Color: Passat Grey/Electric/Black
Intended use: All runs except trail and in bad weather.
Surfaces tested on: Road, synthetic track, 21° C/70° F
Upper: Closed type spacer mesh, synthetic Nubuck, strap based lacing system.
Midsole: Single density foam, with hard EVA rim on top.
Outsole: Soft Carbon rubber from toe to heel
Weight: 364 gms/ 12.84 Oz for a half pair of UK10/US11
When we decided to run solereview full time in April this year, one of the important tasks involved was to decide which shoes to review over the course of next few months – trying to make good on lost time. We sat down with a piece of paper and pen, and wrote down the names of shoes on our wish list. In doing so, the Brooks Transcend was a shoe which we certainly wanted to review.
Brooks is still a small company compared to bigger brands it’s up against. In that context, Brooks does not spend much marketing money on promoting its shoes, except for the occasional double page spread in magazines. But it came to the Transcend launch earlier this year, Brooks did their version of all-out marketing, complete with a launch party, video ads in Runner’s World magazine, and sending promotional spaceship-shaped shoe boxes to a circle of influencers. The rocket-ship marketing was also accompanied by a special micro-site for Transcend, with visuals of prancing rainbow-powered Unicorns, space shuttles and loads of information on what the Transcend was. And how running in them was akin to running on Clouds. There were press releases aplenty, with a statement included from the president (of Brooks, not United States) himself.
With all that drum-beating, the Transcend certainly got our attention.
It so happened that our Transcend review was scheduled on the underwhelming heels of Glycerin 12 and Ghost 7. Given our less than ideal experiences with both, the fact that we had to review another shoe from Brooks’ line-up came tinged with a mild hint of ‘what-if’ dread. But we needn’t have worried; because after putting on wear-test miles on them, we are of the following opinion:
The Brooks Transcend is an excellent shoe, and we’ll go as far to say that we really like it. Not without its small quirks, but nothing of deal-breaker magnitude. Only, there’s some confusion on its positioning and categorization – both from a brand and retailer’s perspective. This, we believe has led to Transcend’s mixed reception despite its aggressive marketing. Allow us to expand on that a bit, with this small chronological recap of events:
1) Brooks launches the Transcend in early 2014. The statement by Jim Weber (Brooks CEO) calls out the Transcend as a shoe which ‘exemplifies a cushioned, effortless, luxurious running experience.’
2) At the same time, the press release states that “the Transcend is a traditional support shoe which complements the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14, the best selling shoe in the support category at specialty running stores and the best selling Brooks shoe across all channels”. It is obvious that Brooks sought to place the Transcend in the commercially successful slipstream of the Adrenaline – a strategy which a lot of brands use to launch a new shoe.
3) While the Brooks media kit makes no mention of it, many online retailers bring the Brooks Trance 12 into the picture, pitching the Transcend as its successor.
4) Brooks merchandises the Transcend along with the Adrenaline 14 on their website. The retailers follow suit, with the shoe filed under ‘extra stability’ and ’support’ sections, depending on how they saw fit. On the Transcend microsite, Brooks points out that the shoe has no ‘medial post’, implying that Transcend performs like a stability shoe (in traditional sense of the word), but without the medial post.
So there’s already some conflict here, with ‘cushioned, luxurious ride exemplified’ getting mixed up with mentions of ’medial posts’ and ‘extra stability’. What we want to say is this: we don’t agree with Transcend’s positioning.
The shoe has a lot more in common with Glycerin 12 than the Adrenaline. It is almost if a shoe last wrapped in Velcro was tossed into a bin full of Glycerin 12, Adrenaline GTS 14 and Addiction 11 parts, and out came a shoe which was 70% Glycerin, 20% Adrenaline and 10% Addiction. A footwear equivalent of a Chimera if you will, the mythical being in Greek Mythology composed with parts of three different animals – with one part dominating the remaining two.
The bottom-line is – if you respect the Transcend for what it is, you will not be disappointed. So what exactly is the Transcend? It is a very well cushioned shoe, definitely neutral in common usage of that term, and is a closer relative of the Glycerin 12 than any other shoe sold with the Brooks logo.
Sure, it’s a mite more planted in footing, but aren’t all shoes supposed to be stable, speaking broadly? And not to mention, a huge commonality of materials between the Transcend and G-12.
The Transcend looks very bulky; more so in flesh than in photographs. The outsole imprint has an extremely wide profile, its proportions only exceeded by the sheer hulk of midsole foam above it. But this isn’t the first Brooks shoe with an outsole that wide. The Brooks Addiction 11 and Beast 12 have outsoles of great girth, though slightly different in profile to the Transcend. Also accentuating the midsole bulk is an upper with a flatter forefoot profile and an aesthetically tighter midsole, which only add to the effect.
That visual bulk is matched with a slight increase in weight over Glycerin, but only so much. At 366 grams or 12.9 ounces for a US 11, it is still way lighter than last year’s Asics Gel Nimbus 15 and balances the scale with Glycerin 11. And during runs, that weight difference isn’t felt at all.
