Monday, June 03, 2019

Saucony Mad River TR Review - A Unique Trail Runner with Effective Lacing and Outsole Customization Options

Article by Jeff Valliere and Canice Harte

Saucony Mad River TR ($110)
The Mad River TR is new trail running shoe from Saucony with unique features:
  • lacing customization through inner or outer loops, or both as the runner wishes, which allows it to accommodate a wide range of foot shapes.
  • an outsole designed to easily place shoe screws for icy conditions and guided drill hole locations for wet conditions drainage.

Canice/Jeff: Customizable lacing and outsole
Canice/Jeff: Ground feel, relaxed toe box, soft, comfortable and good cushioning
Jeff:  Traction/wet traction
Jeff:  Easy slip on for casual use
Jeff:  Lacing options
Jeff:  Outsole versatility for door to trail
Jeff:  Outsole designed for screws and drainage
Jeff:  Value

Canice/Jeff: Loose in the midfoot (See comments about lacing below) and minimal protection in the arch.
Jeff:  Traction in loose conditions, mud, snow
Jeff:  Not particularly nimble/agile on technical descents

Tester Profiles
Jeff runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.
Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100 and Western States 100 as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as traditional road races and triathlons.

Official Weight: men's 10.9oz (309g) | women's 9.7oz (275g)
Sample Weights:
US M9: 10.5 oz / 297 g
US Mens Size 10: 11.2 oz./ 314 grams
Stack Height:(23/19), 4mm drop
$110. Available July 2019

First Impressions and Fit

Canice: The first thing I thought of when I slipped the Mad River’s on was this is an updated old school Peregrine 7, and that made me happy. This shoe is definitely it’s own animal and has its own reason for being, but if you have ever run a Peregrine 7 or earlier this will feel like a slightly more cushioned version. Less tread but very similar.

Canice: The shoe feels minimal and supple yet with a decent amount of trail protection. I took a classic digger where I stubbed my toe on what must have been a huge rock but of course turned out to very unimpressive, and my toes didn’t feel anything.

Canice: I really enjoy running this shoe. Other than a little mid foot slip on technical descents, this shoe performs incredibly well in a wide range of terrain.

Jeff:  I was at first struck by the bright neon color, but they quickly grew on me.  The Mad River TR looks very modern and beyond the modern look, it looks a different than most other shoes, with a very pronounced heel collar and “tongue”, booty like construction and sturdy toe bumper that integrates very smoothly with the mesh upper.  Upon closer inspection, the lacing is very unique in that you have inner and outer eyelets to customize fit based on your foot shape and then a moderately treaded outsole with guidance for drilling drainage holes or adding sheet metal screws for added winter traction.  Initially, with the laces threaded through the inner eyelets, I was unsure that these were going to hold my foot, but once it dawned on me that I could employ the outer eyelets for a more precise fit for my low volume foot, I was much more hopeful.

Canice: There are a few stand out characteristics to the Mad River’s upper. In particular you’ll notice two sets of eyelets (picture above) so you can customize you fit. I spoke earlier about mid foot slip and while I couldn't get this to completely go away, I was able to minimize it by adjusting the lace pattern.

Canice: Another characteristic of the upper is the tongue construction. This is best described as a “bootie” style and what that means to you and me is the shoe fits snug and comfortable over your instep. This also prevents rocks and debri from entering your shoe while running (this is actually a big deal).

Last A couple further things to point out. The black overlay over the top of your toes is soft and the rubber around the front of your toes is firmer. You’ll also notice a ring at the bottom of your eyelets which is there to attach gaiters.

Jeff:  The upper of the Mad River TR is innovative, as it fits a wide range of feet with an overall accommodating fit and the two sets of laces eyelets greatly aid in it’s versatility.  One set of lace loops are positioned very close to the “tongue” and the other set, punched holes, sit further out.

When I first tried on the Mad River TR, I initially overlooked the outer set of eyelets and cinched them up while laced on the inner lace loops as they arrive out of the box.  I disappointingly could not get them tight enough over my thin, low volume foot, but then a warm glow swept over me as it dawned on me that I could snug them tighter by employing the outer set of eyelets. By making this easy switch, I was very excited to discover that I was able to snug the laces down enough to hold my foot in place well.

