Saturday, December 22, 2018

adidas Solar Drive Review: Durable, Soft and Easy Trainer with a Cage Free Upper Gets the Job Done

Article by Sam Winebaum and Dave Ames
adidas Solar Drive ($120

Sam: The original adidas Boost shoe, the Energy Boost 1 was a sensational trainer and also marathon racer for me ,and this for several years after its initial launch. Then Adi drifted away into Ultra Boost and Supernova with excessively soft midsoles and outsoles, heavy off balance heel areas, uppers with awkward plastic cages (2018 Energy Boost and many others) and painfully dense stitched saddles with non stretch toe boxes (Solar Boost).

While resolutely a softer and heavier shoe at 11.1 oz in my US men's 8.5 sample, the Solar Drive has that Boost bounce and plenty of underfoot stability from its unobtrusive midsole/upper Solar Propulsion Rails. The top to bottom feel from upper to midsole/outsole is very well balanced, smooth and polished providing a leisurely, comfortable highly protective ride with no rough edges

Dave:  I’ve been impressed with Adi as of late.  The special edition B.A.A. colorway of last year’s Boston is an amazing shoe.  In fact, one of the Top 5 shoes of 2018 for me. It’s smooth, can be used on a variety of days and quite honestly, is just a joy to run in!  The BOOST midsole compound has come a long way since the original Energy Boost from some years ago, and I’m leaving runs feeling a heck of a lot fresher than I used to! BOOST used to do a number on me, I sank far too much in it.

Very well cushioned, bouncy and smooth transitioning Boost based midsole
Workhorse trainer with very good expected mileage longevity.
Fairly priced at $120 for a top to bottom fully modern design, Boost powered, heavy duty trainer

The upper is hot!  Needs more breathability.
Upper may be overly voluminous for low volume feet
Heavy at over 11 oz.
Please read on for all the details
Estimated weight: 11.1 oz // 315 g US men's 9
Sample US men’s 9: 11.1 oz // 315 g  
Sample US men’s 8.5: 11.1 oz // 315 g
we noted differences in weight between shoes in a pair
Stack Height: 30mm heel / 20mm forefoot, 10mm drop (to be confirmed)
$120. Available now.

Tester Profiles
Sam is 61 and runs 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate mid 9 minute paces. He ran a 1:35 half in 2017 and a 3:40 Boston qualifier in 2018
Dave is 37 and keeps in sub 3 shape while transitioning to Ultras. He is a professional running coach and trains a mix of at least one quality workout, one long run and aerobic miles.

Fit and First Impressions
Sam: The upper is one of the smoothest fitting I have run this year, soft and decently supportive and roomy-maybe too wide and roomy for those with very narrow low volume feet at true to size.

Its design of no overlays upfront, plenty of volume and across the shoe flex patterns in the mesh reminds me of the upper of the Asics Dynaflyte 3, a touch more securely executed if overall roomier.
There is plenty of toe box width and height and a comfort fit. I might even consider sizing down half a size for thin socks here or for summer heat use where thin socks are called for. In winter with thicker socks the fit is fine for me at true to size.

Dave:  I’ve been impressed with Adi as of late.  The special edition B.A.A. colorway of this year’s Boston 7 is an amazing shoe (RTR review).  In fact, one of the Top 5 shoes of 2018 for me. It’s smooth, can be used on a variety of days and quite honestly, is just a joy to run in!  2019 is proving to be a decent year for Adidas as well, with the new Adios 4 (lightweight trainer/racer) we just reviewed here. The Boost midsole compound has come a long way since the original Energy Boost from some years ago, and I’m leaving runs feeling a heck of a lot fresher than I used to in my legs! Boost used to do a number on me!  I sank far too much in it.

As far as fit, Adi has sometimes struggled in the width and sizing department for some runners.  However, no issues here. My size 9 is perfect and the new re-designed, now “cage free” upper, molds nicely to my foot, with an ample well splayed toe box.  The “last” of the shoe almost feels a bit odd the first few times you step into the Solar Drive, but I think that was from trying on a shoe that just plain had a bunch more substance to it than what I am used to (run in a lot of Razor 3, Kinvara 10, Reebok Sweet Road 2, etc.) - - You feel much more structure around your foot and the top sole platform provides a little more width underfoot than most lightweight trainers I am used to.  Not a bad thing honestly, and it does not affect the overall performance of the shoe, to note. Solar Drive comes in at $120 does a good job for that price point of delivering a shoe that feels good and will be durable against some other far overpriced and fail to deliver shoes in their run lineup.

