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September 16, 2010

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Running Shoe Review

Considering how long Vibram has been the foremost brand among minimalist runners, and knowing how countless barefoot aficionados have used them for everything from road 10Ks to mountain ultramarathons, it’s almost unbelievable that the company has never intentionally designed a model of its FiveFingers specifically for running until this year.

In fact, runners have embraced other Vibram FiveFingers models – in particular the KSO and KSO Trek - so passionately and been so pleased with them that Vibram was arguably taking a risk in marketing a completely different model to this demographic. After all, if the new shoe wasn’t clearly better than the current ones, it would be seen as a disappointment. Thankfully, Vibram was more than up to the task, and has designed a product that truly stands out as the footwear of choice for distance runners, particularly those who favor roads over trails.

Even the name is a home run: when I first saw the 2010 product catalog more than a year ago, my immediate response when I saw the word Bikila was, that’s absolutely perfect. You can’t pick a better way to identify a game-changing barefoot running shoe than to name it after the most famous barefoot runner of all time - one who almost single-handedly changed everything the world thought about the way running should be. It’s no secret around here that I’ve been a fan of Abebe Bikila for years – so to say that I was excited to try a product from one of my favorite companies that was named after one of my all-time favorite runners would be a bit of an understatement.

By now you’ve probably gathered that my bar of expectation was set pretty high with this model, and thankfully, the Bikila didn’t disappoint – which is a good jumping off point for us to get to the review.

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

As I mentioned in my first impressions post, the Bikila’s overall appearance is probably as close to a traditional running shoe as Vibram will ever get. It’s got classic racing shoe styling that makes you want to take them right out of the box and run a marathon (in fact, that’s exactly what I did).

Polyamide fabric with TPU coating on toes

The upper of the Bikila is made of a very thin, breathable, and abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric with minimal seams in comparison to the KSO. This construction was most likely born from user feedback, as one of the more common complaints about running in KSOs is that some of upper’s multiple seams can become abrasive over long distances. The only forefoot seams on the Bikila are on the toes, and I haven’t noticed any discomfort at these areas after over 100 sockless miles.

Achilles notch; padded ankle collar, Dri-Lex sockliner

Vibram’s running-specific design of the upper is evident in the Achilles notch at the back of the shoe, which provides the same feel around the tendon as a traditional trainer, but without restricting any range of motion. They’ve also included reflective accents on all sides for enhanced safety on the road in low light, and demonstrated nice attention to detail with TPU reinforcement around the toe caps (beyond the normal upward curvature of the outsole around the toe ends) to prevent puncture or tearing.

Top-only strap; reflective accents

The interior surface of the upper is without question the most comfortable FiveFingers model I’ve ever worn. The ankle collar has thin padding, and the entire sockliner and insole are covered with a very soft material called Dri-Lex that feels like smooth cotton but wicks moisture like an advanced tech fabric. The padding goes down the top of the foot as far as the first seam line, with the single layer polyamide fabric covering the rest of the foot and toes. It’s both airy and extremely comfortable, and the combined feel of these two materials is just as pleasant at mile 26 (or beyond) as it is at mile 1.

It’s a good thing that the upper is so comfortable on bare feet, because the overall fit seems slightly more snug than either the KSO or KSO Trek. This might be partially due to the fact that the fastening strap on the Bikilas doesn’t wrap around the heel as those other two models do. I was initially concerned about some heel slippage without that wraparound component, but I haven’t experienced any difficulty this way at all, even during my speed workouts at the track. However, because of the slightly different fit of this upper, if you’re accustomed to wearing toe socks with your Vibrams, or if you’re an “in-betweener” when it comes to sizing, I’d recommend sizing up for the best fit with the Bikilas.

