Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 Review- Criminally Overlooked Daily Trainer Delivers Outstanding Performance

Article by Jeff Beck


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 ($130)

Introduction
The Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 is the second iteration of Salomon’s heavy duty trainer within their three-pronged approach. The Sonic RA line features the Max, which is the heaviest with the most cushioning, the Pro, which is the lightest and has the least cushioning, and the standard, which is in between the Max and Pro. All three are designed to be very similar in performance and design, so a runner could potentially run in all three shoes, with the standard being their daily trainer, the Pro being the lighter speedwork or race day shoe, and the Max being for a touch more guided transition and stability for long runs or the day following some hard speedwork. You don’t have to look hard to see the similarities, all three shoes have the same colorways, the uppers, midsole, and outsoles all follow the same design language and principles, and they all have similar materials.
The geometric decoupling and rubber coverage at the forefoot is designed differently to achieve each shoe’s performance characteristics. The Max which is the shoe with the most underfoot support and stability has its decoupling furthest to the left or lateral side and the Pro the quickest transitioning the furthest to the right or medial side.


All that said, this review is only for the Max, as I do not have any experience in the standard RA or the RA Pro.


Pros and Cons
iPros: Comfortable upper mated with a smooth riding midsole that has plenty of protection and flexibility, good price point at $130 for a well cushioned and durable daily trainer, relatively lightweight considering how well cushioned the shoe is.


Cons: 1st test sample had toe box flaw that caused blisters on every run with 2nd sample from later production resolving the issue, aesthetic design language feels a bit dated, tongue is slightly short, outsole collects small rocks.



Stats
Official Weight: 9.87 oz  / 280 g
Sample Weight : 10.4 oz/ 296 g (US 10.5)
Stack Height:  20mm forefoot / 30mm heel
Offset 10mm

Sonic RA Max 1
Weight: 9.3oz,/ 264 g (M9), 8.3 oz./235 g (W8)
Stack Height: 20/30mm, 10mm offset


First Impressions and Fit
Someone went and made a Saucony Triumph 11 in 2019 was my immediate takeaway. And you might take that as insult, considering that shoe debuted back in 2013, but the Triumph 11 is one of my all-time favorite shoes. The look and the specs of the Sonic RA Max 2 are very similar to the Triumph of yesteryear, but putting the shoe on it becomes very clear that this isn’t a retread of an old design. I stuck with my true-to-size 10.5, and was a little nervous because I am very hit and miss with Salomon. Their Predict RA fits me perfectly at 10.5, but their trail beast, the Sense Ride Max was too cramped both in the toe box as well as the midfoot, and I had to early retire an otherwise excellent shoe. But I would recommend runners try the Sonic RA Max 2 at your true size and don’t size up or down.


Upper
The Sonic RA line of shoes uses an engineered mesh with strategic overlays alongside a number of welds that results in a comfortable and supportive shoe.
In this case the engineered mesh is the bright blue, the welds are black, and the darker blue areas are the Sensi Fit overlays. The engineered mesh is top notch, one of the more comfortable mesh uppers anyone is using today. Full disclosure, I tested two different pairs of this shoe.
The two pairs were identical beneath the foot, and the uppers were very similar. However, the first version was found to be from an early production run, and that shoe had major faults. As much as I enjoyed running in it, literally every single run resulted in at least one, but usually a matched set, of blisters on the outside of both big toes. This was new for me; cramped toe boxes are my nemesis but they always result in blisters and issues for my small toes, not the big ones.
The culprit was an underlay that gives the toebox a little reinforcement. Initially I had thought it was Salomon’s trail influence that led to that, but in speaking with their design team, it wasn’t the trail influence but their ideal runner profile - namely, this is a heavy duty shoe built for heavier runners, and the extra foot support is usually needed or appreciated among those runners. As a heavier runner myself, I see the value, but not at the expense of a guaranteed failure rate of constant blisters despite sock changes and a liberal application of Squirrel’s Nut Butter.


