ZoomX Core and New Plate Shifts the Focus!

Article by Derek LI

Nike Zoom Fly 5 ($160)

Introduction

The Zoom Fly range has strong sentimental value for me. The OG Zoom Fly 1 was arguably the first plated maximalist shoe to enter the public consciousness from a mainstream brand. I was a big fan of the shoe from the outset and went on to use it to break a 3-year-old marathon PB in 2:41:10 back in July of 2017 (less than a month after it was released for sale). 

Since then the ZF has gone through several iterations, and I think it’s fair to say it’s been hit and miss with the majority of runners. Nike has never quite managed to get it all right with this model. 

I liked the fit and lockdown of ZF1, both at true to size and a half size up, but I know of people who had abrasive issues with the heel counter. And in terms of the ride, you either loved it or hated it. I liked it for long runs and it was great for holding uptempo efforts, but it was probably too firm for the majority of casual runners. 

ZF SP was marketed more as an athleisure shoe but I actually used it for a couple of races because it was a more minimalist upper with the same aggressive rocker. Many people still think the SP upper is the best ZF upper of all. 

ZF2 went all-React for the midsole, and the plate got upgraded to the same carbon plate as the 4%. Everything underfoot was great. A little bottom-heavy but the ride was bouncier and more forgiving. The upper was terrible unless you have very narrow feet. (The same could be said of the 4% flyknit)

ZF3 changed up the stack height and silhouette completely, mirroring the change from 4% to Next%. For reference, 4% was a 34/24 stack height, Next% is 37/29. 

ZF1 and 2 were 35/25 stack heights, ZF3 went  to 37/29 just like the Next%. As a result, the bottom heavy feel was more obvious as the stack numbers increased. The new dual layer ripstop upper just didn’t fit very well, again favoring narrow feet. The ride also changed. The rocker became less aggressive (like in the 4% to Next% transition). 

ZF4 released to little fanfare with an updated upper but it seemed to use the same platform as the ZF3. It is the only ZF version I skipped. 

Enter ZF5. The silhouette has been updated again, and for once they kept it simple and went back to a conventional upper. I was all in. 

Stats

Weight: US9.5 L 286g/10.09oz, R 297g/10.48oz

The weight difference between the 2 shoes was quite significant, and I put this down to challenges in maintaining consistency when using recycled scraps of ZoomX. 

Zoom Fly 5 Measured Stack: 41/33, 8mm drop

Comparisons to other trainers I have measured

Saucony Endorphin Speed 3: 37/28 (official stack 36/28)

Saucony Tempus: 40/32

Xtep 160x Pro: 40/34

Adidas Boston 10: 39/31

Nike Tempo Next%: 42/38

Nike Zoom invincible: 37/29

Puma Deviate Nitro: 39/31

New Balance SC Trainer 45/30 (official stack 41/33)

Pros: 

Cushioned ride

Good outsole grip and durability

Good fit and lockdown

Cons:

Heavy

Not very soft (but softer than Endorphin Speed 3)

Tester Profile

Derek is in his 30’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:39 marathon PR from the 2022 Zurich Marathon.

First impressions, fit and upper

The shoe actually looks quite big in hand, sort of like the Saucony Tempus. There is a lot of flaring of the midsole going on so it’s going to look bigger than other shoes of the same size. The colorway is pretty nice. I got the colour that seems to be the Oregon WC theme so I’m quite happy with that. Step in feel is excellent. There is something about no-gimmicks conventional uppers that are brilliant in their simplicity. The fit is definitely true to size and would work great with any thickness of socks. Walking around, there is a little bit of spring and compression going on, but not a whole lot. The sockliner is glued in, and appears to be conventional EVA. 

The primary upper is made up of 2 layers. The inner layer is thin synthetic material with circular perforations. The outer layer is a finer knit with a slightly waxy texture.

The toe area reinforcements are interesting. Instead of the conventional internal laminate forming an internal toe bumper, you have a very thin laminate coating around the front, plus an extra internal laminate that would cover the 5th toe and metatarso-phalangeal joint. (This is yellow in colour). It’s interesting to me because I have not come across anybody complaining about making a hole in that part of the upper for the ZF series before. The lace eyelets are a theme that was first seen way back in 2015 in the Zoom Streak 6, and is now seen in the Zoom Rival Fly range so I think most people are familiar with it now. It works ok, though the individual eyelets don’t tend to hold tension that well for me. 

The tongue itself is moderately padded, which is again surprising sinc Nike has historically used minimal tongues for the ZF. It is gusseted and attached to the midsole by means of broad elastic bands on both sides. 

The heel counter is quite conventional with a moderate amount of padding and a semi-rigid internal heel cup. The entire heel area is a little on the lower end of the spectrum in the sense that it does not ride up very high. This will negate any risk of Achilles irritation, but I think the heel hold may not be as good for people with low volume heels as a result. The upper is fairly breathable. I have never had breathability issues with ZF uppers and this one is no different. Overall, nothing really stands out as exceptional and the upper is what you would expect from say a Pegasus or Vomero. A real workhorse type of upper. The materials are a bit stiffer than they look and this gives a fairly good secure lockdown once you lace things up. 

The overall fit has more of a daily trainer feel than a lightweight trainer/racer type of performance fit. The arch is not very structured and the toebox is also on the broader side as far as Nike shoes go. 

Midsole

So the final verdict is out. The shoe uses an SR02 EVA foam carrier and recycled ZoomX as the core. 

The ZoomX does run the entire length of the shoe and there is ZoomX positioned both above and below an embedded plate. Nike isn’t clear on the composition of the plate, calling it an articulated plate in its literature, but the shoe does feel more flexible than previous versions of ZF so it’s possible the plate is no longer carbon. (This is especially so when you consider that the new outsole is stiffer than the outsole on previous versions) The shape of the plate, from what I’ve seen of others’ cut down of the shoe, appears to still be the same as before.