Although the top of the shoe looks dramatically different than any other FiveFingers, it’s the underside that demonstrates the biggest departure from “classic” Vibrams. The Bikila is built on an entirely new platform than previous models, with plating protection to distribute impact forces, and a podded outsole giving ideal traction where you need it, while allowing greater flexibility for the remainder of the foot. The pod areas are 4mm thick, which combines with the 3mm (non-removable) insole to create a total thickness of 7mm; for some hardcore barefooters, this dimension is cause for concern, but from my experience I’d say the ground feel is exactly the same or better than my KSOs, and definitely better than KSO Treks. I suspect it’s the gaps in the outsole podding along with its much improved overall flexibility that result in such enhanced ground feedback.

Weight of the Bikilas is 6.0 oz, which is 0.3 oz heavier than both the KSO and Trek, but the difference is so marginal that I honestly don’t notice it. From an overall performance standpoint, the fit and comfort improvements on the Bikila far outweigh (so to speak) the concern of carrying an additional fraction of an ounce on your feet. Without question, these are the most comfortable FiveFingers I’ve worn to date; using both the KSOs and Treks, I typically have some chafing issues (particularly around the toes) on multi-hour runs, but the Bikila is a model I can wear for a 30-miler, then keep on my feet to walk around in afterward. I’ve never had the feeling of “I need to get these off my feet” at the end of a long run, which is probably my most reliable indicator of exceptionally well-built footwear.

All smiles after a full morning of racing

All things considered, Vibram took a considerable risk with the Bikila; there was ostensibly no reason to say, “Here’s a new model you should use for running, even though we realize that everybody loves running in our existing models anyway.” It was a bold step for them to do a top to bottom overhaul of its basic design and construction, adding a list of novel features and stylistic changes that could have potentially been rejected as unnecessary or insignificant in comparison to the original. The fact that they went ahead and did it speaks to their confidence that the new product would be something worth getting excited about.

From my standpoint, they were absolutely successful, and the FiveFingers Bikila is a shoe that’s worthy of its ambitious name. It’s an absolute state of the art minimalist running shoe that’s loaded with innovations which make it worth the slight price increase - $100 compared to $85 – over the KSO. It performs well on both road and trail (although I’d still give the edge to the KSO Trek for a pure trail runner), and – most pleasingly of all - takes everything you love about running in Vibrams and makes it even better.

The Vibram FiveFingers Bikila retails for $100 from TravelCountry.com as well as other online retailers.

RELATED: Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS review

*Product provided by Vibram USA
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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shel 9/17/10, 5:38 AM  

donald, can you address the seam on the inside of the arch? the reason i cannot go more than 7 miles running or 10 walking in my KSOs after a year of use is that seam. it manages to give me a blister after an hour or 2. my ksos are finally worn through on the toes and forefoot, so i am interested in a new pair... just don't know if the bikila solves that problem or not. is there a noticeable seam there? is it flat? has it caused you irritation?

Donald 9/17/10, 8:02 AM  

Shel: there is still a seam on the arch, but it's very soft and not noticeable at all to me. I think I've had the same issue as you with the KSO arch seam, and the Bikila is a very nice improvement. I can try taking some close-up pictures and e-mail them to you if you'd like.

Trail Clown,  9/17/10, 10:08 AM  

I've loved all the FF models....until the Bikila. For me, the heel slippage problem you alluded to actually was problematic enough to not even leave the store with them. They definitely felt more snug and "racing flat"-esque. My KSO Treks can feel sloppy at times, but I think that because the Bikilas lack that "sloppy" factor, that it actually causes the heel slippage problem for me. Whereas the Treks allow my foot full reign in any direction (which, paradoxically, prevents slippage in any one area as long as the straps are tight--and I had extra felt sewn on to be able to tighten them further...but I digress), the Bikilas felt constrictive overall, which forced the heel to pop out. Without that problem for me, I would have absolutely loved 'em.

Trail Clown,  9/17/10, 12:56 PM  

I just re-read my long comment (see above) and even with my "paradoxical" caveat, my post is probably way confusing. Basically, for me, the KSO Trek's heel strap is GOOD. The Bikila is snug (good), but without the strap to cinch the heel, the fore/midfoot snugness causes the heel to slip out of the back of the "shoe".

