Color: Anthracite/Reflective silver- Photo Blue-Polarized blue
Intended use: All surfaces except trail. Suited for recovery runs.
Surfaces tested on: Road, synthetic track 21° C/70° F
Upper: Engineered mesh, sandwiched perforated foam panels, high frequency welded overlays.
Midsole: Full length, blow molded Air bag.
Outsole: Single piece, translucent rubber with small waffle lugs.
Weight: 414 gms/14.6 Oz for a half pair of US11.
US Retail: $ 180 at Amazon.com
We have to do a bit of time travel for this one, minus the Delorean and the good doctor. The date? November 30, 1978 to be exact. That’s when the first batch of Nike’ Air Tailwinds were shipped for the Honululu marathon. It was a scheme of grand audacity back then, to put an air bag inside a running shoe, an idea brought about by Frank Rudy and Bob Bogert – both of them ex-aerospace engineers. The original Tailwind was based on the Nike LDV and ended up being a failure; not because of the air bags, but due to upper tear caused by the wrong choice of mesh paint. The years that followed had divided camps within Nike – groups for and against pushing forward Air as a technology.
Nike Air continued to be encased in midsole foam (including Air Jordans) until March 26th, 1987, which marked the birth of Nike’s first visible Air shoe, the Air Max 1987. Wieden and Kennedy, Nike’s advertising agency, promoted the new shoe with a novel TV commercial using Beatle’s ‘revolution’ song. The new visible Air shoe was a huge commercial success, and the later years saw newer versions of Max Air – the AM’90, blow-molded AM’180, the ’93 and so on. Though we’re not exactly thoroughbred retro-sneakerheads, we rank the grey and green Air Max ’95 as one of our all time Max Air favourites. Heavy and bulky, but there was something about that shoe…
Nike Air technology was featured in its first full length glory in the form of Air Max ’97, where a heel-to-toe air bag lay between a polyurethane foam midsole and rubber outsole. Nine years later, the 2006 Air Max 360 made its debut in the internet age, the ultimate expression of a foamless blow-molded vision. The shoe featured a Max Air bag bereft of any foam; the see-through Air bag was caged in a hard Pebax skeleton, replete with an eye-catching upper showcasing laser-cut perforations. But once the pomp and show was over, the original see-through wonder came with some early teething problems – the soft skin between the rubber lugs made it prone to punctures, and sometimes the hard Pebax cage gradually wore out the visible Air sidewalls. I remember running through at least two Air bag failures on the AM360, both caused by getting on and off aircrafts. Sounds weird, but true story it certainly is.
Agreed, the original Air Max 360 looked like nothing else in the market and concept still does hold its own when it comes to visual differentiation. But that said, runners are divided on how good these shoes really are. If this book is anything to go by, Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was asked what he thought of Max Air during the original AM’87 launch – and whether it was an innovation or a gimmick. “More of a gimmick,” Bowerman said.
If the sales trends are anything to go by, the 360 Air bag design has found more favour with sneaker-heads than the serious running community. A bit of the shoe’s fault too. The Air Max looks aesthetically delicious, coupled with a high sticker price which guarantees a certain level of exclusivity – both crucial ingredients to push up a shoe’s appeal as a lifestyle product. But once you cut through the layers of marketing glorification, how does the shoe perform when put to running duties? We’re going to pitch perception against reality and tell you like it is. The common perception about the Air Max is that it isn’t a ’serious running shoe’. And the reality? Read on.
The reality depends on your version of serious running. If that means regularily running 6 minute miles over an average distance of 10k, the Air Max 2014 will do a lesser job than many cheaper alternatives. But if your goal is to buy a shoe for leisurely 9 minute mile recovery runs, the Air Max is not a bad shoe at all, provided you’re brave enough to drop $180 on a pair. A lot of runners we talk to think of the Air Max as a footwear equivalent of Bronc riding , with terrifying visions of their foot being tossed around on the bouncy Air bag. We’d like to dispel that perception, because the Air Max 2014 behaves fairly well as a running shoe, despite a few of its unmissable shortcomings.
A lot has changed since the original Air Max 360 graced the home pages of sneakerblogs back in 2006. The irony was that a shoe resting on a full length air bag felt very stiff while running; the forefoot required hulk like brute force to bend, and the Pebax cage restricted the natural compression of the blow molded air bag. Add to that agonies of Air bag failure and Pebax sidewall cracks, so the urgency of design improvement was paramount. The Air Max 2010 was the first to feature a Cushlon midsole layer between the upper and the Air bag, and also get rid of the Pebax cage. Two more years saw the same outsole being carried over, with a new design change in 2013. The new 2k13 construction focused on remedying what had long been a bugbear – flexibility. The fragility of a typical full Max Air bag did not allow for scattered placement of rubber pieces – it needed to be a single sheet of rubber which could protect the urethane film holding pressurised air. This naturally meant compromising on flex grooves, and resultantly the forefoot always rode out quite stiff.
With that background, the Air Max 2013 was a vast improvement over earlier versions. The new sole design had deep grooves built in the forefoot, massively increasing flexibility. The upper was a work of art too – Hyperfuse panels with tastefully executed molding details, Flywire lacing and ritzy mesh and foam packages all around. And throw in an inner sleeve which wrapped the foot in a cocoon of superior materials and fit. The bright red colorway simply looked unquestionably amazing if you had the verve to carry it off.
In an unexpected twist, the Air Max 2014 gets a brand new rubber outsole. Surprising, because the last change came in form of the Air Max 2013 sole unit, which was overhauled after three long years. In the 2014 version, the Air bag and the cushion midsole are carry overs, but comes shod with brand new rubber. Compare it with the 2013 version, and fundamentally not much has changed – the deep grooves which saw the light of day in 2013 still helps the Air Max with increased flexibility.
