Wednesday, February 19, 2020

adidas Ultraboost PB Review: big weight drop via a new cage and knit free upper!

Article by Mac Jeffries and Michael Ellenberger

adidas Ultraboost PB ($180)
Estimated Weight:  men's  10.45 oz / 296 g (US9) 
Samples: Mac: 13.2 oz (Size 14), Michael: 10.2 oz (Size 8.5)
Note: Ultraboost 20 weighs approximately 1 oz / more at 11.5 oz in a US9
Stack Height: heel 27 mm / forefoot 17 mm, 10mm drop
Available now including Running Warehouse here. $180

Mac: I am going to be honest; I had low expectations for the PB coming in. I consider the UB to be primarily an athleisure line: comfortable and attractive, but too sloppy and heavy for serious running. However, with a more secure upper and a cleaner overall design, the UBPB promises to be a serious everyday trainer for longer speed work and everyday miles. Spoiler: I was pleasantly surprised :-) 
Michael: I haven’t worn an Adidas trainer since some variant of the Supernova, back in high school, and besides the Adios (and perhaps the Sub2), I don’t think any of their offerings have been particularly inspiring. But the UltraBoost PB looks like a real, serious running shoe and guess what? It feels like one, too. We’re going to have to move past the “racing” angle to it - yes, we’re told the “PB” stands for “personal best” but no, I don’t think you’re going to be running many of those in this shoe. Still, this is the best offering of the UltraBoost line I’ve seen! 

Mac: Comfortable upper; secure around the midfoot. Good combination of cushion, spring, and responsiveness. Looks fantastic. 
Michael: Upper is class-leading (Really! From Adidas!); Boost is as boost-y as ever; looks sharp.

Mac: Weight is an issue, at least for a shoe named “Personal Best”. Probably a tad long and narrow. Laces require some dexterity to cinch down
Michael: Not a racer; not even Adidas’s best lightweight trainer; sizing concerns; price.

Tester Profiles
Michael is in his 20’s and is a 1:07 half marathoner. He runs 50-60 miles per week, generally in lightweight trainers or racing flats at around 6:00-6:30 minutes/mile. 
Mac is a former collegiate defensive lineman who runs to fill the competitive void left after school and to stay in shape. He is in his late 30s, runs 50-80 mpw, and at 6’3”, has come down from his playing weight of 275 lbs to a steady 205 lbs for the last 10 years. Jeff’s PRs are 19:30, 1:33:xx, and 3:23:xx; he also teaches and coaches XC & T&F.

First Impressions and Fit
Mac: Boom! What a good looking shoe. Like, really, really good looking. I don’t care if “good looking” is subjective; if you don’t think these look awesome, then you need awesome lessons. Classic white with black, and the Boost has a smooth black to white fade… Nice. 
Picking them up, I could… feel them. These aren’t the heaviest shoes I have tried - not by a long shot - but I was immediately reminded that Boost - in many ways, the genesis of the “springy midsole” movement - has been surpassed by other companies’ offerings (at least in terms of weight.)
The size 14 PBs feel great on my 13.5E foot. If I were going to nitpick, I would say that these feel just a touch long and narrow compared to most 14s I wear, but I think anyone with a true 14 foot should feel right at home in these. 

This may be a matter of preference, but the laces on these are a little slippery for my taste: as you cinch your laces up to tie your shoe, the laces tend to loosen as you work your way up, meaning that you need to use a third and fourth finger to keep laces in place as you go. A minor complaint, I know, but worth mentioning. 
Michael: If you’ve tried on previous Ultra Boost models, then you remember the cage - a midfoot overlay that provides a sensation of snugness across the arch. Here, Adidas has gone “uncaged” - but it hasn't necessarily lost the feeling. Sliding on the PB, you get an almost slipper-like experience, with a smooth interior and no hard or intrusive overlays to speak of. It’s surprising - even compared to recent Adios models - just how stripped-back this Ultraboost feels!

