Monday, May 10, 2021

Brooks Aurora BL Review: Brooks At Long Last Goes Wild, and Crazy Light! It Works!

Article by Sam Winebaum, Jeff Beck, and Cheng Chen

Brooks Aurora-BL ($200)


Introduction


Sam: Releasing June 17, the limited edition Aurora-BL represents a wild and dramatic technological and visual design departure for often stodgy yet always reliable Brooks. An outer space and astronaut inspired motif! It comes from Brooks Blue Line stunk works. It will be a limited edition likely inspiring more mainline products. By making it a limited edition Brooks can get it to market quicker and learn from the response to inform future products.


The Aurora is a super light for stack, maximally cushioned  (37mm heel / 31 mm forefoot full stack, 26/20 DNA Loft v3 midsole), plateless road trainer with a supercritical processed nitrogen injected foam DNA Loft v3 midsole.  We have seen DNA Loft v1  in the Glycerin and Ghost as a softer flavor of DNA and nitrogen infused DNA Flash foam in the Tempo, Hyperion Elite 2, and trail Catamount and coming soon DNA Loft v2 in the Cascadia 16 (RTR Review soon) but here we are talking about something radically different. 

Brooks “amplified” the foaming process using the supercritical nitrogen to create yet larger cells within the foam, and larger than in DNA Loft v1 and v2. As the v numbers progress drawings from Brooks indicate more dispersed, more regular in shape and larger bubbles within the foam structures. They say the v3’s  process amplifies the cushioning properties, reduces weight, and increases energy return while also not sacrificing durability. While we have no advance information, we can imagine that this new DNA Loft v3 foam may make its way into next versions of Brooks’ Hyperion Elite and Tempo shoes along with elements of the upper materials and design. 

The stack height is gigantic here. My approximate measurements show about 5mm more full stack at the heel than the Nike Invincible Run, a 10mm drop shoe. It is also about 5mm more at the heel than the New Balance More v3, a 4mm drop shoe. This is a gigantic stack height in a shoe weighing close to 1.5 oz less than either at 8.54 oz /242g in my US9.  Eye opening to say the least!

And that is not all. The Aurora gets a deep decoupling at the midfoot to allow the heel and forefoot to move independently of each other for what Brooks calls a “smooth natural ride”.  Several years ago Brooks did something similar in the road Neuro and trail Mazama, far lower stack height shoes with comparatively primitive heavier foams. We also have seen a similar deep groove, with similar intentions, in the recent Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300. 

Finally the Aurora gets a very thin and breathable mono mesh upper with an internal mid foot bootie tongue along with a very unique single piece molded and padded heel counter unit extending underfoot to midfoot where it also seems to provide support and stability above the decoupling. 


Wild looks conveying the shoe’s mission of cloud-like maximal light cushion and light weight and  packed with innovative new technologies Brooks pulled out all the stops here to join the modern super foam run game. Let’s see how they run!


Cheng: It’s an orange! It’s a flying saucer! It’s Brook’s latest do it all sneaker-trainer!


This hyperbolic introduction is not too far off from not my first impressions - these are truly different from anything Brooks. To that extent, I received these tester units about a week ago and did not have the chance to put on the typical 30+ miles for shoe reviews. I did, however, put enough miles in for some decent thoughts, including impressions from Brooks Hanson’s elite runners!


The shoe is absolutely unique. Not only is the street-look design completely different from anything else, Brooks is also launching their new midsole foam with this mode

l, DNA Loft v3. The material is similar to the “pool noodle” foam found on Skechers Hyperburst and is molded into a unique midsole with massively flared bulges and a decoupled fore/rear-feet segments. This absolutely is and looks like a concept shoe, one that Hanson’s elite runners I see locally here in Michigan mentioned they’d wear on easy and casual days!


Jeff: This has to be the most outlandish looking shoe I’ve ever run in. It immediately reminded me of a number of the various Reebok “running” shoes they offer that are purely for casual wear - except this bad boy is made to be run in. But all of that is just aesthetics and design unique to this shoe, for me the biggest “wow” element of this shoe is the midsole material. Brooks had offered a handful of interesting midsole foams like DNA Flash and DNA Loft, but this is truly impressive. Timing is funny too, I received a pair of DNA Loft v2 equipped Cascadia 16s about 48 hours before the DNA Loft v3 equipped Auroras showed up - so the DNA Loft v2 era was incredibly short in the Beck household.

