Color: Flash Orange/White-Turkish Sea
Asics' marketing pitch: The Nimbus 17 is a little more revolution than evolution.
Surfaces tested on: Road, ambient temperature of 20° C/68° F
Upper: Single piece mesh, high density printing details, filmic overlays.
Midsole: Dual density midsole in a stacked design, forefoot and heel Gel pads, plastic medial shank. 10 mm heel to toe drop
Outsole: Hard AHAR carbon rubber in heel, softer blown rubber under mid and forefoot.
Weight: 353 gms/ 12.4 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10/EUR 45/CM 29
Widths available: D-standard (reviewed), 2E-wide and 4E- extra wide
A lot has changed on the Japanese brand’s premium cushioned shoe. Just a few months ago, we were taken by surprise when the Kayano 21 felt softer than Nimbus 16 – that didn’t make any sense at all, given the pecking order of supposed softness.
This year, the Nimbus 17 restores a much needed balance by being softer, much softer than Nimbus 16. And that’s what the Nimbus was always supposed to be; the plushest riding neutral in Asics’ lineup.
This might just be the softest Nimbus ever. The new model is one up even on the 2013 Nimbus 15, which felt incredibly soft at the time. And let’s not forget the upper too; gone are all the stitched overlays and urethane welds. In its place is a single piece (can you believe that) mesh upper, with high density printing detail running over it.
We don’t usually mix shoes during wear-test sessions, but due to unfavourable circumstances surrounding the adidas Tempo 7 Boost, we had to rotate both shoes for a better part of the week. The Nimbus 17 and Tempo Boost; talk about contrasts. It was like driving a go-kart and then sitting in the back of a Lincoln town car, running on tyre pressures 10psi lower than usual. The knees squeaked in feeble protest.
The ride of the Nimbus 17 is not soft, it goes beyond that. This is our 100th review in solereview’s present version, and this shoe lords over all in softness. It was as if the midsole was literally made of marshmallows. Or as if you’ve taped foam chunks carved out of a Tempurpedic mattress (without the memory foam-ness) to your feet. The sensation of mushy, sink-in cushioning prevails with each footstrike and the transition which follows.
And isn’t like a certain layer of the midsole happens to be soft, every part has been redesigned to dial up softness, so it’s squish all the way to the bottom, stopping right above the outsole rubber. The shoe feels consistent as the weight loads heel to toe or vice versa, as a vast expanse of padding spreads underfoot.
If you’re getting the picture we’re painting here, you will also begin to realize what the Nimbus 17 is meant for. And at the same time, what not to expect from the shoe.
This is a shoe for slow, recovery runs. For runners who want nothing but the very best in soft, and don’t care about running speed. Because if you do, one will not find the Nimbus 17 equal to the task. You simply cannot go fast, the same way a Lincoln with low pressure tyres will not. If you try to coax speed workouts out of the Nimbus 17, you will find out, at your own peril, that the task is an onerous and laborious one.
A shoe this soft creates a transition inertia, allowing the foot to sink-in deep into the midsole during the gait cycle. It takes effort to rise out of Nimbus 17’s marshmallow-iness, and that kind of thing never bodes well for speed. Transitions tend to be inefficient, and there’s little or no responsive feedback from the midsole, so again, the shoe is best suited for slower runs. If a faster Nimbus is the need of the hour, that’ll be the relatively firmer N-16 of last year. Decently padded the latter was, yet a far cry from what we have here today.
So how did it come to this? What are the changes on the Nimbus 17 which makes the shoe what it is?
The science of mushy softness is a simple one, really. Step one, drop the durometer (firmness) of foam component, in addition to tinkering with the formulation. Step two, increase the volume of visible Gel pads. Step three, make some adjustments on the outsole so that everything splays better, and in doing so enhances the cushioning feel.
And how does that break down from a Nimbus 17 perspective? Let’s take a close look, and we mean literally so.
What comes immediately below the foot? That would be the insole and strobel foam, and both have been changed, following the step one principle of increasing softness by revised materials. The insole might have not changed in shape and size, but has certainly transformed into something else.
The foam used to make the sockliner is far softer than what existed in the Nimbus 15 and 16, by at least 50% softer if not more. Asics calls it the new ComforDry X-40 material.
Just below the insole is the strobel foam layer, and big changes happen here too. For as long as we can remember, Asics had been using a type of foam which was named SpEVA 45. Well, no more.
A foam which looks and feels identical to the one used in the new insole replaces SpEVA, which makes a huge impact on softness levels. Both of these (insole and strobel) feel a bit like memory foam, with the compression rebound having a slightly delayed quality to it.
