Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Brooks Launch 6 Full Review: Steak and Potatoes for Launch

Article by Peter Stuart, Sally Reiley, and Sam Winebaum

Brooks Running Launch 6 ($100)
Reviewer Profiles
Sam is 61 with a 2018 Boston qualifier of 3:40 and 2017 1:35 half. He runs 35-40 miles a week with most training averaging 9:20 per mile. Sally is in her late 50's with a marathon PR of 3:29 (Boston 2017) and 44:04 10K PR. She peaks her training at around 50 miles per week with paces around 8:15. Peter is 51 and recently ran 3:00:14 at the California International Marathon and has a half PR under 1:25.

Introduction
Sam: The Launch is the Brooks up tempo and longer race shoe. It slots into the Energize collection. My Launch 6 sample checks in at exactly the same weight as the Launch 5 (RTR review) in my size US men's 8.5: 9.17 oz / 260 g, so about 9.4 oz in a size 9 with a women's size 8 at approximately 8.1 oz / 230 g.  It has a 10mm offset 

The primary changes to the Launch 6 are its new engineered mesh upper and added cushion in the forefoot. It comes in a very reasonable $100 and is available now.

Peter: The Launch 1 changed my life. No, really, it did. Way back when John Schrup used to write word poems about shoes he made the Brooks Launch sound like the greatest shoe ever made. It was simple, light and functional. To quote John Schrup from his open letter to Brooks to save the Launch when it faced discontinuation,  “There was a time when we joked that we could open up a store selling just the Launch.  We understood the brilliant, simple design, the functionality, the breadth of appeal. It is arguably the best shoe in decades.”.  


Ok, Great, so how did that change my life? Well, long story short I made a pilgrimage to Rogue Running in Austin, bought a pair of Launches, liked them, started writing about shoes, occasionally trained with Rogue over the years (lured in by their ‘JFR’ campaign) and now I’ve moved to Austin where I train with Team Rogue. Enough about me--back to the Launch. The beauty of the Launch was that, at the time it came out (2010-11?) it was a rare breed. Light and cushioned--able to go fast or to go long--a good shoe for pretty much anyone. It was a gem.

In the passing years, lots of things have happened. One of them is that John Schrup doesn’t write about shoes as much--which is a shame--because when he does it’s still a delight. Another is that lots of shoes have come out that are in the same category as the OG Brooks Launch: Roughly 9 oz, decently cushioned and versatile as all get out. So how does the Launch 6 face up to all of the competition in this iteration? Read on to find out.



Fit
Sam: The Launch 6 fits me true to size with a performance type fit while the Launch 5 had a looser fit overall as its mesh was fabric like very soft, overly pliable and not very supportive at faster paces. I barely had enough lace to double knot here and the laces are noticeably wider over the foot than in the Launch 5 although actual volume feels about the same, a touch less loose and easy in the Launch 6 as the upper is clearly more substantial in its support.
The Launch 6 may fit a touch shorter or lower at the big toe than Launch 5 due to the denser mesh weave in that area but overall there is sufficient toe box room for me and an improved hold.
I am true to size in my sample. My troublesome left foot bunion sees no pressure, always a good test. Those with wider, higher volume feet may find this more structured upper snugger as there is less give overall to the upper. I'm "run happy" here as in the Launch 5 I found the upper support marginal.


Peter:
The Launch 6 has a simple and effective fit. It’s one a few shoes lately that seems to offer a sort of elegant simplicity. There are no tricky buzzwords or fancy locks. It’s shoes, laces and tongue. The fit is true to size and the round laces adjust easily.The foot is well held, the shoe is nicely ventilated and the heel is locked in.
Sally: The Women’s Launch 6 fit me comfortably right out of the box, true to size and ready to run. As Sam pointed out, the lacing is definitely wider than most running shoes. I have a narrow foot and yet they “look wide” in this shoe with these laces. The laces they come with are indeed very short without much excess for double-knotting. There was plenty of toe room and the heel is held in snugly and comfortably.


Upper
With version 6 Brooks outfitted the Launch with a new somewhat more substantial one piece engineered mesh upper which in my one on each foot 5 mile test run solves the loose rear of mid foot hold that two of our three testers, including me, experienced with the Launch 5.
The new upper also better secures the forefoot,
Instead of a printed/painted logo of the L5 the Brooks logo in the L6 is a pliable overlay, and likely a functional one providing some support and structure. The mesh is soft but with more vertical texture than the fabric like Launch 5's.
The tongue is no longer puffy thick but is amply padded. The ankle and achilles padding is also slimmed down and snugged up but still quite reasonably plentiful.


Peter: The mesh is just the right combination of support and breathability. I agree that there are some nice improvements from the Launch 5. As you can see in the above picture, the ankle collar has been slimmed down a bit making the shoe feel just a bit sleeker while still doing a great job of holding the heel down. The tongue, as mentioned above, got put on a diet and is much more reasonable. I agree that the midfoot is well held. Overall, much like the upper of the Kinvara 10, the upper just works. This is an upper that will feel better and better as the miles go on, has no hot spots and looks great.
Sally: Nothing fancy, but the upper works great for me. My foot felt secure, and there were no hotspots or areas of concern after a number of runs. It passed the test on one very wet run as well. My biggest negative is the color combination they chose for the women’s model: purple and gold?!


