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March 19, 2012

Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa Review

Recognizing that I’m often quick to criticize some minimalist shoes for being heavier than they should be, I should also point out that the opposite end of the spectrum isn’t necessarily perfect, either. Each ounce and every tiny bit of structure that is removed will have a resulting impact on the shoe’s function and performance – and whether or not this is a good thing depends on what you’re looking for in a particular type of footwear.


Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa

Case in point is the Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa, which is new for Spring 2012. You’ve heard of a man’s man? The SeeYa is a minimalist’s minimalist shoe. It’s the lightest FiveFingers model Vibram has ever created, with a lower profile and bare-bones structure that make them the next best thing to having nothing at all on your feet. However, that doesn’t automatically make them my favorite shoe, because the SeeYa’s stripped-down design does limit the types of activity it is best suited for, especially in comparison to other Vibram models.

From a performance standpoint, the SeeYa was designed as a one-trick pony: it’s intended for experienced minimalist runners who do the majority of their running on roads. Although you could probably use it as a casual walking around shoe, the simplest description is that this shoe was built for road running and not much else. And since I’ve previously described a previous Vibram model, the Bikila LS, as the ultimate minimalist road shoe, it’s helpful to describe the SeeYa in terms of how it compares to the Bikila.


Bikila on left, SeeYa on right

As mentioned earlier, the most significant spec on the SeeYa is its weight – at a mere 4.8oz per shoe, it’s more than a full ounce lighter than the 6.0-oz Bikila. If you want to know where the difference lies, look everywhere: the upper material, outsole material, and overall construction are all aspects where the Seeya comes in lighter (or lesser, as the case may be) than its predecessor.



On the upper, the SeeYa uses a super-thin and lightweight polyester stretch fabric. It’s about as thick as a pair of dress socks, and just about as flexible. The material is so stretchy that it’s very easy to slide your toes in the boxes quickly, which is a very nice improvement over the original Bikila, whose upper was restrictive for folks with high arches or other foot-shape oddities. Trust me, you won’t have any difficulty getting your feet in to the SeeYas.



Like the rest of the upper, the top strap of the SeeYa is much lighter and leaner than the Bikila strap. Truthfully, I find this strap pretty much ineffectual when it comes to tightening the fit, and Vibram probably could have just shaved more overall weight by eliminating the top strap altogether – especially because …



… when I tried to tighten the strap too much, the result was usually a small blister on my instep, like this one after a 7-mile track workout. You have to click/enlarge the photo above to see it, but the spot where the strap pulls the instep material tight becomes a point of irritation with a tight strap.



In addition to being thin and stretchy, the upper is basically bereft of any supportive structure; there’s practically no heel counter, no stability overlays, and very little material (like the leather and padding around the ankle on the Bikila) that isn’t completely collapsible.

The good news with this minimal upper design is that it makes the entire shoe light and flexible; the bad news is that if the fit is bad, there’s not much you can do to adjust it. Unfortunately, the fit of the SeeYas is not ideal for me; most notably, the heel area feels loose, and if I’m doing any sort of lateral movement – even just running around the curve of a track – I can feel my heel sliding a bit inside the upper. Probably my biggest criticism of the SeeYa is that the material in the heel area should be a lot more snug, or there should be a bit more structure in place there like a sturdier heel counter.



Vibram also modified the SeeYa outsole to shave weight, although the blueprint remains very similar to the pattern used on the Bikila. The same TC1 rubber from other FiveFingers models is used for the gray pods, with blue TPU running the length of the shoe underneath the pods.  In my testing it felt like the outsole of the SeeYa isn’t quite as grippy as other Vibram running models - in particular, I noticed a small amount of slipping on an all-weather track, and on a couple of occasions where the road or track surface was wet, I had noticeably less traction in the SeeYa than I normally do in Bikilas.



The outsole of the SeeYa also seems thinner than on other models – but curiously, Vibram doesn’t list the thickness of the SeeYa outsole on its official specs. I’d estimate it to be in the 2-3mm range compared to the Bikila’s 4mm podded areas; combined with a 3mm insole, you’re looking at a total standing height of approximately 5-6mm, which is among the lowest Vibram has created.  (*UPDATED: per my Vibram rep, the standing height is probably 6.2mm: 1mm for the TPU, 2.2mm for the TC1 rubber areas, and 3mm for the insole. I was pretty close.)



Everything you see in blue on the outsole is TPU, which is unique to the SeeYa, and is lighter and more flexible than rubber, contributing even more to the SeeYa’s decreased weight and improved flexibility. The net result of thinner and more flexible construction is that ground feel of the Seeyas is unquestionably the best of any FiveFingers model I’ve tested. The tradeoff is that you lose a bit of the protective feel the Bikilas had, but for the intended audience of experienced minimalist road runners, this shouldn’t be such a big deal.

So let’s review the pros and cons in a nutshell …

Good SeeYa: super light, flexible, easy to put on, amazing ground feel

Bad SeeYa: insecure heel fit, ineffective top strap, diminished traction

Like I mentioned at the top, the question of whether or not the spec distinctions of the SeeYa are an advantage is up to you. My preference is to stick with the overall comfort and fit of the Bikila for long (>10 mile) outings, but for shorter runs I really enjoy the improved ground feel of the SeeYa. Although it’s somewhat one-dimensional, Vibram’s stated goal of creating a shoe for dedicated minimalist runners – the minimalist’s minimalist shoe – is fairly well fulfilled with the SeeYa.

Vibram’s FiveFingers SeeYa is available for $100 from TravelCountry.com.


*Product provided by Vibram. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
**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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3 comments:

Jeff Gallup 3/20/12, 8:33 PM  

Wow.. sure doesn't seem like there is much to those at all. Wonder how they would hold up over the long haul. Great review though.. thanks!

Also, have you had an opportunity to try the Spyridon's? As a trail runner, I'm dying to try them out, or hear more about them..

Jeff

Jeff Gallup 3/20/12, 8:46 PM  

Duh.. I remembered I had read one good review earlier.. and of course it was yours :-)

Anonymous,  3/21/12, 10:42 AM  

These $$/oz. numbers are getting out of hand.

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