Friday, March 12, 2021

Altra Running Rivera Multi Tester Review

Article by Brian Metzler, Kurt Huebner, Cheng Chen, and Jacob Brady


Editor's Note: We welcome Kurt to the RTR Test Team with this his first review. His run bio is below.

Altra Rivera ($130)


Introduction


Brian:  The Rivera is an all-new neutral performance-oriented everyday training shoe that’s light, lively, soft, versatile and, quite frankly, fun. It’s built on a responsive, moderately thick AltraEgo midsole and includes a balanced cushioning platform and semi-spacious foot-shaped toe box that Altra engineers into all of its shoes, but the shape of this shoe is decidedly more streamlined compared to other Altra shoes. It not only looks fast and smooth, but that’s how it feels and runs too. The combination of the lightweight, one-piece Altra Ego midsole and the stretchy, secure and cleanly designed one-piece engineered upper add up to a soft, but energetic ride to all types of training runs.

Cheng: When I first started running a short time ago, my first "real" running shoe was the Altra Escalante 1.0. I had heard great things about it and managed to snatch a pair at a past-season markdown price. The EGO foam was phenomenal; and, in combination the zero drop minimal platform, produced a phenomenal ride that elevated Altra to new heights for me. Fast forward a few years and the company has been acquired by VF Corp, expanded its lineup, and launched the shoe that many of us have been waiting for: a medium stack height EGO-based platform, a super-Escalante. 

Was this everything we've been waiting for? Mostly yes, but not completely so.


Jacob: The Rivera is a totally new shoe from Altra in the daily trainer category. It features moderate cushion, an EGO midsole, a notable forefoot rocker (uncharacteristic for Altra), and is relatively lightweight. The Rivera slots in between the Escalante and Torin. It has lower weight, stack, and cushion than the Torin but less of the dramatically flexible, unique ride of the Escalante. The Rivera is a simple, performant do-it-all trainer.


Pros:

Brian: I love the lightweight feel of this shoe. It feels simple but sufficient. There is just enough comfort, cushion and energy return built into this cleanly designed shoe, but just as importantly there aren’t any unnecessary features to complicate or inhibit the fit, feel or ride.


Brian:The cushioning is consistent and offers ample shock absorption, softness and protection and decent energy return. It’s built on a level platform — Altra simply called it “balanced cushioning” and not a zero-drop offset anymore — but it feels like there’s a bit of a rocker geometry or a bit of toe-spring design. There isn’t, but it just feels that way.


Brian:It fits true to size, but it’s probably a medium-volume shoe. (I have narrow feet and felt compelled to really cinch down the laces to get the locked-down feel I wanted.) There’s a moderately firm heel counter, a free-floating tongue with medium padding and only a smidge of medial arch support.  


Cheng: Over the years, Altra has been inching increasingly closer to the mainstream running market. You can see this reflected in the design of the Rivera’s upper. To appeal to a greater consumer base, the fit has been noticeably narrowed, but now looks more like a standard running shoe. Along with this mainstream push, the shoe provides a plush feel and solid grip without significantly adding weight, making the overall platform quite a do-it-all daily trainer.


Jacob: versatile, comfortable and secure fit, easy to run fast, smooth ride, simple design and feel


Cons:


Brian: To be honest, there wasn’t much not to like. The biggest drawback for me was that it fit wider than I would have liked and needed to snug down the laces to match my narrow feet. 


This isn’t a con, but just a reminder. We all (should) know the drill about the adaptation it takes to running in low-drop or zero-drop shoes. If you’ve been running shoes with a 4mm drop, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But if you’ve been running in shoes with a 6mm to 12mm offset, then you might feel some tightness the day after the first several runs in a zero-drop shoe.  


Kurt: My only concern is durability. Altra has estimated an average life of around 500 kilometers/310 miles. That is right about where I retired my old Torin 4’s, but I am hopeful that I can come in close to the 500 mile mark thanks to the historically great durability of the EGO midsole material.


Cheng: This is personal taste, but I would have liked the EGO foam to be tuned a slight bit softer. Nevertheless, I am quite content with how the firmness of the platform becomes lively and bouncy at faster paces. The biggest gripe, however, is in the fit. In pursuit of mainstream customers, Altra shrunk the toe box with a more aggressive lateral taper. The results are not the best.