Midsole is full length foam, which Brooks calls its new ‘Super DNA’ material. Whether it possesses any special physical properties like the DNA gel is unclear, but what’s apparent in real life usage is its cushioned, yet un-mushy ride. It is overlaid with a firmer ‘rim’ made of hard EVA. Brooks calls this the ‘Guide Rail’, and while the concept is similar to the rims used in Glycerin and Ghost, there are small structural differences.
To be specific, the rear-foot area has these elevated sections of Guide Rails, and in the fore-foot too, where the hard EVA curves upwards slightly too – just at the base of big toe. The Guide-rail is not just external; the lower edges curve under-foot and partially below (see image above) the footbed. The Glycerin 12 also does that, but it appears that the Transcend rim extends a few extra millimeters inwards.
Transcend has what has to be one of the most comfortable molded foot-beds available. The top cloth is buttery smooth, with foam construction of a noticeable thickness and compression. This helps in delivering an immediate, first line of cushioning – good for lower speeds – before the main midsole foam takes over. Below the foot-bed is standard fare, an EVA strobel layer placed atop the midsole.
The midsole waist of the Transcend needs to be seen to be believed, it is at least wider by a centimetre when compared to regular shoes. We compared the midsole of the Ghost vs. Transcend, and you can see the difference, it is massive. As if someone worked a ball of kneaded Blu-Tack into the sides – the curved midsole bulge is very prominent.
Outsole has a flat profile, with a near-uniform taper in width from forefoot to heel. A soft, sticky type of rubber covers a large section of the outsole, glued over generously articulated flex grooves and molded foam pods. The heel area has a crash pad, separated on one side by a deep ridge.
Put all of these together, and how does the Transcend perform from a ride perspective? Quite flawlessly, we say. The ride is very smooth, owing to the use of singular foam. Cushioning is excellent, by which we mean a padded, consistent feel with none of the wallowing. Brooks cushioning tends to run slightly firm by Asics or Nike standards, and Transcend feels the same. At walking speeds, the midsole feels firm – it’s only when you pick up some speed that the depth of cushioning comes through. This behavior was opposite in the gel based DNA system, where the shoe felt softer at slower speeds than during motion.
Back to front weight loading and progression is great, with no vague spots felt underfoot. The shoe feels solidly planted, largely in thanks to its well spread out outsole. And the grip – it is something. Tenaciously grippy, as if working under the gravitational pull of Jupiter – there you go Brooks, we play along with your cloud and spaceship hyperboles. On a serious note, outsole traction is one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. A vast number of consistently placed, flat textured sticky lugs elevate grip to another level. There’s little space between lugs, so a lesser chance of trapping debris too.
The Guide Rails? They’re not exactly a new feature, with closely resembling variants a regular fixture on shoes like the Glycerin and Ghost. Does it support the foot? Yes, but in a manner not very different from the other shoes mentioned. Okay, what about the huge curvy thing going up the rear-foot sides? We think them to be aesthetic placebos, in the same way high ankles don’t make any difference on basketball shoes. The Guide Rails could be lower in that area, and they’ll still perform the same. If the foot stays pinned inside, that’s because of the upper, which we’ll come to in a bit.
We stress that the Transcend is a neutral, cushioned shoe. Because it is free of any motion control tricks or midsole firmness aimed at correcting natural foot-roll; something which most runners associate a traditional ’stability’ or ’support’ shoe with. The cushioning is one which supplies padding in a well spread out manner minus the squish. Not yet convinced? We’ll try to sell it to you one more time before wrapping up the review. But for now, let’s keep moving.
Okay, there’s something you need to know straight-up about the Transcend upper. It fits extremely snug, with a shallow ceiling. Translates into little open space either on the sides, in front of the toes or vertically. On a regular D-width, you might need to actually go half a size up. And whether you like it or not, the Transcend is available only in regular width. The shoe is pointy in fit, though there’s a reason behind that, to be covered later. So there you go – now that we’ve taken care of the rather urgent announcement, finer details can follow.
Materials used on the Transcend upper are top-notch, with a great deal of part sharing with the Glycerin 12. (remember our Velcro-in-a-bin analogy?). The lightly padded spacer mesh used on the main upper and tongue is identical to G-12, and so is most of the lining material. And while you’re at it, throw in the laces and welded side logos, again an exact match with the Glycerin. The non-mesh overlays are made of soft synthetic, which has the hand feel and texture of broken in-Nubuck leather. They are soft, and add to the plush feel of the upper.
The upper, as we pointed out earlier, is very form fitting. Why? There’re a few reasons. For starters, the Transcend uses a different last than the Glycerin and Ghost (not sure about the Adrenaline, we’ll get to know next month) which likely contributes to the fit behavior. Secondly, the upper mid foot (and partial forefoot) employs a system of multiple flat straps which snake their way up the sides and connect to the laces.
These are attached to the base of the upper, and are guided by these small ’tunnels’, a space between the upper and lining meshes. Kind of a Brooks-ified Flyknit setup, except that these aren’t cords, but flat ribbons. The resulting lockdown is very effective, keeping the mid-foot snugly pinned. The forward ribbon extends into the forefoot, going right over the small toe and base of the big toe. By reining in either sides of the fore-foot, the fit is predictably snug, and lends to the ‘pointy’ sensation.
