Nike, on its quest to make footwear better, sleeker and fully optimized to meet the needs of any runner, released its latest shoe innovation this year, the Joyride running shoe. These shoes, which start at $140, have Nike's new "proprietary cushioning system" which is supposed to help reduce strain on your legs, ankles and feet. While not explicitly designed for beginning runners, Nike says the new shoes can make running seem easy for everyone, at every experience level.
When Nike announced them, I was immediately interested. I've been running off and on for years -- in Nikes and other shoes -- and the promise of springy shoe that makes running easy made me want to get back out there. I knew I wanted to test these out to see if they lived up to the hype.
To The Test is a series where we try out a product and share our experience with using it in our everyday lives.
What are Nike Joyride shoes?
For this story, I tested a pair of Nike Joyride Run Flyknit shoes. On the outside, the Joyride looks like Nike's various super-sleek, lightweight running shoes. The upper is Nike's signature Flyknit material, which looks and stretches like a sock. The shoes are meant to fit snug -- I got a size 6 which fits well, but there's no way I am getting a sock in there.
Inside the shoe is where things get interesting. The sole has three or four chambers (depending on your shoe size) filled with thousands of tiny TPE beads that look like Dippin' Dots. Those beads compress to absorb shock and expand to provide a springy feeling when you run.
As the Joyride shoe makes contact with whatever running surface you're on, the beads inside the chambers shift and compress to mold to your foot. Think of it like running barefoot on sand -- the grains of sand conform to your foot and leave an impression behind.
Testing the Joyride shoes
In the last year or so, I've taken time away from running (except when I was testing). Going into my workout to test the Joyrides, I was about at the same level as a beginning runner.
I started out on paved concrete path and noticed right away that, with my slower-paced shuffle/jog (typically about a 12-13 minute mile), the shoes had much less ankle stabilization compared to the pair of Asics I've had for a few years. As a result, my ankles felt a little sore, because they aren't used to running with less support.
I'm also most definitely a heel striker when I jog and the sole of these Nikes didn't absorb that shock well compared to my older running shoes, which have several layers of gel and foam cushioning.
However as I switched to a dirt path, I noticed the shoes did a better job of cushioning my feet. That's likely because softer surfaces, like grass, dirt and running tracks have less ground reaction force than concrete. Basically, the dirt path absorbed more of the shock from my feet hitting the ground than the concrete did.
They're better when you're faster
Where these shoes really start to shine is when you run. For most people, your foot strike changes when you pick up the pace -- rather than heel striking, you land on the balls of your feet and bounce forward.
Joyride felt amazing at this pace -- a great combination of bouncy and lightweight that made me feel like I was flying. The shoes had a noticeable springy feel at the ball of my foot that made it easier to get to the next step.
In contrast, at a faster pace or an all-out sprint, my older running shoes can feel like the clunky because they're heavy (thanks to all those layers of cushioning).
Here's what I loved about the Nike Joyride:
- The Flyknit upper is stretchy and breathable.
- The beads are colorful and fun.
- The bouncy feeling they give you is great.
- The shoes feel feather-light.
And, what I didn't like:
- Not enough ankle stabilization.
- Not especially shock absorbing on hard surfaces.
- Too pricey for a beginner's running shoe.
Should you buy Nike Joyride shoes?
While Nike calls Joyride a shoe for all runners, I'm not totally convinced. I agree with Runner's World's review, which notes that the shoes are plush, but calls them out for being too pricey for a beginning runner. The least-expensive option with the Joyride sole is $140, which is a lot of money for someone just starting to run. Even within the Nike line, there are less expense options to try as you ease into running.
Like many of Nike's lightweight running shoes, I found that they don't offer enough stabilization that you might need when you're first starting to run. For beginner runners, it's really worth the time to go to a running store and testing out several different models to find your right shoe.
Now, if you are a seasoned runner and are looking for a lightweight shoe that offers cushioning and support, the Joyride shoes are worth a shot. You'll probably enjoy the bouncy feel, especially if you typically run fast.