Monday, February 24, 2020

adidas SL20 Review: Fire on Ice!

Article by Sally Reiley and Sam Winebaum

Adidas SL20 ($120)
Weight:: 8.05 oz / 228 g men's / (US9, )  7.1 oz / 201g  women's / (US8)
  Samples: 7.8 oz / 222g  men’s US8.5
                  7.1 oz /  201g women’s  US 8
Stack Height: 29/19, 10mm drop
Available Feb. 27, 2020.   $120

Sam: The all new SL 20 is one of several adi 2020 shoes with the brand’s new Lightstrike midsole in the mix. Here it is the entire midsole. Lightstrike is lighter than their previous top Boost foam, firmer, more stable, and more responsive in feel with less squish and bounce yet with solid cushion for weight.

The SL 20 at a shade over 8 oz is clearly an uptempo trainer that can race. It is 0.3 oz lighter than the Boston 8 and 0.2 oz heavier than previous flagship racer the Adios which in version 5 gets a Lightstrike main midsole with Boost in the heel. Most significantly given the slight weight differences, the SL20 has a fairly massive 6mm more stack height front and back thanthe adios 5 and 3mm more than the heavier Boston 8. 
          Dynamic, fast ride with lots of response from firmer midsole (and plenty of it)          
          uptempo trainer that can also race.
          Lots of get up and go, easy to accelerate, flexible front toe off
          Well matched grippy outsole
          True to size supportive upper, very easy to lace up and go
Sally: comfortable TTS fit. smooth, responsive ride 
Sam:  more resilient bounce would perfect
          a touch heavy at just over 8 oz as a full blown racer, 
          upper is quite dense if well ventilated, may be warm in heat
Sally:  a bit stiffer initially than to my liking 
Continental rubber outsole is so firm that the shoe is LOUD on the street - I felt like people could hear me coming from a mile away (or is my foot slapping down more because of the rigidity?) 

Tester Profiles
Sally is a mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past six Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29, good for 8th in her age group. Along the way she has raised over $200,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. A relative newbie to road racing, she has achieved All-American status in the 10K (44:04) and 5K. To commemorate her 60th birthday she ran the NYC Marathon in November finishing 2nd in her age group with a PR time of 3:28:39.  Sally is a compact (petite) runner at 5’2’’ and 105 pounds.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.

First Impressions and Fit
Sam: My pair is true to size if a bit short at big toe likely due to dense mesh at the toe bumper. They are also bit pointy. I was a half size up in adios Boost 3 and it was too large while adios Boost 1 at true to size was a race ready fit and good. I was true to size in Boston 5. Fit is super secure front to back, and notably so at the rear, but comfortable for speedier purposes. 

I was worried the very, very thin mesh tongue with just an outer binding would lead to lace bite but the flat laces are well matched and the upper itself, as it is quite dense but pliable and is backed up by rear laminated mid foot gray panels, makes the upper kind of “stand on its own” so no there is no need to over snug the flat but slightly tubular laces for a secure lock down.
My orange pair is loud! Real loud but kind of like the fast look to go with fast ride but I prefer Sally’s black, neon orange and white/gray colors
Sally: At first glance, I thought this was the latest version of the Adidas Boston, a shoe I have loved for training and even running successful BQ marathons in. But wait, something is different here.  Where is the Boost? These have something new they are calling Lightstrike. I slipped them on and they fit like a typical Adidas, comfortable and secure and TTS. My W8 fit perfectly. But I must admit I was disappointed on my first run. Granted I have just been testing some carbon plate cushioned performers that I have really been enjoying, but the SL20 seemed stiff and rigid and quite LOUD (firm outsole) at first. As always, I made myself give them more time (and miles), and am pleased to report they are getting better and better each run. The colorway is consistent with the other recent Adidas shoes: black and white with neon orange accents. The three stripes look fast, right?

Sam: The upper is a quite dense woven engineered mesh that is, pliable but not super thin and  conforms to my foot beautifully and securely.
I was worried about the very thin mesh tongue with just a touch of binding around the edges but no need to lace tight here and no pressure with the flat and slightly tubular laces doing a great job in the mix. 
The gray laminated panels at the rear provide considerable support to the upper reminding me of the panels in the Reebok Sweet Road 2. 