Gerry,  9/17/10, 3:04 PM  

My experience with the Bikilas is the same as Donald's. I have no heel lift, however I did not size up, rather I've been moving down in size to tighter fits for all my VFFs.

I've standardized on Treks for technical trail running and Bikilas for road. The Bikilas are fine for gentle trails, other than they won't stay white for long.

The only weakness for VFFs is water. For road, my alternative is a racing flat. For technical trails I plan to buy a solid sole minimal shoe as a backup, when available in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Bikila is by far my favorite road running shoe. They are breath taking to run in.

Anonymous,  9/17/10, 9:48 PM  

The Bikilas are my favorite running shoe. Loved the KSOs, but the arch blister always stopped me from running sockless, and the socks always interfered with fit and ground feel. I just got my second pair and did a 1:30 trail half marathon in them. Some people discredit these without trying them, but they truly are the best Vibrams for running. Nice review.

Anonymous 9/19/10, 11:27 AM  

I 've been training for the NYC marathon for the past 5 months with the KSO's. I started having problems with blisters when I reached about the 8th mile. The solution for me was to get a pair of Injinji socks. I'm up to 18 miles and all is good.

Donald 9/19/10, 5:16 PM  

Trail Clown: no worries, I get what you're saying. I thought the lack of a heel strap was going to be an issue for me as well since I really like the KSO/Trek fastening system, but I found that heel slippage just isn't an issue for me with the Bikila.

Anonymous,  9/20/10, 7:57 PM  

I also have read your review on the TPVB EVO's and was curious how you would compare the two. Pro's and cons? Thanks.

P.S Just found your site and very impressed..

Donald 9/20/10, 9:27 PM  

Anon: they're very comparable, aside from the obvious difference of the toebox situation, which is a matter of preference. They're both very comfortable while offering a traditional racing shoe feel. Feel free to e-mail me offline (info@runningandrambling.com) if you have other specific questions.

Boris Terzic 9/21/10, 7:28 PM  

Great review, hope to get my hands on a pair soon.

Juls 9/21/10, 9:59 PM  

I just got my bikila's (post reading this post and our emailing) and took them out for a run. My already irritated arch (from a 22 mile run in my trek's) did flare up slightly but the softer seam might not have been an issue if the area wasn't already annoyed. I do lube my feet up with unpetroleum jelly no matter what I'm wearing for my runs as my feet (trek, bikila, normal running shoe) seem to be really sensitive to seams, etc.

Oh, and no real issue with heal slippage.

Donald 9/21/10, 10:07 PM  

Juls: Awesome! Like I said, keep me updated ...

abby,  9/22/10, 5:24 AM  

great review and i totally agree with all you said. got my bikilas over 3 months ago (god knows how hard it is to do that from here , im from the philippines) and i've ran a couple of 30kms in them. i love em! this sunday, is my 3rd full and my first in running it in vffs! and oh, after the marathon, im rewarding myself with another pair.

Joyce D.Z. 9/22/10, 7:54 AM  

Found you through Vibram's tweet. Thank you for this review as it is very timely. I am choosing between the KSO Sprint and the Bikila... You made my decision easier. :)

ProudBubbleHead,  9/22/10, 8:26 AM  

Don, Great review. Like VFF said, very comprehensive and explanatory. I recently bought the Bikilas, they are my first VFF's, and I cannot believe that everybody is not running in these. I ran competitively when I was younger, and I have always missed the feel of racing flats, or track shoes. Running in my Bikilas was exhilarating and I honestly couldn't tell you where my "traditional" running shoes are. I especially love bragging about them, and sharing their awesomeness with runner I meet. Not being familiar with KSO's or any other models, I can only speak of Bikilas, but they are phenomenal. I have no issue with heels slippage, and I love how snug they are throughout the foot. Now I truly look forward to my runs, the experience and the freedom that I feel and have when I'm running is unprecedented.

susinn 9/22/10, 10:50 AM  

I ran a half marathon in my bikilas last weekend and totally love them. I've been running in the sprint and loved them but the bikilas are so much more superior as your great review says. The thing I appreciated most was the extra thickness on the base because where I live I sometimes end up on rocky trails or gravel roads and my feet never got used to the rocks when I wore the sprints but I have no problem with rough terrain in the Bikilas. Because of the shortage of Bikilas I could only find one pair that was one size below the recommended size. I bought them and was initially a little concerned with the snugness but its been no problem and I'm glad I have them a little snug from some of the comments on your site!