Jacob: Low heel collar (similar to the Escalante) may feel too open/loose for some runners (I like the soft, unobtrusive hold. I’ll echo Kurt’s concern about durability—I didn’t get much over 300mi in the Escalante 1.5 because of the upper tearing at the crease lines and could imagine that happening with the Rivera.


Stats

Approx, Weight: men's  (US9) 8.6 oz. / 244g  women's (US8) 6.7 oz. / 189g

Samples: men’s  (US8.5) 8.4 oz  / 238g

Stack Height: 26mm, 0 drop

Available now. $130.


Tester Profiles

Brian Metzler is a longtime running journalist and shoe-tester. He’s the author of “Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes” and has wear-tested more than 1,500 models of running shoes since the mid-1990s. He’s been averaging about 35 miles of running per week this winter (but rarely records his runs on Strava), while also skate skiing and swimming several times each week.


Kurt Huebner is a senior at Cornell University who spends far more time thinking about running than studying. He has mainly focused on ultramarathon training for the last two years, with a 8:00:00 50 mile PB. Kurt is also a competitive nordic skier and will put on a race bib for just about any endurance sport, from snowshoeing to marathon canoeing. On the side, Kurt works at a local run specialty store. He has been averaging about 45 miles a week this winter. 


Cheng Chen is a CrossFitter turned runner. He lifts and base builds in the winter while racing in the summer with personal bests of 5:29 (Mile), 1:28 (Half), and 19:33 (5K). In Michigan, Cheng leads a local racing team and is also an ambassador for Gazelle Sports and the Detroit Free Press Marathon - use code CHENGROCKS for a discounted entry! Find him on Instagram (@MrChengChen) for any questions.


Jacob is a runner and general endurance sports enthusiast. He runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He has been running every day for three years and averages around 50 miles per week. Jacob races on road and trail at a variety of distances. In the past two race seasons has done several marathons and shorter (≤ 50km) ultras and mountain races. He has a PR of 2:51 in the marathon and a recent half TT PR of 1:18. In addition to running, he does hiking, biking (mountain/gravel/road), surfing, and nordic skiing. He is 25 years old, 6 ft / 182 cm tall and 155 lbs / 70 kg. You can check out Jacob’s recent activities on Strava here.



First Impressions and Fit

Brian: The Rivera fits true to size with a medium width in the heel and arch and just a touch more room in the forefoot. (It doesn’t feel nearly as roomy as most Altra shoes, but there is room for the toes to wiggle and splay.) The Rivera’s step-in feel is soft, smooth and comfortable, and it oozes a light and agile performance-oriented vibe the moment you start running in it.


Kurt:: It feels like Altra has finally produced a shoe that can reliably compete with the likes of the Hoka Rincon, New Balance Beacon, and Saucony Kinvara. As Brian mentioned, this shoe really strikes a great balance between cushion/protection and responsiveness.


The fit is dead on for me. I run on the wider end of a US 12 standard width and can often run into trouble with blisters on long runs in many popular brands (looking at you Hoka). This shoe has the exact amount of space I want and no more. Although this is a pro for me, it also has a slightly narrower fit than the Torin Plush and Escalante, so I would be wary if you are in a true wide size range.One thing I immediately noticed was the padding around the heel. It feels significantly more built up than many popular shoes on the market right now and reminds me a bit of a Saucony or Topo shoe. This had the effect of making my heel feel a little insecure, but that feeling immediately disappeared after a few steps. 


Cheng: As Brian mentioned, the Rivera fits true to size, which is exactly how I expect an Altra NOT to fit. 

This is due, in part, to the more suppressed toe box with the other factor being the rather plush upper. 

There is significantly more padding and material along all edges with a generously soft heel counter. While this produces a great step-in feel, the additional material also contributes to the sense of snugness.


Jacob: The Rivera is straightforward in design with a soft, foot-conforming upper and single slab midsole. The gray colorway I received matches its design goal, being simple and clear but not remarkable. It doesn’t look or feel like a premium shoe, but is lightweight and very comfortable on the foot.


The Rivera fits me nearly perfectly with an optimal amount of room for my toes to splay (but not excessive or sloppy) and soft but well-held heel and midfoot. It is close to a 10/10 in fit for me. With thick wool socks for winter running, surprisingly the length is on the shorter side, but not problematic. This is dramatically different than two other Altra shoes I have on hand, the Escalante 1.5 and Lone Peak 4.5, where the length is too long and I’d consider and maybe even prefer a half size down.