The lacing is slightly asymmetrical and biased towards the medial side which also contributes to the lockdown and medial support. You will also note in the picture below that the toe box is quite pointy. I think a touch too pointy for me in the big toe area.
With the Tempo gone when this supportive upper is combined with the stable underfoot feel of Lightstrike I can well see the SL20 being a good replacement even as the SL20 has no overt support features as the Tempo did. 
Sally: The dense mesh upper is relatively simple, and seems breathable without being overly so. The density was actually quite welcome on my cold New England morning runs.
The heel hold is solid and secure, the thin tongue comfortable and not noticable, and the flat laces actually stay tied and are of a perfect length. 
The upper buckled funny on my foot right above the big toe joint (see pic) though it didn't cause much discomfort. This could be caused by the asymmetrical lacing structure.

Sam: The Lightstrike midsole foam is in a single slab so is unlike adios or Boston with their mixes of Boost and Lightstrike. This is a firmer more responsive type foam similar to New Balance’s Revlite or Saucony’s old SSL EVA in firmness but with less shock transmitted and with somewhat more rebound feel than those midsole foams. It is not as plush feeling (or dull feeling for me) as Nike’s React foam and is firmer than BioMoGo DNA from Brooks but liviler. It is not as springy as Skechers Hyper or Nike Zoom X but is more stable and consistent in feel. It sits quite close to Salomon’s new Infuse Olefin in the Sonic 3 series. 

So it is not a plush bouncy training ride or even a classic firmer daily training ride but a comfortable balance of responsive firmer pop and cushion for up tempo type running. I found the  this midsole really shined at my tempo paces around 8:15/mile but felt firm, especially at the heel at slower paces than 9:00 minute miles. I particularly appreciated the 19mm of forefoot stack and cushion when compared to the adios and even the Boston.
In the mix is a redesigned more streamlined Torsion system plate. It is less obtrusive more seamless in feel as you pick up the pace. Combined with a nice forward flex point it provides distinct snap on toe off at faster more tempo like paces for me As a result it  very easy to pick up the pace in the SL20, unlike for example the new Brooks Hyperion Tempo with its long flex and less segmented rubber.

Sam: A great outsole here with plentiful coverage in all the right places which does not get in the way. Upfront we have Continental rubber with at the rear Adi Wear.
The front Continental rubber grips like crazy on dry and wet pavement and for sure should be suitable for light trail use as we have low profile lugs and that stable underfoot platform. I ran through some light sand over pavement like it wasn’t even there. I was slipping some through the same sand in the no outsole profile Skechers Speed Elite a week or so ago.   The outsole is well segmented for flex and has the characteristic adi forward flex point I like. The outsole plays well with the new Torsion system which provides stability at mid foot and propulsion from the 2 fingers further forward. 
The broad rounded rear platform has adi wear rubber and lots of it. As with the front, it should prove plenty durable for many miles of use. While the rear rubber for sure contributes to the overall stability of the shoe, I do wish it was more decoupled on the lateral side to have more of a crash pad to soften landings a touch, particularly at slower paces.

Sally: As Sam has pointed out, the grid of the Continental rubber of the forefoot provides great traction on dry or wet surfaces. My experience with past Adidas has proven the rubber to be longwearing, and I would expect the same from these. As I mentioned earlier, I found the outsole to be a bit too firm on the first few runs, lending to a stiff slap-the-foot-to-the-ground feel and resulting sound. Fortunately this lessened with miles. 

Sam: A very fast and very dynamic ride belying its 8 oz weight.. The ride is on the firmer but not punishing side and has a touch of bounce to go with a distinct responsive firmer energy “return”. It has a very smooth riding feel and excellent geometry for my run style. I would race a half in them and for sure a 10K where I think they would really shine. 

It is very easy to shift gears in this shoe. The toe off at speed is snappy and easy due to the Torsion system and front flex but is a bit more labored at slower paces when you don’t activate the Torsion off the heel landing as quickly. SL20 has overall a firmer but very fair on the legs fast training and race ride. 

Unlike Sally my first run was amazing out of the box and I even said “best non plated faster ride of 2020 so far”,  and meant it, while my second on more tired legs and at a slightly slower pace was not as much fun and felt firmer and more ponderous. Best run fast and fresh I might say!  I personally would not daily train in them exclusively, although some who enjoy a firmer responsive ride could, I would see them as a strong uptempo and race pairing to a daily trainer if you seek a more traditional responsive ride as opposed to a plated, rockered, or bouncier one.