 

Pros:

Radical daring design. Midsole, geometry and upper innovations Sam, Jeff

Outstanding weight to cushion ratio for a max cushion trainer Sam, Cheng, Jeff

Deep, energetic and soft cushion. I think the deepest I have ever experienced Sam, Jeff 

Brooks reliable - very stable for such a big stack light shoe. Impeccable construction. Sam

Effective decoupling for a smooth transition off the heel, no heel bottoming out despite softness and 6mm drop: Sam

Superb very light mono mesh upper with secure heel, midfoot, and toe box room: Sam, Cheng

Looks - multiple professional athletes suggested that they would wear this casually: Cheng



Cons:

Not very smooth somewhat forced toe off at slower paces, possibly due to lack of toe spring: Sam, Cheng

Better run faster or at the midfoot. Somewhat stiff and slappy and high up front. Forefoot overdone in stack height? More front rocker and/or flex?: Sam

Is all the front stack height really necessary given the above?: Sam

Innovation pricing may limit trial: Sam, Jeff

Poor Transition - landing rearfoot has a detached/non-smooth transition to toe off: Cheng

Central exposed midsole oval creates suction when walking on smooth surfaces: Jeff/Sam


Tester Profiles

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.


Cheng 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), 1:25 (Half), and 19:25 (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. Follow him on Instagram (@MrChengChen) for more.


Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 48 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 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs.


Stats

Weight: men's 8.5oz  / 240g US9   women's 7.6 oz / 215g

 Samples: men’s 8.54oz  / 242g US9, 9.56 oz / 271g US10.5

Midsole Stack: 26/20 Full Stack: 37/31, Drop 6mm

Available now for men and women at RTR partner Running Warehouse HERE

 

First Impressions and Fit

Sam: I was shocked when I first saw them. Bulbous and cloud-like  and so light in hand the Aurora instantly conveys an aesthetic and vibe that telegraphs  soft, highly cushioned, and super modern.  There are no sharp angles anywhere, just gentle curves and a massive white midsole with a few hints of orange shading at the heel to soften its massive height.


The upper also for sure draws attention. A whitish gray very translucent mono mesh with a big gray intricately molded smooth and entirely reflective semi rigid heel counter. Peaking through the mono mesh at mid foot is the orange stretch bootie tongue with the rear collars also lined with soft mesh.

I was sent a half size up from my normal 8.5 and the fit on both my narrower right foot and wider left is perfectly held. Not once have I had to re-lace on the run. At 8.5 they are a touch long but that’s it. The toe box is moderately wide and although the mono mesh has no stretch I think  it is thin and pliable enough to accommodate a range of foot volumes. Brooks has done a fantastic job with the fit here.


Cheng: Before diving into more thoughts, I’d like to first mention the caveat that I have what’s classically called an Asian last foot - wide in the forefoot, slim in the heel. This leads to a variety of fit-issues where I have to consistently wear half a size up (US 8) or more.

Before stepping in, my first impression of the Aurora’s upper was “uh-oh…” I noticed that the forefoot has a reinforced plastic mesh, possibly restricting the forefoot. Further, the heel immediately reminded me of the New Balance 1080’s, the shoe that I’ve given the worst review on thus far. Overall, I was expecting an uncomfortably compressed forefoot with a loose and floppy heel. Luckily, this did not pan out but with a caveat - I swapped the default insole for a thinner unit.


Jeff: I don’t think there’s a more radical looking shoe on the market right now, and I can’t tell you what element is the most radical looking. Initial step in is something else, between the completely reinvented upper and unique midsole, though I’d really appreciate it if they’d added a heel pull tab. It isn’t as awkward to put on as the adidas 4DFWD, but it’s close. Fit wise, I find them perfectly true-to-size with my standard 10.5. I’m between a D and 2E (favoring D just slightly) and didn’t have any fitment issues. When I first tried them on, I was wearing pretty thick socks and was concerned that the toebox height could be problematic due to pressure above my big toes. Perhaps the thinner socks I’ve worn since, or perhaps there is a little stretch to the material, but I’ve had no problems with toebox height since that initial try on. As for toebox width? It’s also pretty good. I’ve been battling achilles tendonitis issues that have kept my runs to six miles or less, but I’ve had no problems with pinch blisters that usually come with too limited of a toebox. Typically if a shoe is too narrow up front I’ll start feeling it in the opening two to three miles of a run with the actual blister showing up a few miles later. Legitimate hobbits might complain about width up front, but I think most runners’ feet will be fine.


Upper

Sam: The upper is as innovative as the rest of the shoe. The thin translucent mono mesh we have seen before with varying degrees of comfort and hold, always a tricky balance as the base fibers are fish line like so not the softest. Here the makeup is soft and pliable enough to be both secure and comfortable. We see an almost as equally pliable toe bumper and some midfoot underlays. 


The secret of this minimal upper’s great foothold is two fold:

First, Aurora has an elaborate and comfortable full bootie tongue construction which runs the length of the lacing area.  Attached only at the lace holders and at the midsole, it is made up of a fairly stout elastic band at the top It is followed forward and to the sides where it attaches to the midsole by a moderately stretchy 3D grid outside smooth inside material. 

