Monday, December 30, 2019

adidas Ultra Boost 20 Review - International Space Station Approved, Earth's Gravity proves too much to handle

Article by Jeff Beck

The adidas Ultra Boost 20 is a slight update to last year's Ultra Boost 19 massive overhaul. adidas took the original Ultra Boost, which was very much a lifestyle shoe, added more Boost to the midsole, improved the upper in a number of ways, and released upon the world. The running world at large wondered "Is it actually a running shoe?" and yes, it very much was. The big question with the Ultra Boost 20 "Is it a better running shoe?" and it very much...well, keep reading. The midsole and outsole are completely unchanged from the Ultra Boost 19 - which established a baseline that at least it is a running shoe, and hasn't regressed into being a lifestyle shoe. And the upper has been refined, but what does that do for the shoe overall?

Pros: Reliable Boost cushioning, outstanding durability and traction with Continental rubber, upper is both softer and slightly roomier than last year's version.

Cons: A heavy shoe got even heavier, and an expensive shoe didn't get any cheaper.

Weight:: men's 11.5 ounces / 326 grams (US9) 10.3 ounces / 292 grams  women's / (US8)
  Sample: 12.8 ounces / 363 grams men's US10.5
Stack Height: 17mm (forefoot) / 27mm (heel), 10mm offset
Available Now. $180

Tester Profile
Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 and in December raced his first 50 mile trail ultra

First Impressions and Fit
Wow. This shoe looks great and sticks out like a sore thumb, mainly owing to its midsole. The coating on the Boost midsole turns from metallic blue to metallic purple that reflects different hues based on lighting. Step-in feel is incredible, as adidas took a very comfortable knit upper and refined it to be a little softer and more giving. Midsole is still incredibly comfortable, especially in the high-stacked heel.Fit is true-to-size 10.5, with a very ample toebox. You won't mistake it for an Altra, but last year's decent toebox has gotten slightly bigger.

This is the biggest departure from last year's Ultra Boost 19, though it has changed in a number of ways. First, the upper is still knit, but it is a finer knit that is less coarse, which results in a softer, borderline plush feeling. 
The tongue on the UB19 was identical to the rest of the upper, and in the UB20 the tongue is even softer - but in both cases it isn't actually a discrete tongue as much as the top part of the knit. 
The midfoot cage, which was a pleasant change in the UB19 (original Ultra Boosts sported a full plastic midfoot cage that ranged from mildly annoying to full-on deal killer for some, as it could dig into the side of the foot), the UB20 continues the trend. The midfoot cage feels almost rubbery, and is very flexible, giving the upper just a little bit of structure without announcing its presence to your foot. 
The soft knit doesn't let your foot run the show, adidas introduced what they are calling Tailored Fibre Placement, TFP, which is extra stitching around the perimeter of the front third of the shoe. 
Lastly, the most striking upper change comes in the rear of the shoe. It retains the prominent 3D Heel Frame external heel collar, but instead of a knit material, the last quarter of the shoe is a neoprene feeling material that's very comfortable. If you look down at the rear of the UB20 and 19, you can notice how much narrower the UB20 is, with soft pods inside the shoe to grip on either side of your achilles. While many shoes have used a similar design over the last year or two, this is a very unobtrusive interpretation. Earlier this year the New Balance Fresh Foam More had similar pods that made at least one reviewer stop running in the shoe altogether, I can't see these pods getting in anyone's way. They serve a purpose, but more importantly they are still comfortable.
Some knit shoes can get hot, but the Primeknit 360 material is very breathable, and didn't present any heat issues for me.

In late 2012 adidas unveiled Boost to the world, and a few months later we had our first Boost equipped shoes. It took them a few years to bring out the Ultra Boost, which was the first shoe to feature a 100% Boost midsole, and the subsequent Ultra Boosts have continued the same construction. At this point you have likely run in at least one or two Boost running shoes, so you know how it feels, but if not, it's a unique ride. It is very dense, and has a decently plush feeling as you land, but bounces back quickly so you don't have a sluggish ride that can accompany that plush landing feeling.

The dense material keeps the shoe from being too flimsy, as well as the internal Floating Torsion Spring. 
The central part of that is very visible, but you have to look closely through the gaps in the outsole to see more of the support system. It is more pronounced in the rear section of the shoe, but there are small hints of it forward of the Torsion bar. Don't let that scare neutral runners, the support is very minimal.

The outsole is completely unchanged from last year, and that's a good thing. The Continental Stretchweb Outsole has great traction, even in very wet conditions, and has incredible durability. 

