For once, it feels nice not to be cynical.
It feels nice – finally – not to write the same thing about Asics every year. You know, about how Asics is stuck in the past with little to no innovation.
If this was last year, we would put together a brief (and bland) list of Kayanos and Nimbus’es and call it a day.
But then this isn’t just any year. 2020 has proved to be a year full of unexpected turns. And Asics’s quick rise to a brand making new stuff arrived at very short notice.
Sure, you have old favorites like the Nimbus, Kayano, and the GT-2000 keeping it together. At the same time, there are fun models like the Glideride, Novablast, and several others that are powered by Asics’s new design direction.
This time, the newness isn’t just about the old being packaged as new. The 2015 Metarun was a good example of the latter. While the shoe was the first Asics product to feature Flytefoam, the rest of the shoe felt like a Nimbus/Kayano deluxe. Old wine in a new bottle, as the cliche goes.
And you know what’s the best part of it all? This infusion of product newness doesn’t feel forced. Shoes like the Glideride and Novablast slide into the assortment without feeling out of place and add value with a distinct ride character.
If you’ve been reading Solereview for some time now, you’ll know that ‘forced newness’ refers to the ill-fated 33 series. The 33 collection was a strange lot, a peculiar fusing of the then-trending maximalist movement and low heel-to-toe offsets. Of course, the 33 products met a quick demise and were never heard of again.
In 2020, not only do you have new running shoes that are surprisingly fun, but even the pillars of the assortment – namely the Cumulus, Nimbus, and their ilk – have been put through an improvement cycle.
As much fun as the new shoes are, it makes a lot of sense to keep the old models going. It’s going to take a while for runners to warm up to the ‘new’ Asics, so familiar names such as the Cumulus, GT-2000, and the DS-trainer serves as a bridge between the old and new.
Too much too soon can alienate loyalists, and Asics doesn’t want that.
The evolution of the Flytefoam deserves a minute of screen time. When it first showed up on the Asics catalog, the midsole was a lightweight yet firm block of foam that was blended with fibers. One could literally see the fibrous texture of the midsole.
A lot of Flytefoam has been molded since then. In 2020, there are many variants; the Flytefoam Blast, Lyte, Propel, and the standard version. It’s hard to tell one from the other – the foam softness varies even within the same Flytefoam type.
And that’s ok. History shows us that that’s how cushioning technologies evolve. Look no further than the Brooks DNA (Gel to foam), Nike Flywire (Vectran cords to ordinary loops), or Saucony’s e-TPU journey from the Everun to Pwrrun+.
While changes are afoot, this list is mostly about Asics’s long-continuing models. That being said, we’re not sure what Asics has planned for the next two years. And if that isn’t exciting, what is?
By the way, the Nimbus 22 is back – we had to chop the 21 off the previous list, and you know why.
This list is in no particular order.
1) Neutral cushioned trainer: Asics Gel-Cumulus 22
Every brand has an everyday daily trainer that’s a ‘safe’ reach for most runners. For Asics, the Cumulus is that shoe; a running shoe that combines ride comfort with all-round versatility. Jack of all trades, as the saying goes.
The redesigned Flytefoam midsole is comfortable enough for short runs while being lightweight (10-ounces) and non-mushy when the pace picks up. The Ortholite insole and the blown rubber forefoot outsole helps with the cushioning too.
Even with the heel Gel and a different density foam wedge, the Cumulus feels very neutral. It’s not the most supportive shoe, but you won’t be thrown around either. The transition groove on the outsole (Guidance line) also helps.
We must mention that this is perhaps the best Cumulus version in (at least) the last five years. The otherwise soft and cushy upper runs slightly small but the rest of the shoe has a please-all quality.
Also available in a reflective (Lite-show) version and various widths.
2) Neutral cushioned trainer: Asics Gel-Nimbus 22
The Cumulus-Nimbus pairing has been an Asics thing for a very long time.
The $30 more expensive Nimbus is a premium Cumulus of sorts. That means an upgraded upper package along with larger Gel pads – that kind of stuff.
Apart from the higher sticker price, the Nimbus 22 is an ounce heavier than the Cumulus. So if you want the lighter of the two, the Cumulus is the shoe you buy. Else, the deluxe version – aka the Nimbus – will do everything the Cumulus is capable of.
To sum up, this is a capable daily trainer or a long-distance shoe for un-rushed workouts. If speed is a need, then look up the Dynaflyte or one of the road racers.
The Nimbus 22 is an across-the-board improvement over the wooden 21. The Flytefoam stack is cushioned, smooth, and delivers the kind of softness balance that is a part of any good running shoe.
This is a $150 shoe we’re talking about, so you get a nice looking – and feeling – upper. The mono-filament mesh exterior is soft and breathable with a true-to-size fit. There’s some bling in the form of metallic accents too.
There’s a Lite-show (reflective) and knit variant as well. If you don’t care about dual-density or visible Gel, consider the Nimbus 22 Lite. Its single-density midsole makes the ride smoother and an ounce lighter than the standard Nimbus.