The lace up lands just at the top of the softer grid material.The combination provides a very good lockdown of the midfoot especially so given the light mesh and big stack.

More innovation is at the “heel counter”.  It is a single piece molded unit with the padding molded in. It is more pliable than a usual stiff heel counter and extends along the sides as a counter would but it appears to serve as an underfoot stabilizing surface or midfoot “plate light” as well.

The heel counter extends at least as far as the  beginning of the hinge and then potentially yet further forward as shown above as it can be seen, with a white coating between it and the midsole I assume to make the glue between counter and midsole work effectively.

My sense is that it acts as a stabilizing element in that area. Recall the midsole is all soft foam and we have the hinge so some torsional rigidity is helpful.

The rear Achilles area has 3 well padded bolsters and everything at the rear on the inside is lined with soft thin mesh at the rear and a very soft very thin suede like material to the sides . 


And the outer gray surface is entirely reflective.


While we often talk about midsoles and outsoles in terms of shoe weight,  uppers can be a key factor as well. Here Brooks has effectively minimized upper weight while providing a great fit and hold. This upper is in sharp contrast to the heavier Nike Invincible Run where the much more conventional upper, extra rear padding, and rubber to stabilize the soft landing all of which is clunkier and much more conventional in design while adding weight. Brooks clearly also paid close attention to upper weight and it shows in the weight of the shoe.

Jeff: Sam detailed the upper very well, which is saying something, because this upper is among the most complicated I’ve ever worn. Personally I find the internal bootie really nice, and it holds the midfoot very well. It’s taken me a little bit to get used to visually, and the way they finished it reminds me a lot of the waistband of most brands’ boxer briefs. Aesthetic gripe aside, they help make a shoe with seemingly a plastic upper not feel like it has a plastic upper, so bonus points there. The tongue isn’t overly padded, but Brooks used laces that are soft enough, I haven’t felt them. I’ve worn other laces that are similar in texture, but they kept coming undone, but these stayed tied very well. 
The upper material over the toebox is translucent enough I’m sure the more extreme Type A runners will want to coordinate their socks, because you can absolutely see your foot through it. It isn’t the first shoe to showcase your sock, but it might be the most extreme example I’ve seen. 

Cheng: I was incredibly surprised that the upper was not horribly uncomfortable. I’ve almost always had negative experiences with plastic mono mesh uppers like the ones on various Skechers shoes.


Somehow, the Aurora pulled through. Despite having a synthetic mesh upper, its implementation is superb. The fabric is single layer and highly porous. Running in wet weather, my socks were easily soaked, especially at the forefoot. The thinness of this fabric further contributed to a surprising level of stretch, allowing my foot to be cradled and not squeezed.


And reflecting on Sam’s observations regarding the heel, I was also surprised that the heel worked so well. The last shoe that I tried with a shell-like achilles cup was the New Balance 1080, and its heel grip was horribly loose, stiff, and uncomfortable. This is not the case here.


The padding bolsters within the achilles cup internally grip the heel in a gentle manner even if the fit looks loose from the outside. Brooks even went as far as taping the fabric seams where two different materials meet to deliver a surprisingly plush final experience. Take note, this is how an achilles flare/cup styled upper should be designed!


Midsole


Sam: The midsole is DNA Loft v3, a nitrogen injected supercritical processed flavor of DNA Loft. We don’t know what DNA Loft is but suspect an EVA/TPU blend or EVA/Olefin blend. Brooks uses a foaming process that creates larger cells than in their other DNA Loft midsoles or for that matter DNA Flash midsoles which are also nitrogen infused. The feel is similar to Puma’s Nitro foam and New Balance’s FuelCell as in the Rebel v2 and RC Elite v2 both also supercritical EVA/TPU based foams. My sense is that  Loft v3 has a touch less  bounce than the New Balance foams but this could be masked by the gigantic stack here and the outsole. The foam feel is light and airy with some bounce especially when pushing the pace and up on the midfoot/forefoot of the shoe.


The midfoot has a decoupling construct which allows the heel and forefoot to move more independently. 

The geometry of the decoupling  allows the “hinge” to bend forward easily with a noted spring back once pressure is released while, as it is not continuous straight across, also allowing for a touch of  lateral and medial bending without compromising stability or turning the shoe into a twisty pretzel as old school “natural” running shoes had. See our video review below for a demonstration of the flex.


The Aurora is notable for its easy transition off the back of the heel at any pace I have run them, mostly moderate between 9 to 11 minute miles as I am nursing an injury. The heel cushion and stability is surprisingly great for such a light shoe. The broad flared heel landing and high rear midsole sidewalls  and decent rubber contribute to the stability.  I am surprised how little to no bottoming out or low feeling the heel unlike say how the the 4mm drop (2mm less than Aurora) Skechers Max Road 4 feels to me at slow paces back at the heels.  I assume the flared heel and decoupling geometry are key as you will never compress too far at edges and then because of the hinge not linger overly long at the heel.