Luckily, the problem has been fixed. The first pair was manufactured in December 2018 and the second pair was made in April 2019, and visually they are the same. Even feeling around the inside of the shoe, the offending underlay is still there and appears to be made of the same material and is the same size. However, there clearly is a slight difference, because in the second pair I’ve experienced zero rubbing and zero blisters. I even wore the second pair to the office two days in a row (my employer’s dress code is very relaxed), and while I can feel the underlay with my toe, it no longer causes issues.
The tongue is thin and ends just above the knot, which feels on the short size of things.
The tongue has a few strategically placed cushioned pods to keep the laces from digging in if you like the tie your shoes super tight. Even with all of the overlays and various layers in the engineered mesh, the shoe breathes very well


Midsole

From Running Warehouse’ s description of the Max midsole:
  • OPAL features soft inserts that add responsive cushioning while dispersing shock in high-impact zones.
  • EnergyCell+ is a lightweight foam material that provides long lasting rebound.
  • VIBE technology combines EnergyCell+ and OPAL to reduce muscle fatigue by dispersing shock vibrations before they reach the foot.

The Sonic RA Max 2 is the second Salomon road shoe I have run in the last few months, the first being the Predict RA. While the Predict RA just has EnergyCell+ cushioning but no Vibe, it is a comfortable, if not somewhat firm ride that performs well. The Sonic RA Max 2 uses their VIBE combination of EnergyCell+ EVA foam and adds OPAL softer  tibial vibration reducing TPP inserts with a 12mm thick insert at the heel and a 6mm insert at the forefoot.
The Max shares the same Vibe set up with the RA Sonic. For a more detailed description of the Salomon RA line, differences between models and the science behind Opal see our 2018 article here. Bottom line is that Salomon seeks with Opal to reduce the 35% of impact load input which comes from tibial vibrations with shock accounting for 50% and rebound 15%.
While some folks use unique to be the nice way of saying bad, in this case it really means that it runs differently than most shoes. It’s a firm cushioning as you land, but it is springy in a way. I go into greater depth down below in the Ride portion, but I have become a big fan of this shoe’s midsole. Salomon nailed that aspect.
Outsole
The rubber outsole has substantial coverage for good durability and traction, but its design is done in a way that it is still very flexible and lively. You’ll notice a seam that runs down the center of the shoe, and the rubber is split on either side (labeled GEOMETRIC DECOUPLING in the rubber), along with pockets of exposed midsole all over.


But it is done in a way that the exposed parts of midsole have little to zero chance of being worn down in a meaningful way. This shoe is meant to last the long haul, and I would be shocked if they didn’t get 350 to 400 miles or more. Tractionwise, they are top notch. One of my runs encountered some wet, and they were glued to the ground, Salomon’s CONTRAGRIP ia also used on all their trail shoes and is no joke. 

The one gripe I have is the vast number of small rocks the shoe picks up in its many thin grooves. Reviewing this shoe alongside the On CloudSwift, which carries the baggage of On shoes being notorious for picking up rocks during the run, was comical as the On shoe grabbed virtually zero rocks (save for wearing them to the park to play on the jungle gym with my daughter) while the Salomon might as well have been collecting samples to study later. Not the end of the world, but I can count 29 little rocks in the outsole right now, which have the ability to scratch wood floors or pop out and little the house with them.


Ride


When discussing the midsole I alluded that the shoe felt unique during the stride, and that’s not a bad thing. What fun would it be if everyone’s shoe felt the same? After the first few runs, I remembered something Sam had talked about when we reviewed the Brooks Levitate 2. He’d said that the Levitate 1 & 2 had a pneumatic feel as you run in them. At the time I could sense a bit of what he was talking about, as the shoe ran a little differently than others, I never quite understood what he meant. I do now. 