Beneath the strobel is the first layer of midsole foam, colored in blue on our pair. Both the Nimbus 15 and 16 had a similar two-stack midsole design, but the difference again lies in the density.
The top layer is a much softer foam, and the same holds true for the next layer of foam which when combined with the first layer, sandwiches the Gel units in place. The softer sidewalls are far less resistant to the inquisitive jab of your fingers, compressing more than those of earlier Nimbus editions.
Which brings us to step two. Both in its lateral heel and forefoot sections, the Nimbus 17 boasts of larger visible Gel pieces. The heel area has a longer Gel insert extending right into the midfoot side, and the forefoot goes one up on the Nimbus 15 and 16 by featuring an unbroken section of visi-gel. The medial side is filled in with foam, as the case always has been since the dawn of the Nimbus.
(Updated 05/24/15) We must point out that almost the entire softness of the Nimbus 17 comes from the foam, and not the Gel pads. Asics’s much plugged cushioning technology is at most a visual effect, and not a functional one.
To illustrate what we mean, we’ve dissected a pair of Nimbus 15, a shoe which near-matched the Nimbus 17 in softness. Here we are, gradual peeling off the parts, layer by layer:
It is plain to see how much of a marketing scam Asics Gel is, even in its top end neutral cushioning model. The two penny shaped Gel pads are all that’s actually inside the midsole, and the rest is all show.
Ok, the heel Gel windows on the lateral side help soften the impact to some extent – most will rear-foot strike on that side – but as far as the forefoot is concerned, it is good as having nothing at all. The picture you see just above has a cross section view of the lateral forefoot. The forefoot Gel window is just retricted to the edge, and does not extend inside at all.
So next time Asics tries to extol the virtue of Gel based cushioning, picture this tear-down. Sheer marketing vaporware and nothing else. You suddenly feel a new-found respect for brands like Brooks and Nike, who actually place their cushioning systems in locations where it counts, and not as pieces of mere decoration.
And here comes step 3, which is the outsole design. Many bits of the layout will look familiar, like using blown rubber under the forefoot, hard AHAR carbon rubber under heel, and the guidance line which runs longitudinally from heel to toe.
However, there are revisions which incrementally contribute to the soft ride of the Nimbus 17.
Starting with the heel, where the crash pad is now bigger – going from a pie slice shape to a half moon structure. The diagonal flex groove separating the crash pad from rest of the outsole splays on impact, making the landings seem softer.
The outsole rubber on medial side is also further articulated as compared to Nimbus 16, meaning more exposed foam and less rubber.
That design thinking carries over to the forefoot, where there’re larger flex grooves between outsole pods. More spacing between outsole automatically leads to softer transitions, and that’s how the Nimbus 17 outsole performs.
General increase in foam softness and area of flex grooves also makes the Nimbus 17 more flexible than the 15 and 16.
The ‘guidance line’ has been a regular fixture on the Nimbus. Only this year, it behaves slightly differently. It now sits in a shallower cavity than ever before, and during the gait cycle, it actually kisses the ground under heel and forefoot. The exception to this rule is the midfoot area, where the guidance line between two parts of the plastic shank avoids ground contact. So it is not as effective as its avatar on firmer Nimbus midsoles of the past, and transitions now feel noticeably lazy. Like we said before, the Nimbus 17 isn’t a shoe to get you from point A to B in a hurry.
From a bias perspective, the Nimbus 17 is fairly balanced and neutral, with lateral and medial side softness near-equally matched. The only negative about the shoe’s ride, besides the laborious transition quality, is that the midsole isn’t so stable. Because of the extreme softness, it feels as if the lower body is constantly micro-adjusting itself to match the shoe’s behavior.
The caveat is that this tends to happen at higher speeds than lounge pace, and hence our previously mentioned disclaimer with regards to appropriate use of the Nimbus 17. Asics lists the Nimbus at a 10mm heel to toe drop, but the midsole being so soft and everything, there’s no knowing what the effective heel drop is. Our take is – definitely much lower than published stats, as the heel has a lot of vertical travel on weight loading.
The soft midsole creates ample leeway when it comes to inwards foot roll, so that’s something to bookmark when going out shopping for the Nimbus 17. Many ‘neutral’ shoes tend to have higher medial roll resistance (look no further than the Nimbus 16), but this year’s big N isn’t the shoe for that.
That pretty much sums up the Nimbus 17’s ride, and extent of design refreshes on the sole composite.
In a rather uncharacteristic move, Asics has done a major overhaul of the upper design, while retaining some of Nimbus 16 parts and materials. The biggest change – both visually and functionally speaking – is the new upper execution.