The front (after the decoupling) is quite stiff. Not rocker profile shoe stiff but with no forward flex areas so basically a long front flatter stiffer platform. An Indicator of a stiff shoe are slapping sounds and here there are some at slower paces. The front cushion and stability is remarkable for such a light high stack shoe. I found the front platform not as easy to toe off and go when heel striking and at slower paces than I would like. Not enough flex, no rocker to speak off and the 6mm drop with potentially just too much front stack impeding the last part of the gait cycle for me. They require a solid mid to forefoot strike pattern to really make them shine and when there they do!  My pair was a half size up from my normal but I don’t think that is a factor.


While the overall stability and cushion for such a giant light shoe is admirable Brooks might have slimmed down the very front of the platform (as the Invincible Run does) for some final toe off flex or reduced the overall front stack and or included deeper flex grooves (as Skechers Max Road essentially does with its pillared outsole or segmented the outsole more. Now, midfoot strikers at all paces may find a different story. On to Jeff!


Jeff:  I think Sam objectively described the midsole very well. While I don’t completely agree with his performance assessment, as a midfoot striker I think this shoe suits me a little better. I too am nursing a few nagging injuries and most of my paces have been in the upper 9 to mid 11s, and I haven’t experienced any forefoot slap. Also, I thought the toe spring was good in the Aurora. You won’t confuse it with the ASICS Glideride or Saucony Endorphin Shift, but I found it to have a smooth and bouncy toe off. I have been focusing on my form trying to minimize how extreme I supinate, because the rubber outsole pods don’t go all the way to the edge of the shoe and I could see creating early severe wear patterns in the midsole if I spent too much time outside of the rubber. 


One aspect I think Sam absolutely nailed was the feel, it is very light and airy feeling, and while it doesn’t have the same kind of bounce the ZoomX Invincible has, I could see this shoe being less polarizing. It doesn’t have quite as much squish, but it definitely feels more cushioned. That shouldn’t be a surprise - when I first received the Aurora I grabbed a quarter to measure how deep the channel is (old trick to measure wear on car tires: grab a quarter and put it in your car tire’s channel with Washington’s head upside down, 


if the rubber overlaps the top of his head your tires are fine, if it doesn’t you are due to replace them - just part of the public service all of us at RoadTrailRun like to deliver), and it effectively devoured the quarter. That’s how thick the midsole is. Some folks may hate that, but I absolutely love it.


Cheng: The design of the Aurora’s midsole really goes against many trends of highly cushioned shoes. A glaringly direct example is the lack of a transition shank (e.g. ASICS Trusstic), designed to smooth the transition from a rearfoot strike to toe off. Instead Brooks designed this shoe to be the exact inverse: a completely decoupled rear and fore sections of the midsole.


Here, it’s important to note just how drastic of a design this is. Soles that are 30mm or more thick typically depend on some kind of rockered geometry to assist in running. This was how Hoka first made high stack shoes popular. While the Aurora does have a slight.y rockered design, such designs typically rely on some inherent midsole solidity. The decoupled midsole takes that away.

Another important design difference is the significant bulging-out of the midsole. This bulged approach is far more than that of typical high stacked shoes’ beveling. The closest example I can think of is the Nike Invincible, which has an extra wide midsole for the sake of ride stability, and that shoe did not have a decoupled midsole.



Outsole

Sam: Not much to discuss here. 5 quite thin patches arrayed generally more longitudinally of seemingly similar firmness regardless of the differing colors. Three runs in, about 20 miles, I see no wear, not even to the very fine patterning including at the heel where I usually see wear first.  In terms of its design I question not having segmentation at the front midsole groove on the medial side to provide more flex there to enable a smoother quicker toe off.  


Jeff: Grip is good, even in wet conditions, though I have started seeing wear on my pair. The textured pattern around the forefoot on the lateral side has been worn away, and despite my best efforts I am seeing a little bit of wear outside the rubber in the midsole. However, inside the rubber ring I have no wear, more what I’d term abrasion,so with good form I don’t think premature wear is a concern at all.


Cheng: There is one major, funny quirk with the shoe; it makes a “plopping” sound when a seal is formed between the ground and the midsection of the outsole. This is very consistent on smooth surfaces, especially wet and smooth surfaces. 

Upon a closer inspection, the source is evidently an octopus suction like indentation on the outsole, the part with the “DNA LOFT” marking. I suspect that this plopping sound will go away as the outsole is worn down.