Dave:  Adidas has now gone with a new upper, this time being “cage free.”  It is meant to work with the foot, not necessarily lock it in, as Adi attempted in Solar Boost last year with stiff stitched in reinforcements and a not very stretchy soft-shell like toe box , causing some fit issues for runners.  The upper is a well designed, an almost 1 piece mesh, with very minimal stitching above the toe box (ribbing), showing just very small grooves to allow more flex upon toe off.  However, and maybe it’s just me, but it’s hot! It does not breathe well for me. I’ve tried multiple sock combos from Stance, to Zensah to Feetures...all socks that have never ever given me an issue in the past.  So it’s definitely the upper. The weather in the morning’s of testing this shoe here in SoCal have been 45 to 55 degrees, sunny and calm. Nothing that would indicate moisture build like I am getting. The first few morning runs also gave me some trouble regarding the higher posted heel collar.  I had on Stance quarter socks and caught some minor irritation above my achilles from the collar being pitched so high. Note: Since those initial runs, it has gone away. 50 miles in and the shoe has begun to wrap my foot well. Ditching the cage was key!

Sam: There are zero overlays on the upper beyond the very thin "3 Stripes"which appear to be just paint. The engineered mesh is extremely soft and pliable with its somewhat shiny fibers making me think it may be made of mono filament fibers similar to those used in the thinner more performance oriented uppers of the Skechers Razor 3, upcoming Hoka Mach 2 and Saucony Kinvara 10.

While the thin molded tongue is very comfortable in combination with roomy relatively unstructured and slippery laces the Drive tended to require more frequent than ideal re tying

The rear hold is excellent if relaxed with the swept back "silhouette" achilles "thing" providing a good pressure free hold. the achilles collar's top width is wider than Solar Boost or Energy Boost while having more padding lower down than those two, thus I think providing the effective hold. Unlike the Solar Boost with its firm two side wing heel cup with soft rear or the plastic caged rear of the Energy Boost here we have a full, continuous, and firm heel cup.
Dave:  We have a length BOOST midsole compound, a highly resilient temperature resistant and bouncy TPU material.  As noted above, I used to struggle in BOOST.  It was just too darn soft and I sunk a ton in it.  But as the lines have developed from Adi, especially this last year, it is coming back around on me.  For a shoe that is 11.1 oz, and kinda drives like a Buick, BOOST shows up in this shoe. In a good way.  It is smooth, poppy and kind of fun to run in, as long as it is an easy day or recovery day in my training.  I am training for Ultra’s now and I don’t have the time to hit the trails daily anymore via coaching and sharing a car with my wife.  I need a shoe that can get those 90 mins to 2 hour runs in on pavement, but also keep me in check pace wise to keep the speed dialed back.  Solar Drive does just that for me. Transition is decent from heel strike to toe off and while I thought initially there wasn’t enough underfoot via the topsole, several runs later it proves to be plenty.  This is where the use of the Solar Propulsion rails, the black EVA side walls above come in. They get you from heel to toe quickly. Again, for 11.1 oz, it still moves right along.

Sam: The midsole is of course adidas Boost with around the top a ring of stabilizing EVA.  The plastic stabilizing Torsion-if there is any as it is not called out or visible would embedded completely in the midsole. I think there is none here. I feel a touch more stability behind the arch underfoot in the center of the mid foot directly underfoot below the Solar Rails. 

Closely examining after a reader comment, I see a thin layer of firmer gray material, likely a TPU layer substituting for Torsion plastic. If so, this simplifies construction and likely explains the $120 price point. This construction, in combination with a denser array of lugs at mid foot and no cavity with Torsion as in other Boost trainers such as Solar Boost and Energy Boost, stabilizes the mid foot and contributes to the smooth transition off the soft heel which Torsion plastic may have gotten in the way of at slower paces for me in the Energy Boost in particular. Upfront with no Torsion plastic plate above the outsole as in the others we have a softer less responsive and snappy toe off at faster paces.

