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After The Revolution: Fall 2012 Running Shoe Review

We tested 27 of the hottest lightweight models you'll find at your local running store this fall.

We tested 27 of the hottest lightweight models you’ll find at your local running store this fall. 

The dust is settling from the recent running shoe revolution, and no matter what you think about the über-minimalist shoe designs that fired the first shots across the bow, it appears we’ll all be winners in the end.

RELATED: 2012 Spring-Summer Running Shoe Review

The underlying thinking that started the revolution—namely that every runner is better off by wearing lighter, less constructed and less controlling shoes—will wind up benefitting every runner, even those who couldn’t, wouldn’t or just didn’t make the transition to barely-there shoes. The broad range of shoes in this review include new design ethos, materials and assembly techniques spurred on by the simple, yet revolutionary idea that less is more. —THE EDITORS

Weights listed are for men’s size 9.0 and women’s size 7.0.

RELATED: Shoe Trends For 2013


adidas AdiPure Motion, $110

7.2 oz.; 6.1 oz.

Fit: This low-volume, low-to-the-ground training model has a comfortable, vacuum-like fit. It’s reliably snug in the heel and midfoot and a stretchy elastic upper sufficiently snugs down the forefoot while still giving toes a little bit of horizontal wiggle room. Our testers almost unanimously suggested it felt better barefoot than with socks.

Feel: This is exactly what a minimalist shoe should be: lightweight, low-to-the-ground (despite a moderately high 11mm heel-toe differential) with a good combination of semi-firm cushioning and protection to keep the feet out of harm’s way. It allows a runner to feel just enough of the ground to cue good form but not enough to let a stray pebble cause shooting pain under your metatarsal heads.

Ride: Infinitely flexible and completely unstructured aside from a dual-density midsole foam package, this shoe moves precisely how your foot moves through the gait cycle. The more agile your form is, the smoother this shoe will feel. There is plenty of cushioning to accommodate heavy heel strikers, but it seems to flow better with lighter footstrikes. Our testers found it ideal for a variety of types of running, ranging from short post-workout drills, speed sessions and race-pace distance efforts.

Editor’s Pick, Best Ride: adidas AdiZero Feather 2, $115

6.7 oz.; 5.6 oz.

Fit: The Feather 2 fits like most of Adidas’ lighter and faster low-volume shoes: comfortably and reliably snug from heel to toe. A strong seamlessly bonded hard plastic material wraps the rear of the foot, cinching down the heel and creating a connective nest to the lightweight mesh upper.

Feel: This fairly low-to-the-ground model (and a 10mm heel-toe drop) has the body of a lightweight trainer but the mind of a racing flat. It’s amply cushioned with semi-firm foam that provides a good mixture of shock absorption and responsiveness without feeling overly soft. The shoe has a well-ventilated upper that keeps feet from overheating in long hot-weather runs.

Ride: The Feather 2 rides like a racing flat and has plenty of pep for tempos, fartleks and other faster workouts. Still, our testers felt it had enough cushioning to be a high-mileage trainer for nimble, neutral runners.

Altra Instinct/Intuition 1.5, $100

10.0 oz.; 8.3 oz.

Fit: The unique shape of this shoe mimics the outline of a foot. Go figure, right? Although it feels snug in the heel, it’s generously proportioned through the midfoot (but can be tightened down from torqueing the laces) and is very, very roomy in the toe box. As gangly as it looks, our testers found it quite comfortable.

Feel: This shoe definitely feels and runs lighter than its spec weight, partially because the upper is so airy and most of the mass of the shoe is under the foot. There’s a semi-firm sensation running in this shoe, not uncomfortably hard but definitely not soft either. It has a zero-drop platform (meaning a 0mm heel-toe drop)

Ride: Once wear-testers got used to the unique shape of this shoe, they reported it felt quite peppy. Altra updated this version with a slightly rolled forefoot (known as toe spring), which helps it transition from midfoot to toe-off with greater ease. The firm feeling never dissipates, but a few testers felt it contributed to a responsive ride and a high level of proprioceptive interaction with the ground, especially at higher speeds.

ASICS GEL-Lyte 33, $100

7.8 oz.; 6.7 oz.

Fit: The GEL-Lyte 3 has a securely snug fit in the midfoot but is roomier than most shoes in both the heel and the toebox. A few of our testers thought the heel collar was higher than average, but most still gave it high marks for a comfortable fit.

