- Mar 30, 2006
I read the review on Kicksology when they first dropped. What Prof. K said made me want to cop, but I put off because of funds. I re-read it last night and I still want to purchase a pair so I can see how they truly are compared to the others in the 'posite line and outside of the line.
I don't want a review because I already have that, I just want to know, firsthand, are they as good as he says they are? (Review below for those that haven't read it)
I don't want a review because I already have that, I just want to know, firsthand, are they as good as he says they are? (Review below for those that haven't read it)
There's always something special about a new Foamposite-based shoe. For shoe freaks like me, the release of a new 'Posite is like the release of a new Ferrari is to supercar aficionados, a new Chris Rock stand-up routine is to lovers of unapologetic comedy, and a new Celine Dion album is to fans of un-listenable music. The reason for my excitement and anticipation is that every Foamposite-based shoe represents the apex of athletic shoe design and technology for its time. Actually, Nike's Foamposite technology is still so far ahead of its time that it would be remarkable even if it were released years from now (it was first introduced in 1997 in the form of the Air Foamposite One, which was followed by the nearly identical Air Foamposite Pro). It's the type of technology that conspiracy theorists believe was handed down to us by aliens and no other manufacturer has even attempted to replicate it.
So what's so cool about it? Well, from a techno-geek's perspective what's so cool about Foamposite-based shoes like the Ultraposite is that they aren't made up of different pieces of material that are stitched and glued together around a last as in just about all other all other shoes. Instead, Foam-based shoes are formed by pouring a specially formulated synthetic liquid (it's a form of polyurethane) into molds that represent the entire shoe -- the upper and midsole. The rubber outsole is then bonded directly to the combo upper/midsole and the end result is a completely integrated, "unibody" shoe. If this sounds crazy, that's because it is, which goes a long way towards explaining why no one else has even tried it. There's also the manufacturing cost; just the production molds for the original Foamposite One cost upwards of three quarter of a million dollars. Then there's the two years Nike spent working with Daewoo Synthetic -- yes, the company that makes cars -- to come up with a material that would meet the production and performance requirements spec'd out for the concept (for more behind-the-scenes material on the Ultraposite see One-on-One: Making the Ultraposite). Sheer and utter insanity -- that is the essence of Foamposite technology.
But none of this, the time, the cost, the fancy technology, would matter if the end product didn't perform. And that's the part that really gets my blood pumping whenever I try on a new pair of 'Posites; they perform like nothing else this side of the 22nd century. Which leads me to the Nike Air Ultraposite, the latest shoe in the 'Posite line. Unlike some recent hoops shoes from Nike, such as the Air Max Duncan II and Air Playerposite, that have made use of panels of Foamposite material, the Air Ultraposite is a true, full-on Foamposite shoe. By this I mean that it's not only made up of Foamposite material, but is also produced via the Foamposite production process that I touched on above (i.e. the whole liquid molding thing). As such it is, unlike the Duncan II or Playerposite, a nearly seamless, fully-integrated unibody product.
Why is this important? Because it's the fully molded, one-piece nature of true 'Posite shoes that accounts for much of their unique fit and feel. But before I get into that, let me touch on one of the few downsides of Foamposite that manifests itself in the Air Ultraposite. For whatever reason, Foam-based shoes have always been built around a very narrow last. I guess the shoes have to be on the narrow side to provide the level of fit and support that they do, but when I say narrow, I mean punishingly so. The good thing is that Foamposite material, though it doesn't stretch, does conform to the shape of the wearer's foot over the course of a few wearings. So while a Foam-based shoe will feel incredible by your third or fourth wearing, it would take two to three very painful wearings to get to that point (the one exception is the Air Flightposite III, which stayed narrow because of the strap that stretched across its forefoot). The Air Ultraposite was no exception to this rule. Through my first three wearings the shoe fit so narrowly that it was really quite painful to wear. Those lucky enough to have narrow feet won't have to deal with this issue, but anyone with even marginally wide feet will be in for some pain.
But there is a silver lining to this cloud and it's that the Ultraposite will, after a few solid wearings, conform to the shape of your foot and will, from that point on, provide a level of fit and support beyond anything you've ever experienced. Imagine pouring liquid rubber around your foot and letting it set. Ignoring for a minute that this would probably burn your skin off, this is really the only way I can think of to describe the way that the Ultraposite fits and feels once it's broken in. It's not so much a shoe as it is an extension of your foot.
Before going on to extol the myriad virtues of the Ultraposite, though, let me touch on one more negative that's unique to the shoe. Whenever I flexed at the forefoot, the base of the Ultraposite's toebox -- where the Foamposite upper is joined to the fabric lace cover -- would press against the tops of my toes. Through my first two wearings this hurt a lot. I don't mean an annoying, back of my mind type of pain, but a "damn, that hurts like hell" type of pain. And yet the shoe felt so good in so many other respects that I stuck with it, and by my third wearing I noticed that, though the pain was still there for the first 10 minutes or so, it soon subsided. On my fourth wearing it went away after just a few minutes and from my fifth wearing on it went away as soon as I started playing. My hope is that this problem doesn't lead people to give up on the Ultraposite because, as painful as it is to start, it does, like the width issue, go away after a few wearings. But still, it's a real problem and one that I would have much rather not had to work through.
