In the realm of running products, it is common to hear a company’s sales representative describe a good, better, best story. The idea is that good suits the needs of the everyday runner, better adds a bit of a technological advantage for improved performance and best is hands down superior to anything else within a product line. With apparel, this is often easy to observe. The best top dries faster (stays drier longer) than the better top, which exceeds the good top. With shoes, it’s little harder to observe the difference. A technologically superior shoe does not necessarily translate to a better feeling shoe or a faster shoe, but the goal generally is for better technology to translate into an improved experience for the runner. So how do things shake out with the Asics Pulse 2 (“good”), Cumulus 12 (“better”) and Nimbus 12(“best”)?
What makes each shoe unique?
Taking advantage of trickle down technology, the Nimbus 12 incorporates the Guidance Line design that was first introduced in October 2009 with the Kinsei 3. Guidance Line is a groove that extends from heel to forefoot, which aids in the repeatability of each foot-strike along an efficient path throughout the gait cycle. At the time of this review, Guidance Line only exists in the Kinsei 3 and Kayano 16 and now the Nimbus 12.
Another feature that distinguishes the Nimbus 12 from the Cumulus 12 and Pulse 2 is a Discrete Eyelet Construction. Most shoes have a connecting strip of material between each eyelet, which means as one eyelet is moved by tension on the lace, the two adjacent eyelets are also affected. With Discrete Eyelet Construction the eyelets on the Nimbus 12 are independently anchored, allowing for a more individualized fit.
Asics Gel is the added cushioning system incorporated among all three shoes. What differs is the amount of Gel used in each shoe. As expected the Nimbus 12 has the greatest amount of Gel in both the heel and the forefoot. While the Cumulus 12 begins to rival the amount of Gel cushioning used in Nimbus models past (Nimbus 9 and Nimbus 10), it is still at a level below the Nimbus 12. Although not visible, the Pulse 2 does incorporate Gel in the heel but lacks Gel in the forefoot. As is clearly seen when viewing the shoes, the Pulse 2 has the least amount of Gel in the heel among the shoes.
The principle cushioning material of any running shoe is its midsole. The Nimbus 12 and Cumulus 12 both use a SoLyte midsole, which is Asics’ premium midsole. Solyte offers the greatest resiliency relative to weight of any Asics midsole. This means a lighter shoe with SoLyte can provide the same durability of a heavier shoe with a different midsole compound. Up until just a few years ago, SpEVA was Asics premium midsole and it is found on the Pulse 2. SpEVA is a level above compression molded EVA and delivers good resiliency.
Beyond the Gel and midsole, each shoe tackles ground forces a bit differently. At heel impact, the Nimbus and Cumulus have unique Impact Guidance Systems (IGS) to attenuate shock. IGS allows shoe components to function independently to absorb impact and deliver a smooth ride. The notched heel construction of the Pulse 2, has a similar result of IGS, but to a lessor degree.
Further differentiation among the shoes is found in construction components. The Pulse 2 uses the classic Trusstic System to connect the heel and forefoot regions of the shoe. A Trusstic System helps keep weight down while maintaining the structural integrity of a shoe. The Nimbus 12 and Cumulus 12 have unique versions of a Space Trusstic System that allow for more natural deformation (mimics the Windlass mechanism of the foot) of the midfoot compared to the Trusstic System.
Which shoe is best?
From a technical standpoint, the breakdown above demonstrates the good, better, best concept applied to these three shoes. The reality of performance of these shoes is of a subjective nature; thus, the following analysis is just one perspective.
Following a brief wear test period the Nimbus 12 did seem to be the best. A little softer than last year’s version, the Nimbus 12 delivered a plush ride with good energy return. Shoes in this maximum feature category can often times be quite firm and thus feel better for heavier runners. At the other end of the spectrum, similar shoes can be too soft and thus detract from responsive nature that faster runners prefer. The Nimbus 12 has struck a good balance and the ride is superb. The secure midfoot fit further enhances the fine nature of this shoe.
With the Cumulus 12, it is a bit more difficult to say if it meets the better classification in terms of performance. It would be more appropriate to say that the Cumulus 12 is better for certain needs. Obviously, this is the case with any shoe, but the Cumulus 12 seems to fill some specific niches. The forgiving lateral heel structure is great for heavy heel strikers as well as supinators. Another great aid for the supinator is the padded lateral quarter panel in the upper, which does a superb job of keeping a supinated foot connected to the shoe.
Compared to last year’s Cumulus, the heel cushioning is quite similar, the fit is a bit snugger and the forefoot seems a bit firmer in the Cumulus 12. In keeping with the trend started by the Cumulus 10, the Cumulus 12 is more about comfort and less about responsive performance. So if you seek a softer feel at heel impact, the Cumulus 12 is a good bet. If you seek a more performance-oriented ride that was common among the Cumulus 7, 8 or 9, then the Pulse 2 is your shoe.
The Pulse 2 takes a step ahead of the original Pulse and is thus no longer just a value-laden trainer. The upper feel suggests improvements in material selection, which feels on par with more expensive shoes. While the original Pulse had good heel cushioning, it felt a bit thin in the forefoot. Although the specs for the cushioning and sole of the Pulse 2 did not change from its predecessor, the shoe has a much more lively feel. The result is a training shoe that leans toward performance. This may just be the best Asics neutral shoe for the serious, faster runner who desires more shoe than the lightweight Speedstar 4 for daily training.
The Nimbus 12 improves its luxury feel and is sure to maintain its stronghold on the top spot for premium neutral trainers. For heavy heel strikers or supinators, the Cumulus 12 is a great bet and the Pulse 2 slides in as a surprisingly good trainer for runners seeking a bit more of a performance feel for the daily ritual.