Replacing the complex network of synthetic leather and urethane weld overlays is a single piece mesh upper (joined at the heel, of course) with a latticework of high density printing details.
The mesh itself is of an engineered type, meaning that the surface structure is not symmetrical, open in some areas and closed in another. If you look down from the top, the toe-box texture appears to have several curvy shapes stacked together, perhaps a nod to the Nimbus (cloud) name.
The printing details somewhat reminds us of Spiderman’s suit; and that might not be just a fleeting thought. The Spiderman costume did include a pair of Asics Gel Dirt Dog 3 in the first installment of the Superhero movie reboot, so there might be something to the Nimbus 17’s design after all.
The printing thickness seems higher right at the toe area, which has it doubling as a protective toe bumper. It thins down the sides and on the midfoot, where a pair of Asics logo is printed over in a similar way. The lacing area has been cleaned up too; wafer slim films act as reinforcements over the eyelets.
Asics talks about ‘serious weight reduction taking center stage’, but in reality the Nimbus 16 and 15 weight exactly the same. While we’re convinced that the new upper design must have led to weight shedding, it is counter balanced by the bigger Gel pads, which nets out any gains coming out of the new upper.
Long term durability of these layers remains to be seen. Asics has been wise to leave the overlays out of the forefoot flexing area, but whether the pointy ends maintain their adhesion (under hot or cold) will only be known after a few hundred miles of usage.
Not all parts are new. The air mesh and soft lining material combo of the tongue is exactly the same as the Nimbus 16, and it holds true for the non-PHF collar lining.
The Nimbus 16 lining did feel plush and soft, so no harm done by adopting the same package on the N-17. The basic tongue design stays unaltered, a standalone construction which is prone to a mild level of tongue slide.
They did not have to use the same laces, though. The ones on the Nimbus 16 felt raspy, un-expensive and un-premium, and so do the laces on Nimbus 17.
Asics should have reverted back to the softer Nimbus 15 ones. They would have even slid better through the metal eyelets used on this year’s model.
The molded heel counter in the back with reflective heel window execution is also a throwback to the Nimbus 16, except for a small difference. The center of the TPU clip is scooped out and underlaid with a reflective element.
This is to compensate for knocking out the reflective toe tip, which was seen previously. The Achilles area is soft, and feels identical to the 16. No slippage, and plenty of plush.
We did notice that the molded heel piece had waffle like impressions built in towards the midfoot, undoubtedly trying to mirror the design feel of the printing details. However, the lines extending from upper don’t line up with the ones on the heel counter, and we’re pretty sure that was the design intent.
During production trials, they must have figured out the matching to be difficult, and hence let things be. This is not a defect, but would have been better design harmony if the flow of lines matched.
Removal of traditional synthetic overlays create an entirely different interior experience altogether, and the new Nimbus 17 has a very smooth inner fit. It is near-seamless, except for the tongue attachment near the forefoot. The Nimbus 17 uses a no-sew tape inside to give structure to the upper; it is irritation free and very unlike the nosy seams of Mizuno. You can go barefoot in the new Nimbus, no problem.
The forefoot fit isn’t exactly what one calls roomy, but there’s no Nimbus 16 hemming in of the medial forefoot anymore. Pressure over the sides and top feels very uniform and smooth in D width. More space is optional by way of 2E and 4E options, because the default width is snug.
The toe-end is shallower than both the Nimbus 16 and 15, akin to how the Nike Pegasus 31 felt over the 30. The big toe pushes up against the shoe bumper, which wasn’t so before. And the reason is plain to see.
The synthetic leather toe bumper was stitched higher on older Nimbuses, and the new one tends to flatten the nose by using the printed layer. The sizing still fits true, but it would be wise to first try the new Nimbus 17 and see whether the front-end space is enough.
As far as improvements go, the upper refresh is a big one. It feels non-interfering and closes on the foot with a fit pressure which feels soft, smooth and uniform. Though there are carry over materials and design elements which will remind you of Nimbus editions gone by, there’s an indelible sense of newness which feels refreshing. It is a fitting better half for the new midsole, which quite frankly, is foam softness amplified to the next level.
The Nimbus is dead. Long live the Nimbus.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview.com bought the shoe at full US retail price.)
Looking to upgrade your old Gel Nimbus 16 to the latest version, but not sure how the 2015 model compares? We can help here. The following infographic is a ready-reckoner for what changes you might expect in the new model vs. old. To make this more fun, we’ve put in a system of percentage match, which calculates a weighted average for a set of attributes.
A higher or lower match percentage is neither good or bad. The % number just tells you how similar or distanced the new shoe is from the previous version. Total match % is a result of weighted averages.