The 2014 upper is completely revamped, both from a construction and material standpoint. In a visible contrast to Air Max 2013, the 2014 version uses upper materials which are more layered, and treads a thin line between stiffness and support. The 2013 model used a Hyperfuse layered open mesh on its upper backed by a lining mesh which formed the inner sleeve. The latter, when combined with mid-foot Flywire lacing translated into one very well fitting shoe. On the other hand, the Air Max 2014 takes a multi-layered approach to building the upper, with no-sew panels snaking around the periphery. Nike uses a novel way of layering materials on the AM’14 – a see through mesh is fused on perforated foam panels starting from the mid-foot. This increases the thickness of the upper, and also hems in the forefoot slightly. Runners moving up from the Air Max 2013 will discover that the new shoe will feel narrower, and the materials take a few runs to break-in. The upper is not as pliable as the 2013 A-Max.
It really befuddles us that Nike chose to remove the inner sleeve on the Air Max 2014. It is almost if Nike’s strategy is to strip something nice off a shoe, and then come back the next year with an ‘improved’ version which puts it back on the shoe. An inner sleeve is never an inconvenience, tongue slide is. Without the sleeve, the Air Max 2014’s tongue slides to one side, and the situation is helped neither by the lace loop or the strange looking blister-like urethane pods on the tongue top. We not happy about this change, and we hope Nike ‘betters’ the 2015 Air Max by plugging the sleeve back in.
The removal of the inner sleeve and the Flywire, combined with all new materials makes the Air Max 2014 feel looser in the mid foot area. On the plus side, the absence of Flywire gives the mid foot sidewalls a smooth texture without bringing on the localised lacing pressure caused by the tugs of Flywire strings. The fabric surrounding the ankle area is switched to a smoother type, though we felt that the mesh used in the AM2013 was more plush. The collar walls are low, so this might result in a sensation of looseness around the ankle for some runners, and could restrict the use of drop-in orthotics.
The sockliner is changed from last year’s Fitsole 2 (also found in the Pegasus 30) to a thicker foam insole which has ‘Running’ written in mega-caps across its length. It feels more cushioned than the Fitsole 2, and noticeably so in the forefoot. The front feels much more padded and that is large part to the insole being squished underfoot. Anatomically, the Fitsole 2 and the new neutral running insole are similar – contoured edges, with molded under-arch area.
The Nike+ cavity is gone with the AM2014, so you can’t use the drop-in transmitter anymore. Funny thing is, the midsole is a carry over from the Air Max 2013 which was Nike+ enabled, so if you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see an impression where the hole used to be. Flip the shoe, and the plastic oval has the ‘+’ sign removed, leaving just the Swoosh logo on it. We couldn’t help but notice the tacky fixing of the plastic logo. Seems like it was a design afterthought, and the end product looks unworthy of a fixture on a $180 shoe.
Reflectivity on the Air Max 2014 is pretty awesome. The swooshes on both sides are abundantly reflective, and shine like pointy beacons in the dark. The rear of the shoe has ‘Air Max’ typed out in shiny font, so during darkness there’s no mistaking what shoe you’re running in. Makes us wonder if carmakers could learn a thing or two from the athletic footwear industry. To show you how the Air Max 2014 scores in nighttime visibility, we’ve got a few neat pictures to show you. And yes, you’re welcome.
Earlier in the review, we said that the Air Max 2014 was supportive, and we’d like to lay down some more details to second that comment. The pressurized air bag is only a part of the Air Max 2014’s underpinnings; bulk of the reinforcement comes from multiple pillars inside it. The columns running the length of the sole and helps transition the foot during runs. The pillars are firmer than you’d imagine. Remember the 2007 Nike Reax Run shoe? That model featured urethane film coated pillars which were basically Air Max columns minus the Air. And as far as we can remember, those shoes did a nifty support job during runs.
The ride on the Air Max 2014 is relatively on the firm side – naturally, there’s tons of cushioning coming from compression of the Max Air bag, but we’d describe its character as elastic, instead of being soft, plush or responsive.
The Air Max 2014 also has a thick internal column beneath the mid foot which was originally designed for the Nike Plus cavity, so that also adds bolstering. Surely, there is noticeable compression and splaying of the Max Air bag during rear foot landings, but never did we get a sense of instability. We’d also like to underscore the fact that the shoe is very heavy. We measured it at 414 grams/14.6 ounces for a half pair of US 11, which is weighty as they come. Want some perspective? It is twice as heavy as the Under Armour Speedform Apollo.
The outsole design this year has a higher number of waffle shaped lugs, so grip level is decent. Heel to toe transition is not the best in the Air Max 2014, given that the outsole is quite stiff and unyielding, with a large gap underneath mid-foot. Flexibility is equal to the AM 2013, and vastly improved when compared to pre-2013 model. When compared to foam based running shoes, the forefoot is around twice as stiff if the force required to bend the shoes is anything to go by.
How would we sum up the Air Max 2014? It is certainly not the best running shoe out there, and not at a price nudging $200. It does however, deliver a cushioned yet supportive ride experience which belies its unique appearance. Should work for a good majority of neutral runners, if they can live with the downsides on weight, forefoot flexibility and the astronomical price tag.
: Swoosh: The unauthorized story of Nike and the men who played there. ISBN-13: 978-0887306228, Harper business books.(Disclaimer: Solereview.com paid full US retail price for the shoe reviewed) The new Air Max 2015 review has been published here. You can also visit the review via the image link.