Sam: Of course in the mix we also have the Solar Rails stabilizing elements. They are about the same height as in the Solar Boost but appear to be located lower so at mid foot they are less noticed, in fact not noticed really at all and less than the similar side walls of the new Nike Zoom Vomero 14. The Rails play a big role in stabilizing the foot in the soft unstructured upper. Without them I think the foot would swim around at mid foot.  The midsole has that characteristic Boost soft bouncy feel but without the the heavy off balance heel of the Energy Boost or the total mush of the Ultra Boost.

The considerably lighter and lower stack Solar Boost 27/17 mm (vs 30/20 mm for Drive) is more responsive with a clearly more distinct toe area flex given its lower stack and visible Torsion pieces on the lateral and medial forefoot edges. The Drive is more consistent in firmness in the forefoot and firmer to pressing with fingers than the Solar Boost in the center of the forefoot. I found that at slower paces concentrating on driving a bit further forward on landings off the far back heel had me moving through the mid foot guided by the Solar Rails to a nice smooth bouncy if not exactly snappy toe off.

adidas Solar Drive

I have not run the very similar but somewhat lighter Solar Glide but one notable difference is that there is no Torsion plastic called out and it there is it is fully embedded in the Drive  whereas in the Glide (and also Energy and Solar Boost)  it is visible in multiple places through the outsole including in a significant cavity at mid foot. 

adidas Solar Glide
How this construction translates is that the overall feel and flow through the gait is smoother and more consistent in the Drive, if softer and less responsive especially at the forefoot than the similar in construction Glide Energy Boost 4 and Solar Boost.

Sam: The outsole design is similar to the Solar Boost and Energy Boost and its rubber may be a bit firmer, a good thing to stabilize the Boost and give the shoe some clearly felt pop. Where other Boost trainers have a cavity exposing the Torsion plastic at mid foot here we have no cavity and a denser array of lugs which should help stabilize the mid foot. I do not see Continental marking on the outsole so it is all Adiwear. The shoe has a longer somewhat easier flex than its siblings which I found that as such longer flexes often do allowing me to transition smoothly at a variety of paces including slower paces.

Dave: The Adiwear high rubber compound on the outsole provides a good amount of protection and my guess will be durability for the long haul wot Solar Drive.  However, in testing, it is quite slippery on sidewalks here in SoCal. A lot of sprinklers, homeowners washing down their front walks and some of the occasional rainy days here have proved to show that I need to be a bit more careful running in this thing on wet pavement  (more concrete than anything) - - It performed much better on the roads in general than sidewalk to note. The outsole has the makings of being very durable which I like nothing is exposed.


Sam: The Drive has a bouncy ride characteristic of Boost shoes. With none of the wrinkles and awkwardness of recent Boost trainers, they were comfortable and fun to run and easy of the legs at a pretty typical for me daily training pace in the 9 minute mile range. There is no sense of mush here but they are soft. The bounce is noticeable and pleasing, the ride balanced and easy with no upper "impediments" as I found in Solar Boost, somewhat spoiling its dynamic ride.

The Drive does have a more softer more cushioned vibe that leans towards more mellow daily training and recovery runs for me than lighter shoes such as the Ghost 11 or the very dynamic Nike Zoom Vomero 14. It sits somewhere between the not as bouncy but more responsive Saucony Triumph ISO 5 and the lively yet quite soft and lighter New Balance 1080v9. Not the lightest of trainers clocking in at 11.1 oz (315 g  ) it runs lighter than its weight and so far handles all paces overall, and especially slower paces, better than the ever so slightly lighter but heel heavy 2018 Energy Boost. It is 1.2 oz / 34 g  heavier than my Solar Boost. The Solar Boost has a snappier more dynamic ride very close to the original Energy Boost but its non stretch toe box and rigid lace holder makes it one of the very few shoes which can irritate my bunion so hard to enjoy their great ride..

