The RW Takeaway: The Nike Joyride Run Flyknit is plush from the first step and ideal for recovery runs. It’s also too expensive for its target market: beginning runners.
- TPE beads in four pouches within the midsole compress to cushion your stride
- Soft SR02 foam surrounds the beads and adds even more plushness
- The ride is soft but provides little rebound
Available: Now (Nike+ members); August 15 (in stores)
On first impression, the new Nike Joyride Run Flyknit feels like nothing else. Because there’s no sockliner separating your foot from the four midsole pouches that house thousands of thermoplastic elastomer beads, initial strides feel like you’re stepping on four oversized Tide Pods. But instead of bursting under pressure, the pouches compress to let your foot sink into the beads. The Joyride Run succeeds in this aspect: Providing gobs of plushness and making sure the experience is unique to the shoe (hence the windows that show the beads, lest you forget what you’re paying for).
If you’re looking for a shoe that feels energetic, look elsewhere. The initial “wow” factor from the Joyride system loses its novelty after the first couple miles. After that, the shoe begins to feel pretty average: It’s plush but not the plushest trainer we’ve tested lately and its eons away from the most responsive. But the main problem with the Joyride Run is its intention: To get people into running, or back into running. No one needs to pay $180 to do that. Equally plush options from nearly every major shoe company cost $50-$80 less. The cushioning is different and the marketing smart—many positive reviews came from writers who attended Nike’s Santa Monica launch—but there’s nothing here that new runners actually need.
Price aside, you’ll like the Joyride Run if you’re just after a plush Nike trainer that feels great for a few easy miles. But if you want our tip for beginning runners, start with a $100 shoe (the Reebok Forever FloatRide Energy and the Brooks Launch 6 are both excellent, neutral options) and figure out whether you need high-cushioning, a firm ride, or extra stability, before you shell out $180 for a specialty shoe.
Let’s Unpack Those Beads
Nike Senior Product Line Manager Will Moroski told Runner’s World that the Joyride has been in development for 3.5 years now, but it’s not the first shoe to use loose beads as cushioning. Puma’s Jamming running shoe used free-floating beads in 2017. The difference is the Joyride’s use of four pods that contain the TPE beads, a design that allowed Nike to tune the fill and optimize cushioning and stability throughout the shoe. A men’s size 10 shoe has 11,000 beads throughout the four pods, and Nike tweaks the fill rates to adjust for differences in size and gender. Moroski likened the experience to stepping in sand—an odd analogy considering you’d hardly want to run in sand for more than a few strides—but the notion is that the beads deform and shift to give you a deeply cushioned ride.
The material that houses the beads is Nike’s SR02, the company’s softest foam. It’s generally too soft for use in running shoes, Moroski says, but it’s ideal as a carrier material to contain the pouches, which take the brunt of the force from your stride. “We had React foam in the original sample but found that created a feeling of too much segmentation (between the pouches),” Moroski says. “(SR02) is even softer than React for a smooth heel-toe feeling.” The SR02 foam feels significantly softer to the touch than React; the segmentation is apparent while walking but fades away once you start running (although one tester said one of the forefoot pouches created a pressure point beneath her metatarsal heads).
A key factor that’s too soon to judge is durability: TPE is more durable that EVA foam and its derivatives, but the longevity of the entire Joyride system remains to be seen.
The Joyride Run’s upper might be the best part of the shoe. The front half is a single piece of Flyknit that’s sewn to a soft synthetic material that wraps the medial side of your foot for a bootie-like fit. Behind that, a sturdier heel counter steadies your ankle and a one-piece foam collar attaches to the top eyelet for the laces. The collar’s softness allows you to tighten the top eyelet without irritating your ankle. One tester noted the forefoot felt narrow—it’s in line with Nike’s typical fit—but otherwise, we liked the upper’s secure yet comfortable execution.
Integrated Rubber Outsole
The same rubber that contains the visible beads also serves as an outsole material. Additional orange outsole rubber in the forefoot and heel adds traction and durability, although the tread is quite shallow. We haven’t taken the Joyride Run off-road just yet, but on pavement the grip was dependable on roads wet and dry.
The thickest Joyride pouch is below your heel, so unsurprisingly, heel-striking testers found deep plushness as they touched down. “(I felt) exceptional comfort during the first part of my stride where the heel connects with the ground,” said one tester. The forefoot pouches are substantial but not as tall, allowing for a more stable toe-off, although another tester said she felt excessive pressure under the balls of her feet from the forefoot pouch. If the idea of running on 11,000 beads sounds sketchy for multidirectional movement, it doesn’t feel that way. The Joyride Run provides a surefooted landing and the snug-fitting upper gave us confidence running on off-camber surfaces.
From an engineering standpoint, Joyride is a cool technology to have accomplished. But on the run, it just doesn’t feel that special (certainly not $180 special). You do feel the individual pouches at first, but after a couple miles, they pack down and flatten out. After that, you’re left with a ride that’s slightly softer than Adidas Boost, but without Boost’s signature rebound. A thick slab of EVA—think Hoka One One—accomplishes a similar sensation for a lot less money.
Buy it if you’re a Nike-head who wants a pillowy shoe that’s stable enough for use in the gym, too. Otherwise, check out these four neutral trainers that do the same job for less.
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