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May 4, 2010

Minimal? Inconceivable!

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
- Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride (clip after post)

Just because you say something over and over, that doesn’t make it true. Someone needs to get that message out to Saucony.

They’ve created something of a buzz – but not in a particularly good way – with their introduction of the ProGrid Kinvara, heralded (by Saucony, at least) as a wonderful new minimalist shoe. To reinforce the idea, the word “minimal” is used three times in the first 15 seconds of the video that follows below.

But keep watching, and you hear this as well: the Kinvara is a minimalist shoe “with maximum cushioning”. You see a diagram for the patented ProGrid support system in the heel to protect you from ground impact. And you’ll watch a whole group of slow motion runners landing almost unanimously with heavy heelstrikes, the exact thing you’re NOT supposed to do in true minimalist footwear.

Obviously, that word doesn't mean what Saucony thinks it means. (And if anyone else needs a refresher, I did a pretty thorough explanation here last September.) The Kinvara might be a nice shoe, and it might represent a paradigm shift away from overbuilt and overly corrective footwear towards more natural foot function - I hope it does, personally – but if there’s one thing it’s not, it’s a minimalist shoe.

More cynically, this whole development might be just a money grab from a company looking to cash in on the latest fad in running. The formula is fairly simple: make something distinctive enough to stand apart from your other models, then throw trendy buzzwords around like crazy in hopes of retaining a share of the customer base that’s been deserting you in favor of true minimalist shoes. I’m hoping this isn’t the case here, but from my standpoint, it’s honestly hard to tell.

You may as well just watch the Kinvara video and decide for yourself. And afterwards, I dare you to watch the Princess Bride clip and tell me that Saucony doesn’t have more than a little bit of Vizzini (the bald guy) in them on this one.

"Saucony ProGrid Kinvara" (click to play):

"Inconceivable Mashup" (click to play):


RICK'S RUNNING 5/4/10, 11:47 PM  

I don't think Saucony have a clue!!!
Their a bit like an old man trying to look trendy by dressing up in his grandson's clothes!!!
I think Saucony's design team look like they have been sat on there fat butts for far too long, maybe it's time those guys went for a run!

Jeff 5/5/10, 4:49 AM  

"a minimal amount of rubber on the outsole" ...so it's like a regular running shoe, but it won't last as long.

Rick - I was thinking the same thing about the designers: they sure don't look like runners!

RD Jim 5/5/10, 6:42 AM  

I don't think that word means what you think it means.....
From a marketing point of view, that video is the princess bribe of Frankenstein.

Pete 5/5/10, 8:47 AM  

I just wrote a writeup about the Kinvara myself, and I have to agree with you. I haven't seen them in person, but the Kinvara reminds me of a cheaper alternative to Newton's without the "actuator lugs." Similar to Newton, it has small heel-toe drop (only 4mm in the Kinvara), accomplished moreso by building up the forefoot than reducing the heel. On the plus side, the Kinvara lighter than most Newton shoes, and you could probably buy two pairs of these for the price of one pair of Newtons. That being said, Saucony is over-the-top in that video in calling this a minimalist shoe, whereas Newton tends to just emphasize the positive benefits of a midfoot/forefoot strike.

Dave 5/5/10, 12:29 PM  

Pure unintended comedy at its best. "There's minimal (really, just less) material, so it's a minimalist shoe" LOL... LOVE all the video of the people running with full-on heel strike. Lots of companies make this type of shoe, it's called a "racing flat"...

Gretchen 5/5/10, 12:41 PM  

Have I mentioned before that you have excellent taste in movies?

@RD Jim -the "princess bribe of Frankenstein"??? Ha! I am wiping the tears of laughter from my face as I type this. Brilliant!

Anonymous,  5/5/10, 3:17 PM  


would like to get your thoughts on this article and your experience with you shod versus unshod running



Ryan 5/5/10, 6:34 PM  

perfect comparison. it's so light- it must be "minimal." Ha!

cognitive dissident 5/5/10, 7:40 PM  

I'm an occasionally-barefoot runner (more often in a pair of ugly-as-hell Fastwitch 4) who hopes that the Kinvara will be a decent shoe, although it's clearly only "minimalist" in the minds of Saucony's marketing department.

I'd prefer to have the Vibram Bikila be my next running shoe, but they seem to be suffering from some serious supply-chain problems...

