Saturday, May 15, 2021

Topo Athletic Fli-Lyte 4 Review

Article by Joost de Raeymaeker 

Topo Athletic Fli-Lyte 4 ($110)


Introduction

Joost: I know of only two brands of running shoes that were named after their founder. One of them was founded after the two brothers Rudolf and Adolf “Adi” Dassler split their original company Gebrüder Dassler, Sportschuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Factory) and each went their separate ways. Apparently, their relationship was not the best. One of them founded Adidas and the other Puma. It’s pretty easy to guess which one of the two brothers created Adidas.


Topo is another such company. Tony Post didn’t need a family feud to create Topo Athletic with a very clear vision: make natural running shoes, but with some of the features of mainstream trainers.


Topo running shoes have a very distinct look: a wide toe box that lets your toes splay freely and a foot shaped last. They sometimes remind me a little of some of the Campers models like the Beetle in terms of aesthetics.


The Fli-Lyte sits somewhere in the middle of the three categories Topo uses to classify their shoes: balanced cushioning, neutral support and moderate pliability (flexibility). But what does that actually mean from a brand that’s known for their more natural feeling shoes? Well, balanced cushioning in this case means a 20/23mm forefoot/heel stack, including the ortholite sock liner. There is noticeable arch support, but apart from that, the shoe has no other support elements, and it has a low 3mm drop.


This is the fourth iteration of the Fli-Lyte and changes have been made both to the upper and the midsole and outsole. You can read our review of version 3 here. The Fli-Lyte 4 still has an engineered mesh upper, but the lacing system (our version 3 reviewer’s main gripe) has changed. There seem to be other minor upper changes as well. The midsole is now entirely ZipFoam, instead of just as a core and the outsole rubber location and geometry has also changed slightly. Read on to find out what we thought of the new Fli-Lyte iteration.


Tester Profile

Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He’s on a mission to win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and has completed half of his project, with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results. His Strava is here:https://www.strava.com/athletes/reimaka


Pros:

Great fit for my wider feet Joost

Comfortable, relatively breathable upper Joost

Simple and good looking shoe Joost

Effective eyelet system to secure the tongue Joost


Cons:

Effort felt harder than actual pace. Not that easy to pick up the pace Joost

Very obvious arch support could be too much for some Joost



Stats

Weight: men's / (US9)  /  women's / (US8)

  Official: M9 235g/8.3 oz   

  Samples: 256g/9.03 oz (US9.5)

Stack Height: 23/20mm

Available June 21


First Impressions and Fit

Joost: My second pair of Topo’s for review. After the very white Cyclone, I received a very black pair of Fli-Lyte 4. Anatomically, they look very similar, with that typical wide toe box and shape. I personally really like the way Topo shoes look. The fit is great, but the feel underfoot is quite different. The Ortholite sock liner has a marked indication of the arch and you can definitely feel quite a bit of arch support when walking around in them. For those with sensitive arches, this might be an issue. They fit true to size for me. 


The Fli-Lyte 4 is also noticeably closer to the ground compared to some of the other shoes I’ve been running in lately. It definitely feels like a more natural, minimal shoe that will also do very well in the gym. I can imagine hopping on and off the treadmill and doing gym stuff without ever feeling I should wear a different shoe for either. In that respect, it doesn’t  really feel like a 100% running oriented shoe. That’s not a negative per se, but probably something to be aware of.



Upper

Joost: The upper has been reworked from the previous version. It’s still an engineered mesh with decent breathability. There are 2 layers fused together with the top layer sporting the breathing holes. It is also denser in areas where you traditionally have a little more wear and tear and where you need extra support to hold the foot down securely.

The heel area is less padded than the previous version, but the collar has definitely enough of it to protect my sensitive achilles’. 

There’s an extra external layer of stiffer fabric to give the heel area some more structure. The tongue is decently padded, with some extra thickness from halfway up and the same type of padding as the heel collar on the top part of it.

 Just like the Cyclone, it has two eye stays near the top of the tongue to avoid slippage. An ingenious system that works very well.


That leads us to the lacing system, which seems like the major change from the previous version of the Fli-Lyte. 

The eyelets are now in line with the top of the upper instead of having the traditional holes from top to bottom. This helps to get a more secure fit when needed without creating pressure points, since the pressure is more spread out and applied less vertically than with traditional eyelets. There’s a little bit of extra reinforcement at the top and a traditional extra hole for lace locking if needed.