Dave:  Remember that Buick comment?  I look at it like this. It gets the job done, it’s safe and it’s going to last.  Want a sports car type handling, this isn’t the shoe. But want a car safe for the family (those general mileage days and long runs) - -Solar Drive will do just fine.  The full length BOOST midsole, combined with the Solar Propulsion Rail, gives the runner a smooth heel to toe transition, even at 11.1 oz in my Men’s US 9. It’s honestly quite the pleasant shoe to run in and I am not the fan of heavier trainers by any means!  I have a good feeling this baby will crank out 400+ miles depending on runner biomechanics and you’ll enjoy almost every minute of it. Note: It is heavy. You do notice that on your foot after a while, but break it in with a few miles and it moves right along.  I am a slight heel striker and supinator and I find myself having no issues getting from midfoot to forefoot, quickly and efficiently, with a good amount of pop.


Dave:  Overall, a pretty solid shoe from adidas, proving they can be back in the daily trainer market.  It is a tad heavy, and it could breathe much better, but I have had no qualms about it 50 miles in.  It’s probably not the type of shoe I will pull extremely frequently, but I will always know it is there, especially on days I am feeling beat up from Ultra training.  I have a feeling the heavier runner and the runners with a bit more volume to their foot shape may like this a little more than the speedierwho likes lightweight performance footwear.  It simply gets the job done without you noticing too much is on your foot. The price point at $120 is hard to beat as well. You’re getting a heck of a lot of a shoe for that price!

Sam: The Drive is a fine, softer bouncy and stable neutral daily trainer with a great upper which favors wider feet and truly pampers all feet. It is smooth and polished top to bottom. Its best use is for moderate pace daily training as its 11 oz plus weight is noticed on longer runs. It is also a great recovery days slow runs shoe. It is very fairly priced t $120 and should last many, many miles.

Dave’s Score:  8.5/10
-1 for weight.  At 10.8 oz, I’d prefer to see the SD 9.5 to 10oz.
-.25 for breathability
-.25 for high heel collar (could cause issues for some runners)
Sam's Score:  9.0/10
-0.5 for weight. Shoes over 11 oz start to drag
-0.5 for lack of pop and softness. More EVA and Torsion and less Boost could lighten and liven the ride

Best Use: Runners seek a soft yet stable trainer for more moderate pace daily miles with a roomy upper.

adidas Trainers: Solar Drive, Solar Boost, Energy Boost 2018, Supernova
FRONT TO BACK: Solar Drive, Energy Boost, Solar Drive
The adidas daily trainer line can be confusing with several models very close in specs. We have tested the Solar Boost (RTR review) and 2018 Energy Boost 4 (RTR review) and earlier Supernova (RTR review). We have not tested the Solar Glide, at 10.5 oz sitting between the Energy and Solar Boost in weight with the same stack height as those two.
Heaviest to Lightest (US M 8.5 samples):
Drive (11.1 oz/ 315 g)> Energy (10.8 oz/307 g >Supernova (10.5 oz/298 g)> Solar B (9.9 oz/280 g))
Most overall stack:
Drive (30/20)>Supernova. Solar Boost and Energy (27/17)
Overall softest cushion (most to least):
Supernova>Drive > Energy> Solar Boost
Softest forefoot (most to least):
Supernova>Drive >Energy > Solar Boost
Softest heel (most to least):  
Supernova>Drive >with Solar Boost and Energy about the same but more stable
Most spring toe off ( most to least):
Energy >Solar Boost >Drive>Supernova
Most comfortable upper (most to least):
Drive > Energy >Solar Boost>Supernova
Most secure upper (most to least):
Supernova>Solar Boost >Energy > Drive
Most responsive (most to least):
Solar Boost> Energy> Drive>Supernova
Fastest overall(most to least):
Solar Boost > Energy> Drive>Supernova

Best uses:
Drive: moderate pace daily training, softer in cushioning and also stiffer than the others at faster paces. Most relaxed upper.
Energy: faster paced daily training, but heel heavy at slower paces
Solar Boost, most responsive, best at all paces with snuggest (and problematic for some) upper.

