In the ’70’s when Asics was Tiger, the brand had a solid training shoe following, but runners flocked to the brand for their performance models. The Ohbori and Jayhawk flats, the Spartan B spike were on the feet of the best runners from that era. I remember distinctly photos of Alberto Salazar running for the mighty Ducks of Oregon wearing black dress socks and Tiger B’s. Rogers and Shorter won in Tigers and who could forget Allison Roe winning Boston and NYC in ’81 and setting the marathon world best in Tigers?
Things started to change in the 80’s. Tiger became Asics Tiger and introduced some of the best training shoes in the land with models such as the Alliance, the Epirus and the X-Caliber GT. They were all great shoes that featured cutting edge technology, such as compression molded EVA and dual density midsoles. These models became big sellers for the brand and the emphasis for the brand started to change from performance footwear to shoes that appealed to the masses.
By the ’90’s the brand became Asics and fully embraced the fitness runner. Through a dedicated focus to that customer, the brand has become the giant of the industry in terms of sales and market share.
Recently, there has been an increased push by the industry to embrace lighter weight shoes and the runners who wear them. Asics seeks to capitalize on this trend by reaching back to its storied performance shoe past by introducing the Tempo Run Collection. The Tempo Run Collection is a showcase for Asics’ performance road models.
The GEL-DS Trainer 15 is the first entry into the Tempo Run Collection and receives an interesting update twist. The shoe is essentially a mixture of two previous versions of the shoe. The upper fit is taken from the DS-Trainer 14, which customers liked very well. Lighter upper materials are used to make the shoe a 1/2 oz. lighter. The midsole tooling specs are taken from the most popular version of the DS-Trainer, the DS-Trainer 7 – performance of the 15 should be very close to the 7. The outsole features the popular Duosole, that provides Wet Grip (the rice husk material used in the infamous Ryan Hall Olympic Racing Flat) and blown rubber for traction and durability. This should be a very nice lightweight trainer for those needing a bit of support. If the DS-Trainer 15 fits like the 14 and performs like the 7, this should knock it out of the park.
The GEL-Speedstar 4 is the next entry and is a very nice update over the previous version. Solyte is now used in the midsole instead of SpEVA, which should add more bounce and save weight. The midsole heights have been lowered and the outsole is now decoupled in the heel and forefoot, which should aid in heel to toe transition as well as make this model much more responsive. While the weight hasn’t changed significantly, the design upgrades should now have this model performing closer to a racing flat versus the previous version, which performed more along the lines of a training shoe.
The 4.5 oz Pirahna SP 3 is still a hyper lightweight neutral road flat. It has been given a Japanese makeover in the upper graphics along with the addition of a few more overlays for added support. The upper has also been improved for fit with an ecsaine and a terry cloth sock liner to increase comfort for those who like to race without socks. The heel counter is an extension of the midsole and is made of Solyte as well. While not as minimal as the Pirahna 2, the model has not gained much weight, while bringing in updates that should improve the fit, comfort, and durability of this model.
The GEL-Hyperspeed 4 was one of the best selling flats in 2009, due in large part to the outstanding midsole-outsole combination. This feature was so well received by their athletes that Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor requested that this model keep the tooling of Hyperspeed 3. Their requests were heard, as the Hyperspeed 4 only updates the upper. The upper was taken directly from a Japanese racing flat, so it’s not a stretch to notice that this flat looks very Japanese. The overlay placements are similar to the Hyperspeed 3 and the weight is about the same, so this update is primarily a cosmetic one, which is a great thing. This was an outstanding flat in 2009 and it should continue to be so in 2010.
The Bandito is gone. In it’s place is the GEL-DS Racer 8 (the shoe the Bandito replaced). The DS Racer 8 features the Duomax medial post and the infamous Duosole outsole. The forefoot has been widened for additional support. The 7.6 listed weight is slightly lighter than the Bandito, which was a pretty light for a posted flat.
The final entry into the Tempo Run Collection is GEL-Tarther, the first Japanese flat to make it stateside unaltered in quite a while. The Duosole outsole, a flared medial area of the forefoot for stability, a Solyte midsole and a basic, no flash upper should appeal to the old school runners. A 7.4 oz stability trainer in Japan, this is being targeted at runners looking for a weekly track or road shoe with an occasional race thrown in.
It seems that ever since the Spartan B was discontinued, Asics has not had a distance spike that competitive runners flocked to in any great numbers. This should changed with the introduction of the Japan Thunder 3. It is super light, has a nice flexible plate, a supple and breathable upper and aggressive graphics. The Japan Thunder 3 is a very nice addition to the upper-end distance spike field.
First up in the regular trainer category for Asics is one of the big dogs of the industry, the GEL-Kayano 16. Runners paying $140 for a pair of running shoes have specific expectations and those expectations revolve around providing the newest technology as well as the highest level of fit, plushness, and comfort available. The Kayano series has arguably done the best job in the industry of conveying these attributes to the consumer, which is a key reason it is the best selling premium support shoe year in and year out.
A key technical story for Asics is called Guidance Line. Essentially, Guidance Line is a line that is cut into the midsole that runs from the heel to toe in the ideal path. Through Asics testing, this feature has been shown to encourage a more efficient foot plant through the gait cycle and make it repeatable even with the advent of fatigue. It is a pretty intriguing feature.
The other key features center on making the ride slightly softer and customizing the ride so that it’s more appropriate for each gender. The Solyte midsole has been softened up to provide a slightly softer road feel. Additionally, on the women’s GEL-Kayano 16, Asics has added a softer layer of Solyte material directly over the Duomax medial post called Soft Top Duomax. Also exclusive on the women’s model is a technology called Plus3, which adds 3mm to the heel of the women’s model to relieve stress on the achilles tendon.
The GT-2140 was the #1 selling running shoe in all of 2009. Given this level of success, it’s really no wonder why the GT-2150 is nearly identical. There are a few minor tweaks, such as a geometry change in the heel collar, which lowers it by approximately 2mm below the ankle to decrease the chance of irritation in this area. The outsole is a tad different as well. Otherwise, the GT-2150 about the same with the exception of the weight. It’s now about 1/2 oz lighter through the use of lighter weight materials. You really should not notice a significant difference between the GT-2140 and the new GT-2150.
The GEL-1150 has been one of the best values in the industry year in and year out. It’s just a real solid trainer with enough technology and features to appeal to beginners and experts alike. The problem was that the past the shoe didn’t really have much of an identity. Yes it was a great shoe at a super value, but in terms of looks, it seemed like a knockoff of its big brother, the 2000 series. That has been addressed in the new GEL-1150. Updates include a decoupled treatment on the midsole, a nice rich looking upper, and the weight has been lowered to 10.9 oz. This is a superb update.
It’s great to see Asics embracing the performance shoe category again with a compelling offering of road models. The updates are very well done. I can’t wait to give them a spin.