By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
Zoot Sports has released their new Kiawe performance shoe with input from top pros Jordan Rapp and Javier Gomez. The shoe’s introduction ahead of the 2012 Olympic Triathlon in Hyde Park, London on August 7 is likely no coincidence. Gomez is best remembered for his 2008 ITU World Championship and, more sensationally, as a member of the final three men going into the dramatic sprint finish at the Men’s Olympic Triathlon in Beijing, 2008. Jordan Rapp is a top pro and active in triathlon media production with the Slowtwitch.com website. Rapp and Gomez’s influence on the shoe was “substantial” according to Zoot, suggesting a new emphasis on race-inspired, triathlon specific design from a company already devoted to triathlon specific shoes.
The Zoot Kiawe is a departure from the previous Swift FS and Ultra Speed 2.0 designs that use all-stretch uppers. The Kiawe uses a conventional lacing upper with 12 eyelets. The shoes came out of the box with standard tie laces and a bag containing a pair of stretch elastic speed laces. We ran with both lacing options finding that the stretch laces were shorter than expected on our test pair. The elastic speed laces include spring loaded cordlocks to make tying unnecessary. You simply pull them on with the speed laces installed. The speed laces were long enough, but only just, so you won’t need to cut any excess lace off when setting up the shoes with the stretch laces for rapid donning in T2.
Zoot retains the best of their quick-donning and “BareFit” barefoot features including the newer, lower heel tab that is comfortable and blister free on the Achilles and the tongue loop for aggressively pulling the shoe on. The interior uses Dri-Lex fabric in Zoot’s proven minimal seam construction. Zoot calls this interior design “BareFit”. I’ve run in Zoot’s barefoot designs since they were introduced, including sandy triathlons like the Super SEAL Triathlon in Coronado with its beach run. No problems with blisters or hotspots using their BareFit system. Zoot’s design of a truly barefoot triathlon shoe is my favorite.
The upper uses an open mesh fabric and minimal stitching. The fabric breathed well for us even in the very warm conditions of Tucson but did not permit dust and dirt entry on the local running trails. This fabric is different from the power stretch upper on the Ultra Sped 2.0 shoe. It is more breathable and slightly less compressive. While we didn’t soak the shoe in our tests it likely may drain well also when pouring cups over your head in an aid station. The Zoot logos on the shoe are a printed applique that adds no weight, a thoughtful touch on a performance shoe.
The heel goes without a rigid counter. It uses a fabric outer spar/heel counter that lends stability to the heel without the weight of a more rigid polymer heel cup. While this is clearly a go-fast shoe stripped of major guidance features like a rigid heel counter I didn’t want for more stability at the back of this shoe. It rode very well at the heel. The geometry of the shoe also contributes to how it runs, it doesn’t require a lot of stability like a higher heeled shoe.
Zoot put much of their prior technology into the midsole and outsole design, and I’m a fan of these features. Their carbon fiber “CarbonSpan +” insert at the midfoot controls torsional flex (twisting) and adds a lot of stability and guidance for a little weight. Zoot actually uses different lay-ups of carbon fiber in different shoe models to dial in ride quality, a them borrowed from the carbon fiber bicycle world. The heel has a concave section that reduces weight and allows the heel material to expand inward as well as outward at heel strike to reduce shock. I like any designs that uses less maerial (lighter) to achieve better ride.
Another bonus of the CarbonSpan+ stability insert is that the shoe needs to carry less outsole to remain stable through the center. It’s great guidance that is highly tunable with minimal material.
If Zoot along with Rapp and Gomez were shooting for a light shoe with ride quality you’d expect from a heavier shoe they achieved this agenda. At only 7.3 ounces measured weight for our test size 9 shoes the shoe was more stable and reassuring than its weight suggests. This is a valuable feature when running off the bike on tired feet and legs.
Running in the Kiawe is low and light owing to, by Zoot’s specifications, an 11 mm forefoot and 17 mm heel producing a claimed 6 mm of drop from heel to toe. It feels flat, stable and light at speed. If you feel this shoe runs differently than a 6 mm drop shoe you have likely picked up on the fact that the quoted geometry of the shoe is measured internally at its lowest points. Even then our measurements trended slightly greater than Zoot’s specs. One thing for certain, regardless of how you measure the geometry of this shoe it hits a sweet spot that will appeal to fit runners looking for a fast shoe off the bike. The shoe’s geometry combined with the speed it’s intended for means the Kiawe isn’t for everyone. This is a shoe you earn, just like an Olympic spot. If you can hold sub 8:00’s off the bike you’re a candidate. If you are a little slower and go longer than Olympic distance you may want something with a longer range ride like Zoot’s excellent ULTRA Race 3.0.
Zoot reduced drainage holes in the outsole on this model to two, which is probably enough. The outsole wore well in our tests so this is at least a season-long race and tempo shoe. Both of us at TriSports.com who ran in the shoe felt it was more stable than it looked. That’s a great feature in a light shoe. We may see athletes using the Kiawe in London depending more on the shifting tides of Olympic rules for logos and athlete sponsorships. We’ll also see it at local sprint and Olympic distance races and even 70.3’s for some athletes. With the only criticism being a slightly short pair of elastic laces the Kiawe is a stand-out in the niche category of tri specific race shoes.