The midsole itself is quite flared. You can especially see the extra midsole flaring out beyond the boundaries of the upper along the lateral aspect of the shoe below. 

This is without a doubt the softest of the Zoom Fly shoes I’ve tried, bearing in mind I did not try ZF4. The stack and compressibility of the foam give a very cushioned underfoot experience, making it among the best vibration dampening trainers on the market at present. 

Outsole

The outsole rubber is thick and extensive and very abrasive in road feel, giving the shoe excellent wet and dry grip. It should also be very durable. I have only about 100km in my current pair but I am seeing near-zero outsole wear which is quite remarkable considering I’ve recently been running more on packed gravel/sand which seems to wear down softer rubber compounds faster than tarmac for my running style. 

Zoom Fly 5 outsole at 100km

Ride

The ride is springy and rockered but in a now much mellower fashion that makes it much more versatile as a daily trainer. Early ZF were downright harsh for slower runs but now it’s actually quite pleasant in ZF5. 

The best use case for me is steady effort, long runs and medium distance runs of 10-14 miles. You get a smooth, slightly springy and rockered ride that does very well at holding your pace. I like the overall stability of the shoe as well. It’s perhaps not quite as impressive as a Saucony Tempus in this department, but it’s pretty close. 

The conventional, well structured upper with a flared midsole and solid predictable outsole all add up to good confident cornering stability for me.  That’s the good news. 

The bad news is the weight of the shoe is up there with the Adidas Boston 10 and NB SC Trainer. The balance is now such that the bottom heavy sensation is ameliorated somewhat, with the more substantial upper, but it does feel hard to do fast paced running in this shoe. 

My feeling is with the Streakfly and the Tempo Next% already established in the lineup, Nike decided to focus on something at the slower end of the trainer spectrum. 

Conclusion

Nike really shot themselves in the foot with their description of this shoe. I quote Nike’s own description here:

“Bridge the gap between your weekend training run and race day in a durable design that can be deployed not just at the starting line of your favourite race but in the days and months after your conquest.”

I think the shoe is a good daily trainer but I would not consider it a good speed or workout shoe. I mean, even with ZF1 and 2, I’ve used them for marathon pace work but never anything faster so I don’t think the ZF ever was a very good race day shoe for any distance less than a full marathon. Nike could do better by marketing it as a cushioned daily trainer that sits between the Tempo Next% and the Vomero/Invincible. If you get it with the idea of wanting a cheaper alternative racy shoe that is similar to a Saucony Endorphin Speed then you are going to be very disappointed. 

Derek’s Score: 9.30 / 10

Ride (50%) 9.3, Fit (30%) 9.5, Value (15%) 9, Style (5%) 9 

“Smiles” Score: 😊😊😊😊

Comparisons

Nike Zoom Fly 1/2/3 (RTR Review)

I went a half size up in ZF1 but was true to size in ZF2,3 and 5. The ZF5 is just different now. More of a cruiser and much more forgiving for longer runs than before. I think for daily training, the ZF5 is a better overall shoe, but for uptempo work, the earlier ZF were better. 

Nike Zoom Tempo Next% (RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. The Tempo is still quite a Goldilocks shoe for me in terms of cushioning and running all sorts of hard paces in. The ZF5 has a mellower ride that makes slower runs more natural, but for uptempo running, the Tempo is still the better, more assistive shoe for me. 

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Fk (RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. Count me among people for whom the Invincible doesn’t quite work for. It’s soft and bouncy but seems to be quite tedious to run in. The upper is also a bit on the warmer side. Maybe if it were less flexible… ZF5 is by far the better and more efficient shoe for me, and I would pick it over the Invincible for every type of run other than the odd 5 miler where I am absolutely trashed and need to go slower than 8:00/mile. 

Adidas Boston 10 (RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. Both shoes have good functional uppers for me, and actually both shoes are nearly identical in weight. Boston 10 has the stiffer, more aggressive rocker but the harsher underfoot feel. Both shoes have excellent outsoles though I think the Boston has marginally better grip. I find the ZF5 to be more forgiving and enjoyable for moderate-easy pace long runs, but the Boston is better if I want to do some pace surges as it handles faster paces better. It’s a close call, but given the Boston 10 is $20 cheaper and is often discounted, I would say the Boston 10 is an overall better value shoe. 

Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 (RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. Both shoes fit me really well. The ZF5 is more cushioned and is softer and slightly bouncier, but the Speed 3 is a much more versatile shoe that can really pick up the pace. The weight difference between the 2 shoes is also quite significant. The big downside with Speed 3 is the outsole seems to be a lot less durable than the ZF5. Both shoes retail for the same price, and… the Speed 3 wins. 

Saucony Tempus (RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. Both have very similar stack numbers, but it is quite surprising how much more cushioned the ZF5 is than the Tempus. The plate really seems to shine here and from my run data, it is quite clear that I am faster in the ZF5 than in the Tempus at the same effort and heart rate. For a daily trainer, I pick the ZF5. 

New Balance SC Trainer (My RTR Review)

I am true to size in both shoes. The SC Trainer is the max trainer coming out of NB and the heel is massive and very cushioned compared to the ZF5. At the forefoot, the ZF5 feels surprisingly softer and more cushioned. The SC Trainer has the more aggressive rockered ride here and seems to keep propelling me along a little better. That said, the SC Trainer is even heavier than ZF5 and so that sort of cancels out the better rocker somewhat. Overall, it’s pretty close. I think the ZF5 is the better shoe courtesy of an overall better package with the superior upper. 

The tested sample was a personal purchase. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’

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