It is also worth underscoring the fact that Transcend comes equipped with a true inner sleeve. The gusset appears to be made of the same material as the tongue and collar, but it’s not. It is an elasticated piece of spandex like fabric with generous stretch and near-invisible, slit-shaped perforation. Spread the material wide with your fingers, and embedded elastic strands shine through the blackness.
So when you combine the sleeve with the efficacy of tunnel-loop lacing, the fit becomes bulletproof. Regardless of the snugness, interior environment is super smooth, with minimal seams. This means you can choose to wear the shoes barefoot if a certain weekday happens to be your no-socks day.
Thirdly, the absolute lack of space ahead of the toes puzzled us. Because when we compared the actual heel-to-toe lengths of Transcend and Brooks sock -liners, they were identical in measurement. We could understand the vertical shallowness and forefoot fit, but there’s always some room ahead, even if it is only 1/3rd of a size. We’re sure the reason is Transcend’s bulky heel counter. The area features a hard molded plastic heel clip which wraps around an internal stiffener. Naturally, this arrangement actually pushes the foot forward and eats into toe space. The Transcend feels pointy not because of the last, but because a wider section of the foot is being pushed into a narrower section of the shoe.
We’ll impart some buying advice here. The heel on the Transcend upper is quite rigid, so it’s worth keeping this in mind if your Achilles is sensitive to this type of construction. We did not face any issues here, but we’re open to the possibility that someone else might.
Because of how the toe box/forefoot fits, you will definitely notice the materials bending inwards during a run. But this is something you’ll get used and stop worrying after a run or so. The overlaid materials are soft and do not have the potential for damage. The toe box has a heat fused layer which cannot even be called a proper overlay, and plays no part in material ‘bunching’. The actual overlays are soft synthetic Nubuck panels, and quite incapable of uncomfortable dig-ins.
The tongue is padded well, and takes the top down lacing pressure well. Lest we forget, lace cinching on the Transcend is superb. When tightening the laces, there’s no slide back at all. The twisted loops of the flat ribbon lock the laces in place without compromise. Move back to the collar area, and the padding feels a little – spartan. There a bit of looseness in the area where the collar meets the tongue edges, and that sensation is backed by less foam packed in that area.
There are two lacing positions on the last eyelet – the one which is welded over with two eyelets. We first assumed that if we passed the laces through the lower eyelets, the collar fit would be improve. It does not, and when compared with the Glycerin – for reference’s sake – the tongue end of the collar does have lesser padding. It is not a deal breaker, but just a stark contrast to rest of the upper fit.
Under-arch support is superlative, with the high sockliner flare padding and filling the area beneath. It is helped by mid-foot support straps which result in a harness effect, wrapping the underside.
Reflectivity comes supplied in abundance on the Transcend, most of which is concentrated on the mid foot panels. All the tunnel-ensconced ribbons are reflective, which means low light visibility is well spread out instead of being localised. Small dabs of shiny materials are there on heel and toe box, but literally pales in comparison to what the mid-foot brings to the table.
Are there any real negatives on the Transcend? A few, but it feels like nitpicking. The $160 retail price is a deterrent to purchase, but the shoe comes loaded with kit. The Guide Rails aren’t all what they’re cracked up to be, with the raised mid foot section in felt underneath the arch, and not in a supportive way. Doesn’t hurt or dig to be an irritant, but like we said earlier, the prominent flares are just cosmetic placebos.
For that raised part of Guide Rail to be really effective – and we’re talking support – it needs to extend much higher, and then connect to the lacing system by one of the flat ribbon loops. We’d also wish the heel counter was dumbed down a bit, which would open up some space in the front. Our vision of Transcend perfection would be the shoe to come in at around 11 ounces or lighter, with a plusher collar (and soft Achilles area) and minus the raised instance of Rail Guide.
For what it is, the Transcend remains a shoe with plenty of good things to say about. The cushioning is uniform, yet accented with a planted under-foot feel. The wide and grippy front makes it ideal for forefoot strikers, while the padded rear will agree with most rear foot and heel strikers. The upper fits great if correctly sized, and the use of soft, un-squeaky upper materials combined with soft outsole rubber makes the Transcend one of the quietest shoes we’ve ever tested. A silence perfect for all your Ninja moves, like getting back into the house late at night, without waking the baby up.
And the whole bit about Transcend being a neutral shoe, how does that end? Right, here’s something to chew on. The Transcend shares more (identical) upper materials with the Glycerin than any other shoe. The Glycerin had super DNA, the Transcend has more of that, and hence more cushioned Same laces, logos, laces. Plusher sockliner.
So if the Transcend isn’t a super-Glycerin, what is? So you tell us, is Transcend’s positioning as an ‘extra-stability’ or ’support’ shoe justified, in the dual-density-medial-post-firm-midsole sense of the word? We certainly think otherwise, and we’ve made it clear enough.
That’s some shoe for thought.