Ride

Sam: The ride is tremendously well cushioned, soft and bouncy but in no way mushy. I can’t recall a shoe so deeply cushioned with in the mix bounce, mostly effective geometry, and stability.  You literally plow ahead on a giant cloud of bottomless cushion that is never mushy (if also not that snappy due to the thin rubber and lack of front flex or rocker) , has very nice  bounce and energy return, and some neutral stability. And all at a weight more commonly seen for performance trainers in the past which literally also have close to half the stack height. 

While the Aurora can easily run slow and easy, the front geometry and the front stiffness favors somewhat faster paces than recovery up to moderate tempo for me.


Jeff: I largely agree with Sam’s assessment. While there isn’t that much snap at toe off, it’s a different sensation, more of a bounce than a snap. And he’s right, there’s no mushy quality whatsoever. Not a huge surprise considering the midsole’s construction, but it rides very similar to Skechers Performance Hyperburst midsole, but more exaggerated. 


I’ve run in other shoes that have similar stack heights, but they didn’t have the same performance to them. And speaking of performance, I enjoyed super chill miles just as much as some quick stints. Okay, maybe there’s more bounce and more smiles at a 7:20 pace than a 10:30, but both are a lot of fun in this shoe. There is a lot of interesting geometry going on with this one, but I didn’t notice that the front was all that stiff, though that could be a byproduct of transitioning from one discrete piece of midsole foam to the next.


Cheng: Just like its looks, the ride of the Aurora is equally strange and possibly pleasant. When going slowly and landing more rear foot, there is not the snappy, shank-assisted transition. Rather, it’s a slower but smooth roll, almost like that of a Hoka. At these paces, this decoupled smooth transition almost acts as a cue to slow down and take it easy. Trying to force a harder ground contact (while rearfoot striking) will further make the transition like molasses. This effect, however, disappears when landing at the midfoot/forefoot at faster paces.


When landing upfront, the shoe acts very similarly to the ride of some Skechers Hyperburst platforms. Each step has a significant amount of energy absorbed followed by a semi-responsive but energetic rebound. The peppy-ness and performance is unexpected but welcome, allowing the shoe to function for tempo runs… if you land up front at such paces.



Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam: At long last Brooks goes Wild and Crazy! The Aurora is a groundbreaking new max cushion trainer which incorporates a wonderfully light and lively new foam in DNA Loft v3, a hinged rear to move the shoe forward and a superb lightweight yet comfortable and effective upper.  


It feels so incredibly light on foot for the amount of quite stable and bouncy cushion. The stiffer, and at the same time gigantic forefoot cushion, needs some future tuning to help me roll or flex to a snappier toe off. It favors a mid to forefoot landing with landing forces further forward and directly over the front platform to really optimize its geometry more than via a heel strike and roll to toe off as I most often run at slower paces. I realize this is a big challenge given the gigantic 37mm heel / 31 mm approximate stack height and light midsole foam.


Aurora-BL can serve as a daily trainer for max cushion fans, that’s for sure, competing strongly against the Hoka Bondi and Clifton as well as the Nike Invincible, New Balance Fresh Foam More v3, Saucony Triumph, and Endorphin Shift to name a few. It comes in at a considerably lighter weight than any of them except the Mach 4, has more cushion stack,  is lighter often by a very considerable margin and has decent neutral shoe stability. For me it is a near ideal long run shoe for moderate paces as well as for moderate daily training paces. For fore to mid foot strikers it can serve as a long run shoe, daily trainer, and recovery shoe all rolled into one if a deep cushion is your jam.


Given the boat load of innovation here, and this is also a giant boat of a shoe, the light weight for so much energetic cushion, at $200, value is there. This said, priced at $180 or below, still for sure a hefty price, the sticker would be more palatable and better aligned with big stack Nike trainers such as Invincible and Tempo Next and New Balance’s Fresh Foam More v3. 


Brooks is to be commended for being so daring and innovative with what is for me is a new reference shoe in the max cushion, hyper light max cushion trainer category.  While not perfect, mainly I wish for a more agile dynamic toe off geometry, with great bouncy return already more than present,  I hope that this “limited edition” serves as the basis for other models sharing its midsole technologies, upper and other attributes.

Sam’s Score: 9.25 /10

Ride: 9.1 (50%) Fit: 9.8 (30%) Value: 8.6(15%) Style: 9.4 (5%)


Cheng: In recent years, brands seemed to have adopted a marketing strategy of featuring a particularly new generation of technologies. ASICS did this with the MetaRide, and Mizuno more recently released their Enerzy concept. These concept shoes are typically not cheap, acting as a flagship model to draw the attention of consumers. This is what I see with the Aurora BL. New foam, radical midsole, and an overall street-look design at $200 - Brooks is trying to push into a new demographic of consumers. The shoe is designed to be easy and smooth for the jogger while fast and energetic for the tempo enthusiast. And while I might not look for such a do-it-all shoe, I can see other runners embracing it. The Hanson’s Brooks elite runners certainly do!