Feel: The Gel-Lyte 33 is a unique mix of minimalist design and modern materials. Given how light this shoe is, it has a surprising amount of midsole cushioning and a relatively high heel height (but a moderate 6 mm heel-toe drop). Testers remarked on this shoe’s multi-directional forefoot flex, but also universally thought the upper was stiffer and a bit more cumbersome than expected.

Ride: Although the shoe is very light, it doesn’t run quite the same as other shoes in its weight class because of the relatively thick amount of soft cushioning. While most of our testers appreciated the extra cushioning when viewing this shoe as a long-distance trainer, several thought it inhibited the shoe from performing consistently at faster paces.

Avia Avi-Bolt 4, $100

8.5 oz.; 7.3 oz.

Fit: Sleek and snug as you might expect from a neutral cushioned racing shoe, the Avi-Bolt IV gives reliable foot hold from heel to toe. The upper is comprised of an interior air mesh wrapped by a breathable microfiber shell, a system which is sufficiently snugged together with a quick-lace system.

Feel: Even though this is a midweight racing flat, it has enough cushioning and support to be an everyday trainer for many runners. It strikes a good balance between being soft and firm, offering enough comfort in every foot strike while being firm enough to provide quick-cadence responsiveness deep into a long run or race.

Ride: Soft and supple in the heel (thanks to a second layer of foam in the heel crash pad) and very flexible in the forefoot, the Avi-Bolt IV serves up a consistent ride with a touch of support and stability.

Editor’s Pick, Most Versatile: Brooks Ghost 5, $110

10.7 oz.; 8.8 oz.

Fit: This version of the Ghost fits similarly to its most recent iterations, with reliably padded and plush snugness in the heel and midfoot, and ample wiggle room in the toebox.

Feel: Like the Ghost 4, this version is a lightweight high-mileage trainer with a good amount of cushioning—more bouncy than squishy—yet enough inherent zip to be a versatile, do-everything shoe. Testers rated them as being sturdy (with just enough support) but not stiff. There’s plenty of cushioning in the heel and midfoot but less so in the forefoot, which testers said encouraged decent turnover and the ability to run up-tempo workouts.

Ride: The Ghost 5 got high marks for being a smooth-riding cruiser that’s versatile enough for long, slow runs and some faster-paced workouts. Several testers remarked that the shoe ran lighter and faster than it looked despite a more traditionally built-up heel (12mm heel-toe drop).

Brooks Glycerin 10, $140

12.5 oz.; 10.5 oz.

Fit: This is one of those shoes that feels as comfortably appointed inside as it does underfoot. The plush interior foam and wrap-like upper helps create a super-snug fit in the heel and midfoot, while the open mesh upper that covers the toebox offers plenty of wiggle room as your toes splay out from impact to toe-off.

Feel: The Glycerin 10 is more cushy and comfy than a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers, but not to the point of interfering with performance. Because of its thick layers of cushioning and relatively stout heel-toe differential (12mm), it doesn’t allow a runner to gain much of a proprioceptive connection with the ground. It tips the scales on the heavier side of neutral cushioned trainers, but our testers said it runs considerably lighter than it weighs.

Ride: The ride is soft and absorbing, but not bouncy or overly responsive, either. Given the plush, cushy features of this shoe—including the independent caterpillar-like outsole lugs—it feels buttery smooth no matter where or how hard your foot strikes the ground. Our testers found these shoes best for long runs at a slow to moderate paces and especially beneficial to larger, heavier high-impact runners.

Editor’s Pick, Most Innovative: Hoka OneOne Stinson Tarmac, $170

10.4 oz.; 9.1 oz.

Fit: This shoe has a modern fit with a snug midfoot and heel and a wide toebox that give the toes plenty of wiggle room. A one-piece upper wraps the foot and secures it to the footbed and secures the heel with an effective speed-lacing system.

Feel: Cushy and springy, but not marshmallowy soft. Hoka’s maximally cushioned midsoles are more than twice as thick as most other shoes, but this shoe is still surprisingly light. Although it has a relatively flat profile (4mm heel-toe drop), it has a dramatic rockered geometry that enables a distinctive forward-rolling sensation in these shoes.