Underfoot the Rivera is medium-firm. It has a stiff flex that is hard to hit the breakpoint when bending in hand. The midsole feels consistent and lightly springy. From first impressions and initial try on it seems like a very well-rounded shoe.



Upper

Brian: The one-piece upper is made from an engineered mesh material that’s pliable and accommodating, but it’s also supportive when the laces are snugged down. It’s very breathable and airy with very few seams or stitching. The upper material is slightly reinforced to supplement the protection the toe bumper provides, but also to help provide enough shape to keep the material from rubbing the top of the toes. 


Kurt: To echo what Brian said, this is definitely on the more breathable end for Altra. Think Escalante Racer instead of Torin Plush. My first run in these was around 20F and I was shocked to actually feel the cold in my toes. That is a definite plus for me as I love to keep my feet as dry as possible on long runs. 

Cheng: I'll offer a contrarian view in that the upper can be greatly improved. Yes, it is breathable but far from the free-flowing open weave of the Escalante Racer. The padded material contributes to a great lock-in feel with none of the loose fitting upper of the original Escalante. The only downside to this is if you have an extra wide forefoot and are used to the Torin's roomy toe box - this is not that.


Jacob: The Rivera upper is composed of a seamless, single-piece, minimally overlaid engineered mesh. The material is largely static but has a measured amount of give which balances foothold and comfort well. It fits softly and without pressure.


As the other reviewers note, the mesh is breathable—even a bit too cold for me in 20 F / -7 C temps. I like the fit and foothold of the upper and it is simple and functional.


Midsole


Brian: The one-piece Altra EGO midsole with a stack of 26mm front and back feels moderately soft (but not mushy or marshmallowy soft) and provides modest shock-absorbing protection in the heel as well as modest to good energy-returning responsiveness in the forefoot. 


It has a slightly thicker Altra EGO midsole layer than the Escalante Racer and Escalante and seems to serve up a bit more energy return. It’s slightly slower than the cushier but not as lively Torin 4.5 Plush (which features Altra’s Quantic midsole compound).

The bottom of the midsole is sculpted out to provide a natural flex pattern from the arch to the metatarsal heads and toes. That allows it to serve up smooth heel-toe transitions with a completely uninhibited ride.


Kurt: I find the midsole to offer a decent blend of responsiveness and shock absorption compared to the Torin 4.5 Plush and Escalante. You will get a bit more road feel on these than you would in the Torin Plush, but without the responsiveness of the Escalante. 


In general I prefer Altra's EGO midsoles to Quantic as it just feels like the more modern foam compound. If I want an overly cushy shoe, I will go for a Hoka or one of New Balance's softer iterations of Fresh Foam X. The EGO foam of the Rivera just works better across a wider pace range, especially given how much of it is under the foot compared to the Escalante.

Cheng: Many Altra enthusiasts have been waiting for a mid-stack road shoe in EGO foam, something in between the Escalante and Paradigm. This has finally been delivered effectively as a Torin without Quantic. Assuming that both EGO and Quantic are TPU-EVA blends, the latter is the blend with more EVA and hence is lighter and softer but less responsive. In this context, Altra decided to continue making only the Torin Plush iteration while launching the Rivera as the more energetic and responsive option.


Jacob: The Rivera midsole is a single slab of Altra’s EGO material and is medium-firm (firmer than I expected), has a stiff flex, and provides a balanced underfoot feel. It has a mild toe rocker feel which helps it move along well and feel less slappy than some flatter feeling zero-drop shoes, such as the Escalante. It has some roll and transitions smoothly. It has enough cushion for all length runs but is not plush or soft. It is not bouncy but is quick to rebound and cruise along easily. I agree with Kurt overall on his assessment of the midsole.



Outsole

Brian: The outsole is simple and effective with several thin hard and soft rubber segments in the heel and forefoot. (There is a combination of thinner, less durable rubber segments and exposed foam under the middle of the shoe.) It serves up good traction on roads and soft dirt trails and because the outsole rubber segments are aligned along the flex grooves in the forefoot, it allows the shoe to flex naturally without any inhibition.