Cheng’s Score: 8.95 / 10.0

Ride: 8.5 (50%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 9.0 (15%) Style: 10.0 (5%)



Jeff: Don’t tell my wife, but if you forced me to get rid of all of my shoes and only keep one pair, I could now do exactly that. That’s how much I enjoy this shoe. It’s beyond versatile, great during your easiest paces and even better as the pace picks up. It has solid wet traction, it’s incredibly lightweight for the amount of cushioning, and the cushioning is good without being too much. All that said, I think I’m more excited for the future of Brooks because of this shoe than I actually am for this shoe. If you look at my Glycerin 19 review, I raved that Brooks had made the best Glycerin in recent years, possibly ever, but it was a really good yet fairly normal shoe. 


This is the shoe that shows innovation. This midsole material puts them in the conversation as a company doing interesting things. I’m sure the outlandish geometry won’t work for everyone (though I have zero complaints) but this midsole has made such an impression - any future Brooks shoe with DNA Loft v3 is immediately at the top of my list to try. 


The $200 price tag is steep, but considering what this shoe accomplishes, I can’t bash it too hard. If they find a way to make something like this in the $150-160 range, that would be a world beater.


I’ve been banging the “Saucony is killing it” drum for the last year or two, but this is the shot across the bow for those that say Brooks isn’t going anywhere. And regardless where you stand brand loyalty-wise, all runners benefit from more great shoes.

Jeff’s Score 9.45/10

Ride: 9.5 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)


Watch Sam's Video Version of the Aurora-BL Review (12:05)



Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Nike ZoomX Invincible Run (RTR Review)

Sam: The Aurora is notably more stable and lighter with approximately 5mm more heel stack and 9 mm more forefoot stack yet weighs about 1.3 oz / 37g less. Aurora upper is superior in its fit, breathability, and for its lighter weight. 

ZoomX foam is springier and bouncier and along with its more flexible agile toe off are its advantages over the Aurora. Aurora shines in its yet more bottomless cushion, considerably lighter weight, a superior upper and stability. 


Cheng: The Invincible really embodies everything the Aurora is not. It has a fully rockered and smooth geometry; the Aurora has a decoupled midsole. ZoomX is squishy to the point of instability; the DNA Loft v3 has enough inherent structure to offer a solid stability. Apart from such drastic differences, both shoes are attempting to be the street-look but runnable platform and with a price tag to match!


Jeff: Godzilla vs Kong already hit theaters and HBO Max a few weeks ago, but that’s essentially what this is. Both of these are Alpha Titans, and it really boils down to what you want - squish or cushion. And while you might think of those as the same thing, in an A/B test it’s very clear that the ZoomX midsole of the Invincible has more give as you land, then a fast rebound bounce, while the DNA Loft v3 doesn’t have quite as much give as much as general cushioning with a more refined bounce. I haven’t thought of the Invincible as lacking forefoot cushioning, but when worn against the Aurora it feels a little thin up front. I also hadn’t expected to think of the Invincible as the “more normal looking shoe” but here we are. So who ultimately wins between this matchup of behemoths? The lighter and more cushioned Aurora or the bouncier Invincible? The Invincible is incredible, but you have to want that much bounce, and not everyone does. 


It’s the Aurora who take the crown, for it’s all day comfort, and despite its higher price and more outlandish looks, it is ultimately an easier shoe to recommend. 


Fresh Foam More v3 (RTR Review)

Sam: New Balance’s max cushion trainer is somewhat denser in feel and 1.5 oz heavier. It is less springy in its bounce and a touch more stable given its broader full midfoot geometry,

While the Aurora’s Loft v3  midsole feels fun and lively at all paces,  the More v3 for me takes faster paces to really activate its denser Fresh Foam while it handles slower paces at bit better than Aurora for me due to its continuous rocker paces.


No hinge decoupling for the More but it does have a more effective rocker approach to the big stack. The More v3 is also true to size for me with a heavier more dense but still thin upper and a touch more toe box volume and height. The Aurora is clearly more fun to run with the More potentially a touch more “practical” and $35 less.


Jeff: If you are one of those runners who thinks any stack height above a certain number is purely for recovery miles, then the Fresh Foam More v3 is exactly what you’ve been looking for - but only for easy miles. The Aurora takes that entire narrative and flips it on its head. If you want a do-it all, yet supremely cushioned shoe, spend the extra money on the Aurora.