Ride: Like all Hoka shoes, the Evo Tarmac has a bouncy, high-off-the-ground sensation. It takes some getting used to, but wear-testers who found the sweet spot said the unique design promoted forward momentum and had an energizing ride that encouraged running with a consistent rhythm. Perhaps surprisingly, our test team found this shoe amazingly stable.

Inov-8 Road-X 233, $120

8.8 oz.; 6.5 oz.

Fit: A moderate minimalist shoe, this model is tapered and fit like a glove in the mid-sole area and heel, with sufficient wiggle room for toes, although not quite as wide as some other modern minimalist shoes. The Road-X 233 has a low-volume, no-nonsense interior, but a few testers found the semi-loose upper material over the toebox bunched up a bit.

Feel: As with other Inov-8 shoes, these are decidedly low to the ground and flat—design elements that allow a runner to feel and develop an intimate connection the ground. This modestly cushioned shoe feels light, is highly flexible and has a semi-firm sensation under foot. The rubber on the outsole is super-grippy on hard, smooth surfaces, but the flat profile of the outsole makes it a bit slippery on variable terrain (rough pavement or sand/gravel on a concrete bike path, for example).

Ride: A firm, fast ride that seems to put the runner, not the shoe, in control. The design encourages moving intuitively and for most of our wear-testers that meant running with a midfoot/forefoot gait, but falling back into a heel-striking gait results in fairly hard impacts with the ground and a distinctive slapping sensation. Our wear-testers felt these were best for shorter races and faster workouts such as tempo runs, fartlek workouts and track intervals.

Karhu Fast 3, $135

11.0 oz., 9.5 oz.

Fit: The Fast 3 has a relatively slack fit in the heel, but it is also fairly narrow in the midfoot and forefoot.

Feel: Every tester remarked about this lightweight cushioned trainer’s unique geometry with a high heel and a low forefoot. It’s a comfortably appointed, fairly lightweight high-mileage trainer with a rather firm flex pattern. While that shape noticeably helps propel runners forward, several testers said it took some getting used to and a few thought it created a feeling of instability.

Ride: The higher heel of these shoes and 14mm heel-toe drop promote a heel-striking gait, which is fine because the cushioned heel crash pad and plentiful midsole cushion make for soft landings. But the rolling sensation from heel to forefoot is dramatic, producing a considerably different sensation than other high-mileage trainers.

K-Swiss Kwicky Blade-Light Neutral, $135

9.0 oz.; 8.0 oz.

Fit: The Kwicky Blade Light serves up a comfy soft snugness in the heel and midfoot, and has a roomy toebox afforded by a stretchy mesh upper. The seamless interior aided what several of our testers felt was virtually a customized fit.

Feel: This shoe has a soft interior, is super flexible and feels and runs very light. It has a moderately built-up heel (9mm heel-toe drop), but it’s also lower to the ground than most lightweight cushioned trainers. Although it’s definitely built to be a training shoe, several testers said they would consider it for racing and fast workouts.

Ride: The ride is softly cushioned and unstructured without much torsional rigidity, but the transition to the low-to-the-ground forefoot creates a feeling of inherent stability and responsiveness at toe-off. Our neutral testers loved the unfettered agility this shoe offers, but our wear-testers who favor some stability found it ran a bit too soft and free.

Editor’s Pick, Best Update: Mizuno Wave Precision 13, $110

9.6 oz.; 8.0 oz.

Fit: The Precision 13 has a traditional fit—snug in the heel and midfoot and a tad roomier in the forefoot—enhanced by a redesigned open mesh upper that promotes greater foot-to-ground proprioception and long-wearing comfort.

Feel: The Precision 13 has a step-in feel that inspires good form and fast running, both because of the low-to-the-ground proprioceptive feel and the responsive semi-firm feeling under the forefoot. Although it’s not a super-light shoe, it’s lighter than most of its mid-range contemporaries in the neutral cushioned category.

Ride: Because the Precision 13 is smartly proportioned with the right amount of cushioning relative to the weight of the shoe, it runs light and feels comfortably smooth at all speeds. The only minor drawback some of our wear-testers found with this shoe was its relatively high heel height and 13mm heel-toe drop, which made it prone to a heel-striking gait.

Editor’s Pick, Most Stable: New Balance 870 V2, $110

9.9 oz.; 8.1 oz.