Mac: So, the upper here is super cool. Most importantly, it is secure: gone is the stretchy knit upper verging on instability. It has been replaced with a semi-transparent mesh that gives enough for comfort, but holds the foot firmly in place. BTW, the semi-transparent accents on the upper are so sweet… just make sure you wear some cool socks ;-) 
I am a BIG fan of the split heel cup: there is exactly zero pressure on the Achilles tendon. Like many genius designs, this one is super simple, and one that I wish more companies would adopt. 
Michael: Adidas loaded up the PB with what they call an ultralight Celermesh and removed the traditional “cage” that exists on some models. Instead, you have a near-translucent material with no overlays on the medial side and only a few (not including the painted-on stripes) on the lateral. And it feels really, really good.
Even the plastic skeletal heel cup isn’t as intrusive as it looks, and my heel sat in the PB comfortably. On the run, the Celermesh does a superb job of keeping your foot locked, even at faster paces and with quick turns. Visually, there isn’t much to see, but it’s obvious that Adidas has done some work in constructing a lightweight yet sturdy material - I expect this to be an even better summer shoe, with its breathable construction. Also, while our pure white version looks terrific (very classic Adi), the pre-muddied variant looks even cooler.. 
The heel cup also comes up high on the ankle, but caused no irritation for me (even when wearing shorter socks on the treadmill). It’s such a lightweight and airy material that I don’t expect it to become a significant source of chafing or hotspots - but those with past issues may want to take note.
Then there is the issue of fit - while the shoe itself is well-built and holds my foot firm, it is noticeably long for a size 8.5. Curiously, I don’t know that I’d even call the shoe too big, except that the toe seems to taper for longer than on other shoes. It gives the illusion of the PB being very long, but doesn’t necessarily have me swimming in the toe box. 

Mac: As I said earlier, Adidas’ Boost started the “springy midsole” craze, and went virtually unchallenged - with respect to Puma - for years. Now, you have Skechers Hyperburst, New Balance Fuelcell, and of course, Nike’s Pebax. Boost may be a tad heavier than the others, but is still among the industry leaders in both Bounce and Durability (long-term compression resistance).
The verdict here is a positive one: the spring definitely seems to “outweigh” - npi - the weight, and from an Easy pace down to a Tempo pace, these kicks really seem to propel you along, provided you got the lacing right. 

Michael: Boost is back! The namesake material is found in plenty here, and it’s what you might imagine - firm to the touch, but dynamic on the run. I don’t know that there’s anything about the composition here that sets it apart from previous Ultraboost offerings. That’s not to say it isn’t an exciting ride. If you haven’t worn a Boost-equipped shoe, you’re missing on tiny thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) beads that compress and expand with the stride to return energy more effectively than a typical midsole. And here, in combination with the upper, it really does make for a springy ride. There isn’t the same forward propulsion sensation you get with a Nike Zoom Fly or through Hoka’s Meta-Rocker, but there is a definite spring feeling with every step. At faster paces, I liked it even more - as with some TPU blends, I find Boost to be a little more dull at recovery paces.

Mac: The Continental outsole is a major plus here: I have run hard on wet asphalt several times, purposefully taking corners even faster than my avg pace, and I haven’t detected the slightest slip yet. Obviously, more miles will reveal durability, but if these are anything like other Conti treads, this will be a premiere outsole. 
Michael: The outsole on the PB is thick - it’s fully-lined with Continental rubber, and is undoubtedly one of the most capable racing (or, for that matter, road) shoes in that regard. I can’t imagine a road condition this shoe couldn’t handle - it’s been fine across snow and ice in Chicagoland, as well as (obviously) some treadmill miles. 

Where it isn’t suburb is flexibility - while the PB may take after racing shoes in its stiffness, I do wish we had some relief marks in the outsole here to provide a bit more flexibility. It’s not a hindrance, necessarily, but something that I think could be improved upon.

