The Skechers brand of shoes has been steadily gaining traction amongst runners in recent years. Most notably through the marketing coup of the century in signing apparently “washed-up” US marathon star Meb Keflezighi. He was so over the hill that he only managed 4th place in the 2012 London Olympic marathon backing up his superb Silver earned in Athens 2004.
I’ve had the Skechers Go Bionic in my shoe bag for quite a few months. The challenge in reviewing shoes is getting enough miles under different conditions and at different paces to get a good read on how the shoe performs. I’m not usually a zero drop or barefoot runner and when wanting a barefoot experience I’d prefer to, well, run barefoot.
That said I’ve now done quite a bit of running (albeit sporadically) in the Go Bionic. Surfaces include road, footpath, grass (horse racing course) and out on the trails in and around Daylesford in central Victoria.
I recently had a look around in a few shoe stores in Melbourne and while picking up one brand of shoe I was asked if I was looking for a “barefoot ride”. I think he meant a barefoot style running shoe. Explaining that if I wanted a barefoot ride I’d take off my shoes didn’t go down very well, tormenting shoe salespeople has become something of a hobby.
The Go Bionic does however get pretty close to the barefoot experience – maybe as close as a recognisable running shoe can. While the Skechers Go Bionic doesn’t look like a nimble running shoe it’s a surprisingly light and very flexible in all directions.
Much has been made of running shoes allowing your toes to splay naturally, which seems a reasonable theory. This shoe definitely does allow this with a very wide toe-box.
Another thing I noticed was a relatively cavernous amount of vertical room in the toe-box. For me this definitely contributed to the feeling of running barefoot. Those that like a tight, locked down fit wouldn’t necessarily like this feature but it worked for me.
Cushioning is a very personal thing, but I’d maintain in most circumstances that removing all cushion isn’t the best way to design a minimal shoe. The reason being you are robbed of sensation, but not compensated in any way.
The cushioning in the Go Bionic isn’t excessive, less for example than a Nike Free 3.0, but a touch more than you’d find in many other minimal models.
In my opinion the cushioning is about right for this style of shoe. A tiny amount of squish to take the edge of hard surfaces, but not so much that you lose feel when running on trails or grass. I wouldn’t suggest most runners use these on hard surfaces unless they are very experienced and strong barefoot runners.
Sole and grip
The sole is mostly devoid of rubber following the Nike Free and Saucony Kinvara style, where midsole and sole are one and the same piece of material. The upside is better feel but the flip side is faster wear – depending on how hard you are on your shoes.
The little gaps you can see below do tend to catch a few rocks and if unlucky allow sharp stones to penetrate; so you need to be wary when running on rocky trails.
The grip is surprisingly grippy, similar to Frees which provide good ground feel. The acid test was wearing them around Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne; where in winter the grass is lush, wet and very slippery. I surprisingly got much better grip wearing these shoes than running barefoot in the same conditions.
On the run / purpose
The Go Bionic are generously fitted all around, so much so that I initially thought about going down half a size, but I’m glad I didn’t as they have ample room for toes incased in those funny toe socks, which amuse my niece and I’ve slowly become accustomed to.
The general feeling that your forefoot is floating in space could be one of the reasons they feel so close to actual barefoot running. If you’re like me you’ll also mostly use shoes like these for steady pace running so you don’t really crave the need to be locked down as you might in speed work.
They are nicely grounded so would make a good gym, crossfit or group exercise shoe.
If you’re unfamiliar with sparsely cushioned and very flat shoes the treat these as you would running barefoot. Very small volumes of easy running on natural surfaces to begin. For barefoot fans these could be a great protective alternative for when the surfaces and weather make barefoot running an unfriendly proposition.
For me these are probably the best barefoot style shoe I’ve tried so far with the Saucony Hattori Lace an honourable second.
Words and image by Brian Martin