The small gaps in the shoe show off the midsole through the rubber, but more importantly it allows the shoe to flex just enough to keep the trainer from feeling like a slab of foam underneath the foot. If every big mileage daily trainer had some version of this outsole, I wouldn't be disappointed or upset.

And this is where the shoe really starts to fail for me. It isn't a bad ride. There's plenty of cushioning, and with the weight it brings you should expect it to be an easy running shoe, which it is. But the lion's share of the cushioning is underneath the heel, with the forefoot feeling adequately cushioned - at best. This is the type of shoe that should be good for 10-20 miles, but by mile 8 or 9 I wanted to be done because both forefeet were uncomfortable. It isn't a blocky shoe to run in, but it just doesn't feel as smooth as so many others.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Boost has gotten long in the tooth. If you look at my UB19 review from last year, I didn't think it ran nearly as good as its little brother Solar Glide, which uses Boost and EVA together. Within adidas they have a several smoother running shoes (Boston, Solar Glide/Drive/Boost) that use Boost as only part of the cushioning, and outside the company many competitors have stepped up their material game to create their version of Boost - and they've done it better. I touched on this during the Youtube video of this shoe, but Saucony introduced EVERUN several years after Boost, to be their version of Boost, and they've already retired it to move onto their second iteration, PWRRUN+, which is an amazing material.  Meanwhile, adidas owns Reebok, and there's an argument to be made that the Reebok Forever Energy's midsole foam (also a TPU) is vastly superior, both in performance, cost, and weight - and those three things are virtually everything. When you look at the Ultra Boost 20 in a vacuum, it's a very solid shoe, that mixes comfort with performance, and gives the runner a great upper, decent midsole, and incredible outsole. 

But we don't live in a vacuum, and ultimately, the Ultra Boost is a very pedestrian shoe that's among the heaviest and costliest on the market. Five years ago this shoe would be in the running for shoe of the year, but with so many competitors making massive strides, the Ultra Boost 20 has been left behind. If you want a comfortable, and good looking, shoe to run short to medium distances at an easy pace, and cost isn't an issue for you, then the Ultra Boost 20 is worth a look. Otherwise, you can find much better for much less.
Jeff’s Score:  6.6  / 10  
Ride: 5 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 4 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)

Watch Jeff's Video Review of the UB20

Comparisons  Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

adidas Ultra Boost 19 (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. Battle of compromises here, the UB19 upper isn't as comfortable, but it weighs less , and can be found for $50-80 less than the new Ultra Boost 20. If money is no issue, you can go UB20 for the more comfortable upper, but otherwise, save the cash, and the weight, and go with the 19.

adidas Solar Glide (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. A year later, and the middle child of the Solar series (Solar Boost/Solar Glide/Solar Drive are all similarly designed shoes at $160/$140/$120 price point as each one gets more features than the lower priced version) is still the better all-purpose daily trainer from adidas. Similar Continental outsole nullifies the advantage the UB20 has, but the lower cost ($140), lower weight  (10.5 oz vs. 11.5 oz), and better riding EVA/Boost hybrid midsole makes this a no brainer.

Altra Torin 4 Plush (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The Torin 4 Plush is almost two ounces lighter, and it feels even lighter on the foot by comparison, with a more plush ride that offers much more protection to the forefoot. Toebox fight is a nonstarter in advantage of the Altra, while style is a nonstarter in advantage of the adidas. Unless you have an incredibly narrow forefoot or a moral objection to a zero-drop platform, go with the Torin.

ASICS Glideride (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The first eye-opening shoe from ASICS in a long time, the Glideride is a unique shoe that uses a high-stack and exaggerated rocker geometry. That geometry creates a shoe that's far more lively than the stats would suggest, and on a left/right comparison to the Ultra Boost 20 its liveliness is amazing. No question, go with the Glideride.

Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3 (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. Ideal matchup, both are heavy duty, well-cushioned, with breathable knit uppers. But the Mizuno (shockingly) is more plush, and feels much better cushioned even though it's nearly a full ounce lighter. Still an expensive shoe, the Mizuno is $20 less, and would be my pick.

New Balance 1080v10 (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The v10 has been an incredible update for NB, and the v9 was a dramatic upgrade from the v8 - though the v8 shares a number of attributes with the Ultra Boost 20. But we're in 2019 dealing with new shoes, and the 1080v10 is a massive upgrade from the Ultra Boost 20. Somehow the shoe is almost 3 full ounces lighter AND feels better cushioned than the adidas - this is a slam dunk for New Balance.