3) Neutral cushioned trainer: Asics Novablast
And here we thought that the Glideride was enough Asics innovation for one year.
Ok, we get it. The Novablast isn’t an original idea; the max-cushion concept has been done to death by most brands. At the same time, it’s refreshing to see Asics interpret this form factor through a Flytefoam lens.
And just like any running shoe in this category, the Novablast has a soft and deep cushioning that is excellent for long runs. There’s a fair bit of spring in the semi-rocker midsole, so the runner benefits from a forward-biased transition quality.
The 10 mm heel to toe offset differentiates the Novablast from say, a Hoka One One. A higher midsole drop is Asics’s wheelhouse, and that’s one of the ways in which Asics’s interprets the max-cushioning form factor.
While the Novablast makes running enjoyable, there are a couple of things worth noting. The relatively slim rear midsole and the deep groove doesn’t do favors for the overall stability.
So it’s kinda like the Nike React Infinity Run – while the Nova is great for straight-line running on paved surfaces, the lack of support is sensed during tight turns or the occasional off-road detour.
The upper mesh is soft and breathable. That said, one needs to be mindful of the long-ish fit and the less-than-ideal levels of midfoot lockdown. Since the Novablast only relies on five primary lacing rows (the standard is 6+1), securing the fit take a bit of work.
If the above two idiosyncrasies do not bother you, enjoy – the Novablast is a fun running shoe for daily runs and long-mileage endeavors alike.
4) Neutral cushioned trainer: Asics Glideride
The Glideride’s midsole has an internal plate, so it’s easy to assume that it has a very springy ride. But this shoe isn’t about a springboard quality that has come to be associated with plated-embedded midsoles.
Here, the Nylon plate is used to assist transitions – the firmer layer and the rocker midsole helps the foot roll quicker through the gait cycle. The plate isn’t felt at all during runs; it is invisible yet functionally effective in the background.
The ride is soft enough to make even long-distance runs very comfortable. The foam stack is great at absorbing footstrike; the internal plate prevents it from bottoming out. We gave the Glideride high marks for its comfortable and enjoyable ride.
The upper is just right, neither too narrow nor excessively roomy.
5) Budget daily trainer: Asics Excite 7
Not in a mood to spend mega-bucks on the latest and shiniest? Unlike its name, the Gel-Excite 7 isn’t particularly exciting but it gets the job done – if a budget daily trainer is all that one needs.
Unlike the $10 cheaper Contend 6, the Excite 7’s design taps into inspiration from the more expensive models. Though the midsole is non-Flytefoam EVA, its contoured sidewalls are based on Asics’s new visual scheme. The Contend 6 is also nice with a similar ride, but the Excite looks like a more expensive shoe.
Asics has done a good job with the upper too. The snug-fitting exterior holds the foot securely while managing to look good in the process.
Also see: Gel Contend 6
6) Cushioned mild-support: Asics Gel Kayano 27
You have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the Kayano before.
This is the longest continuing shoe series with a firmer medial post. The midsole wedge design isn’t in-your-face kind like it once used to be.
The Kayano 27 has a mild motion-control quality that’s expected of shoes in this class. Except for the redesigned shank and outsole, the midsole configuration resembles the Kayano 26, so the ride is fairly similar. The rearfoot has better articulation due to the split crash pad, and that makes the heel landings a smidge smoother.
Premium materials are used throughout the upper, so the Kayano makes for a comfortable foot covering. Unlike the Kayano 26, the toe-bumper is now internal so the toe-box space comes at a slight premium (short). The 27 is also sold in a wide, extra-wide, and a Lite-Show version.
Since the K-27 is an 11-ounce shoe with a firm ride, it’s best used as a daily runner or occasionally for long-distance training at easy paces.
7) Cushioned mild-support: Asics Gel GT-2000 9
Even if you don’t call yourself a running shoe afficiando, you may have heard of the GT-2000 in passing.
The GT 2K has long been an Asics staple, for it occupies a specific niche within the Japanese brand’s assortment. This is traditional ’stability’ shoe that belongs to the fast-disappearing class of running footwear. Firmer medial wedges have dropped out of favor, so the GT-2000 9 remains the last bastion of this category.
And yet, the GT-2000 9 is a lot more than its medial post. It is a comfortable daily beater that straddles a fine line between soft and firm. Yes, the Flytefoam is a mite softer than the GT-2000 8, particularly in the front.
But the rest of the shoe is a familiar place for many. The true-to-size upper has a design and fit character that resembles the past models. Tell-tale signs like the engineered mesh upper, welded overlays, and the traditional tongue and heel design produce a comfortable upper fit.
Besides being one of the few old-school stability shoes in the wild, one of the reasons why the GT-2000 does well is because it’s a pared-down version of the bulkier and costlier Kayano 27. And that’s precisely what the GT-2000 is.
