Saturday, September 21, 2013

Skechers GObionic Trail Shoe Review


I have come to believe that most runners likely take for granted their choice of footwear. They may be swayed by marketing campaigns or who on the professional circuit is wearing a particular brand and consider this as a primary reason for their purchase. But let’s look at shoes from another light. They are both the least important and most important of a runners kit. This dichotomy occurs because a runner is essentially a human being and nothing more. Equipment does not make a runner as say it does a cyclist. It is the bike that make the person a cyclist…or a tennis player, this requires one to play a game within a defined man made environment, the tennis court, using a racquet and ball. But for the runner, the simple plain and beautiful truth is that one could run with only the body he or she was given and nothing more. The simple act of running is purity in and of itself.   At the same time, shoes can be a very important tool in the runner’s arsenal, and the longer and farther one runs the more important the tools. So this is the dichotomy. We don’t need shoes to be runners but with the right shoe we will be happy runners.

You may now be wondering where I am going with this and thinking it is an odd way to review a shoe so let me wrap up the two concepts above as a lead up to the actual purpose of this post. Simply shoes need to be chosen based on how they feel on your feet and taking into consideration the use and environment you are going to run. That is it, plain and simple!!

Now for the Skechers GObionic Trail. This shoe, like an earlier review of the GOrun Ride fits like a comfortable glove right out of the box. There is no messing around here, no need to break in the shoe, or find the right shoe soc combo. You can put this shoe on and go for a run. Unlike my earlier complaint about laces on the Skechers road shoes, lacing on the GObionic Trail is dead on. No need to rip out the laces and change them or try and find a better lacing pattern.

 

Skechers GObionic Trail

As for the shoe design it is slipper like without any bulky added weight. It is simplicity in design and beauty in function. It goes straight to the heart of my opening of this review that it is a shoe meant to protect your feet and give you comfort. No marketing gimmicks or false promises are needed here.

But how does the shoe perform? This is ultimately the most important question for a review to answer. In coming to an answer I ran with the shoes over a number of weeks on a variety of terrain. Two particular runs stand out as a clear example as to the quality and performance characteristics of these shoes. So let me set each of the runs up for you first.

The first was a 20+km run in Banff National Park. The run was a simple up and down on Sulfur Mountain, 1000m of vertical gain in dry hot weather on three types of surfaces. The first 4km and last 4km were on asphalt or cement (road surface and sidewalk), 5 km was on hard pack soil with exposed rock surfaces and 5 km on crushed stone varying in size from pea gravel to sharp stone the size of golf balls. The days leading up to the run had been very dry in the area so there was no water or mud on trail for the entire run.

The second run was a bit under 20km and occurred in parc national du Mont-Orford in Quebec’s Cantons de l’Est region just south of Montreal. With around 500m of elevation gain this run was not as severe in climbing as the Banff run above but made up for it by offering a very wet and muddy trail. The region had seen a number of days of very heavy rainfall prior to the run and this was made more interesting as the trail had been recently rebuilt and many of the rocks used on the trail for staircases or infill were still placing themselves. This run was about 6km on fire road, 2km on pavement and the remainder on technical single track.

In general the shoes performed at or beyond expectations in both running situations. I was amazed at how adaptable the GObionic Trail was on the various surfaces especially in how comfortable the shoes felt on the pavement. The tread design and light weight of the shoe means that you won’t feel like a Clydesdale horse running on pavement. As well, and I think this will appeal to the environmentalist in all of us, the tread on these shoes are not so aggressive as to tear up the very ground we love to run on, but this doesn’t mean you are running on trails in racing flats either. On the uphill sections in Mont Orford with mud and rocks I never felt out of control and slipping occurred in spots where I would have thought no shoe would have done well. Generally these shoes aided my confidence in being able to place my foot where I wanted to and not worrying about ‘sticking’ to a surface.

