by John Schrup
This past year, ASICS discontinued in the US market one of the best shoes within recent memory. The Tarther originated in Japan, and continues to be one of the best selling trainers in that market. It is considered a trainer there; here, it was marketed as a racer. It is still available in Europe, too, because the European footwear heads of state know a good thing when they run in it. Here at Rogue, we thought the Tarther was worthy of public displays of affection. With tongue. But for whatever reason, ASICS decided that it wasn’t worthy of our feet, shins, knees and hips. May the person who is responsible for that decision be visited upon by a really, really, really cranky Kinsei wearing chupacabra. With hantavirus.
ASICS was, in the not too recent past, the mother of all running specialty brands. They were, in terms of product and marketing, the most copied of the Big 7. Sales reps from other companies would introduce their new models with, “This is our 2150…This is our Kayano…This is our Nimbus, etc., etc.” Their ads spoke to the lifestyle of the runner, rarely touching on the benefits of the product, and took what Nike had done with advertising and modeled it for the every-runner. It was gold.
But recently, ASICS had fallen fast, caught back on their heels, resting on their laurels. They had publicly rejected the trend toward simpler, lighter, lower footwear because their “science” didn’t support it, until it became obvious that they were so out of touch that their product became antiquated. Think 8-tracks. The only time we were bringing out ASICS was when someone requested a specific model, or on the occasion when we were left with few other options. They were not at all what we Rogues believe in and they were, well, boring. Every couple of months, I would climb into the back of my closet, dig past the used and abused Adios and Kinvaras until I found my old, retired Tarthers and we would sit together on the floor and reminisce. It was kinda like The Giving Tree, except shoes.
Ok, I don’t know how to start this next part. I mean, I almost can’t believe I’m even thinking this. Maybe I should preface this by saying I am not on drugs, or under a doctor’s supervision that you know of right now.
I like the new Gel LYTE. A lot. I really, really like this shoe. It looks and feels a bit like if the upper of the Brooks Racer ST 3 and the Nike Zoom Skylon 2 did it and had babies. Underfoot, it feels a lot like the Skylon 2, which was a rad shoe, if you can remember that far back. ASICS is known for the super softness Nimbus and Kayano, so it was a big surprise when I put on the LYTE and it….was…so…firm. Responsive firm. Like a good shoe should be. I’ll bet most of you will find it shockingly firm, but that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it. If the Kinvara 3 were this firm, it would be even closer to the perfect shoe and I would not stand up in front of the class, if you know what I’m saying and I think you do. The responsive feel of the shoe makes you want to go out and run, even if it is 100 degrees outside and you just ate a pound and a half of Costco Trail Mix (which should pretty much be banned, Bloomberg-style, since I’m getting stretch marks as I sit here, damn it.) They’re that nice. The 6 mm offset feels fast and efficient, and combined with the responsive ride, gives you a shoe that could be a racer or a trainer, depending on your wants and needs.
ASICS will need to work on the upper a bit. The overall fit is comfortably snug, even on my relatively narrow foot. But the overlays are old-school pleather that is a wee bit too stiff in places and creases right on top of the foot. I don’t think it will be a problem, once the shoes break in, because when I did a couple strides in them that all but disappeared. I’m told by someone in ASICS that the upper will be fixed in the next incarnation, the LYTE 2, which is due out in January. Apparently, they’ll have both models available concurrently, which is just plain strange, like it would be if Back to the Future and Back to the Future 2 came out at the same time. Except shoes.
Don’t call it a come back. Yet. It’s only one attempt. But the LYTE is a shoe worth checking out. It doesn’t replace my beloved Tarther, but it could very well be your next favorite shoe. Arigato, ASICS.