Sally: I had to be patient with this shoe in the beginning, and the patience paid off. After my initial “this shoe is like running on wooden planks” summary following my first run (Sorry, adidas), I began to appreciate this shoe for its quick, snappy, responsive ride. Most shoes don't need a break-in period, but these did benefit from it in my case. Do not expect a bouncy ride; the Boost is gone. The Lightstrike is firm and energetic, lending to a smooth and lively peppy ride. The flex improved over my three runs, and the sweet forward toe-off became more noticeable. Sam points out that this is an uptempo shoe, and I struggled with the ride at relaxed paces that were not relaxing in this shoe. I would prefer a bit more softness underfoot to lessen the harshness of the ride when not pushing the pace.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Sam: Fast, responsive, and snappy the SL20 is a solid new up tempo trainer racer from adidas. It is not plush or bouncy yet has very adequate cushion stack for its weight and while on the firmer side is not a dull, harsh or rough riding shoe at faster paces. The outsole and Torsion system work very well together with the midsole especially as the pace picks up with a decisive transition off mid foot then a snappy toe off and with an easy to shift gears vibe. I wish it was a touch softer and bouncier but for its fast purpose scores high for ride qualities.  While not as light as some in its class, it has a very secure upper and copious grippy rubber making it a solid value at $120.
Sam’s Score: 9.1 /10
Ride: 9.3 (50%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 8.5 (5%)

Sally: I was not as enamored as Sam with this shoe, finding it a bit too firm and stiff for my run style. Fast is fun; but I was not enjoying this shoe at moderate paces. Pick up the pace and it is quick, snappy, and responsive, just don't expect a cushioned bouncy ride. The SL20 could easily be a race shoe for 10K or half-marathon, and will shine as an uptempo trainer. When other shoes are coming to market with higher and higher suggested retail prices, the SL20 is a good value at only $120. 
Sally’s score: 8.9/10
Ride: 8.5 (50%)    Fit 9.5 (30%) Value 9 (15%)   Style 8.5 (5%)

Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

adidas adizero Adios (RTR Review)
Sam: I did not test the latest adios 5 with its Lightstrike and Boost midsole but by stats it has 6mm less front and rear stack than the SL20 and when that firmer Lightstrike is compressed and there isn’t that much of it at 13mm up front (whereas before there was EVA and Boost upfront) there wasn’t much bounce reported by some of our testers. 

adidas adizero Boston 8 (RTR Review)
Sally: TTS W8 in both, I ran in the Boston 6 (my marathon shoe for 3 majors), Boston 7 (LOVED the blue/yellow BAA unicorn colorway!), and the Boston 8. The SL20 is lighter (almost a full ounce lighter than Boston 7), LightStrike midsole vs Boost. Is this the replacement? I will go with the SL20.
Sam: The Boston leans slightly more trainer than uptempo near racer as the SL20 does, yet by stack heights the SL20 has 3mm more front and back and weighs 0.2 oz less. 

Brooks Hyperion Tempo (RTR Review)
Sam: These two clearly compete as light trainer racers with stable dynamic rides and lots of outsole rubber. The Tempo’s nitrogen infused DNA Flash midsole is for sure lighter springier and easier on the legs but its firmer (especially at the heel) and yet more extensive outsole and longer flexing and less flexible forefoot without nearly as much toe off snap has me leaning towards the SL20 as an up tempo and especially tilting the scales race choice despite the Tempo’s 0.7 oz lighter weight. 

Hoka One One Rincon (RTR Review)
Sam: Super light, super cushioned rock and roll fun Rincon vs serious speed business SL20. At very close to an ounce lighter than the SL20 the Rincon gets to that weight with very little outsole rubber and a much more minimal and somewhat narrower upper while having considerably more forefoot cushion and stack (30/26 vs 29/19)  of the softer variety. The result is a shoe that shined for medium length tempo pace runs for me while the SL20 clearly outperforms it for shorter faster runs and I expect shorter races as well due to its more dynamic, non rockered snappy flex. These two would actually make a nice pairing if you like lighter shoes with Rincon the trainer, and SL20 the uptempo and shorter race shoe. Both are also reasonably priced so for less than the price of an Next% you can both!

Brooks Launch 7 (RTR Review)
Sam: At a stout 1.5 oz / 45 g more in weight than the SL20 with 3mm less stack front and back and roughly equivalent rubber the Launch while more shock absorbing (and dull in ride comparatively)  is far less responsive and slower to transition. It is a strong value at $100 for a long lasting durable trainer but pales in comparison to the SL20 when it comes to speed and overall fun. True to size in both with similar fits.

Nike Epic React (RTR Review)
Sally: Epic React is softer and bouncier, snugger fitting upper. (I have to size up in Nike for big toe clearance to W8.5, SL20 TTS W8.) I love the quiet smooth ride of the ER, SL20 is definitely firmer. I might choose the SL20 for quick tempo runs, ER for long comfortable runs.