Midsole
The midsole remains BioMoGo DNA and my sense in running a Launch 6 on one foot and Launch 5 on the other that the combination of midsole and outsole changes makes the Launch 6 a touch softer at the heel and yet more obviously so softer at the forefoot.


To further stabilize the mid foot, the very narrow waist of the midsole is slightly filled in below the outsole to widen the platform, with the Midfoot Transition Zone "X" now seeing more flex openings through the outsole which translate to a smoother transition.
LEFT: Launch 6                                                          RIGHT Launch 5
There is no question, and Brooks calls it out in their spec sheet, that the forefoot is more cushioned. They say "..updated midsole with additional foam under the forefoot offers a longer lasting energizing run experience."  The more flexible Launch 5 is somewhat fatiguing at the forefoot, firm, thin and not as stable with its unstructured upper also contributing. No longer with Launch 6, as the cushion is noticeably improved as is forefoot stability although the response and toe-off agility could be considered to be a touch tuned down.


Peter: The midsole feels pretty similar to me. It’s BioMoGo DNA. It’s kind of like Revlite from NB. It’s good, it works and it’s not that fancy. The transition is smooth and it’s still on the firm side with just a bit of cushion to get through the miles. It’s a well-balanced midsole. It’s not fancy, nor does it claim to be.
Sally: The midsole seems to strike that just right balance of firm enough and yet cushioned enough, without too much of either.


Outsole
LEFT: Launch 6                                                          RIGHT Launch 5
Sam: The rear outsole now has a much wider heel landing decoupling groove. I could feel somewhat softer easier landings and transitions off the heel as a result. This said the Launch overall is on the firmer side matching its uptempo purpose. The front outsole now has four shallower but slightly wider flex grooves instead of five. The last V shaped one near the mid foot as well as the slots cut out of the Transition piece had me feeling a more continuous, smoother transition. There is plenty of durable rubber here which should give many miles but which also likely add to weight.


Peter:
The outsole has a pretty epic amount of rubber for a 9 oz shoe. There’s a decent amount of flexibility up front and it does pop a little bit when you step on the gas. The Launch 6 feels just a little less blocky than the 5 did--probably owing to the changes in mid foot coverage and the additional flex grooves set in the lateral side rubber.


Ride
Sam: I took the Launch 6 for a 7 mile progression run to 9 minute pace average and a slow recovery run the next day with my wife. The faster run was delightful. I particularly appreciated the new forefoot cushion and stability as well as smoothness of transition but wished for a touch more flexibility at faster paces. I had none of the forefoot fatigue of the Launch 5 on either run and even at 5 very slow miles in my side by side test the Launch 5 was starting to ache my toes. The run feel was of well if firmly cushioned with a touch of bounce (a bit more than L5) and no leg fatigue during the run. The next day, as with Launch 5 runs, my legs were sorer than I might have expected, They were OK at slower paces but there are better recovery slower days shoes out there such as Brooks own Ghost 11 (RTR review), Levitate 2 (RTR review), or Glycerin 16 (RTR review).


Peter: The ride of the Launch is straight down the middle for me. It’s not too firm, not too soft, not too clunky and not wildly thrilling. The transition is plenty smooth and the increased forefoot cushion is nice. I like that it’s a relatively firm ride and it definitely feels a little better at a slightly faster pace. If you’ve liked previous iterations of the Launch I think you’ll like the ride. It’s a real meat and potatoes shoe for me. I have a feeling that once they get good and broken in (like, over 100 miles) they might be a little more fun to run in as an everyday trainer.

Sally: I took the Launch 6 on several test runs, and found them smooth and surprisingly quick. The faster you push the pace, the more responsive they seem to be. I could definitely see these as a staple in my marathon training rotation.


Conclusions
Sam: As I ran my faster progression and pondered the Launch 6, I thought "marathon shoe", for hillier courses and for those in the 3:15 to 4:15 range due to its good forefoot cushion and decent stability for the later miles.  I would try it for such purposes, something I would not have attempted with the thin forefoot cushion and less than secure upper and mid foot stability of the Launch 5. At about 9.4 oz the Launch 6 is closer to trainer than even marathon racer weights and as such with its expected durable and copious rubber as well as very decent cushion can make it a great faster days choice or daily trainer. I am thrilled Brooks seems to have gotten back on track with the Launch 6.  I do wish that they could better join the party with some lighter foam and more judicious outsole coverage to lighten such a faster purpose shoe.


Peter: In full disclosure, my testing of the Launch so far has been during the last two taper weeks leading up to a big marathon--so I’m tired, everything hurts and I don’t have the freshest perspective. That said, I think I’ve been able to get my head around what I do and don’t love about the Launch 6. As I’ve said before, the Launch is a middle of the pack, meat and potatoes every day trainer. While it was one of the pioneers in the relatively low weight/relatively high cushion category--there are many shoes in that category now. I still like the Launch and I think for some heavier runners or runners who want a more minimal shoe than say a Ghost or 1090 or Vomero without going too far--this might be a good choice. That said, there are probably some other shoes that I would reach for first.  