At this point you might be asking; "if the shoe hurt so damn much, why did you keep on wearing it?" That's a really good question, the answer to which you really can't understand until you've worn a pair of Ultraposites that have been broken in around your own feet. What can I say other than, at that point, you will have reached hoops shoe nirvana. Anyone who's worn a Foamposite-based shoe will have a sense of what I'm talking about, but the Ultraposite takes things a step further.
I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent for a minute here, but bear with me. According the Aaron Cooper, the designer of the Air Ultraposite, the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix were both important influences on the shoe's design.
"Crouching Tiger was the spark, but I also thought of The Matrix. I thought it was interesting about how green is a "power" color...the Green Destiny [the name of the sword central to the storyline of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon]...The Matrix uses it...the Green Lantern, etc."
When Cooper revealed this to me I decided to go back and re-watch both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix (I know, I know, shoe reviewing is a tough job, but somebody has to do it). In doing so one line from Crouching Tiger really jumped out at me. While wielding the aforementioned Green Destiny to illustrate his point, a character in the movie says "Be strong, yet supple...this is the way to rule." This line struck me because it perfectly expresses the combination of attributes that makes the Nike Air Ultraposite so special. It is strong enough to stand up to and provide support for players who display an almost super-human combination of size and strength, while being supple and responsive enough for players who possess cat-like speed and agility. This seemingly incompatible mix makes the Ultraposite absolutely perfect for all-around players like Jason Kidd, who possess all of these attributes; size, strength, speed, and agility, at exceptional levels.
But you don't have to be an NBA player to realize the benefits of the Ultraposite. I can tell you that I am no Jason Kidd, yet the Air Ultraposite allowed me to play at the peak of my abilities. Having worn the Foamposite One and Pro and all of the shoes in the Flightposite line, I knew that I could expect ridiculously high levels of fit and support from this latest 'Posite. But what surprised me was the extent to which the Ultraposite allowed me to explode off of the court, both vertically and laterally. I almost felt as though I could move the floor when I cut and pushed off to go vertical (it didn't hurt that the Ultraposite provided excellent traction). It wasn't that I felt I could go higher, it was that I felt that I could go quicker. What really shook me though, was that this feeling of explosiveness was combined with a Neo-in-The Matrix-esque feeling of control. You might think that I'm just exaggerating for effect, but at times I actually felt as though the game around me was moving in slow motion while I was moving in bullet time. I could consciously feel my feet as they interacted with the court -- almost as though I was playing barefoot, but much, much better because if I was playing barefoot the cuts I was making would have led to instant ankle rollage.
This is another area where the Air Ultraposite trumps its 'Posite predecessors; protection. By virtue of their material and their construction, Foamposite-based shoes have always provided excellent protection for the foot and ankle. Even the Air Flightposite II, which provided only average ankle support, provided better than average ankle protection. The Ultraposite takes this a step further with the addition of thermo-plastic urethane (TPU) pods strategically integrated into the shoe's shell. The TPU that covers the pods is very thin, but it provides an added measure of support and rigidity at key areas of the shoe.
The large pod on the lateral side of the forefoot enhances the lateral stability of the shoe and ensures that your foot will not slide off of the footbed, even on the hardest of cuts. The pods along both sides of the toebox help to prevent turf toe, while also protecting the toes and the upper of the shoe from the wayward feet of other players. Finally, the pods along both sides of the rearfoot act as an externalized heel counter, providing a bit more stability at the heel than the Foamposite shell could on its own. The pod on the medial side of the rearfoot is interesting in that, in addition to supporting the heel, it's designed to prevent ankle inversion ala the monkey paw structure that Nike has used in the past. Taken together, the pods help make the Ultraposite the most protective shoe in the 'Posite line, without the bulk or rigidity of the Foamposite One, which I think still deserves second place honors in this regard.
The cool thing is that the folks at Nike have managed this while keeping the Ultraposite's weight below that of the Foamposite One. I can't provide a direct comparison because I tested the Ultraposite in a size 11.5 instead of my normal 11, but the Ultra at size 11.5 weighed in at the same 19.9 ounces as the Foam One at the smaller size 11. These numbers might be confusing matters, but suffice it to say that the Ultra is definitely lighter than the Foam One and may also be lighter than its most recent predecessor, the Flightposite III (the lightest Foam-based shoe is still the original Flightposite, which weighed in at 17.9 ounces in a U.S. men's size 11). And lest you think that this weight economy was the result of mere happenstance, the shell of the Ultraposite is the thinnest ever employed in a 'Posite shoe and the Foamposite material itself is made of a new, lighter formulation.