Salomon Sonic 3 Balance (RTR Review) and Accelerate (testing soon, preview here)
Sam: While the Sonic 3 Balance is considerably heavier at just under 10 oz these two share about the same stack height and a somewhat similar dense, good rebound midsole feel with the Salomon with its vibration reduction system at the heel clearly easier on the legs for general training.  I am true to size in both with the Salomon having a higher volume toe box and a bit lighter and easier on the foot fit overall. The Accelerate will compete more directly with the Balance with a similar weight, about the same forefoot stack, but as a 6mm drop less heel but..with that vibration reducing insert in mix.

ASICS EvoRide  (RTR Review)
Sally: I have enjoyed the quick paced Evo Ride, a firm and lively and light feeling shoe. These two are very similar, although the Evo Ride is rockered and I felt more forward propulsion. I personally preferred the ride of the EvoRide as a trainer, though the SL20 might be a raceday shoe for some.
Sam: The Evo is rockered and stiff, the SL20 is not and more traditional relying on the Torsion plate and front flex for propulsion. Both are stable and quite firm.

Saucony Freedom 3 (RTR Review)
Sally: The Freedom is much softer and bouncier and free spirited, but the SL20 held my foot more securely, especially in the forefoot. You can wring the Freedom out like a wet towel - don't even try to torque the SL20, it is rigid but for the toe flex. Bouncy vs firm, but both fun in their own way. SL20 could be a race day option, Freedom could not. 
Sam: I concur 100% with Sally here.

Saucony Kinvara 11 (RTR Review)
Sally: The Kinvara 11 (I actually preferred the K10) is a softer and bouncier but versatile shoe, light on the feet. The SL20 is likewise lightweight, but much firmer and more performance oriented. I would choose the SL20 for uptempo runs.
Sam: Both are stable light trainer racers with the Kinvara softer and bouncier as Sally says and easier on the legs. I would train more regularly and more generally in the Kinvara 11 but it is stiffer flexing and harder to move as fast as the lively SL20 and has considerably less outsole rubber.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Anonymous said...

I kept thinking TTS? What is that? Didn't come to me until I saw it again in the conclusion that you mean "true to size".

A-Fly said...

I'm looking to replace my beloved Zoom Elite 9 in the near future and I'm looking for a similar up-tempo trainer/racer.

How does this compare to something like the Skechers Razor 3 Hyper (my first choice replacement)?

Sam Winebaum said...

It is closer to Elite than Razor is. Firmer and more stable than Razor as well as higher drop. Razor is springier and lighter (more than ounce) and more distance oriented if you can get past what I feel is a low feeling heel

Jeremy said...

Perhaps the Nike Gravity or Rival Fly may be even closer to the Zoom Elite 9...?

Mike said...

Sam, I have long been a fan of the Tempo and I used to use them for all my marathon training. I wonder if the SL20 has enough cushion for that. Especially as I noticed that the Adidas website is claiming stack heights of only 24/14 which is a bit less than you have noted.

Thanks for the review.


Sam Winebaum said...

Will reconfirm but Running Warehouse which consistently measures total stacks has as I have noted. The 25/14 you see may not include sockliner? If you have trained in Tempo I think you would find more forefoot cushion in SL20 but firmer overall. Sam

BR12 said...

Great review, as always, team. To Sally, various Bostons have also been my marathon shoe lately. You mentioned that you'd generally pick the SL20 over the Boston 8, but does that also mean the SL20 would\could also be a marathon race shoe for you? Can it go the distance?

Webvan said...

Not sure where you got your stack heights from but the Boston Boost are OFFICIALLY (and have always been) specced by Adidas at 19/29 and the SL20 at 14/24...

Anonymous said...

Love all the thorough reviews you provide for a shoe geek like me.

Any update on the true stack height of the SL20?

thank you


Alan said...

how do these compare against the Salomon Sonic 3 Accelerate?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Alan,
Firmer faster (short distance) and less forgiving for SL20 compared to Accelerate.

Alan said...

Thanks, I'm really leaning towards the accelerate. But comparing against the SL20 and Evo Ride, seen the Evo Ride for £20 less so not sure now

Jackson said...

Hi, I am looking for a tempo shoe that can also be used for 5 and 10km races, how does the SL20 compare to the Adios5 and Evoride?

Thierry said...

Thanks for the review.
Do you confirm the stack height 29/19?
The SL20 seems higher than the Solar Glide. Is the SL20 stiffer and firmer?
I'm running with the Adidas Adios 3. I love the lightweight, the nimble, the fit and the ground feeling of these shoes.
But after 1000kms, it's time to replace it.
i hesitate between the Adios 5 (i didn't like the fit of the Adios 4) and the SL20.
How do you think? Thanks!