 

Kurt: No complaints about the outsole. Given that this is a zero drop shoe, most users will probably barely impact the exposed middle. I do quite a bit of running on snow, ice, and sloppy country roads and this performed nicely, especially when it came to shedding snow.

Cheng: The outsole is surprisingly nice. I had the chance to run in both rain and snow and was surprised by the amount of traction. Though not as grippy as the sticky rubber of the Pegasus Shield series, the strategic placement of soft rubber offers just enough wet condition grip without becoming tedious under normal conditions.


Ride

Brian: The ride is buttery smooth, a little springy and entirely effortless. For Altra fans, it feels like a magical mashup of the Escalante Racer and the Torin 4.5 Plush while including some of the best aspects of the now-defunct One and Duo shoes. On a broader scope, it might be a mix between the Hoka Clifton, Saucony Kinvara and New Balance 880. Light, supple and peppy, the Rivera inspires quick-cadence running, good running form and an enjoyable experiences. 


Kurt: This has the least "Altra" ride of any of their shoes I have run. You will still notice it is zero-drop, but there is none of the harshness that many of their shoes have had. I loved the Torin line, but it was rarely something I used beyond 13 miles as it just left my feet and legs feeling beat up. I would agree with Brian that it feels like the DNA of many popular trainers have come together in this shoe. It has an excellent "pop" to it that outshines many of the other standard trainers. It's not quite up to the level of the Saucony Endorphin Speed, but still tons of fun. 


A most striking thing about Rivera is just how well it performs across a wide pace range. Many of my favorite long run shoes like the Hoka Clifton and Rincon really start to feel dead or sloppy for me below a 7:00 minute mile. Altra managed to totally avoid this issue, with the shoe still feeling springy and secure on stride efforts and long downhills at paces all the way down to 4:50/mile.


Cheng: If you’re used to the original Escalante’s ride, then this is not it. As Brian put it, the best way to describe the dynamics of the Rivera is a combination of the Escalante Racer and Torin 4.5 Plush. During the landing stages, there is a short burst of a plush, sink-in feeling quickly followed by a responsive, energetic rebound. This dynamism is reliably consistent, allowing the runner to quickly settle into a cadence. However, what the Rivera lacks is a significant toe spring, making the ride more about how you want to run as opposed to guiding you through the ground contact. I’ll discuss this further in the comparison against the Topo Cyclone below.


Jacob: The outsole is a firmer rubber which is well-segmented and positioned under the metatarsals to allow a natural flex in the forefoot. It is quiet while on the run and I think contributes to the pop and faster transition at speed I felt. Traction on snow/ice was remarkably good, as Kurt noted as well, but is not as striking in the wet or on sand. 



Conclusions and Recommendations

Brian: It’s probably my favorite Altra shoe among the dozens I have run since the brand’s inception. It’s light and lively enough to be a performance trainer for faster days, but it’s cushy and protective enough for long runs and versatile enough to be an everyday workhorse — especially for runners who are nimble and run light on their feet. The combination of ride, fit, value and style make it one of the best new models for 2021. If you like the fit, feel and ride of Altra’s Escalante Racer or Escalante 2.5 but want or need more underfoot cushion and protection, the Rivera might be your Goldilocks pick for its versatility as an everyday trainer.

Brian’s Score: 9 /10


Kurt: Rivera is in a great class of shoe that “just works” in most scenarios I use a road shoe for. It handles 20+ mile long runs with ease, but I can take it out on a recovery day or workout and still feel satisfied by the performance. I would disagree with Brian, however, with his comparison to the Escalante 2.5/Racer. I think this shoe actually shares much more DNA with the Torin Plush. Give it a try if you have used that shoe and found it just a little too mushy and slow for day-to-day usage. People who are fans of the incredibly responsive Escalante will probably find this a bit too much under the foot.

Kurt’s Score: 9 / 10


Cheng: In many ways, the Rivera hits a sweet spot of stack height, ride, and fit. It offers enough protection to work as both a long and short distance shoe. The ride is both plush and lively enough for workouts and recovery runs. The fit gives room for the forefoot without being awkwardly roomy. It is Altra’s true daily trainer. However, by being such a do-it-all platform, the Rivera fails to be the best in any one particular category. And It doesn’t need to - there’s still the Escalante/Paradigm/Torin… I’m giving this shoe a score of 8.8 in the context that the VALUE is a 10/10.