Mac: The UB20PB really melts on to your foot once you get going, which was kind of a pleasant surprise for a heavy-lightweight shoe. Boost really is good stuff: you get a lot more protection than the midsole thickness would lead you to guess, but the rebound is fantastic. The shoe really seems to transition well - whether heel-striking or midfoot striking - and although I would hesitate to race in it due to the weight, this will be a fantastic training shoe: heavy enough to make my racing shoes seem light, but still fun and fast. 

Michael: As I described in the “Midsole” section, the Boost material, in cooperation with the svelte upper, makes the Ultraboost PB a fun and springy ride. It’s not necessarily nimble - I wouldn’t race in it myself, and I imagine those that do would be looking at 13.1 and up - but it does some good pop! to it, and makes for a more than enjoyable long run shoe. As I described above, I think the PB will be an even better summer shoe - some of us have noted that TPU-based midsoles, Boost included, are more enjoyable in above-freezing conditions, and the breathable upper will undoubtedly be a relief for those hot summer miles (as hard as they may be to imagine now).

Conclusions and Recommendations

RIDE: The UB20PB loses some points for weight, but other than that, it really is a great little training shoe. Plenty of bounce, plenty of cushion. FIT: Just a touch narrow and long, but the main place this loses points is simply the shape: if you want a 10, buy a Topo :-) VALUE: for $180, this shoe would need to be 2-3 ounces lighter without sacrificing durability, but unfortunately it is just a little too heavy to be considered a do-everything shoe. 

Michael: Strangely, for a shoe with Boost in the name, the real standout feature of the Adidas Ultra Boost PB is the upper. I genuinely hope Celermesh comes to the Adizero Adios and Pro lineups soon; it’s miles better than the overlay-based, thicker material they are putting on their racing flats now. Still, the Ultraboost PB fits into a weird place. I’d certainly prefer the Adios 5 for racing and in fact found the Adios 4 to be a more than competent trainer for all but the slowest of recovery days. 

Even setting aside the superior siblings, I think $180 is a tough sell for this Boost rocket. Yes, the Pegasus Turbo - and several next-generation tempo trainers - are going to be hitting that price point, but you can still pull down a Skechers GoRun 7+ and have $50 left in your pocket for the price of one Ultra Boost. That isn’t to say the PB is a disappointment - in fact, I was surprised just by how darn good it is, sizing quirks and price aside - I just don’t know that this shoe will have any easy time winning over new converts. Those it does win, though - plus those loyal to the Ultraboost line - will certainly enjoy the ride here.
Michael’s Score 8.3/10
Discounted for sizing and price.

Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Editor’s Note: Neither Michael or Mac tested the latest Ultra Boost 20. Our review of it is here.

ASICS GlideRide (RTR Review)
Mac: Both the AGR and the UB20 PB are mileage hogs and similar weights. The UB feels a little better at faster paces, but the Glideride does long mileage so well - and for $30 less - that I really don’t care. I guess if I was trying to get a do-everything shoe, I would go with the Ultraboost, but since I have shoes dedicated to faster runs, I will take the Glideride. 

ASICS EvoRide (RTR Review)
Michael: The EvoRide is the newest - and most traditional - offering into the ASICS family of shoes with GlideSole technology, a rocker-y, roll-y midsole that helps with forward propulsion. While the EvoRide is a great trainer, and a welcome addition to the ASICS lineup, I think the PB is a more engaging and overall more useful addition to your lineup..   

Saucony Freedom (1&2) (RTR Review)
Mac: This is probably the closest comparison to the Ultraboost for a non-Adidas shoe: The Freedom’s Everrun midsole is TPU based - just like Boost - and the two shoes have similar weights, similar feel, very good outsoles, etc. I like the Freedom 1 more than the v2 - mainly because of the v2’s too-loose knit upper - but the UB20PB’s upper is far superior to either of these. As it happens, both the Freedoms are only found on closeout racks these days anyway, but if you liked either version of the SF, you should really consider taking a flyer on the Ultraboost PB. 

