By Tom Demerly
Saucony’s line-up in the 2011/12 season is a broad assortment of running designs reflecting current low drop trends and traditional running shoe geometry. We’re reviewing three models here, the bantam weight ProGrid Kinvara 2, the new ProGrid Peregrine Trail Shoe and the traditional ProGrid Ride 4 training shoe.
You’re either a Saucony customer or you aren’t, and chances are – you are. The company has a penchant for making running shoes new runners buy on their first trip to the run specialty retailer, and keep buying if they stay with the sport. Saucony has also shown an impressive willingness to adapt for a company 111 years old. Nearly two decades ago Saucony was debuting triathlon specific running shoes with transition features and very light weight construction. Saucony interprets the low drop running shoe trend with moderate adaptations of low drop geometry combined with good control features so the rank n’ file runner has enough shoe to run in but still experiences the minimalist feel.
The 2011/12 Kinvara 2 is a reintroduction of the successful 2010 Kinvara with a re-tooled outsole profile and improved inner. The later feature is of particular interest to triathletes running sockless.
When I first reviewed the original Saucony Kinvara in August 2010 I was mightily impressed. The barefoot running trend has me yawning and another low slung “minimalist” moccasin would have left me uninspired. The original Kinvara, in its original form, provided enough cushioning to be a “real” running shoe but at much less weight. I was critical of some wobbly feeling suspension in the outsole and upper.
The Kinvara 2 acknowledges this with a narrower outsole that is more nimble and responsive. I don’t “run off” this outsole. It would appear Saucony has now matched the shape and performance of the outsole to the flexibility and light weight construction of the upper. Additionally, a mesh layer added to the shoe interior lends a hint of structure to the top of the shoe. This balance of taking away some width from the outsole and adding some structure to the upper was the tweak the shoe needed.
The new Kinvara 2 runs and fits more precisely than before. My initial review bemoaned the upper as too flexible. It’s still very flexible, but has been shored up some. The narrower, more precisely tooled outsole compliments this. The result is a little more controlled feel. I’ve also lost weight since my first review and at about 160 pounds, at least 10-15 pounds lighter than when I ran in the original Kinvara. I’m probably a better Kinvara customer now. Merge the lighter version of me with the stiffer upper, trimmer lower version of the Saucony Kinvara and we’ve found our middle ground.
This update of Saucony’s Kinvara is particularly relevant to triathletes. Just add speed laces. I did try the shoe sockless for a short jog and I’d race in it.
I give this version of the new Saucony Kinvara 2 higher marks than its previous one with increased upper stiffness and a better overall outsole. This is a strong update on a bold introduction. If you liked the previous Kinvara I wager you’ll still like the Kinvara 2. If the first version of the Kinvara didn’t work for you this new version is worth a fresh look.
I love trail shoes and apparently I’m not alone. At a recent industry expo, Bike Dealer Camp in Park City, Utah, I did a 100-person shoe count of what people at the Expo were wearing. Trail shoes were the single largest category, followed by road running shoes, casual non-athletic shoes, athletic sandals and other footwear categories.
The bulk of trail running shoes aren’t worn for trail running. They are worn as casual use street shoes. As a result the category is laden with either shored up road running shoes with darker colors and toe bumpers or with lightened hiking shoes using fabric instead of leather and a more flexible outsole. Both are great for casual use, neither works optimally for real trail running.
Another reality of the category is that most trail running athletes aren’t running super technical trails. For the bulk of trail runners a light and low runner with a toothy outsole and enough of an upper to hold it on the trail is the perfect mix. They don’t need an integrated gaiter, Gore-Tex liner and drawstring lacing system.
The new Saucony ProGrid Peregrine spins off the above-reviewed Kinvara with a beefed up outsole and robust saddle area stitched to a webbing lace system. The upper is tangible different but the geometry very similar. If you bought- and loved- Kinvaras for the road buy these for the trail.
Like everyone else, I love trail shoes and I have a pile of them. I’ve tried a collection of the in-vogue low-drop versions including INOV-8 and New Balance. They are a little too minimalist for me. The ProGrid Peregrine strikes the same balance in the trail running environment as its sister Kinvara strikes I the road: Just enough of everything you need in an off-road runner, not too much of what you don’t need.
The ProGrid Peregrine isn’t just a Kinvara with lugs and different lacing though. It also does not run like a Kinvara. It’s amazing how much difference a full carbon outsole on the Peregrine makes in stiffening the overall chassis of the shoe. This shoe does have some tangible structure. It is less flexible and “rolly-polly” than the Kinvara 2 road shoe.
On the shoe shelves the Saucony ProGrid Peregrine will go against the specialty trail running brands like The North Face and Salomon, at it will appeal to the true trail runner more than the casual user and light hiker. Since Saucony is largely a running brand that seems logical. The ProGrid Peregrine is a great Kinvara inspired trail runner. It’s just enough shoe without crossing the line to a light hiker.
No minimalist trendiness, this is a real running shoe with full running shoe features. The cushioned-neutral ProGrid Ride 4 gets some tuning to make it more responsive and flexible for 2011/12 but retains the everyday ride and geometry from previous versions less 1 millimeter in heel height claimed change. If you don’t need a lot of motion control and you do like shock absorption this is a shoe to try.
A claimed advantage of this shoe over previous versions is lighter weight. I can’t verify that but I can attest to a more responsive feel than earlier versions.
Unlike the two ProGrid series shoes above, the ProGrid Kinvara 2 and ProGrid Peregrine, the Ride 4 uses the full external ProGrid exoskeleton for controlling the medial or center section of the shoe. I do notice this version of the exoskeleton feels like a more flexible polymer than previous versions. If you try to dig your fingernail into the older versions they felt like hard plastic. The new ProGrid exoskeleton in the midsole feels like very high durometer rubber rather than hard plastic.
The outsole has some beef to it, with a liberal use of carbon rubber for good wear. This is built as a high mileage trainer and my experience with previous versions suggest good durability.
The shoe sits on top of a 36 millimeter high heel and a 25 millimeter high forefoot by our measurements, a drop of about 11 mm from heel to toe.
I often worry a bit when testing cushioned shoes since I generally run in a shoe with more medial posting for some motion control. This is the long mileage cushion trainer I could use all the time. There is enough control in the durometer or hardness of the midsole to provide adequate guidance. If you have trended toward some motion control and away from a cushioned shoe the ProGrid Ride 4 is worth a look since it provides adequate stability and luxurious cushioning.
If you are a Saucony brand user and want to explore a lower drop shoe geometry adding a shoe like the Kinvara to your stable of Sauconys like the ProGrid Ride 4 provides an eclectic mix of shoe experiences- and one you can go back to if you start to get aches and pains from the minimalist shoes. On trail days a pair of ProGrid Peregrines will be a familiar fit with trail specific features.
With these introductions, two previous model updates and one new model (the Peregrine) Saucony continues a consistent and reliable story in running specialty that speaks to the middle 80% of runners. Saucony hasn’t re-written any books about running with these shoes, but over 100 years ago they did write a running shoe story that has become a true classic for fit and function.