An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Monday, April 4, 2011

Weighing in on Brooks PureProject bruhaha

There's been a bit of buzz surrounding the press releases coming out of the Brooks company, with their pending market introduction of the PureProject shoe line this fall. Much has been said on the Barefoot Running University site, Runblogger, and the Born to Run forum... While I can't argue with the fact that there are some definite contradictions, and some specious science behind the ad hype, I think a couple things are getting ignored.

If what I've seen so far is any indication, Brooks is set to release some decent "more minimal" shoes. Yes, it would seem they're copying the 4mm heel drop that New Balance has used to great effect (and Saucony, if you ignore the insole). And it may seem like a "me too" effort to cash in on a growing trend. But really, there aren't that many offerings in that category, so they're catching the wave early.

The fact that Brooks used a marketing research company to investigate the possible shoe direction, and that it was concentrated on new runners may seem ill-advised to the scientific types out there, but really, it's kinda smart on their part.

I don't think that designing a "more minimal" shoe is all that difficult. Heck, if an engineering hack like me can come up with a list of specs, when all the experience in the industry I have is wearing a whole lot of shoes over the last 30 years, then I don't think it's something that challenges people who live and breathe this stuff every day. How should the shoes LOOK? Hey, style ain't my strong suit -- just ask my wife. That's where asking around comes into play.

But why new runners? Well, for one, they couldn't ask existing Brooks customers. What's been the best-selling Brooks shoe? The Beast? These people wouldn't give a "more minimal" shoe a second glance. Ask the barefoot running community? The first thing read in most reviews of minimal shoes from these folks is just how much ground feel is lost to 1mm of cushioning. But new runners? These are the people who are likely to become customers of this new line.

The only truly contradictory line I have a problem with is this: “Runners shouldn’t have to pay more for less technology. We want to build a better, biomechanically sound product in a lighter package that allows the runner to feel more with less.” With the announcement that the shoes will be priced in the $90-120 range, I gotta wonder where this came from. This is right in the same range as the Merrell Barefoot line and New Balance's offerings. So it looks like this line was completely ignored by the marketing people who set the retail price. Of course, in business, you charge what the market will bear. That's just how the economy works. I would think that setting their prices a little lower would go a long way toward them gaining more market share...

Their specs page has a graphic to depict what the shape that the shoes will be, and when I look at it, I'm a bit horrified -- doesn't look anything close to MY feet, nor any one else I've seen. And it's clear they're still designed for heel striking. That huge heel... Not in height, but in width. We'll see. It shouldn't get in the way of a forefoot or midfoot landing.

Anyway, for me, though Jason Robillard wants us to look at the ethical intent of the company when we look at shoes, I gotta go with what works and fits. I was really excited about the new Balance Minimus Road... until I tried it on. The last shape just wasn't right for my foot. I'll take a "wait and see" approach with the Brooks line. So I'll wait, try them on, and if they fit well, likely I'll buy some.

CEO's are human, and it doesn't mean that every one in the company thinks the same thing (heck, I often don't agree with my direct supervisors, let alone the top dog of the company I work for). But still, as the man-in-the-trenches, I do the right thing. I think there are some people in Brooks that are the same way. So let the double speak happen, but try on the shoes and let your feet vote.

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