In the photo below, the shoe on the left with laces utilizing the outer holes helps to snug up the shoe to secure thinner, low volume feet, where the shoe on the right, laced through the inner eyelets, allows for more stretch to accomodate larger feet.

In the photo below, I have the laces snugged up to the max on the inner eyelets and my feet were not secure, but utilizing the outer eyelets, snugged things up very nicely with no excess pressure.  The beauty of this setup is the personalized specialization depending on your footshape and preferences as you can utilize the eyelets how you wish using them all or alternating.
Fit is true to size and no matter how you lace, the toebox is roomy and should accommodate wider feet and those who prefer more room, while still providing good security.
The booty style construction is awesome, super comfortable and easy to slide into.  If I leave the laces very loosely tied, I can quickly and easily slip these on for quick trips and I even wear them full days at the office (OK, the yellow is a bit loud, but surprisingly works somehow).  Once the laces are snug though, foothold and security is good under most circumstances, but I do feel a bit of movement when on very steep downhills or very angled sidehilling.
The toe bumper is sturdy, protective and integrates very smoothly with the mesh upper.  Ventilation is good, though the mesh is a very fine weave, so perhaps not the most airy, but it keeps out the grit reasonably well, while not being stuffy on warm days.
The heel counter is solid and protective, with a very high and pronounced heel collar and “tongue”.  The materials that comprise of the collar and tongue are very soft, padded and flexible, to the point where it goes completely unnoticed and is very comfortable.

The midsole is PWRFOAM and is the same midsole material as in Saucony’s heavy duty trail option, the Peregrine ISO. As with many other Saucony It is has top sole of EVERUN a resilient somewhat bouncy and dense TPU material. In contrast the lighter duty trail Switchback ISO has an all EVERUN midsole. See comparisons of both to Mad River TR below.

Canice: The midsole is a combination of PWRFOAM with an EVERUN TPU topsole and if you haven’t run this combination before it has has enhanced energy return which gives it a spring or “pop” when you run. This midsole gives you plenty of cushion while feeling lively.

Jeff:  The PWRFOAM midsole with EVERUN topsole is constructed the same as the Saucony Peregrine ISO.  I have found this combination to be very good, providing an excellent balance of all day cushion/comfort and lively response.  The Mad River has 2mm less cushioning than the Peregrine ISO and with even thinner tread, it accentuates the difference, but is still very protective and adequate for long distances.  Neither the Mad River or the Peregrine ISO has a rock plate, which for the Peregrine ISO goes essentially unnoticed given the add cushion and massive lugs, but just an even minimal rock plate in the Mad River would be an improvement, at least for those most rough and rocky trails.

Canice: The outsole is actually a very unique feature of this shoe. Saucony has marked locations for you to add sheet metal screws and other locations for you to drill drainage holes. Where Saucony is suggesting you drill holes for drainage, they have even molded into the outsole what size drill bit to use. Crazy, Uh? But cool.

Canice: I’ve been testing the shoe on Utah trails which at present are a mix of snow, mud and dry dirt. I’ve run these shoes on steep technical rocky descents and smooth buffed out trails and have found plenty of traction. Looks like I need to add some screws and head up high for the final test. Stay tuned…

Jeff:  Echoing Canice, this is a very unique outsole, with angular, sharp chevron style lugs and a very grabby rubber compound.  
The lugs are low profile, but provide good grip over a wide variety of terrain and all but the most loose off trail or scruffy gravel, mud and snow. They share Saucony's PWRTRAC tacky rubber with the Peregrine ISO and Switchback ISO.

But what makes this outsole unique is the ability to easily add sheet metal screws for added traction on ice and snow, or drill holes for water drainage.  These options though in my view are either or, but can’t see utilizing both features. Since I rarely, if ever, worry about drainage, I was very interested in the screw shoe option.
Between the lugs are guides for drilling holes and for the supportive entry pedestals for the screws.  

I have a long history with adding screws to my shoes for traction dating back nearly 20 years, so it is nice to see a shoe designed specifically for this after having very mixed results in the past with screws popping out and/or destroying lugs.

Using a cordless drill and magnetic bit makes the process very fast and easy, though I recommend adjusting the drill setting to its lowest and be careful not to overdo it and strip out the hole you create.  I actually just use the drill to screw the screw most of the way in, then hand tighten snug (checking tightness after each run and replacing worn screws as necessary).

The hole left behind when removing is inconsequential as you can see in the photo and is especially not a problem since it is not a lug undergoing shear forces.