Sally:
And I am just starting a marathon training cycle! (Boston #6 in a row, here we come.) As I said earlier, I could definitely see these shoes as a staple in my marathon training rotation.They are a solid dependable workhorse that seems stable, firm where it needs to be but also adequately cushioned where it needs to be, and quick enough. Not my race shoe, but a solid trainer. I enjoyed my runs more and more as I used them. Definitely a shoe that can please a variety of runners! Brooks, I ask ust one thing of you: Please come out in some new color ways for the gals! I am so over purple and pink shoes.

Pros: 
  • a solid, durable, stable and dependable faster trainer at a reasonable price
  • improved forefoot cushion and upper hold over the Launch 5
  • a good choice for faster pace running by heavier runners.

Cons: 
  • On the firmer side with not exactly the most energetic midsole out there and heavier than newer contenders in the class.

Comparisons
Launch 5 (RTR review)
Peter: The Launch 6 makes some nice tweaks on the 5 while keeping the general essence of the Launch intact. It’s a bit more stable at the midfoot, transitions a little smoother and the upper works a bit better. A solid improvement.
Sam: For me the Launch 6 upper corrects the foot hold and mid foot instability of the 5 and that is key. Otherwise very similar.

Reebok Sweet Road 2 (RTR review)
Peter: These are actually pretty similar. I think the Sweet Road edges out the Launch for me in that it’s just slightly more flexible and less chunky. They both have lots of rubber and fit well. Very similar shoes.
Sam: As a heel striker I prefer the pairing of the Reebok's stable heel with flexible forefoot. It's upper is not quite as locked down but more comfortable.

Saucony Kinvara 10 (RTR review)
Peter: The upcoming Kinvara 10 is a more exciting, slightly softer, more flexible shoe in the same category. There’s some special sauce in the Kinvara 10 that the Launch just doesn’t have.
Sally: I totally agree with Peter about the Kinvara. I look forward to lacing it up! The Launch is a solid choice, but I would prefer the Kinvara any day for its soft peppiness.
Sam: As the others have said and the Kinvara 10 is a solid ounce lighter. The Launch 6's extensive rubber will have it likely lasting considerably longer.

Skechers GoRun Ride 7 (RTR review)
Peter: The Go Run Ride 7 is softer and more fun to run in than the Launch--with a bit more pop. If you want a stiffer ride and perhaps a bit more support than the Go Run, then go with the Launch.
Sam: While a fine shoe and more fun as Peter says, the Ride 7 lacks the stability and support under foot of the Launch 6. I could train pretty much everything in the Launch but not the Ride 7.

Nike Zoom Pegasus 35 (RTR review)
Peter: Launch is a more flexible and more fun shoe than the Peg but not totally dissimilar.
Sally: The Peg did not “do it” for me at all. I did like the Peg Turbo, though the toe box is too low and cramped for me. The Launch fits my foot much better and would be my pick over the Peg.
Sam: With Sally on the Pegasus. A boring lumpy and quite firm ride with not much joy with the Peg. I found the Turbo fun but overly soft and thin upfront for daily training and that racing stripe toe box low and not ideal for my foot. The Vomero 14 is the Nike trainer for me. (RTR review)


Adidas Boston (RTR review)
Peter: I don’t know why, but the Boston 7 is one of my favorite shoes right now. It’s really fluid and feels terrific any time I wear it. I find it to be a more organic feeling ride than the Launch.
Sally: I adored the Boston 6, found the Boston 7 a bit less peppy. But I would still wear the lighter, quicker feeling Boston 7 over the Launch for longer runs.
Sam: While I raced extensively even Boston in the Boston 6 I found its heel not as stable as I prefer whereas the Launch is rock solid there with the Boston forefoot quite thin. The additional softness and cushion in the forefoot of the Launch 6 tips the balance in its direction for me. If we were talking Launch 5 I would lean towards the Boston so close.

See reviewers full running bios here
Photo Credits: Sally Reiley and Sam Winebaum
The product reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'
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4 comments:

Wes Arnold said...

Other than the fact that the Asteria has some subtle support how do the two compare for cushioning and response? I know it’s been a few years since you reviewed that shoe.

sam winebaum said...

Hi Wes,
The Asteria is considerably firmer at the heel where the support element is as well as forefoot if memory serves. Leans more to responsive racer than Launch 6 which leans trainer.
Sam, Editor

Dayvaad said...

Supposed to get these in LRS in next week I hear they're now offered in 2E Width! In terms of length would you say this to be as long as Ghost 10? Also will you be reviewing Caldera 3?
Thank you

sam winebaum said...

Hi Dayvaad,
For me Launch 6 very similar length to Ghost 11. Yes we are receiving Caldera 3 shortly for review. Sam, Editor