8) Cushioned mild-support: Asics Gel GT-1000 9
In the past, the GT 1000 used to be a cheaply built running shoe with an acrid industrial stink. Not anymore; Asics has made significant improvements to the fit and feel of this sub-$100 stability trainer. Therefore, not only is the GT-1000 9 an affordable support shoe, but it is also good value for money.
It is also the best-looking GT-1000 to date. The aesthetics and materials are completely redone, and part of that overhaul is a visible Gel window. Past versions of the GT-1000 lacked this trim, so this update makes the 1000 a good tie-in with the more expensive GT-2000.
If you want a stability shoe with a near-neutral ride, then the GT-1000 9 is helpful. The small medial post does not induce a noticeable motion-control feel to the ride character. The cushioning isn’t overly harsh, so the ride comfort is sufficient for mid-distance workouts.
9) Firm speed trainer: Asics Dynaflyte 4
The Dynaflyte 4 is like a neutral version of the DS-Trainer, and that makes it a tempo-friendly trainer with a medial-post. The ride is (still) pretty firm though – an aspect that makes transitions efficient. And while the exterior of the sole is identical to the Dynaflyte 3, the D-4 is an ounce lighter.
The new upper is an improvement over the last version. The true-to-size mesh upper fits smooth while locking the foot in place during speedier workouts. The upper isn’t bereft of plushness; the heel and tongue provide plenty of that.
10) Firm, mild-support speed trainer: Asics Gel DS Trainer 25
It’s easy to see why the DS Trainer has been a popular choice for over two decades. Its firm and low-profile ride make this 9-ounce shoe an excellent shoe for fast training.
The last year’s DST-24 got a brand-new upper that also happened to be a significant improvement over the 23. The DST-25 gets a similar knit upper with a smooth and secure fit.
Like the 24, the forefoot outsole has a colony of small lugs for a decent bite on the roads. It, however, lacks the Dual-Stenciled lugs seen on versions 23 and earlier. The outsole connects the forefoot and the rear so the transitions feel connected.
The 8 mm offset DS-Trainer 25 is perfect for days when you want to build some speed into the run. We’d go as far as to say that the DST can be used as a race-day shoe as well.
11) Road Racer: Asics Lyteracer 2
Need an old-school racer that’s all business without any soft edges? That’s an apt description of the Asics Lyteracer 2.
The synthetic suede and mesh upper is traditional and basic as it gets. A 6 + 1 lacing set-up locks the foot in, helped by a set of cotton laces (we did say old-school). Like most racers, the Lyteracer fits a half size smaller; get a full size up if you value extra room.
A firm slab of Flytefoam Propel (the same material as the Kayano 27) keeps the fast runs from getting too harsh. There’s just enough cushioning and outsole for protection and nothing more.
The Lyteracer 2 retails at $80, so the reasonable price is another thing that’s going for it.
12) Road Racer: Asics Tartheredge
The $130 retail sticker is pricey for a shoe this category but hold still; the Tartheredge checks many boxes. The forefoot and midfoot outsole have an aggressive DSP (Dual-Stencil Process) geometry for a fantastic grip, and the Flytefoam midsole allows the shoe to weigh less while protecting the foot during the quick touch-and-go cycle.
The retro racing upper is very breathable while fitting very narrow and a half-size small. Buying a larger size will turn the interiors more accommodating.
(Edit: The Asics Tartheredge 2 has just been released.)
13) Trail running: Asics Fujitrabuco 8
It’s no secret that Asics does not have a vast trail-shoe collection.
And it’s a nicely-designed product, even a little under-rated. The Fuji-T 8 has most of what makes a versatile trail running shoe. A rock-plate shields the foot from the rocks and roots; an overlay-rich upper does a decent job of protecting the foot.
The unimaginatively named Asicsgrip outsole is excellent – both from a rubber compound and lug geometry viewpoint. The material sticks well on slick surfaces whereas the aggressive lugs deliver a deep bite.
This is also one of those rare shoes to have a comfortable upper fit that feels akin to a road shoe. There’s enough room inside so that the foot doesn’t feel boxed in. It helps that all the overlays are externally stitched on and do not influence the interior space. The rubberized midfoot panels provide protection as well as the means to keep the foot securely held.
It’s not the most breathable shoe out there, but hey – if the Fujitrabuco used an open mesh, you’d need to shake out small debris every 5 miles. Though the shoe isn’t waterproof, Asics sells a Gore-Tex variant.
The Flytefoam midsole is stiff but there’s some respite in the form of the Ortholite insole and the EVA foam lasting. Incidentally, both the Fujitrabuco 8 and 7 use the same outsole but have different midsoles.
As you might have already guessed, the Fujitrabuco 8 isn’t the fastest or the most focused trail shoe. It’s no Hoka Challenger ATR either. But if you’re looking for one shoe that does everything with a reasonable degree of competence (and confidence), you can’t go wrong with Fuji-san.