There is a Zen axiom that having a “beginner’s mind” is the best place to start any new endeavor. K-Swiss believed that when they began their triathlon running shoe program. As a result the new K-Swiss Blade Light Run and Blade Light Race both have tangibly different- and noteworthy- distinctions from the vanilla assortment of generic running and racing shoes. In terms of ride quality- both these shoes are a homerun, the new high bar in tri-specific road feel.
Despite the name, K-Swiss is inexorably an American company. The company logo is patterned after the U.S. Route 101 sign, the longest highway in California. The “K” refers to a common European adaptation of the “C” in California as interpreted by the two Swiss brothers who founded the company in 1966 after immigrating to the U.S. and becoming enamored with the “Kalifornia” lifestyle.
In a typically American way K-Swiss began as an innovator, the same ethos that pervades the new K-Swiss Blade Light Run and Blade Light Race. K-Swiss built the first all leather tennis shoe, designed for additional traction, motion control and durability.
Another uniquely American twist was a boost to K-Swiss brand visibility when rapper Ice-T wore K-Swiss shoes on the Arsenio Hall show in the early ‘90’s. The iconic rapper put his right foot up when a cameraman zoomed in on his shoe. Ice-T mentioned he had been wearing the K-Swiss “for years”. The result was an overnight brand explosion in a completely new, albeit fashion oriented, market category. Ice-T later told interviewer Henry Rollins, “I was on Arsenio, so I had them on. I walked on the stage, blah, blah, blah. The next day, like boom, kids just went for it…” Tennis darling and cover girl Anna Kournikova is another K-Swiss brand ambassador on and off the court.
The explosion in brand identity, but not necessarily technical validity, created a launch pad for K-Swiss to explore new markets and fund research into technically valid designs. Triathlon was one of their emerging markets. Fat with capital from their fashion/lifestyle successes K-Swiss went long and deep into technical Triathlon shoes, signing a 5 year contract with Ironman as the “Official” Ironman shoe. In addition to the marketing K-Swiss built the underpinnings of a technically valid triathlon specific running shoe line through valid sports testing, research and development.
K-Swiss started a top professional triathlon team of 22 athlete, testers-ambassadors including Norwegian uberbiker Bjorn Andersson, Amanda Balding, home grown Ironman sensation Hilary Biscay, swarthy New Zealand heart throb and 70.3 World Champ Terenzo Bozzone, local girl Leanda Cave, the hard working 5- time Ironman winner Heather Golnick, Belinda Granger, Ironman World Champion 2nd place and 3 time Ironman winner Chris Lieto, Olympic triathlete Matt Reed, 4-Time Ironman Champion Luke McKenzie and Katja Meyers. This cadre of athletes has direct input with product development specific to the triathlon market. K-Swiss athlete Chris Lieto told Slowtwitch.com:
“K-Swiss is new to this market but they are here for the long haul and they are committed to the sport. It has truly been an exciting process to be part of their product development team for this market segment. You will start to see K-Swiss everywhere in the sport of triathlon. They are committed. They are here to stay…”
K-Swiss’ latest introductions are the Blade Light series. The two shoes in the series, Blade Light Run and Blade Light Race, use the same outsole and midsole featuring unique Superfoam energy return foam that K-Swiss claims lasts longer than other energy return foams in running shoes and the serrated energy return outsole design. The uppers on the two shoes are completely different: The Blade Light Run has a conventionally configured upper using 14 eyelets and shoe laces. The Blade Race uses a triathlon specific upper with a reduced toe box, stretch upper and single Velcro wrap closure.
The shoes are both light, weighing exactly 9.5 ounces for the K-Swiss Blade Light Run and only 8.8 ounces for the gossamer K-Swiss Blade Light Race. We weighed each shoe in a size 9.5 U.S.
How They Run.
The heel and forefoot on both these shoes has sports car handling and overall ride. They are fun to run in. Both shoes have a surprising amount of guidance for a cushion shoe. They are feather light and sporty underfoot. You feel fast. The ventilation is amazing- you can actually feel air coming through the bottom of the shoe. Normally a lightweight bikini-bottom shoe like this gives away motion control and guidance, and these are not motion control shoes- but they are reassuringly stable.
K-Swiss uses low density EVA shock absorbing foam configured in their “Guide Glide” orientation that gives the shoes an oddly stable ride. Cushioned? Absolutely. Motion control? This shoe tester weighs 170 pounds, is 5’9” tall and wore a size 9.5 for the test in both shoes. While K-Swiss doesn’t mention motion control I found this shoe oddly stable for something so light. Under hard cornering the Blade Light Race seemed to “run off” their forefoot a trifle for me. I noticed it, but it doesn’t worry me. Another TriSports.com tester, Matt Simons, is 20 pounds lighter than me and the same height. Matt felt they cornered with precision.
The overwhelming impression of both shoes is their balanced guidance, great cushioning from the serrated outsole “blades” and absolutely airy feel. I felt light and fast in these- and I am neither. I’ve raced in Zoot race specific shoes and even the ancient Nike Sock Racer stretch upper shoes. The K-Swiss interpretation of sole construction for an ultra light triathlon racer is the best so far in this reviewer’s opinion. These are a high water mark in triathlon race shoes.
I love both suspension systems on the shoes- since they are the same. The traditional upper on the Blade Light Run is predictably more secure feeling than the transition optimized, stretch upper Blade Light Race.
I couldn’t get the Velcro closure to line up on the Blade Light Race very precisely on my foot or any of our fit testers, with a healthy amount of hook showing below the closure and a big flap of pile above the closure over the tongue. We tried the shoes on different fit testers- 2 females and 4 males, and found the same thing. The Velcro didn’t align on the closure. When I asked K-Swiss Director of Performance Footwear, Mark Sheehan, about it he said, “We suggest people align the strap cosmetically and then make adjustments based on feel. “ The Velcro does needs to be open during high speed donning of the shoe, and then manually closed- I couldn’t get my foot in the shoe with the Velcro already closed.
Another feature I thought was oddly absent on the Blade Light Race was a grip-loop on the tongue for quick donning. I presume K-Swiss intends we grab the tongue for quick donning, but a loop would have been nicer. There is one on the Blade Light Run.
I could actually get the conventionally configured Blade Light Run (the shoe with laces) on faster with stretch speed laces installed than I could pull the Blade Light Race on and close the Velcro upper. As a result, I would use the Blade Light Run for training days and also race with it using speed laces. On super hot race days in shorter events the Blade Light Race shoe is a fine choice. K-Swiss shows photos of a different closure/tongue design on the K-Swiss website, so the closure on the newest version shoe has already been re-worked to allow a degree of latitude in fit. Try the shoe on; if it works for you while simulating a quick transition- you have a match. If not, buy the Blade Light Run instead and install speed laces. Ultimately what you’re buying is the great ventilation, feather weight response and comfy ride from the novel outsole design. K-Swiss was smart to built two different uppers on this sole platform.
With its gossamer weight, screen door ventilation and performance tuned ride the K-Swiss Blade Light Run is one of the most valid entries to the triathlon race shoe category ever. I like the concept of the Blade Light Race in its current version but look forward to some updates including a donning loop on the tongue and better alignment of the Velcro wrap- or a robust stretch closure that eliminates the Velcro closure altogether along with the extra step of reaching for the Velcro during donning. In the mean time, I’d still race in it at shorter distances. My pick of the litter from this duo is the K-Swiss Blade Light Run combined with stretch speed laces as the current high water mark for tri specific race shoes.