A tri specific running shoe with the added twist of a Boa closure system.
The fit worked great for us, but we feel like those needing a high volume or wide variety of shoe will be out of luck. Color options beyond the obnoxious "hey did you see my new shoes" fluorescent yellow.
Probably the best effort we've seen to date of a tri shoe with an integrated closure system that actually works.
One of the latest trends we've seen in footwear geared specifically toward triathletes, has been incorporating a Boa closure system into the mix. Lately, we've seen several clever designs in the tri-specific cycling shoe department. This left us wondering when someone would take this element into a triathlon running shoe. It seems like a natural fit for an integrated lacing system that 86s the need for any type of traditional laces. The new Zoot Ultra Race 4.0 is the first shoe we've tested to incorporate this idea into a running shoe.
For those unfamiliar with the Boa system, basically it's a dial, or reel, connected to a thin cable that allows you to adjust the tension by simply turning a dial to increase it, or a giving it a quick pull up to release it.
A familiar sight if you've purchased or researched cycling shoes lately, the Boa dial has proven itself to be a master of tension management.
First of all, looking at the shoe from a triathlon standpoint, there's the obvious speed that a system like this should inherently give any triathlete looking for a quick and clean transition when heading out for the run. A quick twist of the Boa dial is all it takes to get a precise, secure fit. The best thing about the Boa system, aside from the speed aspect, in our opinion is the ability that this closure system allows in the way of fine tuning your fit. Especially during the course of a run with 'on the fly' type of adjustments. With a couple of clicks of the Boa dial you can easily tighten the fit, or with a quick pull up, loosen it. No laces to mess with, nothing to untie, and unlike traditional laces, there's really no way for the tension to loosen over the course of a run.
The Nuts and Bolts
The cable of the Boa system is 'laced' through several points that not only anchor the fit across the top of the foot but also pull in opposing directions distributing the tension for a very secure fit. The straps that hold the cable aren't elastic but do provide a bit of give and allow the shoe and the foot to remain flexible. This also helps the shoe conform to the foot and preserves much of the natural movement and flexibility of the foot throughout the run stride.
The only thing that we could see being an issue with the Boa system is if it has to be fairly snug is with respect to the position of the dial itself. When the Boa has a good bit of tension on it the rigid part of the actual dial is pulled into the foot. This can be a little uncomfortable, especially as the foot flexes at the toe off portion of the run stride. Obviously, an easy fix would be to loosen the tension, however, if you have to have the tension fairly tight to keep the shoe in place because of your foot size it's something to be aware of. So, it will be extremely important to get the sizing of the Ultra Race 4.0 nailed down from the get go, always important, but even more so with this model.
Another thing we like about the fit of this shoe over some of the previous Zoot models we've tried is the reduced height of the collar especially at the back of the shoe. Some of the Zoot shoes we've tried in the past were impossible for us to run in because they came up so high on the achilles that it was a quick trip to blister town. This shoe is much better in that respect, and has a much lower profile. We've been able to run in this shoe without the annoyance or pain of the heel of the shoe digging into our achilles from day one.
The Boa system also makes for a very clean upper with no laces to flop around, become untied, or loosen. It's also much easier to get the fit adjusted if you leave T2 and you feel like you grabbed someone else's shoes by mistake.
Yes, you can get some of those benefits with a set of speed laces, but we think this system has merit beyond that of traditional lacing systems. Especially when you consider little details like moisture absorption. Since the laces of the Boa are actually stainless steel, you don't have issues with soggy laces, and the added weight of their absorbed moisture. Yes, that's nitpicking, but hey you have to tell yourself something to justify spending 180 bucks on your shoes. This certainly seems to be the most forward thinking design we've seen and probably the best example of a truly integrated closure system that we've tried in a tri specific shoe to date. Plus, it actually works, unlike some of the more gimmicky, less functional, attempts that we've seen on some other shoes. And unless you didn't learn to tie your own shoes in kindergarten the velcro thing is highly overrated when it comes to running shoes.
The outer skin of the new Zoot offering is called TekSheen. The TekSheen upper is a lightweight, stretchy fabric that provides a compressive fit, and seems to breathe well. The upper also has includes a couple of places to grab to help you get into the shoe, something any self respecting triathlon shoe should have in our opinion.
The Ultra Race 4.0 includes a finger hole in the tongue and a generous heel loop out back.
Trust us, you'll need them, since the shoe is made to have a foot hugging fit, it's not the easiest to get into, and we can't imagine trying to stuff a sock covered foot into this shoe. The midsole of the Ultra Race 4.0 is Zoot's proprietary Z-Bound, which is a lightweight and responsive midsole that we have enjoyed running in.
Zoot also equipped this shoe with another necessity in our opinion, drain holes. Nothing quite as annoying as running along in a race in a shoe that doesn't drain.
The new Ultra Race has the kind of feel that we generally gravitate to in a running shoe. It's a firm, responsive ride that you would expect from a shoe that will likely be used in a race situation. The Z-Bound midsole provides what we would call a necessary amount of cushion, meaning you could wear these for pretty much any distance race and have the needed protection to make it through. It's certainly built for speed and avoids the dreaded mushy feel of an overly cushioned ride. Overall the shoe does a nice job of combining the stripped down feel of a race flat with enough cushion to allow you to easily run in it for daily training.
The carbon fiber insert is designed to put a little spring in your step at the toe off portion of the run by helping propel you forward by preserving forward momentum and reducing forefoot fatigue.
Overall, this shoe has a glove-like fit, even without engaging the Boa system. In fact, we were easily able to run in the shoe with no tension on the Boa. The tension of the Boa dial is well distributed across the shoe, and didn't cause us any hot spots or trouble areas. One thing to note is that because of the very fitted upper, there's not a lot of room in the shoe. If you're a runner with fat Flinstone feet or you prefer a generous amount of room in a shoe, this is not your shoe. We actually liked the fit of the shoe, but given our fairly narrow feet, we can't help but feel that someone used to wide widths might feel restricted in this model. This shoe is made for bare feet, the interior is super soft and comfortable. The very fitted design of the shoe makes running with socks basically unbearable, for us, at least.
These shoes are expensive compared to other popular triathlon shoes, in fact you may very well be able to buy two pairs of your current race shoes for what these cost. At an MSRP $180.00, you may succomb to sticker shock, depending on your threshold of pain concerning your wallet . Similar to most things on the leading of technology translation...high cost of admission.
TriBomb Bottom Line
If the shoe fits....ok that's lame, but basically it's true. In our opinion, getting the right fit with this shoe is paramount, even more so than with traditional shoes. This shoe really needs to fit you like a glove without the Boa. The Boa system is really only there to fine tune, or enhance the fit. A nice example of an integrated closure system that actually works. Is it perfect? No, but what shoe is. If you liked the fit and ride of previous Zoot models this may very well be your shoe nirvana. The reduced height of the shoe, especially where the back height is concerned is a vast improvement that makes this shoe deserve another look, even from previous Zoot haters.