Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hoka One One Bondi.B running shoe review

The moment I saw a photo of Hoka One One running shoes, I knew I had to try them. They look amazing! This innovative product was designed by two French trail runners, Nicolas Mermoud (3rd in UTMB 2007) and Jean-Luc Diard.

I've been searching their latest model called Bondi.B for some time. Finally I was able to find them for 145€ plus shipping. Not cheap, but they seem to cost about the same everywhere.

According to Hoka One One, Bondi.B is suggested for road running. They have another model called Mafate, which is slightly more massive and designed for trail running. Be as it may, I've seen reviews and reports by various trails runners who claim to like both of these shoes.

These shoes are obviously ridiculously big, but when I opened the box they looked really really huge in real life. And the wild colors do not make it any easier to hide these shoes. Most passers-by will notice them and some seem to wonder what they are. I don't think a UFO flying by would get much more attention than these shoes.

Based on other reviews I got these in size US 11, although my usual size is US 10.5 - that turned out to be a wise decision. The last thing you want is a pair of oversized shoes that are too tight for your feet. The weight of my shoes is 329 grams each, ie. 658 grams per pair. So they are not exactly lightweight racers, but they are lighter than many popular trail running shoes (for example, my The North Face Rucky Chucky's are about 200 grams heavier per pair).

My short test runs have been comfortable so far, although the shoes felt surprisingly hard. They were nowhere near as soft and responsive as I would have imagined. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, just somehow contrary to my expectations. It's kind of weird running with a couple of rubber two-by-fours attached to your feet.

As the sole is extremely thick, you won't be able to feel the ground at all. In my opinion, Hokas seem to somehow inhibit the natural feeling and enjoyment of running. Running in them was boring on flat road sections. Of course you can run on roads in them as much as you like, all I'm saying it's not necessarily going to be very fast or much fun.

I'm also afraid wearing thick-soled shoes like this might possibly lead to injuries over months due to weakened feet and legs, but that's another issue.

I expected Bondi.B not to perform well on snow, ice and dirt trails, but actually they did. They are so wide that they seem to be very stable and reliable almost on any surface. For example, compared to La Sportiva Crosslite, Bondi.B seemed to perform much better in icy, slippery or otherwise difficult conditions. They will run over just about anything without any troubles. You don't have to slow down for anything. These might be decent - or perhaps excellent - trail running shoes.

I also tried running a little trails with them with a backpack on, and it felt ok.

+ stable and comfortable on various surfaces and in difficult trail conditions, even with a backpack on
+ lighter weight than many other trail running shoes
+ seems to be suitable for ultra trail running (but I haven't done any really long runs in them yet)
+ 4 mm heel drop seems to be close to ideal for midfoot-style of running (Chi-running etc.)
+ bold new design differentiates them from all other running shoes effectively
+ Hokas (both Bondi.B and Mafate) have received some good reviews from experienced ultra/trail runners.

- expensive
- they run a bit too small/tight for their size compared to most other shoes (so most runners should get one size larger than normally)
- look/feel totally weird and unnatural (especially if you are used to more minimalist shoes)
- not ideal for road racing (although can be used on roads)
- running on thick soles takes time to get used to (and possibly might weaken your legs/feet in the process and lead to injuries?)
- not likely to make you look any smarter (but who knows, maybe these will become a popular fashion item like Vibram Five Fingers)
- hard to get, dealers are few and far between (except in France).

To sum up, Hoka One One is certainly an interesting new brand, but it's too early to say whether these shoes will fly like their name suggests ('Hoka' means 'to fly' and 'One One' means 'Earth' in Maori language).

It's also too early to estimate how durable Bondi.B's are, although the quality of the materials seems to be pretty good.

Based on my initial limited test runs, I'd recommend these shoes for ultra/trail runners looking for something different, or for difficult special conditions and so on. Probably not so great for normal road racing or triathlons, as I'm sure there are near-zero-drop lightweight racers that perform better and are cheaper than Bondi.B.


Sam Winebaum said...

Paleo, give them some time and some more miles. They are stiff out of the box and require some breaking in of the forefoot.I have about 50 miles in my Bondi and they are now increasingly responsive in that strange no shock way. Given the bad weather here I have only run roads in them but have run Mafate extensively on trails and roads and while the sole is different and less profiled on the Bondi I agree the width of the outer sole provides lots of grip surfaces.

I also think one needs to visualize the rocker sole and get your body position forward. If I focus on this I find that after a few miles of warm up one just rolls along. I just performed a little additional surgery on mine, scoring the outer sole with the hacksaw to depth of about 1/4" in the forefoot to get a bit more flex as I have a tricky right big toe. What legs feel like after a hard workout is uncanny. No road shock ache, no calf tightness the next day.

Paleo Runner said...

Thanks Sam you're right I need to log more miles in them. I did figure out how the rocker sole works today, but I'm still not quite there yet. Looking forward to see how you do in Boston in Bondi! I have Stockholm marathon coming up next, if you do well maybe I give them a chance to show what they are made of there. The surgery seems like an interesting idea, but if you want thinner soles, wouldn't it be easier to run in Kinvara or Green Silence? I take your point about reduced ache seriously though, I've been fighting a bad case of plantar fasciitis in my right foot for 4 months and counting. Who knows maybe Bondi will help me out. Good luck, keep on running and blogging (I'm a big fan of your blog).

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks for support of my blog. Yours is great too. Keep working those Hokas. Even if they don't turn out to be a race shoe for you (or me) there is no question they dramatically reduce the effects of road shock and thus are fantastic for recovery and long runs. Jury still out for me what the ideal race distance might be in them. I ran my last marathon in Kinvaras which were fine but a bit hard to control given minimal upper when I got tired in the last miles, resulting in some blisters on long downhill. No calf cramps as in my prior marathon in conventional drop shoes but I also took a couple salt tabs this time. I am also considering New Balance 890's but worry about tight calves late in the race due to the 10 mm drop. What I did to my Hokas is to saw about a 1/4' deep cut into the yellow foam in the trough just behind the last orange pad in the forefoot. I ran them today and seemed to help flex and my big toe pain. Not yet sure yet it is a good idea. Will keep you posted.

Paleo Runner said...

Ok now I see what you aim for with the saw. I suspect Hoka will have new lighter models out with more flexible forefoot sooner or later.

If all else fails I've been thinking about trying new Saucony 2011 models: Hattori or Mirage and possibly Peregrine for trails.

Pete Wagner said...

I have been waiting for these shoes for FORTY YEARS. The earliest Adidas running shoes (Gazelles and Mexicanas) were truly cushioned and I became a running fool in them as a teenager. They were the only shoes I could do 12-18 miles a day in w/o shin splints. Since then, all the "high tech" designs have been nothing but gimmicky BS. These are the first in all that time that are truly cushioned feeling. I think part of it is that in the interim, there was no willingness to use a really soft rubber because it wore out more quickly. Better to have the shoes wear out than my feet, knees, hips, and spine! Thank you, HOKA. In addition to my hypbrids, I've ordered the Bondi B and will get the Mafates when I can afford them or they are available on sale. (Just ordered the Bondi B's for $101)