REVIEW: UnderArmour Speedform Gemini
UnderArmour Speedform Gemini
Weight: 282g US9.5
The first time I saw a UA running shoe was actually in Boston in April 2014. The Speedform Apollo and Speedform RC had just been released and were not sold in Singapore at the time. I remember trying them on and though they had a lightweight racy feel to them, the midsole and outsole felt somewhat stiff and very firm. Fast forward to December 2014, and the online forums were buzzing about the newly released Speedform Gemini, UA’s first attempt at producing a daily trainer for runners. Early testers and reviewers were wowed by the ride and feel of the shoe, and I decided I wanted to see it for myself. By this time, several UA concept stores had opened in Singapore and I popped over to the store at Orchard Gateway to check it out. I’ll go into the details of the shoe in a bit, but suffice to say I left the store having bought the most expensive pair of running shoes in my life. I would wear them for my first run the very next day on a hilly 3-loop 30k run around Sentosa island. I have since put a little over 200km on the shoe and am ready to put my impressions into words.
That UA now has the uppers of their shoes made in a lingerie factory is a well-known fact, and while it may seem an odd choice of sub-contractor, the outcome is nothing short of stunning. What you get is a sort of waxy, elastic mesh that really hugs the foot without being overly restrictive to the natural arching and flexing of the foot as it moves during a run. One thing I noticed is that you can never really get that snug secure feel in this shoe that you get with more traditional shoes. This is partly because there aren’t a lot of eyelets for the laces, partly because of the stretchy upper material, and partly because the heel cup of this shoe is not particularly structured. The outcome of this is a shoe that feels like the upper isn’t really there at all when you wear it, and you sort of get the feeling that there’s nothing behind the heel, yet somehow when you run everything stays in place and there’s no heel slippage whatsoever. One last thing I noted was the very good ventilation of the shoe. I am a very heavy sweater, and because I often douse water on my head during a run, sometimes I get that waterlogged problem with my shoes where every step yields the squishy sound of water extrusion from the cushioning. With the Gemini, the squish is gone several minutes later, meaning that much of the water has been expelled from the shoe during the run. It’s the only shoe I’ve ever had that dries this quickly. I think they should make a Tri version. There are, however, 2 issues with this shoe that might be deal-breakers for some people.
1) The insole (aka sockliner) is permanently stitched into the shoe and cannot be replaced. If you require custom insoles then this may not work for you. The shoe is not particularly high volume and relies heavily on the elasticity of the mesh upper to provide a secure lock-down, so there is no way it would accommodate an extra layer of insole.
2) The toe box is on the narrow side, and some people may need to size up if they feel that their toes are a little bunched up in this shoe. It fits true to size for me though.
Most shoes derive their cushioning from the midsole and there is a healthy chunk of it in this shoe. When I first put it on in the store, there was a definite squishiness in the heel when walking around. Nowadays though, the aim of many brands seems to be to create foams that are soft when you land softly, and firm up when you apply pressure. What that translates to is a soft cushioned feel when you are jogging slowly, and a fast responsive feel when you want to speed up. I think the boys at Brooks described it best, likening it to a slab of dough. If you poke a finger into it, your finger sinks in with little resistance, but when you slap it, you get a nice firm rebound. That seems to be what UA has achieved as well with their midsole foam. There is plenty of squish in the heel and midfoot when walking around and jogging, but this quickly transitions into a firmer, responsive foam when you pick up the speed. What really impressed me is the flexibility of the shoe. Run in enough trainers and you will realize that you can have flexible shoes (e.g. Saucony Kinvara/Virrata) or you can have well cushioned shoes (e.g. Brooks Glycerin, Adidas Energy Boost, Hoka One One, Skechers GRU, Asics 33M) but it is very difficult to deliver a well cushioned shoe that is still very flexible through the midfoot. The Brooks Transcend comes close but nothing else comes to mind from what I’ve tried. What UA delivered is near-Glycerin level cushioning while still retaining flexibility. The midsole has started to die a little at this point, and I can safely say I don’t feel the squish as much as when I first bought the shoes, but there is still plenty of cushioning left and I fully expect to get at least another 2-300km out of them before the midsole foam calls it a day.
Looking at the outsole, you can see that there is actually a significant effort at minimizing weight penalty from the denser outsole material. There is plenty of outsole rubber at the heel and forefoot, while the midfoot zone is mostly exposed midsole EVA foam. Traction is pretty good, courtesy of the lugged design and judging from the lack of wear after 200km, durability is excellent as well. There is very mild thinning of the blown rubber right at the front tip of the shoe that’s not very visible in the picture, but that’s not an area that’s going to wear through anytime soon.
Given all that I’ve mentioned about the shoe, I shall now talk about the limitations. When UA published the specs for this shoe on their website, it was advertised as weighing 8.5oz (~240g) in a US9. In fact, and this has been corroborated by others, it is closer to 10oz (282g). That’s still a pretty decent weight for a daily trainer (Energy Boost 286g, Brooks Launch 290g). Had the weight been closer to the original claimed weight, it would have been a category killer. As it is, it will have to contend with the likes of the new Brooks Launch 2, the Energy Boost and the Saucony Ride, all of which have built reputations as do-it-all shoes, though not necessarily with the flexibility of the Gemini. I’ve found on a number of occasions that the shoe does start to feel its weight when you really want to up the speed in response to a surge, and the legs can’t quite deliver. Most of the time, though, it feels a lot lighter than it weighs maybe because the upper feels like it’s not really there at all. I’ve taken to using this shoe mostly for recovery and easy runs at tempos >= 4:30 pace. Anything that requires a faster average pace and I would prefer a different shoe.
All in all, I think this is a very good first execution of a daily trainer. I’m not sure how weight can be shaved from the shoe, as the upper is pretty unstructured as is, and there isn’t a whole lot of outsole runner to pare, but I do hope that future generations can get down to the sub-250g range. If you can only have 1 pair of shoes, this would probably do a fine job. Alternatively use this as a do-it-all shoe and have another shoe just for racing. This shoe is on the pricier side, but the quality of the materials is really good and the durability is pretty good as well.