Zoot Sports has its heritage firmly planted in the triathlon. Founded in 1983 in Kona Hawaii, Zoot Sports was one of the first brands to focus on the triathlon and began by making performance apparel designed for elite triathletes. Since the inception of the sport, triathletes have sought any and all available technologies to help them gain an advantage. Companies that cater to the triathlon market must be at the forefront of introducing technology if they are to survive. Zoot, as a major player in this market, is keenly aware of the importance of introducing technology consistently.
Three years ago, Zoot decided to introduce running shoes and although they’re called “running” shoes, for all intents and purposes they are triathlon racing shoes. Zoot shoes have water drainage holes, super thin racing outsoles, upper construction that encourages sockless running, large tabs that enhance the ability to pull shoes on quickly and easily and a quick-lace system in lieu of traditional laces all of which add up to shoes designed to help a triathlete perform their best.
Add to this loud graphics on top of a lightweight and responsive platform and you have the perfect footwear to meet the tastes of triathletes. Traditional runners on the other hand remain skeptical. The issue for Zoot is pretty simple, if they want to grow, they need to attract runners outside the sphere of triathlons to wear Zoot shoes for racing AND training. Additionally, convincing triathletes themselves to wear Zoot as everyday training shoes and not just for competition is another key to growth. The question is how best to attract runners and triathletes to Zoot training shoes and not lose the edge that makes Zoot shoes unique?
To help with the answer Zoot has two key introductions due out Fall ’10: the Zoot Ultra Kalani ($140 MSRP) and Zoot Ultra Kane ($150 MSRP). Both models are built using the same tooling and nearly identical uppers, the significant difference between the two models is the presence of a Quad-Density medial post and a few more medial overlays on the Ultra Kane. Additionally, the CarbonSpan+ carbon fiber plate is tuned different for each model with the plate of the Ultra Kane providing added strength.
Zoot has tweaked a few things in the Ultra Kane and Ultra Kalani from what they have done in the past attempting to take away any significant reasons for runners to immediately disregard Zoot training shoes. The outsole on the two new models is made up of carbon rubber in high wear areas and blown rubber in the lateral area of the forefoot to increase wear and provide a more substantial outsole from their previous shoes. This is pretty standard treatment for the industry. Zoot added shoe laces in places of Quick-laces, with the reason being even triathletes prefer real laces in their training shoes. Gone are the water holes, also the heel tab is now lowered all of which takes away key features that scream ‘triathlon” and replace them with features that say “running” shoe.
With lighter weight and more responsive footwear being the rallying cry of many in the running shoe industry, Zoot is in an ideal spot to take many of their technologies that are all about light and responsive and applying them to the Ultra Kane and Ultra Kalani. Zoot’s primary midsole technology is a lightweight and resilient compound that offers good energy return called Z-Bound. Zoot has placed this material the entire length of the shoe and closest to the foot. This allows a great deal of lightweight cushioning to be provided in a relatively thin package reducing the need for the height of midsole normally seen in training shoes. The result is less weight and great response.
The upper is where many of the key features that have been developed for the triathlon market make their way into these two shoe that make a lot of sense. The upper is taken directly from their top of the line new racer, the Zoot Ultra SPEED that has the reputation of providing an outstanding fit. Included in the upper package is Zoot’s BareFit technology which lines the entire upper with Dri-Lex, the same material Zoot uses in the liner of their running shorts which provides a great barrier to moisture and odor, plus its soft nature reduces hot spots.
Asymetrical lacing and minimal overlays round out the package. Considering the Ultra Kane and Ultra Kalani are considered everyday trainers, the fact they come in at 10.7 oz and 10.5 oz respectively for size 9.0 men’s is impressive amd indicates both shoes would be considered lightweight trainers for many brands. Kara took them for a spin down the hall and came back glowing about the fit and minimal weight. I was pretty skeptical when Zoot called to set up an appointment with us. I gotta say I’m now pretty intrigued. Up close the shoes look nice. Can’t wait to take a pair of Ultra Kane’s out for a run.