Sunday, November 21, 2021

Nike Zoom Fly 4 Review

Article by Michael Ellenberger

Nike Zoom Fly 4 ($160)


Michael: Is it a racer? Is it a trainer? Nike’s high-end Zoom Fly 4 is back in 2021 after the ZF3 released way back in summer 2019. Nike’s almost-racer lineup is a little more crowded now, with the mouthful-of-a-shoe Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next% blending the line nicely, but I think the Zoom Fly 4 still has a place in 2021… but it’s not a perfect offering! We’ll break down all the good and the bad (and why I, acknowledging its imperfections, will keep it in my stable of trainers for a while!).

Pros: Fast and responsive ride; plate isn’t overly harsh for medium to fast running; durability seems great.

Cons: Heavy; teetering on clunky at slower speeds; fit could be a little more snug (despite the difficulty in actually putting the shoe on).

Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and is a patent and intellectual property attorney. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43,.. He has a 2:23 marathon PR (2nd place) from the 2021 Lakefront Marathon in Wisconsin


Estimated weight: men's 9.55 oz / 273g (US9)   

  Sample: men’s 9.28 oz / 253g US8.5

Zoom Fly 3 Vaporweave sample in US8.5 weighed 8.75 oz / 247g

Stack Height: 39mm heel, 31mm forefoot, 8mm drop


First Impressions and Fit

Michael: I skipped the Zoom Fly 3, but was a huge fan of Nike’s Zoom Fly 2 (aka Zoom Fly Flyknit). It was a really snug, nearly-a-racing-flat option that just clicked for me with daily training - so of course, I was excited to test out the Zoom Fly 4. Out of the box, I was surprised by how burly the ZF4 felt. I knew from the spec sheet that it was heavy, but it actually presents as sort of… chunky, and (for lack of a better term) not-fast. The all-black appearance likely didn’t help that impression, but - fortunately - it runs better than it looks.


Michael: The upper here is sort of odd; it has a really snug Flyknit collar that made me think Sam had sent me the wrong size! But in the toebox and along the laces, I found the closely woven material to be a little too voluminous, such that I had to really lace them down a little more than I would have liked to get the right fit. 

The shoe doesn’t run too big, but I found there to just be a little too much material.

On the run, though, I didn’t find this to be much of a problem - I think the true-to-size length overcomes any slight sloppiness of the upper, and I didn’t have issues taking these to tempo paces and faster. Excess material or not, there’s some cool technology here keeping your foot in place. 

There are well-placed bumpers around the inner ankle that I really came to like - and I wouldn’t worry about these for key workouts… I just wish they were a little more racer-like in that regard.


Michael: The Zoom Fly 4 packs a React Foam midsole, and honestly, you couldn’t mistake it for anything else. Seriously, my first impression when trying on the ZF4 was, oh yeah, I remember how this feels! It’s a very distinct sensation that (to my feet) isn’t like anything else - not even the ZF4’s older brother, the VaporFly. The React foam is firm, but also characteristically bouncy - and it’s a platform that I do quite like. But… there’s also the weight to talk about. With the plate (covered below) and the next-generation upper (covered above), the ZF4 comes in north of ten ounces in my size 8.5. That’s not a huge issue, in practice (as I cover in the Ride section, it’s generally a pretty fast and engaging ride) but it is a bit odd, and honestly will dissuade some runners who may otherwise like this shoe.

Of course, the ZF4 has a carbon plate as well; it’s marginally more flexible than that in the VF, here, and fast enough to warrant running some hard workouts in these. The stance here is undoubtedly aggressive, and I found myself running faster than expected, just by nature of the geometry underfoot. Sandwiched by React foam, I really felt that forward spring - it’s more than just the plate, it’s the entire midsole that ensures you’re always getting some energy return and moving forward. 


Michael: Here, I have to say, I was quite impressed - I’ve logged about 50 miles on my pair (wish it was more, but they arrived in my last few sessions leading up to my end-of-season, and then I’ve broken them out during my recovery weeks) and I have seen basically no signs of wear. 

And, as an added benefit, the grip from the outsole is superb. This time of year in Chicago - constant 30° mornings and slick, often icy leaves around every turn - really puts a shoe to its test, and I’m confident that the ZF4 will make a genuinely great bad-weather option.