Canice; This shoe has lots of ground feel yet is well cushioned for long train runs. I did notice that every once and awhile when I pushed off a rock if the edge caught my mid foot or arch it was uncomfortable.  The ride feels very minimal and lively and is a lot of fun to run.
Jeff:  I agree with Canice above, that the Mad River TR provides reasonable ground feel yet feels adequately cushioned for long distances and provides a smooth ride.  I don’t find the Mad River TR to be particularly lively or inspirational at speed, but is a great workhorse every day trainer for more moderate speeds.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff:  I find the Mad River TR to be a great addition to the Saucony trail line up, as it is quite versatile and performs well over a wide range of terrain and conditions.  

The ability to customize the lacing, as well as drill drainage holes and add screws sets the Mad River TR apart from any other shoe that comes to mind.  

Performance is in my opinion geared more toward door to trail, moderately technical terrain, mid distance and moderate speeds.  Traction is good given the moderate lugs and wet traction is exceptionally good. I find the agility/maneuverability when running fast in technical terrain to be a little uncertain. Protection is good, and though I don’t find myself dancing or being too careful on rocky terrain, I do notice myself avoiding the sharpest, most prominent rocks. 

The fit in the forefoot is accomodating, though not excessively so as to compromise performance and the lacing options will really expand the range of the shoe.  
At $110, the Mad River TR is an excellent value.
Jeff’s Score: 9.6 /10
-.2 for midfoot hold on steep terrain -.1 for traction in loose terrain/snow/mud -.1 for sharp rock protection

Canice: The Mad River TR is a great shoe that is a joy to run. This is subjective but if you like ground feel, minimal construction and a nice balance of cushioning then you should give the Mad River TR’s a try. At $110 they also are a great value.
Canice’s Score of 9.6 /10
I agree with Jeff’s score and for the reasons he states.

Saucony Mad River TR ($110) vs. Saucony Peregrine ISO ($120) (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Both shoes I wear a size 10.  Peregrine ISO has 2mm more cushion and deeper tread for overall better protection/cushion for longer distances on rougher terrain.  The Peregrine ISO also has a more dialed and secure upper for better foothold in steeper terrain, but Mad River TR has more room in toe box that some may prefer.  Peregrine ISO has better traction in snow, loose of trail and mud (though does not shed mud all that well), whereas Mad River TR has superior wet traction/door to trail versatility.

Saucony Mad River TR  vs. Saucony Switchback ISO ($ (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Both size 10, Mad River TR has a bit more forefoot room and while both have low profile tread, the Mad River has overall better grip.  The Switchback ISO is much more quick, agile and nimble, but its protection is not as good.

Saucony Mad River TR vs. Altra Superior 4 ($110) (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Both size 10, the Superior 4 is lighter, faster, more agile and nimble.  Both have a soft and comfortably cushioned feel, accommodating fit and good traction, with the Mad River TR has overall better traction and especially in the wet.  Altra of course has zero drop whereas Mad River has a drop of 4mm , so one needs to take that into consideration.

Saucony Mad River TR vs. Nike Terra Kiger 5 ($130)  (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Size 10 for Mad River and 9.5 for Kiger 5.  A bit of a dichotomy here, as the Mad River TR is more of a trainer and I see the full ounce 28 g  lighter Kiger 5 as more of a racer. Kiger 5 has a more dialed, race like fit (though midfoot hold could still use improvement) and the Mad River would be better for longer days in more varied terrain due to superior traction/outsole and accommodating fit.

Saucony Mad River TR vs. Brooks Cascadia 14 ($130) (RTR Review upcoming)  
Jeff:  Both size 10.  Comparable in weight, traction and fit, with a little more fit versatility going to the Mad River TR with its  lacing options likely fitting a wider range of feet. The Cascadia 14 has an 8mm drop vs. 4mm for the Mad River.  I find the Cascadia 14 to be more responsive and more agile, particularly in tricky terrain.

The Mad River TR releases July 2019
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Jeff Valliere said...


Ante said...

Im interested in this shoe, tried in on im my local store en the fit was relay comfy. I,m looking fo a do it all show for easy terrain and some door to trail. Hos is the Mad River compared compared to Hoka Challenger ATR 5 in this aspect? I have tried Salomon Sense rid 2, but its to narrow in the midfoot.