runs (that’s how I used the L2)
Jeff: I’m impressed with the upper as well, but in a completely different way. The first thing I noticed is that the shoe does not have a second eyelet at the top, so I figured that folks who like to use that to lock a shoe down (my wife does this religiously) may have to skip this shoe. After running in it, I no longer think that is the case. While the FitKnit upper feels nice, what I like the most about it is the extended cushioning around the heel collar. 
Soft, but more importantly it’s super grippy, and it made my foot feel like it was poured into this shoe. The material feels like a suede or nubuck material, and it gripped my socks so well I had to partially loosen two eyelets down in order to take off the shoe each time I would run in it. That idiosyncrasy made the upper stand out performance wise on top of the solid aesthetics, but I did have one complaint. When running in hot weather, you definitely know it. Several of my runs started after the mercury had broken 85° F, and feet felt it the whole way.

Sam: The fit is true to size at my usual men's 8.5 as was Levitate 1. The toe box is slightly higher, easier fitting and softer feeling due to the elimination (see photo below) of denser toe cap knitting and stiffening throughout the toe box. The mid foot is where the FitKnit really kicks in and it is more secure than Levitate 1 but also has less pressure as all knit construction replaces the previous vertical overlays.
LEFT: Levitate 1                                                                              RIGHT: Levitate 2
Big changes occur from the lace up back to the heel.  In the photo above, one immediately notices the narrower tongue end. Does it work as a tongue? Yes but I wish for a bit more width and rearwards reach to better pad the stout lace loop built into to the knit collar.
The Levitate 2 has a cool looking knit collar which is tied into the lacing. 
The effect is much like using the rear lace hole in a lace lock as is a great way to tie the usually floppy knit collars. I found the last substantial lace loop tying to the collar a bit thick as the collar is folded back and stitched to create the loop with not as much padding as may be ideal. This said, the lace up and security there, always a challenge with knit collar shoes, is super secure, maybe to secure and a bit more than actually required? No big comfort issues so far but wonder if the design look snuck in ahead of practicality at this feature? 
LEFT: Levitate 2                                            RIGHT: Levitate1                                        
The heel and ankle counter below the knit collar is stout and higher reaching to the bottom of the knit collar, and more lightly and firmer padded than Levitate 1's.

No issues with irritation so far but I do notice this firmer, higher construction and the lace loop. The result is a more solid lockdown that is not quite as plush as the Levitate 1. This is an incredibly secure upper which is also overall very comfortable if a bit warm as the mid foot to rear upper is for sure dense.

Dave:  DNA AMP foam is used in the L2.  DNA AMP foam was developed to provide a “unparalleled energy return.” Immediately out of the gate you will notice the L2 provides a good amount of cush and pop underneath your foot. But it runs into problems from the get go for me.  Unfortunately , the heavy weight, combined with a very slow heel to toe transition makes this a tank to run in for me. I just do not do well in heavier trainers like this and I left every single run feeling beat up in the shins, knees and hips. Simply put, my gait doesn’t work with this shoe. Even as a washed up old coach at 36, I’m still quicker than this shoe. That’s why I can’t run it in. I tried to go faster, tried to go slower, it didn’t matter. It just felt like I was working far too hard in the L2 and that’s always a red flag for me.  I’ll stick with my Ravenna 9. It’s a much more pleasurable running experience.

Jeff: As much as I enjoyed the upper of the shoe, I am lukewarm on the midsole. After my first few runs in it, I actively disliked the midsole, and only after a few more runs I would upgrade my opinion to lukewarm. DNA AMP is supposed to be “more responsive” than any of their other cushioning technologies, including the the DNA Loft cushioning they used in the Glycerin 16, and I never really felt that. It felt quite a bit less cushioned than the Glycerin 16, or even the Glycerin 15. Like Dave, I came out of each run feeling more beat up than I should be for a shoe of its nature. During one of my easy runs in the Levitate 2 I pushed pace a half mile to a 10K race pace, thinking that maybe I was running too slow for it to be “responsive”, but that was a mistake. It felt even more lifeless as a quicker speed. And for my efforts my feet hurt for the rest of the day like I had gone out in race flats. Eventually I felt what Sam had called a “piston effect” in the shoe, but it was a little jarring.