Susinn-Feldenkrais Practitioner 9/23/10, 7:11 AM  

I ran a half marathon in my bikilas last weekend and totally love them. I've been running in the sprint and loved them but the bikilas are so much more superior as your great review says. The thing I appreciated most was the extra thickness on the base because where I live I sometimes end up on rocky trails or gravel roads and my feet never got used to the rocks when I wore the sprints but I have no problem with rough terrain in the Bikilas. Because of the shortage of Bikilas I could only find one pair that was one size below the recommended size. I bought them and was initially a little concerned with the snugness but its been no problem and I'm glad I have them a little snug from some of the comments on your site!

Computer Ninja 9/23/10, 1:14 PM  

So far, I have had these shoes since August 27 and have run 3x/week since. My longest outdoor run has been 10 miles, and my longest treadmill run has been 7.6 miles.

Until the Bikilas, I've never run with anything other than New Balance stability shoes.

These Bikilas have inspired me to start running and competing in half and full marathons. My first half marathon comes up on Oct. 3.

Anyway, I've noticed that my 2nd toe on my right foot tends to hurt while running in these from time to time. Even when I switched, for the first time, the other night, to forefoot-striking rather than heel striking. I can explain it exactly, but it almost feels like that toe is curling downwards, causing pain in its joint. However, I did read that it may also be that those joints are just not as strong when "toeing off" as someone put it. I can't place it though and am looking for some info.

I was given a Yoga Toes (dealer at the store gave me one, she took the other) to use on my toes to see if that stretching can help ease my pain and get my toes stronger.

All this aside, I think these shoes are great.

Anonymous,  10/5/10, 9:49 PM  

Your site is awesome and I really want to get a pair of Vibrams. I was sold on the KSO Treks until I saw the sole of the Bikilas.

I would not be called a trail runner, I was hoping to use mine for extended hikes and climbs and maybe some boulder climbing and was afraid the treks would not give me as much of a barefoot feeling as I'd like. Plus the ability to jog on pavement seems a big plus I'd lose with treks. Do you think Bikilas would hold up better to trail material but still give pretty good feel compared to KSOs?


Donald 10/5/10, 10:39 PM  

Anon: I actually think the outsole of the Bikilas wouldn't last as long as the Trek if you're going to spend that much time off-road. I think Treks are ideal for hiking and climbing while maintaining great barefoot feel. However, the plain KSOs might be the best all-purpose, all-terrain model if you're looking for equal use on both trail and road. So many choices!

Lyle 10/14/10, 4:54 PM  

hey i amnew to the FF world and after i bought my first set of KSO's i ended up buying five more pairs of these things. another kso, a kso trek in leather, a classic, the one made out of neoprene for whitewater kayaking and the Bikila's
i love em all, but is tere a certain way TO run in them? i did my first real run with them today and found it was most comfrtable to stay on the balls of my feet. is this right or am i heading for injury. i always just went running w/o much thought of my feet till these. and they are just so comfortable!

Donald 10/14/10, 8:57 PM  

Lyle: absolutely, there's a certain way to run, and it's important to start easy. Check my sidebar under the Barefoot Files, or under the barefoot tag. The Runners World barefoot forum is a great resource as well. Good luck!

