Kind of a vague announcement in the title there, huh? Don't worry, I'll explain as we go along - but for now let's get straight to the post ...
No one will ever accuse VIVOBAREFOOT of resting on their laurels.
It would have been fairly easy, and completely understandable, for the company to say, You know what? We nailed the minimalist performance running shoe this year – let’s just roll with this one for a while. Their outstanding Evo shoe became such a sensation among minimalist runners that the company couldn’t make them fast enough to satisfy demand – and I was so happy with the Evo that I quickly made it my first choice for ultras and super-long adventure runs through the rest of the year.
Nevertheless, the company has a long-term vision to build a full collection of performance shoes with a variety of materials, designs and price points - which is very good news for anyone who has complained about the Evo's steep ($160) price tag. The first offspring of the performance line is the Neo, which retails for a much more running shoe-like $120, and which will be officially available from the Terra Plana website in March 2011.
So the Neo has the pedigree and the right profile to be worthy of the VIVOBAREFOOT line - and my first question upon learning about it was, What distinguishes this from the Evo? I’ve been running in the Neo for about a month now, and can attest that it is a very appealing option for minimalist runners. The performance dropoff between the Evo and the Neo is extremely subtle. and I anticipate that the Neo will get tagged as "the poor man's Evo", with a fundamental structure that is very similar, and a few stylistic details to set it apart. With that, we may as well get to the review.
Visually, the Neo presents much differently than the Evo - you could say it's a more commercial look - mainly due to its redesigned upper. Whereas the Evo has a hexagonal TPU overlay on the entire upper, the Neo has a thicker, more traditional closed mesh with fabric trim around the toebox. Keeping with Terra Plana’s spirit of eco-friendly construction, the mesh is made from 75% recycled-content polyester, with a microfiber lining that is 55% post-consumer as well. Ventilation of this mesh upper is supposedly diminished on the Neo compared to the thinner mesh/TPU combination on the Evo, but I have to say I found it very comparable.
The heel collar of the Neo is slightly thinner than that of the Evo, and the entire sockliner has a sweat-absorbing antibacterial lining to maintain comfort on long runs. The lacing system of the Neo uses traditional eyelets instead of the fabric loops used on the Evo, which makes lacing the Neo smoother with an improved distribution of tension across the top of the midfoot.
Below the upper, construction of the Neo is nearly identical to that of the Evo: it has a removable memory foam insole, and a 4mm puncture-resistant outsole with the exact same tread pattern that’s perfect for roads and more than adequate for nearly all trail conditions. Both shoes are also 100% vegan options for animal-conscious consumers.
If you’re keeping score at home, you’ve noted that the Neo has essentially the same framework as the Evo, with a slightly more user-friendly upper, and a retail price that's $40 cheaper. For most folks, that's probably enough to seal the deal. Nevertheless, I'm a bit hesitant to embrace it completely for a couple of reasons: its overall weight, and a possible concern about its trail-ruggedness for my specific running needs.
The first item is something of a mystery to me, in that the Neo’s upper construction seems generally less-involved than the Evo – yet the webpage specs have the Neo at 9.5oz, which is a full 1.5oz heavier than the Evo. I'm guessing the thicker mesh material is the source of the difference - otherwise, for the life of me I don’t know where this extra weight comes from. However, considering that my other favorite minimalist shoe models (Vibram and Soft Star) are roughly 6oz each, this weight gap becomes fairly significant – at 9.5oz, the Neo is a full 50% heavier - so I’d prefer to see VIVOBAREFOOT trending lighter instead of heavier. And in the absence of any compelling performance benefit to choose the Neo over the Evo, my preference will be to stick with the lighter of two comparable options.
My other drawback about the Neo is just a suspicion I can’t yet prove: that perhaps the mesh upper isn’t as durable for trail running as the TPU-reinforced Evo upper. After our winter rainy season, the brush and wild grasses grow pretty thick around Monterey County, and I run a lot of miles that are borderline bush-whacking missions that assault my shoes and socks with burrs, stickers, and assorted brambles. I haven’t tried this kind of running with the Neo yet, but rest assured I’ll be paying attention during the spring, and I’ll report back here if I have any problems.
I suspect that for many folks, the Neo will be just what they’ve waited for: a VIVOBAREFOOT running shoe with nearly all of the quality construction features and performance benefits of the Evo, at a price point that’s significantly more affordable. The drawbacks that I've identified will be the only items on the wrong side of a pros/cons list, making the Neo a very attractive purchase option. And while I can’t argue with that conclusion at all, I think when ultrarunning season rolls around in the spring again, I'll still be reaching for my Evos.
The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo is part of Terra Plana's Spring/Summer 2011 line, but will be available in a very limited release (as in, less than 100 pairs) for $120 from the company website in the near future. The original intent of this post when I coordinated it with the company several weeks ago was to give away a few pairs of Neos to celebrate the advance release - however, since quantities are extremely limited and advance sales are eagerly awaited, we need to modify the ground rules just a bit.
So here's the deal with the giveaway: thanks to the completely awesome generosity of Terra Plana, three readers will be chosen as winners of a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT performance running shoes. If the Neos happen to still be in stock (they're anticipated to sell out within just a few days after release) and are available in your size, you can grab a pair of Neos for yourself. If not - which is a much more likely scenario - you'll get your pick of either the Evo or Evo II (which I just recently reviewed.) Winners will be chosen at random from the comments section below.
Since this is a major prize offer, the weighted-entry process is in play: one entry for a comment, one for a Twitter or Facebook link to this contest page, and a third for a blog link to this page. Let me know how many contest tickets you've earned, and all entries must be received by Friday, January 7th at 5PM PST. As always, a huge thanks to VIVOBAREFOOT for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!
*Product provided by VIVOBAREFOOT
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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