Sam: DNA AMP foam is the key feature here.  DNA AMP is a PU (polyurethane) midsole with a TPU outer skin Brooks claims that PU provides "unparalleled energy return". To deliver "amplified experience" the PU midsole is encased in a silver TPU skin. TPU it is used in many ways in run shoes, in the midsole and even uppers as overlays and as harder plates in midsoles such as in most Boost shoes, to here as a skin. The skin is supposed to resist horizontal expansion of the midsole as forces are applied to deliver the fullest energy return or more accurately really lowest energy loss possible from the rest of the midsole. 

The midsole is unchanged from Levitate 1. While a very heavy and dense midsole material it has a wonderfully stable, smoothly pneumatic feel to it. Landings and take offs are well dosed and lively in a steady as she goes way,quite unlike EVA which has a sharper more responsive feel or Boost which is bouncy and harder to control for lateral forces. This is a very resilient durable midsole which goes well with the rest of the durability and many miles story of outsole and upper. 
The DNA Amp midsole outer walls are coated with silver TPU. Not just decorative this coating plays a key role in containing the compression of the midsole and its  directing its rebound vertically below the foot and I think is key to that smooth directed pneumatic feel.

Sam: The outsole seems to be exactly to be in exactly the same pattern as Levitate 1 but is made of a more translucent rubber. The outsole is in perfect harmony with the rest of the shoe. Not exactly a responsive feeling outsole but it is a very, very smooth and quiet at all paces. It's a feel like a very fine European luxury sedan shod with the best all conditions rubber.  I wonder if response would be improved by slightly firmer rubber here.
Dave:  Translucent rubber.  It’s about what I would expect for a shoe Brooks wants to be a workhorse.  It’s beefy. But... it comes off quiet.  I was expecting this to sound like a Mizuno Wave Rider where people can hear you coming from a mile away, but it didn't!  The outsole geometry works well with the overall last of the shoe (they line up can see it) and at very slow speeds (for me) works well the foot.  I expect the outsole to hold up well to high mileage training.

Jeff: I think the translucent rubber outsole is nice. It isn’t quite as cool as the Saucony Freedom ISO or Freedom ISO 2, but it is close. Any lack of flexibility comes from the midsole, not too much rubber, and due to the rubber coverage I didn’t hesitate to take it on the groomed dirt trail that borders my neighborhood. And while I wouldn’t make it a full-fledged trail shoe, it does have plenty of grip. The rubber is pretty soft, and my pair does have a few spots of noticeable wear after the first twenty miles, I do not have any durability concerns.

Dave:  Just not a fan.  A very poor transition rate from heel to toe and I sink far too much by the time I am in ‘midload” position.  The heaviness to L2 causes me to get stuck in the midfoot and really have to force and or push my toe off. That’s a recipe for disaster for my gait cycle.  I left each run feeling demolished. I thought this may end up being a nice recovery day shoe for me, but it leaves me even more wrecked. I practice and use a lot of Chi Running methods nowadays, especially as I transition over to the Ultra scene, and the L2 just isn’t smooth for that type of gait.

Jeff: I am sorry to say I’m in the same camp as Dave. It certainly felt less cushioned than the DNA Loft, and it has a completely different ride - but it is not a ride that I liked. Even when I warmed up to it, I still thought it felt slightly dead. A few years ago I put some miles on the re-release of the Launch, and it felt the same way to me. Plainly put, it was very uninspiring especially compared to their recently released Glycerin 16, which is easy to put a lot of easy miles on. And if your run picks up the pace for whatever reason, the Glycerin 16 is here for it while the Levitate 2 is not nearly as eager. The heel is well cushioned, but the forefoot isn’t nearly as plush as I would like for a shoe of the it’s weight class. I also noticed that it was not very smooth if my form broke down in any way. One run was an easy five miles around the neighborhood, and halfway through I looped back and threw a Glycerin 16 on my left foot to directly compare to the Levitate 2. The half ounce weight difference was negligible, but the G16 felt more plush, as well as what I think of as “bouncy”, while the Levitate 2 was cushioned, but not nearly as active.