Fit: Featuring a snug fit from the heel through to the toebox, the 870 V2 will fall into favor with runners who have anything but a wide foot. A couple of testers remarked about the lower-than-usual cut around the ankle and the higher-than-usual back tabs behind the Achilles.

Feel: The 870 V2 is a modern lightweight stability shoe (lighter than many neutral shoes) and is much more agile than old-school stability models. Mild to severe overpronators will like the built-in support underneath their feet as well as the ample amount of soft cushioning and more subdued heel (8 mm heel-toe drop).

Ride: Our wear-testers pegged this shoe as a good all-around stability shoe— sturdy and cushioned enough for long-distance running, yet light, agile and responsive enough for faster workouts. (The shoe has a fairly flexible forefoot, which allows for excellent propulsion at toe-off.) Midfoot and heel strikers who overpronate will enjoy the smooth transition from back to front of the 870 V2.

New Balance 1600, $110

5.4 oz.; 4.7 oz.

Fit: This shoe is sleek and snug with a classic racing flat fit, providing exceptional foot hold for a variety of foot shapes. It has a no-frills, low-volume interior that doesn’t inhibit the foot in any way.

Feel: The shoe runs and feels like it’s barely there, but it still has enough cushioning to soften the blow of every step. It has a resilient, semi-firm feeling underfoot with a fairly flat profile (6mm heel-toe drop).

Ride: Our wear-testers raved about what a fluid ride this shoe produced, both for short-distance racing and speed work but also for longer race-paced runs. Although most considered it limited to faster workouts and 5K races, a few of our wear-testers considered it the consummate half-marathon shoe.

Newton Gravity, $175

9.1 oz.; 7.6 oz.

Fit: The Gravity fits like a modern-day racing flat: narrow in the heel and midfoot and slightly roomier in the forefoot.

Feel: The Gravity feels light, airy and enveloping, thanks to a new upper that has enhanced comfort, fit and stability. It has a semi-firm flexibility quotient, but our testers reported that relative stiffness contributes to the shoe’s responsiveness.

Ride: The first thing you’ll notice about any pair of Newtons is the unique external actuator lugs that protrude from the forefoot of the shoe. From the bottom of the lugs, the Gravity has a relatively flat profile (4mm), which helps promote efficient running form with foot strikes near the midfoot (partially because heel striking feels awkward in this shoe.) The lugs take some getting used to, but one of the keys to finding the sweet spot, our testers said, is to run with a high cadence with relatively short strides and rhythmically light footsteps.

Nike LunarGlide 4, $110

9.5 oz.; 7.5 oz.

Fit: The flexible mesh upper is both snug and forgiving, allowing it to offer a consistent wrap-like hold while letting it move and flex naturally and comfortably.

Feel: This shoe is decidedly high off the ground with a very soft, cushioned feeling underfoot. It’s quite light for its size and despite a built-up heel (13mm heel-toe differential), it doesn’t feel too bulky.

Ride: Although it’s not a shoe that offers up much in the way of agility or precise proprioceptive interaction between foot and ground, several testers remarked at its smooth transition while rolling from heel to forefoot. The thick amount of cushy material underfoot make this an ideal long-distance trainer, but it’s not a shoe designed for up-tempo workouts.

Nike Air Pegasus+ 29, $100

10.2 oz.; 8.7 oz.

Fit: As with previous versions of the Pegasus, it has a plush, secure fit with sufficient room in the toebox and a cozy padded nest for the heel.

Feel: This shoe is comfortable and stable, but also marshmallowly soft. The cushioning took the sting out of pounding the pavement, but it also dampens the foot-to-ground connection, too. Most of our testers thought these shoes ran lighter and more nimble than they appeared, a fact likely aided by its easy-flexing demeanor.

Ride: A smooth, cushioned ride that easily and comfortably rolls from heel to toe-off. It’s reliably consistent and forgiving, especially for easier runs. It’s not a quick shoe, but it can be used for up-tempo distance runs.

Pearl Izumi Kissaki 2, $130

9.7 oz.; 8.3 oz.

Fit: This low-volume trainer fits snugly throughout, even without considering this shoe fits a half-size smaller than most Pearl Izumi shoes. A seamless and interior and effective lacing system add to what testers considered a keen fit.