Thomas,  10/17/10, 12:57 AM  

I really hope I like these shoes as much as I've read you all do. This will be my first pair of VFF as I actually just discovered them today while looking for some good running shoes. I am starting to run to get ready for BASIC training in January, and in doing research for good running shoes, I came across Vibram's website, and furthermore, into their new running "shoe". I like the idea of these shoes and I hope that I will have the same success as everyone here. Thanks for the great product review and assurance that I probably will not be disappointed once I slip into these.

spyder 11/3/10, 11:13 AM  

Unlike any running shoe on the market today, the Bikila is a breakthrough product that encourages a more natural, healthier, and more efficient forefoot strike. I love got a pair of Bikila and i wanted to try this in running. ^_^

afbarnes 11/6/10, 8:15 PM  

Hey Donald,

I'm not a runner, but my boyfriend is a marathoner and I'd like to get him a pair of these for Christmas. He wears a size 11 is street shoes, what size should I buy in the Bikilas?


Donald 11/7/10, 8:05 PM  

afbarnes: I'm a size 11 and wear 43 Bikilas. I'd still recommend getting your boyfriend to try some on if possible.

JB,  11/16/10, 7:25 PM  

I just got my Bikilas -- my first pair of Vibrams. HOLY COW! On the first day I went out to the local HS track for what I planned for an easy run/walk to break them in. I ended up doing a 5K and averaged 30 seconds off my usual pace. My feet were just flying. But for some calf soreness, which I anticipated, I felt like I could run forever.

Jerial 11/25/10, 9:36 AM  

I have a "nuroma" in my left foot, which is a pinched nerve between the toes in the ball of your foot. Every shoe I wore made the foot hurt and running was getting to be to painful. My foot dr wanted $1200 to kill the nerve in my foot, a friend suggested I try the FF and wow...no foot pain. I have taken 1 1/2 minutes off my mile just after 3 weeks. I now own three pair and will be purchasing more (my wife has two pair). We work out and run in the Bikilas and Trek Multi Sports...Luv'm! I wear them all I can and my wife said if they had heals she would wear them to church.

Chaundra Berghoefer 1/8/11, 2:22 PM  

I love my KSO's but I do always wear toe sock and have never gotten blisters. I really want a pair of Bikilas but when I tried them on they felt very tight over the top of my foot by the strap, no give or stretch there, I was afraid they would cause irritation. Has anyone had a problem with that?

Donald 1/9/11, 11:57 PM  

Chaundra: I had a bit of irritation if the strap was pulled too tight, but it was relieved with loosening the strap. The upper fits pretty well on its own even with the strap very loose.

Christine 2/27/11, 9:48 PM  

I am a beginner runner starting at the age of 47. Running helped me lose 40 pounds and I was loving it. I started upping my mileage to train for a half marathon and started having knee problems. After buying three different pair of expensive running shoes still have no relief from knee pain. Has anyone used these shoes and received relief from knee pain?

Anonymous,  3/1/11, 7:08 PM  

Did it take a while to get used to them? In the beginning did your feet hurt after long runs? I'm a high schooler and run cross country and track. I got the bikila shoes about a month or so ago and have been running and walking in them a lot. But the most I've ran in them so far is only like 3 miles. Once I started track and upping the mileage I've noticed my feet starting to hurt a bit. Do you have any advice on preventing injury or anything?

Donald 3/1/11, 8:12 PM  

Anon: yes, it takes a LONG time to get used to them, and your feet will most likely be sore for a while. Build minimalist running into your overall routine extremely gradually!

Anonymous,  4/6/11, 10:54 AM  

At $100 each I'm especially concerned with how durable is the sole? How many miles can I expect from the shoe?

Donald 4/6/11, 6:59 PM  

Anon: You can expect a longer lifespan from the Bikilas than just about any other $100 running shoe. The outsole eventually wears down, but could probably last you 500 miles or more.

TranTastic 4/7/11, 3:35 PM  

Donald: I'm a late adopter to the minimalist running front. I decided on the Bikila but notice that I'm btw size. Womens 38-37. 37 is snug on the pinky toes but fine for the big toes. 38 is too big and don't think socks will help. Should I pass on vibram?