Sam: I am amazed how smoothly this big, big shoe runs.  It is not very responsive but the DNA AMP is more dynamic, in a more steady measured way than comparable EVA midsoled premium trainers. The ride is very similar to Levitate 1 with the upper more as one with the rest of the shoe. I noticed slightly smoother and easier transitions test running Levitate 1 and 2 side by side. I really don't notice the weight here until about 5 miles or so when I start to realize it's there and a heavy shoe. Levitate is without the ponderous dead and heavy feeling I often find in road shoes that are approaching 11 ounces,  and here we are well over that. 
Conclusions and Recommendations
Kinda disappointed in the L2, especially at that price point ($150) - - If this is going to be the Caddy of their plush “poppy” line it’s not going to do it for me.  Definitely a shoe recommended for the runner who heel strikes and likes a slower transitioning shoe from heel to toe. By no means am I fast anymore, so don’t get the wrong picture here, but I feel like the L2 will work well for the newer runner and or runner who is in the 9:00+ range for pace per mile.  It will provide great cush, good return on a slower turnover rate and be your workhorse. It will definitely hold up for your training!
Dave’s Score - 8/10
- 1 for excessively heavy for my running
-1 for poor transition rate / having to work very hard biomechanically in the shoe

My most anticipated shoe of the year is currently my most disappointing. Brooks knocked it out of the park in the looks department, and while the knit upper brings a little more extra weight and a bit of heat, I think everything above the midsole is fantastic. I just couldn’t get around how much I disliked the ride, especially coming right off of the Glycerin 16. I was very curious to see how the two shoes would line up, seeing that they are the same cost and seem be trying to accomplish the same thing. For me, the Glycerin 16 does it better, but we all know how a shoe feels is very subjective. I could see the Levitate 2 finding a home as the slow recovery shoe for most runners, but it makes the most sense as a daily runner for heavier and slower runners like myself. I would strongly suggest you compare it to the Glycerin 16, and see which midsole/ride feel you like the most. Both shoes are considered Neutral, but I feel like the Levitate 2 has more stability, and its midsole feels just a touch firmer, which could be the difference for over-pronators.
Jeff’s Score - 8.25/10
-1 for the ride
-.5 for the heavy weight
-.25 for the upper heat
This pains me quite a bit, I’m an optimist. I like liking things, and knocking my most anticipated shoe isn’t something I enjoy doing. But wanting to like a shoe, and genuinely enjoying the shoe are two different things. If the Glycerin 16 did not exist then I would give the point back for the ride - but considering the same company just put out a heavy duty trainer that runs so well only to stumble here makes it hard to ignore.

The Levitate is what it is a heavy duty premium trainer. It does not exactly "Levitate" but I found it fun and different in its midsole feel and smooth muted ride.  It is an ideal shoe for very well protected big mileage , heavier runners, and runners seeking the ultimate in cushioning yet while still getting a decently dynamic and smooth experience for mostly shorter runs at moderate paces. I did start to feel the weight as I got past seven or so miles. Before that all fine, so clearly it is a great option for the runner doing moderate daily runs. 

With its PU midsole and very decent rubber coverage it should last many miles. Is it exciting to run?  Not really, but it gets the job done with great overall top to bottom support and "pneumatic" cushion. Despite the weight and muted ride, I was surprised as the pace picked up that it moved along quite nicely and faster by the watch than it felt. All of sudden things were moving along without sensing any difference in ride feel. In that way the Levitate is great for both slow paces and moderate paces all the while delivering a consistent feel. 