And then I almost forgot to talk about the most obvious distinguishing feature of Topo running shoes, which is its natural shape and wide toe box. 

The strange thing is that at its widest, the shoe is not really that much wider than some of the others out there.

What sets it apart is that the heel is a little wider as well, but especially the toe box itself up front is wide and nicely rounded. For people with wide feet like me, it’s toe heaven in there. 


All of this makes for a comfortably fitting upper with decent breathability and enough padding and support where needed. 



Midsole

Joost: The Fli-Lyte 4 now has full length Zipfoam in the midsole, which is more long-term resilient and offers higher rebound than traditional EVA, according to Topo. There’s not a lot of it: just 12mm in the ball of the foot and 15mm in the heel, so the shoe feels very close to the ground and is decidedly firm, on the verge of harsh. It is a slightly wider platform than the previous model, but again, not really wider at its widest than some other shoes out there, like the Kinvara 12. The main difference here is also the fact that it’s wider in other areas like the heel, but especially in the forefoot.

The midsole is built up a little in the arch area, making for a very obvious area of arch support. Again, it felt ok for me, but your mileage may vary. On top of the midsole is a perforated layer of foam sewn into the midsole-upper junction for a little extra cushioning. 

This together with the Ortholite sock liner makes for a cumulative stack height of 20/23mm, quite low compared to some of the shoes we’ve been seeing lately, but there’s definitely a market for it.


The combination of low stack height, width and firmness create a very stable platform. This makes the shoe a viable option for the gym, Orange Theory or whatever non-running workouts you’re doing that need a low and stable shoe.


Outsole

Joost: Rubber in the heel and the forefoot, with ample grooves for some flexibility.

 There’s enough of it for good durability and traction has been good at the end of the rainy season over here. In spite of this and the thin midsole, the Fli-Lyte 4 is not a very flexible shoe. As a comparison, the relatively similar Kinvara 12 in terms of stack height is a lot more flexible. Once again, this points in the direction of a shoe to be used in different activities than just running.


Ride

Joost: Having really enjoyed reviewing and running in the Kinvara 12 I just mentioned, I was really looking forward to another low stack, low drop trainer, but the Fli-Lyte 4 turned out to be a very different animal in the ride department. The firm midsole, coupled with a lack of flexibility for the stack height create a feeling of responsiveness, but also of having to put in a lot of energy for any given pace. For a more natural minimalist type of shoe, it doesn’t really seem to work with my foot. 


My RunScribe stats indicate a forefoot strike with quite a bit of pronation and high pronation velocity, but still have them pegged as very effective, so the numbers might not necessarily agree with my subjective assessment of the energy needed to move along at a decent pace.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Joost: The Fli-Lyte 4 is hard to classify for me. It doesn’t feel like a shoe that is intended 100% for running. It is very comfortable and has excellent stability, making it very suitable for cross training. It is also very good looking, making it an ideal choice for those days when you go to the gym with just the shoes you’re wearing out the door. You can easily go from the treadmill to your Orange Theory session to some lifting, box jumps or whatever without ever feeling you needed a different shoe for any of those activities. Assuming it stays at $110, it is great value for an all-round shoe. On days when I just want to run in a shoe that’s closer to the ground and feels natural, I would probably go with something else.

Joost: 8.60/10 (50% Ride 7.5/10, 30% Fit 10/10, 10% Value 9/10, 5% Style 10/10)


Comparisons 

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Saucony Kinvara 12 (RTR Review)

Joost: M9.5 in both. I’ve mentioned the Kinvara a couple of times in this review, because it is a similar shoe in terms of stack height and drop. The Fli-Lyte has 3 mm drop, the Kinvara 4. You would probably have to be the princess of “The Princess and the Pea” to feel the difference. That being said, the Kinvara is a lot more flexible and feels a lot livelier on the run, so I would definitely pick that one for just running. If it’s a gym day with different workouts, I would pick the Fli-Lyte 4.


Topo Athletics Cyclone (RTR Review)

Joost: M9.5 in both. The Cyclone has just 2mm more midsole up front and 4mm in the heel, for a 5mm drop and just 3mm more stack height up front, but it feels very different on the run. It’s just that bit softer, with a different, less structured fitting upper and rides better. My vote goes to the Cyclone.

The Fli-Lyte 4 will be available June 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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