Cheng’s Score: 8.8 / 10.0

Ride: 9.0 (50%)   Fit: 8.0 (30%)  Value: 10 (15%)   Style: 8.0 (5%) 


Jacob: The Rivera is a great do-it-all daily trainer. It is simple in design and performs well at a wide range of paces. The fit is comfortable and free enough while still secure. The ride is near the middle in level of cushion, rebound, and flexibility. For runners with only a couple shoes looking for an everyday trainer, the Rivera is among my top picks for 2021. Especially if one prefers a more subdued, less dramatically soft and bouncy midsole. Runners new to zero drop will likely find the Rivera a good first zero drop shoe as it does not feel overly flat and has enough structure to not feel strikingly “different” and can move along without necessitating a clean midfoot/forefoot strike. The Rivera will be a random-day, no-planned-run shoe for me.

Jacob’s Score:  8.7 / 10.0

Ride: 8.0 (50%)  Fit: 9.5 (30%)  Value: 10.0 (15%) Style: 7 (5%) 


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Brian: To me, this shoe feels and runs quite a bit like the Saucony Kinvara, even though the Kinvara has a 4mm heel-toe offset. There are some similarities to a lot of other shoes, including Hoka Clifton, Skechers GoRun Razor 3 Hyper and, hypothetically speaking, maybe even a lite version of Brooks Glycerin. But really, the Rivera feels mostly like a juiced up Escalante Racer or Escalante based on the similar soft, lightweight feel and smooth, zero-drop vibe.  


Altra Torin (RTR Review)

Cheng: EGO foam is more responsive and energetic than the Torin's Quantic foam. Think of Quantic as a softer, more mellow EGO and you’ll grasp the difference. Aside from that, the stack heights for both shoes are similar with the Torin having a slightly more accommodating fit, making it a better choice for those with extra wide feet.


Topo Cyclone (RTR Review)

Kurt: The fit is quite similar to the Topo Cyclone for me. I have not run extensively in the Cyclones, but there is a similar level of volume in the toe box. I wear a US men’s 12 in both. One factor worth noting is that heel cup of the Rivera fits closer to an Ultraventure or Ultrafly than the pared down fabric used in the Cyclone. The Rivera also feels like it has a smoother transition to me than the Cyclone. The Cyclone just feels like you really need to have a pep in your step for the midsole to come into its own, whereas the Rivera feels “right” across most paces to me. 


Cheng: As I mentioned in the Cyclone review, it is Topo’s direct competitor to the Altra Rivera. Both have a similarly responsive and lively ride with the Cyclone being slightly harsher. This harshness is also expressed in the upper in that the Topo has a far more minimalist design while the Altra has a well-padded plush approach. Beyond this, the biggest difference between the two is in how the midsole of the Cyclone has a significant arch support with a decent toe spring, something completely absent in the Rivera. If you’re looking for a plush but energetic ride, go with the Altra. But if you’re looking for a platform to support an intentionally efficient natural running form, nothing beats the Topo Cyclone!


Altra Escalante 1.5 (RTR Review)

Jacob: The Escalante 1.5 is much bouncier and more flexible. It also has a longer and wider fit which is somewhat sloppy but also nicely unobtrusive. The Rivera is more stable, consistent, and has a light rocker. It is easier to run in than the Escalante especially at slower paces but is less energetically fun. For a daily trainer, the Rivera is my pick and I think it would work better for more runners, but as a fun to run shoe for a shorter run once a week, I prefer the bounce and flexibility of the Escalante.


New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon (1 and 2) (RTR Review)

Jacob: The Rivera feels the closest underfoot to the Beacon for me and during my first run I thought of it immediately. They are both medium-firm, slightly stiff, consistent, largely EVA (blends), medium-cushion, all-purpose trainers. With its slightly higher drop (at 6mm) the Beacon is the more versatile shoe in my mind and is lighter as well. I think both shoes are equally capable and it may be up to the preferences of the runner and her/his foot shape. Try them both if you can. You  can’t go wrong with either.



Watch Sam's Initial Rivera Review on the RTR Channel (9:01)


Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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1 comment:

Wes Arnold said...

How does this compare with the Mach 4 - both seem to fall into that lighter weight faster daily trainer