My big knock here is the 11.7 oz weight and the added weight over Levitate 1. The upper is fantastic in its asethetics and support but dense and adds weight. The underfoot platform is plenty stable and supportive.  I think Brooks should have considered heading towards a lighter knit construction. While a lighter DNA AMP with some BioMoGo EVA shoe, the Ricochet, is coming, the PU midsole here is so dense and protective I think Brooks could have also reduced the stack to save some weight. The "conventional" stats of 28mm heel /18 mm forefoot here may not be necessary given the characteristics of PU. A 26mm or even 24 mm heel might have produced a lighter and livelier without sacrificing much cushioning protection or even effective drop.
Sam's Score 8.75/10
-1.25 for overall weight. Upper could be lightened and maybe stack reduced, but PU is what it is, heavy.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Brooks Ghost 11 (RTR review)
Sam: Ghost 11 any day for me. A much livelier faster ride with plenty of cushion from the new DNA Loft insert, a lighter weight by well over an ounce, and a great upper, the Ghost 11 is a better choice for faster daily training than Levitate and does the slow easy stuff just fine too. If you want the max in cushion, a unique ride and your paces are slower head for Levitate.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Brooks Ravenna 9 (RTR review)
Dave:  While they may be in slightly different categories with Ravenna 9 being in that “slight stability” range, I find them to both ride neutrally.  The Ravenna 9 is just much more fun to run in for me. It has a bit more pop off of the forefoot and boasts a smoother transition from heel to toe.  It is also much lighter for a daily trainer for me. Don’t let the stability fool you here. This Ravenna 9 is a total sleeper of a shoe and can easily be used by neutral runners..  It may get lost to a Ghost in the shuffle, but Ravenna a far better trainer in my opinion.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Hoka Clifton 5 (RTR review)
Dave:  Both built for the long haul in training, I have to give the slight nod here to L2.  It is a bit more responsive for me, while the Clifton 5 is just too darn soft. However, I leave a run in both feeling far more beat up than normal.  
Sam: In this comparison, and despite the softness as Dave says, the Clifton 5 is a livelier lighter trainer while the Levitate is for sure more stable and protective. Neither is in my sweet spot as an all around faster and slower pace daily trainer as the Brooks Ghost 11 is,

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Saucony Ride ISO (RTR review)
Dave:  The EVERUN top sole with PWRFOAM midsole and is just far more fun to train in for me.  It transitions much smoother and allows for recovery days, when feeling banged up, to feel effortless, which is important to me.  Ride ISO is also lighter. Ride ISO for the W.
Sam: Going to agree with Dave but caution that the Ride ISO upper is the polar opposite of Levitate's. If you need more stable upper support head for the Levitate.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Saucony Triumph ISO 4 (RTR review)
Sam: I might call the Triumph ISO 4 the "performance" premium trainer. It is firmer, stiffer, and more responsive than the Levitate 2. At 11.3 oz it is getting close to the Levitate 2 in weight. Despite its density I prefer the Levitate's secure upper to the Triumph's easier going and also somewhat hard to dial in ISO upper. The Triumph's full TPU Everun midsole is more responsive but firmer and not as much fun or easy as Levitate to run at slower paces. The DNA AMP is a superior midsole material for me given its smoother compression and energy return, If one is looking for a more comfortable ride for slower paces go with the Levitate 2. For a snappier if stiff and firmer ride go with Triumph. Overall at these weights I would lean towards Levitate 2.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Saucony Freedom ISO (RTR review)
Dave:  Neither.  Both beat me up.  But if you had to choose, the upper wins out on Freedom ISO.  It’s outstanding!
Sam: Very different shoes. I found the Freedom ISO 2 firm and kind of punishing. Not a longer run or easier days shoe for me as Levitate is. Freedom ISO 2 upper is outstanding and gets the job done while not being overbuilt as Levitate's could be for many. I do prefer the heel hold and stability of Levitate.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs. Brooks Glycerin 16 (RTR review)
Jeff: No brainer - it’s the Glycerin 16 all day. Just a hair lighter, with a more comfortable plush ride and every bit the same level of durability, the shoe with DNA Loft cushioning kills the new tech in the running feel department. The Glycerin 16 is everything the Levitate 2 should be and more.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs New Balance 1080v8 (RTR review)
Jeff: I’d give it to the Levitate 2. While I didn’t enjoy the ride of the Levitate, the 1080v8 was every bit as uninspiring with a somewhat phoned in everything else. The Levitate has a great upper, and it is much more flexible, while the 1080v8 feels like running on a big block of foam.
Sam: I will agree with Jeff that the ride of Levitate is more pleasing and smooth than the 1080v8 but I prefer the weight and fit of the 1080 upper by a small margin.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs ASICS Nimbus 19 (RTR review)
Sam: I have to imagine Brooks targeted the venerable Nimbus with the Levitate. Both of these neutral trainers feature stout uppers and underfoot support with a focus on rear of the foot stability. The Levitate's upper is superior in its comfort over the constrained Nimbus's upper. Underfoot, the Nimbus has lots going on between Gel, Trussic plates and foam and just doesn't run as smoothly or consistently as the Levitate with its more simple construction and PU midsole. The Nimbus is "lighter" at 11 oz and a touch more responsive but I prefer the Levitate's more polished and consistent comfort top to bottom and ride.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs Altra Paradigm 4 (RTR review)
Sam: Well over an ounce lighter the zero drop Paradigm has the kind of knit upper the Levitate should consider. Lighter, roomier, super comfortable and equally as supportive. The ride is bouncier and more energetic than the Levitate's with plenty of cushion. Things start to go south for me in the Paradigm as it has support features using a guide rail on the medial side, and in combination with the zero drop I found them more ponderous to run than Levitate at slower paces. The Paradigm is the choice for many Altra elites for smoother trail ultras which is where I will use them more frequently than on road.