While Max is inherently stable and smooth, it feels different than most other shoes that are similarly cushioned. I would recommend most runners give this shoe a run to see for themselves how it feels. It isn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, and I have to assume that’s a result of the combining of two different foams along with the decoupled outsole design and its forefoot guided transition"stability" focus. 

The takeaway? It’s a well cushioned shoe that works well for both easy and faster paces. My final run in the Sonic RA Max was an easy five miles the morning after a particular difficult speed workout, and while my run started out at an easy recovery pace just over 10 minutes per mile, the next two miles were mid-9s and the final two miles were mid-8s. While I had a frustrated coach, because easy miles are supposed to be easy especially the morning after speed work, I didn’t feel like I was pushing anything sub-10 pace, and I attribute that to the midsole/outsole. I don’t imagine that it would always take two minutes off of your easy pace, it is the textbook definition blending energetic with well-cushioned in a daily trainer.


Conclusions and Recommendations
I was very happy to received the “fixed” pair because this shoe is really worth running in, but my initial review draft was scathing, simply because no trainer should cause issues once you cross the three mile threshold. It isn’t a track spike that should only be worn for short stints, this is a well cushioned daily trainer meant for lots of miles, and now that it can go the distance without causing pain, it is much easier to recommend. 

The Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 has a number of great things going for it. It runs very well, isn’t as heavy as its cushioning would suggest, has great traction and durability, and the upper holds the foot in place and it has a premium feel as well. It shares a number of attributes with the Saucony Triumph 11, one of my all-time favorite shoes, and while many runners don’t think of Salomon when they think of road shoes, they should. I am excited to run even more in this shoe now that the upper issue has been ironed out, and even more excited to see where they go from here.


Score 8.8/10
Ride: 9 Fit: 8 Value: 10 Style: 8 
(using Sam’s modified scoring metric of Ride 50%, Fit 30%, Value 15%, Style 5%)
A fun to run in daily trainer that looks pretty good and will last for hundreds of miles at $130. It isn’t heavy or chunky, many shoes in this category end up being both. The Sonic RA Max 2 is a shoe that doesn’t get much hype or accolades, but deserves far more than it gets.


Comparisons


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs adidas Solar Glide (RTR Review)
The adidas comes in an ounce heavier, and with less underfoot, but it’s light and easy upper doesn’t get in the way. Boost might be life, but the Sonic RA Max 2 has a stronger place in my long term shoe rotation. Go with the Salomon.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs adidas Ultra Boost 19  (RTR Review)
Surprisingly tough matchup. UB19 runs very smoothly but a $50 premium is tough to overlook. As much as I like the UB19, it’s hard to lean that way with such a price discrepancy when the Salomon brings so much to the table. Strongly favor the Salomon.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Asics Gel-Nimbus 21 (RTR Review)
Running up and down the street with one shoe on each foot it becomes incredibly apparent just how lively the Sonic Max feels and how dead the Nimbus feels, pools of gel be damned. Nimbus upper feels really good, but take the Salomon.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Brooks Glycerin 17 (RTR Review)
An ounce and a half heavier, the Glycerin 17 doesn’t feel any more cushioned than the Salomon, and runs nearly as well. Both run smoothly, have great traction and durability, with the upper in the Glycerin is definitely better, but maybe not $20 better. Faster runners should favor the Salomon, slower runners take Glycerin.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Brooks Levitate 2 (RTR Review)
The Levitate 2 is practically two and a half ounces heavier, and it feels like it. The upper is comfortable, but overall the shoe is lacking compared to the Salomon. Pick the Max.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs New Balance 1080v9 (RTR Review)
As much as I’ve raved about various aspects of the Salomon, the 1080v9 is in a whole different class. Similar in weight, cushioning, and responsiveness, the overall package of the 1080v9 is just put together better. The ride is smoother, the upper is more comfortable (though not without its own issues - it is the only shoe I’ve ever put any miles in that needs a runner’s loop to keep the heel from slipping), and it is every bit as good at an uptempo pace. If you wanted to save $20, you wouldn’t be short changing yourself with the Sonic, but I’d favor the New Balance slightly.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs New Balance Fresh Foam More (RTR Review)
With much more underfoot the Fresh Foam has more cushioning, but I think Salomon’s design is more effective. While the FFM has a good upper, the very thick stack has minimal flex and can be off putting to many runners. Pick the Sonic RA.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs On Cloudswift (RTR Review)
While I have some complaints on the Cloudswift, mainly it’s poor ride for midfoot strikers (but I would say it is excellent for heel striking), it’s upper is in a category all to itself. Unfortunately, the rest of the shoe comparison is strongly favoring the Salomon, and that’s what I’d suggest.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Salomon Predict RA  (RTR Review)
The Max has a ride advantage over the Predict RA, and also has a $30 lower price point. The Predict RA has one of the best uppers in running shoes and also has a smooth ride. Ultimately flip a coin, though I’d probably take the premium Predict RA.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Saucony Triumph ISO 5  RTR Review)
Sure, it is $30 more and two and a half ounces heavier, but the Triumph ISO 5 runs nearly as well as the Sonic, and it’s upper is a world apart - in a good way. If you want a single shoe that does everything, go Salomon. If you want a long distance shoe and run more than 25 miles per week, go Salomon, if you run less than that take the Saucony.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2
Ultrafly 2 is the best kept secret in running, though the Sonic RA Max gets the same disrespect. Similar ride between the two, the Topo is $10 less, and while it weighs a little more, it feels nearly as good on the road. With the slightly fixed upper I’d give the edge to the Salomon, even though the Topo has a toe box nearly large enough to host the Summer Olympics. Wide footed runners take the Ultrafly, everyone else take the Salomon.


Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 vs Topo Athletic Phantom (RTR Review)
Similar to its brother Ultrafly, the Phantom upper is great with lots of room up front, beating out the Salomon there. But it’s ride is much squishier/softer in a way that pigeonholes it into your easy shoe, while the Salomon is much more versatile. Like the Ultrafly, unless you have Fred Flintstone feet, to Sonic RA Max 2.


Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, his viewpoints on shoes and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs both roads and trails throughout North Phoenix, and at the start of 2019, he began training with Ame For It Run Coaching, gearing up for his first ultra marathon. He's published three books, Outside Service, Prove Me Wrong, and Suck Less Less at Golf and along with his wife launched Mythic Brews Cold Brew Coffee Company in 2018. He enjoys running desert trails as well as the road, and is trying to get his 5K time to sub-twenty.


The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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2 comments:

Jeff said...

Following

Matt S. said...

Jeff,
Thanks for the review on this shoe. Totally agree, that this shoe is overlooked. Ran the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon in this shoe in March. It performed flawlessly and I came out of that race tired as hell, but my feet, knees, back were all in great shape. Here is the kicker with that particular race: It has a "Heavy" division that requires the runner to wear a 35-pound pack! And it is a mix of road and trail, with a heavy dose of sand and a lot of elevation change. Tough race on mind, body and shoes! Also, if that is bad enough, I am not a "normal" runner. 6'6" tall and ran that race at about 235 pounds. So add in 35 pounds of pack (actually, my official pack weight was over 40 pounds...) and I pushed 280 pounds across 26 miles of road and trails and this shoe carried me through.

And the durability is off the charts. I trained for that race this spring, ran the race, and the shoes still have lots of life in them. In fact, I may give them the summer off, and bring them back out to train for the 2020 Bataan Memorial Marathon.

The shoe is not flashy and isn't chasing any of the latest fads, but it is a workhorse. And the harder you push the shoe, the better it performs. I highly recommend it if for big guys that need a shoe that can take a beating. I have tried the max cushion stuff (Hoka, Altra, etc), but none of them work for me. The Salomons just work, and they work well. Using the Sonic RA Pro this summer for speed and hill work, and they are kicking butt too.