All of these attributes; the TPU pods, the thinner shell, the lighter material formulation, are elements of a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. This is truly holistic design, design that's not just about what you see, but about the entirety of what you experience. You can't see that the Ultraposite's shell is thinner or that it's made of a lighter version of Foamposite, but you can definitely feel it. And I think it's important to point out that, just like a beautiful high-performance car, the end result is the product of much more than just a designer's vision. Of course that's critical, but without the knowledge, expertise, and creativity of incredibly talented engineers and developers, a product like the Air Ultraposite could never come to life. For you young, aspiring shoe designers out there, remember that there's a heck of a lot more to developing a performance shoe than lines on a piece of paper. And for you folks who want to get involved in athletic shoe development, but can't draw worth a lick, there are many ways to make an important contribution without ever getting near a sketchpad. See our One-on-One on the Ultraposite to learn more.
The only thing I haven't touched on yet is the Air Ultraposite's cushioning performance. The entirety of the shoe is so excellent that it would be tough to say that cushioning is the Ultraposite's strong suit, but, man, is it good. The Ultraposite carries over the stellar cushioning setup first employed in the Air Flightposite III, which means it features a full-length Zoom Air unit encapsulated within the shoe's sockliner and a second Zoom Air bag at the heel (this second unit is built into the Ultraposite's super-thin hidden midsole). Because the full-length Zoom Air unit incorporated into the sockliner sits directly under the foot, I could really feel it respond and react to my every movement. And the combination of the full-length unit and the "double-stacked" unit at the heel never felt as though it was going to bottom out on me. Still, given the relative thinness of the shoe's midsole, I wouldn't recommend the Ultraposite to players who are very heavy for their height. Big fellas will be better served by a shoe with a thicker or denser midsole.
One new twist in the overall cushioning/midsole setup of the Air Ultraposite is the addition of a full-length carbon fiber spring plate. The use of carbon fiber is not what's new; it was used right from the outset in the Foamposite One and subsequently in the Flightposite II and III to provide support and torsional rigidity at the midfoot. The carbon fiber plate in the Ultraposite plays this same role, but by extending it out to nearly the tip of the toebox, it's meant to act as something of a spring as well. The idea is that, because carbon fiber is rigid and always wants to go back to the shape into which it's been molded, it'll provide a spring-like effect at the forefoot as the plate immediately pulls itself flat after being flexed. This is an idea that was first employed by Nike in the Air Jordan XI and has been used a few times since. I'm not really sure about the plate's effectiveness as a spring, but I can say that, in the case of the Ultraposite, it was exceedingly effective as an impact distribution device.
In order to explain this adequately I need to provide a little background on the Ultraposite's spring plate. First off, the spring plate doesn't actually extend along the full-length of the shoe. Instead, the primary areas of coverage are the midfoot and the area beneath the first and second metatarsals (the bones that lead to your big toe and the toe right next to it). The reason only these areas are covered is that, put simply, it's where most of the action is.
Now I've already mentioned why it's good to have a rigid support plate under the midfoot. The reason why it's a plus to extend it under the first and second metatarsals is that a disproportionate amount of the force of impact from both takeoffs and landings is concentrated at the heads of those bones. The rigidity of a structure like the Ultraposite's carbon spring plate causes impact forces that would normally be concentrated on the first and second metatarsal heads to instead be distributed across a much broader area. It might seem counterintuitive to think that a rigid structure could aid in cushioning, but picture this. Place a soft pillow on the floor and drop a baseball on it...what would happen? Well, the force of the ball's impact would be concentrated directly under the point at which the ball landed and would thus leave a deep impression at that point. Now, put a rigid wooden board on top of the pillow and drop the same ball on it...what would happen? The rigidity of the board would cause the force of the ball's impact to be distributed across the board's surface before it's transferred to the pillow. So, while the total force of the ball's impact would be the same, no one point on the pillow would have to bear the brunt of it.
The Ultraposite's carbon spring plate plays the same role as the wooden board in this example; it prevents impact forces from concentrating at one point, though in the case of the spring plate the object being protected is not a pillow, but your foot. I think the carbon spring plate also contributed to the feelings of explosiveness and Neo-esque control that I described above.
Okay, so I've rambled on something fierce. To sum up, the Nike Air Ultraposite is an exceptional shoe and is, in my opinion, the best 'Posite released to date. It provides awesome overall cushioning performance along with the stellar fit and support I've come to expect from Foamposite-based shoes. Where it outshines its predecessors, though, is in the level of stability and protection provided by the TPU pods placed at key points around the shoe. Another plus is the carbon spring plate that cradles the midfoot and extends beneath the most highly stressed parts of the forefoot. Thanks to these attributes I could explode off the surface of the court both laterally and vertically without any concern that the shoe would buckle or otherwise let me down. The Ultraposite is not without its faults, however. People with wide feet will have to endure two to three painful wearings (if you have wide feet it may be a good idea to try the shoe in a half-size larger than your normal size) and I think just about everyone will have to deal with some serious pain at the base of the toebox for three to four wearings. At $160 the Ultraposite is also very expensive. But, if you can deal with its break-in requirements and steep price, the Nike Air Ultraposite will reward you with a level of performance that you've probably never even imagined possible. Luckily for fans of high-performance shoes like me, the people at Nike not only imagined it, they made it real.