Brooks Levitate 2 vs Skechers Go Run Ride 7 (RTR review)
Jeff: With more than 3 ounces of difference between the two (my GRR7 come to 9.8oz to the L2’s 12.9oz) it is hard to believe that the Skechers shoe is actually more cushioned, and more responsive. The Levitate 2’s upper feels much better, and overall the shoe looks much better, but this isn’t, and I would take the GRR7 out for virtually any run over the Levitate 2 - unless it was going to be very hot. As much as the Levitate 2 upper generates some heat, the GRR7 is even hotter.
Sam: I agree with Jeff, the ride of the Ride 7 is way more fun and it is a much faster shoe is not nearly as stable underfoot. Heavier runners and those seeking a more stable ride in a neutral shoe for heavier mileage, slower paces and longer lasting rubber should look towards the Levitate over Ride 7.
The Levitate were provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Reviewer Bios
Jeff Beck is the token slow fat guy runner. Wasting his youth on such endeavors as playing golf and writing, he only started running in his thirties, and has a marathon PR of 4:15 to prove it. A full-time property manager, this part-time author and cold brew coffee maker lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and daughter. He enjoys running desert trails as well as the road, and is trying to get his 5K time to sub-twenty.
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. 
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun . He has been running trails and roads and run shoe and tech geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half as well as 2 days after his 61st birthday a 3:40 marathon.  He also runs trails in rocky rooty New Hampshire and smooth Park City, UT. 
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Joel Morris said...

Did either reviewer try it with no-show socks? I found the hem around the ankle to be extremely irritable when on bare skin.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Joel,
I almost never run in no show height socks but did note in my comments in the review some concern about the height and construction of the ankle collar and lace up loop stiffness. I could see potential issues with low socks. Thanks for highlighting this issue,
Sam, Editor

Gill said...

Vs ride of Adidas solar boost ?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Gil, Ride of Solar Boost vs. Levitate. Depends on what you are seeking. If you want a very consistent and gradually pneumatic ride feel at all paces the Levitate delivers. If you want a snappier ride with more bounce Solar. I personally prefer the faster feel of the Solar. The uppers are also a consideration with the front of the Solar potentially an issue for those with bunions and the high rear collar and heel cup of the Levitate an issue for others. I found the rear of the Levitate just fine but the front fabric of the Solar somewhat snug.
Sam, Editor

Unknown said...

Way too narrow in the midfoot and it keeps me from supination way more than the Glycerin. The colors are horrible but if Brooks made a wide l would definitely try it out.

Curious to see Brooks does with the Ricochet and Bedlam releases coming soon. Hey Brooks why no AMPDNA shoes in Wide for runners with flat feet (2E)?