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Asics Going Minimalist with the Gel Lyte33 and Gel Fuji Racer?

Posted on February 10 2012

Yesterday I wrote a post on the current state of the running shoe market. One of the things that is clear from sales data is that the “lightweight” shoe category is growing rapidly, and is starting to eat away at the traditional neutral-stability-motion control categories.  Thus, it comes as no surprise that Asics, who have been slow to embrace the minimalist trend, are now releasing a lightweight (8.6 oz in men’s 9), 6mm drop running shoe called the Asics Gel Lyte33 (see photo below from Running Warehouse).

asicsgel-lyte-3Ascis Gel-Lyte33

Asics Gel Lyte33

I suspect it’s doubtful that you will see the word minimalist paired with the Gel Lyte33 (just as Brooks avoided the term in association with its Pure series), and in a post introducing the shoe, the Running Warehouse blog writes that “According to Asics, this shoe was built on a platform with a 6mm heel-to-toe drop in order to reduce weight, not to encourage a midfoot strike.”

My take? Low drop, lightweight shoes like the Brooks Pure series and Saucony Kinvara/Mirage have done so well that Asics couldn’t help but jump into the market. It’s good business. In fact, as I wrote yesterday, the Nike Free Run+ is one of the top 5 selling athletic shoes of any kind in the US right now – that might explain the rather striking similarity in sole appearance between the Gel Lyte33 and the Free (see below):

Asics Gel Lyte33 Sole Niie Free Run  Sole

Asics Gel Lyte33 Sole (left) and Nike Free Run+ Sole (right)

In addition to providing Asics’ rationale for lowering the heel of this shoe, the RW blog post also contained a rather amusing description of Asics F.A.S.T. technology (a reader pointed this out to me yesterday). The acronym stands for Featherweight Asics Speed Technology. And just what is this technology? According to the RW blog post it includes “removal of the heel counter and the aforementioned lower offset.” In the only other place on-line that I could find information about this shoe, Feet Elite provides the following description of F.A.S.T. technology in the Lyte33 (I have no idea if this is material provided by Asics, or text written by Feet Elite – note that it should read that the shoe lowers the heel by 6mm, not raises it):

“The Asics GEL-Lyte33 shoes are built for speed. They employ several of Asics Speed Technologies, including: F.A.S.T. Drop, F.A.S.T. Sole, F.A.S.T. Heel, and F.A.S.T. Ride. The Drop raises the heel 6mm to encourage a midfoot or forefoot stride for faster running while the Sole provides a minimal outsole material positioned in high abrasive areas. The Heel employs a lightweight construction to comfortably hug the foot and minimize structural weight, while the Ride increases responsiveness and enhances the ride from contact to toe-off.”

So, new technology now consists of the removal of old technology, or the absence of technology. Lose the heel counter, lose outsole material, lose 4-6mm of material under the heel, etc. Interesting. I suppose it’s hard to enthusiastically promote features of a shoe that represent removal of things found on most of your other shoes, but calling their absence “technology” is a bit much. It would seem that a simpler and more forthright marketing approach would be to simply say that different runners like different things, and this shoe provides options for those who want a more stripped down (minimalist) shoe.

The Gel Lyte33 is not the only low drop, lightweight shoe on the way from Asics. They are responding to the popularity of the lightweight category amongst trail runners by releasing the Gel-Fuji Racer, and 8.7 oz trail shoe with a rock plate and a 6mm offset. For more details on the Gel Fuji-Racer, check out this blog post about the Fuji Racer over at Running Warehouse.

asics fuji racer

Anyway, nitpicking aside, it’s good to see another company adding more diverse footwear options to the market, even if they were slow to arrive and appear to be fumbling a bit with their marketing approach. If the Gel Lyte33 feels anything like the Nike Free, I’m sure this shoe will do well, and positive sales will continue the diversification of the running shoe market that is currently underway.

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