Donald 4/10/11, 8:25 PM  

TranTastic: tough call. If you're determined to give one a try, I'd go with the bigger size. Otherwise, you might need to look for another option; luckily, there are lots to choose from out there now.

EssTee,  5/6/11, 7:19 AM  

I'm not a runner at all, but I enjoy a pair of VFF KSOs for general wear and bike riding (flat pedals; no clip-ins). Would you recommend the Bikila for those applications, or are they very running-specialized?

Donald 5/9/11, 10:07 PM  

EssTee: The Bikilas are pretty much meant for running. For general purpose, go with the KSO, KSO Trek, or new Komodo.

Anonymous,  6/2/11, 6:32 PM  

I've new to VFF - I am interested in road running - is the Bikila or the Komodo sport a better option? - they both say listed for running.


Donald 6/2/11, 11:04 PM  

Anon: The Bikila and Bikila LS (see my other review) are better for purely running; the Komodo is better for multi-sport. I'll have a full Komodo review in the next few weeks.

piranha,  9/5/11, 11:52 AM  

I'm looking for a shoe just for running and occasional gym workouts for crosstraining. The running will be predominantely on road, with the occasional off road running, but none of the trails are unkept. Suggestion for the first VFF shoe? I'm leaning towards the Bikila, just so I can get the hang of things.

Donald 9/5/11, 9:30 PM  

pirahna: definitely, the Bikila or Bikila LS is a good choice, as is the upcoming Komodo Sport LS.

Anonymous,  10/6/11, 9:03 AM  

I ordered a pair of them from a store online and they were very tight across the top of my foot like Chandra's comment above stated... Donald, I am sure she tried loosening the strap, I didn't even have it buckled and it was entirely too tight. There's just no give in the fabric across the top of the foot, my toes got all tingley like they were falling asleep after wearing them around the house for a couple minutes. The size I have fits the length of my foot perfectly but is entirely too tight across the top of my foot. Do the larger sizes provide more room in the midfoot, or is the difference in sizes mostly just in length of the shoe? I am a toe sock wearer as well but I wasn't able to squeeze into the Bikila's with toe socks.

Donald 10/7/11, 9:19 PM  

Anon: As I mentioned, the Bikila doesn't fit everyone well. Sounds like the LS version is definitely the way to go for you.

Unknown 3/15/12, 5:56 PM  

just curoius if anyone has tried the bikila's for parkour or freerunning? ive already bought em but just curious if there is anything i definitly shouldnt do in them. let ya know how it goes after a couple weeks!

spunkytlp 3/19/12, 5:58 PM  

I walk a lot on a gravel road. Otherwise I use my elliptical. Which would be the best? I tried on the bikila ls and found it very comfortable, but wasn't sure about the gravel road.

Epiquin 5/13/12, 2:46 PM  

I currently own a pair of KSO's and I train parkour in them every week or so, and being the only shoe i've ever trained in, I want to 'upgrade' so to speak. I like the idea of a thicker sole to protect from impacts a bit, but i'm also a little worried about ground feel. To me they look alot like your typical shoe, thick and bulky, but when I tried them on, they were incredibly comfortable.
I was just wondering if you had any opinions on if they would have good grip for the wall runs and things, but provide protection for impacts, AND have decent ground feel. Or maybe the komodo's or trekSport would be a better option? Anyone with any opinions will be much appreciated!

Donald 5/14/12, 9:25 PM  

@Epiquin: I'd recommend the Komodo Sport LS for parkour, but I'm certainly not an expert on that specific activity.

John Harris 9/15/12, 1:28 PM  

I just got mine about a month ago and started "barefoot running" - its a new experience, like learning how to Wal all over again, but I could totally tell its more natural from my first run/walk (dispite the massive icing and ibuprofen I had to take, as well as laying off a week). I'm up to every other day now (run/walk with a 0-to-5k app on my iPhone) which was about 3.3k last time. I treated it like I've never run before and I can really feel the difference. I love my Bikilas. I have the blue ones

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