P.S. Thanks for the "Princess Bride" clips--it's one of my all-time favorite films!

Richard 5/5/10, 11:16 PM  

What a great movie that was! I mean the princess bride of course...

shel 5/6/10, 4:10 AM  

hate the kinvara, love the princess bride. ("have fun storming the castle!")

Aaron 5/6/10, 4:39 AM  

Why not offer a spikeless Endorphin with both medium and wide sizes? They already have actual minimal shoes; they're just unwearable by anyone who doesn't have very narrow feet.

Anonymous,  5/17/10, 7:39 AM  

Have to agree with everyone above. Just got my Kinvaras Friday and ran 16 miles in them. They are definitely NOT minimalist in the least. I usually run in VFFs or Nike Mayflys on the road and in NB 100 on trail. Even my Inov 8 X Talon 212 for trail are more "minimalist" than the Kinvaras. The cushioning under foot is too much -- such that it absorbs too much energy and momentum. I felt I was getting tired a bit quicker as a result. Hard to stay on forefoot with the thickness of the EVA on heel, as well. My knees started aching again, something they do in "conventional" highly built up road and trail shoes. I believ it is due to the "mush" effect one gets when the foot lands, the EVA compresses, and the body tries to readjust and maintain centering. Also, 15 miles looked like 100 when I turned the shoe over...the sole is NOT going to last very long! Final analysis, Kinvaras get the thumbs down. I am going to try the A4s next -- they look like a much less padded shoe -- Lisa

Donald 5/19/10, 10:12 AM  

Thanks for the great feedback, Lisa. Sorry these shoes aren't what they're billed to be, and that you found out the hard way.

Edster922,  6/12/10, 8:23 PM  

I have done a 4 mile tempo and a 12 mile long slow road run on these so far, and I am enjoying them. The 4mm heel drop does facilitate a cleaner mid/forefoot strike as well as foot plant more behind my body.

That said, am thinking about taking a pair of scissors and snipping off the part of the insole that covers the arches, to get a more completely flat feel inside the shoe.

But the lightness is wonderful and on concrete or asphalt, they really make you want to run fast. On grass and trails they do feel a little too cushioned though.

I have a more detailed review here:

Anonymous,  6/13/10, 5:16 AM  

I found the video a little worrisome for the same reasons you did. I run currently in VFF and a tiny bit in asics speedstar. I wanted to try something like newtons, but they are too pricey. This still seems a possible competitor, but that whole video turned me off. I really just want a flat shoe without too much in the way of the ground and the video was not confidence inspiring.

Donald 6/14/10, 8:45 AM  

Anon - that's not a bad point. If they had marketed this as a "natural" running shoe (like Ecco does for the Biom) or a transition shoe like Nike Free, I wouldn't have nearly as much problem with it. There's certainly a market for this shoe - but it's certainly not a minimalist offering compared to other products out there.

Edstar - thanks for the review. Nice for folks to have another resource.

Anonymous,  6/14/10, 8:57 AM  

Seems like most of the commenters above have not run in the Kinvara, and are basing their opinions mainly on Saucony's marketing material. If you're part of the barefoot/VFF clan, no, these are not minimalist shoes. They are minimal compared to Newtons (and the vast majority of shoes by Nike, including Frees, Adidas, Mizuno, Brooks, etc.), and Newton certainly likes to throw the minimalist term around.

I've been fortunate enough to test 68 pairs of running shoes over the last two years, and the Kinvara is far and away my favorite road shoe out of them all.

Donald 6/14/10, 10:11 AM  

Anon - That's the point I just made above. Also, care to give us your name and/or website so folks can judge your credibility for themselves?

Anonymous,  7/23/10, 9:26 AM  

Would these be a safer bet than the Nike Free 3.0 v2s? In terms of minimalism.

patientzero 5/22/11, 9:25 PM  


Why would you need/want to give your name and website (if applicable) to validate an opinion?

- another anon
- triathlete 10 years
- 1st time (and happy btw) Kinvara wearer

Donald 5/23/11, 8:24 PM  

Patientzero: that comment was directed at the anon who said he tested 68 pairs of shoes in 2 years - I would think that he'd have a website or some other outlet to share his reviews and opinions with others. All reviewers have certain preferences; obviously, mine is for more minimalist stuff. Making a statement like his implies some sort of objective expertise, but he may just as likely be a front person for Saucony. There's no way for the rest of us to know.

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