Feel: This shoe sits lower to the ground than some of its contemporaries in the neutral cushioning category and has a mild 9mm heel-toe differential. It’s generally soft and accommodating in the heel and the forefoot (thanks to a secondary layer of softer foam), but it produces a responsive sensation in motion.

Ride: This shoe is a do-everything everyday trainer, with a good combination of soft and semi-firm cushioning and a low-to-the-ground forefoot that inspires fast, agile running. Although it has good forward flexibility, there is some inherent structure from a plastic midfoot shank and the slightly firmer foam that makes up most of the midsole.

Editor’s Pick, Best Value: Puma Faas 350, $85

8.6 oz.; 7.2 oz.

Fit: The Faas 350 provides a cozy, close fit in the heel and midfoot with a slightly looser toebox. Testers raved about the seamless interior and step-in softness, but a few thought the shoe was a bit sloppy in the rear because of the absence of a heel counter.

Feel: Low to the ground but still well-cushioned, the speedy Faas 350 feels like a cross between a racing flat and a lightly cushioned neutral trainer. The cushioning (which is more spongy than springy) offers enough softness and protection without interfering with the foot’s connection to the ground.

Ride: One of the most flexible, agile shoes in the bunch, testers raved about its low-profile forefoot, responsiveness and quick heel-toe transition—qualities that make it easy to overlook the 350’s traditional heel-toe drop (13mm). Despite the built-up heel, our testers still found it suitable for up-tempo training runs and race-pace workouts, and several said they’d be eager to race in it.

Reebok RealFlex Flight, $110

10.0 oz.; 8.0 oz.

Fit: The RealFlex Flight serves up a snug fit from heel to toe, with a smidge of extra room in the toebox. Our testers said the soft, seamless interior and reinforced micromesh upper provides reliable foot hold for a wide variety of foot shapes.

Feel: Stepping into this shoe reveals its somewhat split personality. Although it has a rather robust, supportive rearfoot section, its snug fit and low-to-the-ground forefoot give the Flight a natural, agile feeling.

Ride: With the unique blend of rearfoot support and the multi-directional flexibility in the low-slung forefoot, the Flight offers up both a stable and dynamic ride. Our test team was unanimous in thinking the shoe ran lighter than it felt, which is the result of a combination of a lightweight upper, an unrestrictive flex pattern and the profile low enough for ground connection.

Saucony Ride 5, $110

9.8 oz.; 8.6 oz.

Fit: The Ride 5 has a reliably snug fit in the heel and midfoot area, but slightly more room in the forefoot for toe flex. It has a soft and comfortable interior, but it’s not overly plush or tight.

Feel: This lighter version of the Ride feels light, soft and flexible. Although it is sufficiently cushioned, it doesn’t feel high off the ground or bulky in the heel, thanks in part to its more moderate heel-toe differential (8mm). A removal of overlays and unnecessary add-ons, enhances the shoe’s free-flowing feel.

Ride: The Ride 5 serves up a lightweight, balanced and responsive ride that is also surprisingly stable. It has exceptional smoothness while rolling through a stride from touchdown to toe-off. Our testers raved about it as a high-mileage, everyday trainer and a few suggested they would consider racing in it.

Saucony Omni 11, $120

10.8 oz.; 9.1 oz.

Fit: In a word, luxurious. The heel and midfoot are reliably tight, while the forefoot is comfortably snug. The high-volume interior is soft and cozy, with a pillowy tongue and collar to seal the deal.

Feel: This version of the Omni got considerably lighter, flatter and more agile but there’s still a lot of shoe underfoot. While the heel is moderately soft, the forefoot is decidedly fluffy. It has a moderate heel-toe drop (8mm) but the forefoot is still rather high off the ground, something our testers thought inhibited the proprioceptive connection between the foot and the ground.

Ride: Although it’s still a big shoe, the revisions give it a cushioned, supportive ride. Our testers found this shoe to be a tad heavy and inflexible compared to other shoes in this category, but the decidedly flat bottom helped maintain a consistent, sturdy ride and kept it from feeling overly clunky.

Scott MK4, $130

9.6 oz.; 7.3 oz.

Fit: The MK4 has a traditional low-volume race-ready fit, with a reliable snugness from heel to toe. The soft semi-gusseted tongue and exoskeletal micromesh adds to the secure feeling in the midfoot/arch area.