Bottom Line: The Drive is the softest and most cushioned of the three with a longer more relaxed flex. It is not quite as agile and snappy at faster paces than Energy or Solar but easier to run slow than the Energy or Supernova with their heavy heel feel. Its upper, while maybe lacking some of the security and over snugness and awkwardness of the Solar, Energy, and Supernova is easier fitting for broader high volume feet and very comfortable taken at those ideal for it slower paces.

adidas Solar Drive vs. adidas Boston 7 Boston Marathon 2018 (RTR review)
Dave:  Boston 7 was in my Top 5 shoes of 2018.  It totally will get the nod from me here vs. the Solar Drive.  It’s smoother, lighter and transitions so so well! But on days where I feel a bit more banged up, it may not have enough underfoot for me.  Solar Drive can come into play for those types of days. If you want a shoe that can do it all, go with the Boston 7 (Miles days, Tempo,’s quick enough) but if you are looking for that daily trainer, or may be a bit more of a heavier runner, heel striker or like more BOOST, go with the Solar Drive.
Sam: The Drive is a great easier days compliment to the Boston for Boost fans.

adidas Solar Drive vs. Saucony Triumph ISO 5 (RTR review)
Dave:  Both in the general daily neutral trainer category, they both move right along in a smooth, precise fashion.  However, weight does plague Solar Drive, compared to the Triumph ISO. But we can also flip that right back the other way and say that ISO fit is an awful lacing scheme and I personally have struggled a lot with it.  It’s kind of a toss up between the two. Each does different things better than the other, but I feel it comes down to midsoles and BOOST cannot compete with Saucony’s EVERUN, so I’m going to give the nod here to the Triumph ISO.
Sam: Going to agree with Dave. Slightly firmer the Triumph has a touch more response. While mighty fine I am better held and with equal comfort in the Triumph.

adidas Solar Drive vs. Saucony Ride ISO (RTR review)
Dave:  With a little less underfoot than Triumph, Ride ISO transitions a bit better and feels much smoother with my gait.  But the Ride ISO really struggles with my foot with its ISO lacing scheme. Solar Drive laces up very well for me and it gets the nod here, even though the EVERUN midsole from Saucony is a tad livelier than Adi’s BOOST.  
Sam: Ride ISO is a faster lighter shoe for sure but as Dave says its upper doesn't keep up in support as the Drive's easy comfortable upper does.

adidas Solar Drive vs. New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v9 (RTR review)
Sam: Looking for a lighter durable, long lasting trainer which has a soft enough ride and weighs less look at 1080v9. Its comfortable upper balances foot hold and comfort a touch better than Drive's.

Reviewer Bios
Dave Ames
Dave is the Owner and Founder of Ame For It Run Coaching, a coaching business serving runners of all abilities. He’ll be 37 in January 2019 and tries to keep in sub 3 Hour Marathon shape, while also making the transition to the Ultra world.  His weekly training is mixed with a quality workout, general aerobic miles / medium long run/long run and trails, and summiting some good peaks in Southern California.  Dave was in the running shoe industry for many years, managing run shops and then in corporate wholesale sales for brands. His preferred shoes are lightweight performance trainers and racers and fast light trails shoes for the dirt!  
Sam Winebaum, Editor and Founder
Sam is a 1:38 half marathoner on a good day and didn't mind at all going into his 60+ age group in 2017. Update: maybe he can still run fast as he clocked a 1:35 half in 2017 and a 3:40 Boston Marathon qualifier in 2018, surprising him.  He runs approximately 40 miles per week along the New Hampshire Seacoast and on Park City, UT trails . He has been running for 45 years and has a very dated marathon PR of 2:28. 
The Drive was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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runner84 said...

Thanks for the very informative review.
I have one question. Have you checked whether there is a thin EVA film over the boost midsole in the heel/midfoot section? Previous Glide Boost models (not the Supernova), and the Boston have this EVA film there, so the forefoot is the only part of the foot that comes in direct contact with the boost midsole. Supernova, Energy Boost, and Solar Glide and Solar Boost do not have this EVA film over the boost, and this provides a softer, but possibly slower, ride.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Runner 84,
Thanks so much for your hint to look more closely. Indeed there is a thin TPU layer below the strobel type board. It extends from heel to mid foot with no apparent Torsion or layer further forward. I have edited review to reflect as I did feel the layer and had noted before but was unsure where it was coming from imagining an embedded Torsion plastic piece. An indeed as noted while a smooth transition and soft forefoot with a longer flex and less snap at pace in the Drive.
Sam, Editor
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