The GObionic Trail was especially at home on the Sulfur Mountain climb and descent. While the sole thickness did translate in a few ouch moments when stepping on small sharp rocks on the downhill, this was only a bit of an inconvenience and I was soon adjusting my downhill technique to avoid the sharper rocks. This in turn led to a few “holy crap” moments when my speed and descent exceeded my cornering technique and I came a bit closer to the edge of the trail than I wanted. These shoes performed more like road shoes in terms of their lightness than a typical stiff trail shoe.

I should also mention that the Skechers GObionic Trail offers two offset or Heel to Toe drop options. With the insole in place the shoe has a 3mm drop. This can be changed by removing the insole resulting in a 0 drop. I kept the Skechers insole in place and found it to be a perfect running platform for my running style. The tongue, as in other Skechers products is gusseted which I suspect contributes to the slipper like feeling of the shoes. 



 
  
The removable inner sole brings the drop from 3mm to 0

In looking who this shoe would be for I can see it appealing to a number of different types of buyers. The first type, and probably the group least served by the running shoe industry, is the casual runner. Here I mean two types of casual runner. The first is someone who runs intermittently and on varied terrain although I would suggest that the majority of running should occur on trails or dirt roads (if this runner was running more often on roads or multi use pathways they may still be better served by a road shoe for the occasional foray onto a trail). As a single shoe owner the GObionic Trail would offer the most flexibility of use. The second casual runner is the person who is a regular road runner who wants to play on the trails from time to time and is looking to purchase a trail specific shoe. For this person the GObionic gives you a road like shoe in terms of responsiveness without the heavily lugged pattern of some trail shoes which would be overkill for the odd weekend run on gentle trails. It also offers flexibility in trail surface so can adapt too making a good shoe if only one trail shoe was in your immediate future.
 













 
A good lug design for a fast responsive shoe with adequate grip for most trail situations

The second group of runners who would be served by the Skechers GObionic Trail are the performance junkies who own a number of trail shoes suited for specific trail types. This shoe, as I mentioned above, is a more than capable star on the dry hard pack trail where speed is a factor. With this shoe you can go out and bomb through trails knowing that you are not wasting energy with a heavier wet weather shoe on a surface that is dry and not overly technical.

A small market group of runners who would also be perfect to consider the GObionic Trail are adventure or multi day stage race runners. This type of runner needs to cover large distance on a variety of terrain types with a shoe that offers comfort for the long running days but a degree of performance in terms of light weight without sacrificing cushioning and foot protection. A good example of the environment for this runner would be my plan on running the 320km Rideau Trail in Eastern Ontario which will occur on paved road and pathways, country roads, dirt roads and single track. Because I plan on running this trail with no support over a 60 hour period I do not have the flexibility to carry two or three shoes for the different surfaces I will be running on. The Skechers GObionic Trail offers a great compromise on all the surface types and will be the shoes I wear on this run (for more info please see www.runningcuba.blogspot.ca). 

The final group of runners I can see appreciating the GObionic are those runners who run on a variety of trail surfaces during a given run. For most of us we may start out from a parking lot consisting of gravel or pavement, run up a nice hard pack fire road or multi use trail onto a gnarly bit of root covered single track, across a wet area over some exposed rock outcrop, through a pine forest and back to our vehicle. This type of mixed landscape will be where the Skechers GObionic Trail really shines and shows its strength in comparison to other trail shoes.
 
In concluding this review I would like you to consider that the Skechers GObionic Trail is what a trail shoe is meant to be. No flash or gimmicks, no hype or hard sell, just a shoe to put on your feet and help you enjoy the very thing you want to do, that is run. But it does this with the required components of making the run more enjoyable with a design that is appropriate  to a wide range of trail runners looking for a shoe that is not so narrowly focused on one environment type nor so generic as to be of little use to high performance trail runners. In short the Skechers GObionic Trail should be a serious contender for your next trail running shoe purchase.

A special thanks to the folks at Skechers Canada for providing the Skechers GObionic for the test. Merci Laurent and Cris.