Feel: This shoe feels light and energetic, thanks in part to superior flexibility, semi-soft midsole and level, low-to-the-ground construction. The midsole is reinforced by a carbon fiber plate, which adds a twinge of stability without inhibiting the flex or adding weight.

Ride: The ride is fast, light, smooth and surprisingly stable. Our testers raved about how the fit connected the foot to the shoe and created a proprioceptive connection to the ground. Those qualities combined to make it versatile enough for all types of up-tempo running, including speed workouts, tempos, fartleks and short- and long-distance racing.

Scott T2c LTD, $120

8.3 oz.; 7.4 oz.

Fit: With a nearly seam-free upper and roomy toebox, the Scott T2c accommodated both wide and narrow foot shapes, although it’s best to size up; the samples we tested seemed to run slightly small.

Feel: There is a definitive rockered geometry to this shoe (and a 10mm heel-toe drop), which makes it conducive to a midfoot/forefoot running gait and discourages heel striking. It’s flexible and has a semi-soft underfoot with just enough cushioning to absorb impact but not so much that it inhibits connectivity with the ground. (The LTD version of this shoe has a water-repellent coating for running in damp or wet conditions.)

Ride: There is a springiness created by the rockered sole and semi-firm cushioning that makes running in these energizing, comfortable, speedy and pleasant for efficient, midfoot strikers. But given this profile, heavy heel strikers will find the transition from heel to toe a bit awkward.

Skechers GObionic, $90

6.0 oz.; 5.0 oz.

Fit: A snug, form-fitting heel and midfoot gives way to a roomy (but not sloppy) toe box. The upper is thin, conforming and mostly seamless, although it’s not quite as ventilated as some of the open-mesh uppers of other shoes in this review.

Feel: Sparse and light. The GObionic is about as minimalist as a shoe can get while still being considered a neutral cushioned trainer. It has a zero-drop profile, no arch support and a barely-there feeling about it, making it easy to sense and react to the ground. The soft, pliable and completely unstructured midsole offers maximum flexibility (and thus, natural foot movement) but demands a runner possess some inherent strength and agility.

Ride: It’s natural and very smooth, as long as you’re not striking at your heels. The soft, pliable and completely unstructured midsole offers maximum flexibility (and thus, natural foot movement) but works best for an agile runner who has some dynamic strength and can run with a midfoot gait pattern and quick cadence. Several testers remarked that it would be an ideal supplementary strengthening tool for drills, gym workouts and shorter runs.

Under Armour Spine RPM, $100

9.7 oz.; 7.4 oz.

Fit: This shoe has a comfortable and close fit, with adequate space in the toebox but little excess room. Our testers surmised it might be best suited to an average or narrow foot.

Feel: Although very light relative to their size, this shoe exudes a firm feel that borders on stiff. The firm spine design feature running from heel to toe in the outsole and midsole keeps the foot locked in place, but testers also felt it limited the shoe’s flexibility and agility.

Ride: The ride is well-cushioned but decidedly firm. The chassis offers a significant amount of structure and support, making it most appropriate for a runner who typically runs in a stability shoe or for larger runners who appreciate a more significant platform.

Zoot Kiawe, $120

6.8 oz.; 5.4 oz.

Fit: If ever a shoe fit like the glove, it’s the low-volume Kiawe. With a seamless inner liner, the one-piece upper literally molds to your sockless foot. It does run a bit on the narrow/snug side, so many of our testers had to size up half a size to get the right fit. The shoes are equipped with both traditional and speed laces, making this a good go-fast racing shoe for runners and triathletes alike.

Feel: Lightweight and low to the ground, the Kiawe feels like a racing flat should: firm and fast. Devoid of plush cushioning, the Kiawe is meant for going fast from 5K all the way up to the half-marathon. The race-ready geometry includes a subdued heel (6mm heel-toe drop) and a thinly cushioned forefoot that promotes an energetic toe-off sensation.

Ride: It’s designed as a racing flat and offers little in the way of support, but lighter, efficient runners will appreciate it as an up-tempo mid-mileage trainer. A super-flexible but semi-firm midsole allows your foot to move without restriction, making for fast transitions and a smooth ride at faster speeds. As an added bonus, the Kiawe have super-grippy outsoles for cornering at top speed.