Brooks Glycerin 19 (RTR Review)

Jeff: We applauded the latest version of Brooks' longtime big cushioned daily trainer for having an improved midsole matched with a comfortable and effective upper. Pitted against the Aurora, the lower stack height is immediately noticeable (especially in the forefoot), and it feels a little firmer throughout. The G19 upper is much softer, and the toebox is both taller and wider. Both shoes are very stable with a wide platform under foot, though I would give the edge to the G19, while the Aurora has the fun/bouncy edge by a much greater margin, mostly due to the DNA Loft v3 midsole (but I'm sure being 1.2 ounces lighter isn't hurting either). While the Aurora doesn't have a massive toe spring compared to other modern-geometried shoes, it has noticeably more of a rocker toe-off than the Glycerin. 

Ultimately is the futuristic Aurora worth the extra $50 over it's more traditional brother? Possibly. I can't speak from a durability standpoint (yet) but the smiles per step ratio in the Aurora is substantially higher than the 33% price increase. The Glycerin is a great example of a well-cushioned traditional daily trainer, the Aurora is something else altogether. If you can stomach the hit to the wallet, and you want a super-cushioned and bouncy shoe, it's an easy answer.


Hoka Bondi  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Very similarly to the FFMv3, the Bondi is a singularly designed shoe, long or easy miles, and that’s it. The Aurora is much, much lighter and more fun during those easy miles, and has the versatility to boot to run virtually anything you want.


Endorphin Shift 1  (RTR Review)

Sam: Serious vs Fun. The Shift is firmer for sure and heavier with close but not quite the same stack height. It is more stable, more deliberate and aligned in its tracking and despite weight a fast and secure heavy duty trainer. True to size in both with the Aurora upper considerably more comfortable, lighter, and more breathable. 


Jeff: On a similar note, work truck vs grand tourer. The Shift doesn’t have nearly the smiles the Aurora does. It utilizes solid modern geometry to make it’s more pedestrian PWRRUN midsole material do some solid work underfoot, while the Aurora’s midsole is a powerhouse all to itself. If I could steal the heel/tongue pull tabs from the Shift and graft them onto the Aurora, it’d be even better.


New Balance FuelCell TC  (RTR Review)

Sam: The carbon plated TC has a similar feeling bouncy  if heavier (denser)  foam. It’s heel is softer while its forefoot due to the carbon plate liviler and faster feeling. It’s upper while fine is cruder in feel and fit. At the same price of $200 it depends on what you are looking for in a max cushion type shoe. Aurora is clearly more daily training to recovery focused while TC focuses on the uptempo part of your daily training. 


Jeff: I liked the TC enough to run an around-the-block half marathon in the early stages of the pandemic lockdown (43 laps if you’re curious), but it isn’t without faults. The Fuelcell midsole is very soft, and allows you to sink in before the CF plate rescues you and propels you forward. The upper is also exactly what Sam says, a crude fit (when properly tightened I get a weird partial burrito foldover in front of the laces). Both solid shoes, but the Aurora’s versatility and ride take the win for me.


Mizuno Wave Sky Neo (RTR Review)

Jeff: Mizuno’s biggest trainer packs on the weight (nearly 100g heavier than the Aurora) but it has a solid bounce and stability that makes the weight seem worse on the scale than the foot. This has been a mainstay in my running rotation for the last 6 months (and was my 2020 Road Shoe of the Year), with an incredibly premium fit and finish along with the bounce that made it ideal for daily miles. That said, the Aurora has relocated the Wave Sky Neo to purely casual wear from now on, with its vastly superior cushioning, ride, and versatility. 


Mizuno Wave Sky 4 (RTR Review)

Cheng: Although Mizuno also adopted a new-age foam (Enerzy), they are far more conservative with their initial applications. Here, the Wave Sky 4 has some of it in the rearfoot, making the shoe feel far more traditional albeit less fun than the Aurora does. However, that’s exactly what I’m looking for: something that might be less fun up front, but can deliver a consistently protected, smooth, and responsive ride to support consistent long mileage. The Wave Sky is your long hauler - it’s powerful and can go fast in a slow way. The Aurora is your Jeep Wrangler - it’s a do it all SUV that can do some hauling but will always deliver a fun ride!


Hoka Mach 4 (RTR Review)

Sam: At the 0.5 oz less in weight and $70 less sticker, the Mach 4 is less cushioned by stack and feel but still plentiful in protection with a more muted bounce from its thick rubberized foam midsole as outsole layer. It is a more versatile shoe with an excellent all paces geometry but doesn’t deliver quite the deep airy cushion feel of the Aurora or the  comfort of its upper.


ASICS Novablast 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: The Novablast 2 gets close to the cushion stack and is not as bouncy and has a more conventional midsole geometry and ride. While much on a much narrower  platform than Aurora stability is much improved over v1 but it is not as stable as the Aurora. The narrow platform gives it am more directed arrow like feel while running. It too has a great upper but one not as light and breathable as the Brooks. It is 1.3 oz heavier and $70 less so if price is a consideration a better value if heavier and less dynamically and deeply cushioned but is still plentiful in that department.