Nike Zoom Vomero 14 (RTR Review)
UB20 fits true-to-size 10.5, Vomero fits half size up 11 - my standard for Nike. The Vomero 14 is another well-cushioned trainer that puts a priority on heel cushioning at the expense of a thinner forefoot, but it doesn't have the looks or outsole that the Ultra Boost 20 has. While the Vomero lists at $140, many colorways can be found for much less, that said, I'd give the nod to the more expensive Ultra Boost 20.

ON Cloudstratus (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. Both shoes are heavy and expensive, but the ON comes in 8/10s of an ounce lighter (and $10 less) with arguably the best upper out there. But the Cloudstratus comes with some caveats, its double stack of cloud pods has a very firm ride, and the lacing is odd - using a yet-unseen star pattern and a thin lace profile. Give me the slightly higher cost and weight of the Ultra Boost 20.

Salomon Predict RA (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The Salomon has a similar stack and cost, but is a better cushioned and ~3 ounce lighter shoe. The Predict runs smoother, and is only $20 less, but it is a markedly better running shoe.

Saucony Triumph 17 (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. My shoe of the year, the Triumph 17 is the first Saucony shoe to use their second generation Boost-inspired midsole, and it is a joy to run in. Only about an ounce lighter, the Triumph is more plush, more responsive, more cushioned, and about a dozen other mores, but also $30 less. I've been saying for a month or more that most runners should give the Triumph 17 a chance, and against the UB20, it's the easiest recommendation I can make.

Skechers GOrun Ride 8 Hyper (RTR Review)
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. Both have a knit upper with a decently thick midsole and branded rubber (adidas uses Continental, Skechers uses Goodyear), but the GRR8 comes in $65 less and ~2.5 ounces lighter - and runs much smoother with better foot protection. If you still think Skechers doesn't make legit shoes, this shoe should change your mind, and it's my choice of the two.

Brooks Glycerin 18 (RTR Review Glycerin 17), G18 review soon
Both fit true-to-size 10.5. Brooks' latest iteration of their massive neutral daily trainer feels like a dialed-in racing flat by comparison. Nearly two ounces lighter at the same size, the Glycerin doesn't look nearly as good, but the upper is more comfortable, the outsole is just as good, and the DNA Loft EVA midsole runs much better. Save $30, get the Brooks.

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Jeff said...


Anonymous said...

do solar boost 19 and solar boost st 19 are not very breathable air mesh and feel very hot for running in summers ?

do solar glide 19 and solar glide st 19 suffer severe upper mesh tearing ?

do solar glide 19 and solar glide st 19 ride much better than solar boost 19 and solar boost st 19 ?

thank you.

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

I briefly ran in the Solar Boost, but the upper was too hot and toebox too cramped so I promptly returned them. I have run in the Solar Glide, and that upper was much more breathable, though I have not experienced any tearing. I believe that both shoes will run very similarly, beneath the foot they are very comparable shoes.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comparisons...they really help round out reviews and wish more reviewers here and other sites would do extensive comparisons even with older model shoes. Based on comparisons...any thoughts on Glideride vs. Triumph 17? My fav. adidas boost was the older Glide 6/7...still train in that a bit. Looking for something closer but more stable.

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you, and I completely agree. We've hit the point where most shoes do exactly what all the marketing says (lighter, firmer/plusher/ etc), but that doesn't mean that some shoes are better than others.

As for Triumph vs Glideride? That's my Shoe of the Year for 2019 (and other awards) vs the runner-up shoe for Smile of Year. So clearly I have a preference for the T17, but the Glideride is also very good. The Triumph is ultimately more traditional, even though it uses Saucony's latest midsole material, but the ASICS Glideride uses geometry to achieve a unique (and pretty great) ride.

Personally, I'd like to run in the Triumph as much as possible. That shoe just works for me. I know a few others have had a similar response to the Glideride (what fun would it be if everyone just liked the one shoe?), and I can see why. I had a pair of adidas Supernova Glide 6 that I really enjoyed, and between the T17 and GR, I'd say the T17 is closer. The geometry/rocker of the Glideride is very pronounced, which makes it fun, but it also makes some runners hate it. The rocker is so pronounced, it is very polarizing. It isn't as versatile as the Triumph 17, but it's still very usable. I ran a pair of 50K this fall to gear up for my 50 mile, and the first 50K was a double loop - I wore the Glideride for the first loop, even though it was a trail race. Granted, it was a very tame trail (which is good, it was a nighttime race) but I had zero issues with the Glideride.

But that's not to say I wouldn't have used the Triumph if it had been released by then.

I hope that helps, if you have any other questions, fire away.