Skechers Razor 3 (RTR Review)
Mac: Even though these shoes aren’t designed with the same purpose in mind, I am adding the R3 comparison to highlight how the industry has caught up with - and perhaps surpassed - Boost. For $130 - $50 less than the Ultraboost - I can get the Razor 3: nearly 3 ounces lighter, just as springy of a midsole, just as capable at long miles, nearly as durable, but unlike the UB20PB, capable of tackling 5k races and faster.  

Nike Zoom Pegasus 36 (RTR Review)
Michael: The Pegasus is the last flagship of the old guard, a firm and untechnological trainer with enough oomph to make a decent workout shoe (or at least, comfortable when the pace gets moving!). And while I was a big fan of the Peg 36, it is now, in 2020, in dire need of a refresh (which is supposedly coming soon!). This is a closer contest than many would imagine, but I think the aging Pegasus still beats out the UltraBoost PB in its durability and longevity. I would take the PB if you’re looking, well, for a PB, and have to choose between one of the two in a race setting. 

Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2 (RTR Review)
Michael: ZoomX versus Boost may be the battle of the midsole titans, but the whole package of the Turbo 2 trounces the PB as an everyday/up-tempo trainer. In some ways, the Celermesh of the Adidas is superior to the upper on the Turbo, but the complete fit of the Nike is just a step ahead of the Adidas. What’s more, while Boost undoubtedly provides a responsive and energy-returning ride, it doesn’t feel as dynamic (or downright plush) at lower speeds as the Zoom X, and I wish the PB was a little lighter. As with the Pegasus, the Turbo and PB aren’t far apart - but again, I’m taking the Nike!
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Anonymous said...

I also wondered about this in a couple other reviews on this side: How can sizing be a contributing factor to score? Shoe sizes aren't absolutes, there is no such thing as "true to size", since companies apply different factors to their lasts' raw length. If a shoe is too long or short you size up or down, accordingly. There's no reason to put a score on that.
Not that scores matter, mind you, when the important information is in the written text, I just find it weird when sizing is mentioned as if it were an absolute.

Michael said...

Anon - I'll address both in the general and the specific. In the general sense, it's a detractor only to the extent that it creates confusion/uncertainty. Many buyers purchase trainers on final sale or cannot return them after use; if I buy size X but it fits like X+1, that's just creating unnecessary waste in having to return a shoe, not being able to wear it under certain conditions, etc. Ultimately, not a huge concern for buyers who can return shoes (or better yet, try them on in store), but consider that many of our readers are international and don't have the same on-hand stock as domestic readers might.

In the specific sense, as I perhaps didn't sufficiently describe, the sizing of the Ultraboost PB is just off, in that the toebox portion (we'll say from the laces forward) is just too long. It fits through the midfoot, and my heel stays relatively locked in, but there is just excess material that tapers to a narrower point that is necessary. Thus the deduction for sizing on this specific model.

Greg S said...

Got these and feel like long boats on your feet. I do though like the upper now (finally), but the look isnt for me

Michael said...

Greg - I'm with you. So long looking (and to some extent, feeling). Very odd shape.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to this review but I thought I'd add some comments to anyone getting here via a search. Got these on a great deal from Running Warehouse (~$70) a couple of months ago and it's been one of my favorite trainers since then. I went down a half size and found the length to be perfect. The midfoot lockdown was great for my lower-volume foot. The celermesh upper really does a good job wrapping the foot and adding the right amount of structure to the upper, without the need for any troublesome overlays.

The Boost midsole is a bit heavy but perhaps because the upper fits my foot so well I don't notice the weight quite as much. I like this iteration of Boost, it's just the right touch of firmness with a littel bit of give. I also like the inherent stability that comes with a huge slab of Boost.

Overall a pretty good cruiser with a superb fitting upper. If you can find it on sale at less than $100 I'd definitely give it a try.