Michael: I touched on this in the Midsole section, above, but the ride here is dictated by the carbon fiber plate. In both an outdoor tempo and a treadmill fartlek (as well as a few sessions of strides leading into my end-of-season half-marathon), I was impressed by just how fast these shoes feel, without coming across uncomfortable for medium running. 

But of course, that’s because medium running (6:00-6:30 min/mile) is a lot of what I do (still living the un-coached life!) and I have to say, for truly easy running (say, north of 7:15 pace), the ZF4 wouldn’t be my first pick. Whereas the Vaporfly is so soft that it’s quite comfortable for chilling back, I think the ZF4 (like, say, the Adios Pro) is just a bit too wobbly and aggressive to make a terrific easy day shoe. Now, it goes without saying that easy running isn’t its design, but if you’re someone who wants a single trainer that can go fast to slow, I’m not entirely sure the ZF4 is what I’d choose.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Michael: The Zoom Fly 2 was one of my all-time favorite trainers; for a runner like me who loves to run too fast (even on easy days), it perfectly blended that line between trainer and racer , and just locked in my foot better than almost any other option. The Zoom Fly 4 is…. not that. But it’s also not bad - it’s just a distinctly worse shoe in a lot of the ways that I really loved over its (now two generations-old) brother. The upper, while a comfortable material, is a little too voluminous. The midsole, while fast, is slightly too harsh, and certainly heavy. None of this is enough to dissuade me from running it - I plan to keep this shoe in my top rotation long-term - but it’s also not a shoe I would recommend without caveats . Some runners will love this - it’s just not going to be for everyone.


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit (ZF2)  

As the review states, I think the ZFFK is the superior shoe in the Zoom Fly lineup. While the ZF4 is good, the lockdown and midsole of the ZFFK make it an immensely fun and engaging trainer, and one that I really ran into the ground a few years ago.

Nike Zoom Vaporfly Next%

The Vaporfly is a bouncier, softer feel - mainly due to ZoomX versus Nike React foam. Given the number of awesome racing options out, I wouldn’t recommend racing in the ZF4, regardless, but between these two, the VF is a smoother, overall more fun (and faster!) experience. 

Endorphin Speed (RTR Review)

The Endorphin Speed is probably the ZF4’s closest competitor, on paper, but in practice they are actually pretty different shoes. The Fly’s ride is more forgiving, and it certainly has more space for wider or high-volume feet, but it’s also just generally less race-ready in feel and in practice (especially given the weight). The old Zoom Fly FK would be a great head-to-head against the Endorphin Speed, but as it stands now, I think the Saucony is generally a better choice.

ASICS Noosa Tri 13 (RTR Review)

Despite the colors, and my love of its predecessor, the Noosa Tri is one of the more forgettable shoes I’ve tested of late - but it actually matches up pretty well here against the ZF4. Without a plate (and Nike’s fancy React technology), the ASICS does feel slower… but at easy to medium running, I think the ASICS might strike a better balance between propulsion and comfort. Worth trying them both out to see.

Skechers Razor Elite (RTR Review

Skechers has a lot of shoes in this range (Razor Elite, Razor+, even Speed Freek) that could match up against the Nike… fortunately, I think my comparison is basically the same for all of them. The Skechers has a dynamite midsole but, across the board, a harsher ride. Yes, the Razor Elite is nearly half the weight of the Zoom Fly 4 - and would certainly be my choice between the two for race day - but the Skechers also rivals the Nike for discomfort during easy running - just too much plate and not enough Hyperburst (even in the Speed Freek, it seems). So, between the bunch, I’d break out the Razor Elite or Speed Freek for racing, but certainly prefer the Nike for training.

New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite 2 (RTR Review)

Basically a night-and-day difference here; the New Balance is so soft, and while it has a plate, it’s much less obvious. I, and many runners I know, use the RC Elite as an everyday trainer after they’ve retired from racing, simply because they are so plush and relaxed. It’s not obvious which one you should choose - the Nike is a firmer platform, and many will like that - but I’d undoubtedly choose the NB for racing. If you’re looking for a singular, easy runs-up-to-race option, it’s a much closer call, and will depend on how firm you want that midsole to be.

Tested sample provided at no charge for review purposes others. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content

The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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