Saucony Triumph 18 (RTR Review)

Sam: At 11.1 oz the Triumph with its TPU/EVA blend midsole, denser upper and big outsole coverage checks in at about 2.5 oz more than the Aurora and all that weight is felt. It’s cushion, midsole, and geometry is equally bottomless in cushion but denser, flatter and duller in feel and more ponderous. If you are hard on your shoes, want more potential overall durability and can pass on the excitement and light weight of the Aurora  it is a better choice. Otherwise Aurora.


Jeff: I’ve enjoyed the Triumph 17 and 18 quite a bit, but this feels like an unfair matchup. While the T18 has really great cushioning, it feels incredibly dated compared to the Aurora. I agree with Sam, if you want a very typical hard wearing shoe, it’s hard to go wrong with the Triumph, but the Aurora brings a fun and excitement that the Triumph just can’t match.


Skechers MaxRoad 4+  (RTR Review)

Sam:  At 8 oz it is the only max cushion shoe lighter than Aurora in these comparisons. The MaxRoad 4 + is soft and low at the heel for me at slow paces, nearly un runnable unlike Aurora. Taken up to faster paces it is a bouncy rocket with its pillars providing tremendous impulse and spring with a much liviler forefoot and faster ride, if a forefoot more unstable than the Brooks and for some prone to blisters, while Aurora has a very stable (if overly stiff) forefoot that also favors faster paces but the rest of its geometry handles slower paces much better for me. While the MaxRoad upper is improved it doesn’t compare in hold, comfort and breathability of Aurora’s.


Jeff: Sam is right, the MaxRoad 4+ has even more bounce and arguably more cushioning, but it’s pod/pillar design doesn’t have nearly the stability and structural integrity of the Aurora. As much as I wanted to run more in the Skechers, both the 4 and 4+ gave me major issues with its super flexible forefoot, creating massive blisters in the first 15-20 minutes of every single run I’ve had in them. As much as I like the MR4, it really doesn’t like me, and the Aurora wins this one by default.


The Limited Editor Aurora-BL is expected to release June 17, 2021

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review beyond potential commissions from the shopping links in the article. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

How would you compare it to the upcoming Novablast 2?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
The Novablast 2 gets close to the cushion stack and is not as bouncy and has a more conventional midsole geometry and ride. While much its narrow platform stability is much improved over v1 it is not as stable as the Aurora. It too has a great upper. It is 1.3 oz heavier and $70 less so if price is a consideration a better value if heavier and less dynamically and deeply cushioned but still plentiful in that department.
Sam, Editor.

Miki said...

How does this shoe compare to the Hoka Stinson ATR 6 in terms of landing softness?

Sam Winebaum said...

I haven’t run a Stinson in a long long time but am certain far softer and bouncier for Aurora if maybe less stable and not as trails suitable . And Stinson weighs a staggering 3 ounces more in a men’s 9, difference less in a women’s but still a lot
Sam,Editor

Anonymous said...

"any future Brooks shoe with DNA Loft v3 is immediately at the top of my list to try"

When do you think we will start seeing Loft v3 in Brooks models? Anything on a DNA Flash V2 (or a Hyperion Tempo 2 model). What, if anything, has Brooks hinted at in its Pipeline?

Thanks

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Not even a hint of any others so far. It would make sense in Hyperion Elite and Tempo. We do know that capacity for this kind of processing may be limited and pricey, with brands fighting over the capacity but as it seems to be a great new trend in midsole hope the production partners will ramp up!
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

thanks for the response...

Who is the market for this shoe? Forget the price if it is truly a limited edition and one really likes it... is it run and gone? Can't see myself trying it, falling in love and then...

Curious Higher End Brooks Runner

Jeff said...

Miki,

I ran in the Stinson a few years ago. I think it's actually softer than the Aurora, but not nearly as bouncy. The Stinson doesn't have nearly the rebound that the Aurora has. Obviously trail vs road, but I'd never wear the Stinson for anything fast (either easy or long miles only) where the Aurora is great for easy and fast miles.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Curious Higher End Brooks Runner,
The shoe does make a "statement" about new technologies for Brooks DNA Loft v3 and the incredible upper. While this first in what I am guessing is a series (as are the not so effective and far heavier DNA AMP shoes) with more models to come. Seems demographic for this one oriented to the fast and fun crowd or those seeking really distinctive run shoe experiences as opposed to the usual Brooks reliable and "boring", comparatively speaking, to what is emerging in say Nike Invincible with ZoomX, New Balance with FuelCell, Skechers with Hyperburst, and Saucony with PWRUN PB
Sam, Editor

Hansons said...

Cheng needs to check his sources. None of the Hansons team has worn these, let alone shared their opinion.