I’ve had my original orange pair for almost a year, so this Flyknit Racer review has been a long time in the making. I have recently taken delivery of a second pair of Flyknit Racers in red, which has allowed me to approach this review from that of an owner of a fresh pair as well as a runner that’s put nearly 200 miles through them.
The Flyknit concept started life as an idea from Nike’s discussions with elite runners regarding what they wanted from a shoe. The one clear request from the feedback was a shoe that was light but also fitted well, almost as if it was a sock.
Five years later, Nike’s Flyknit technology was released upon the world, making its debut at the London Olympic Games.
Sporting an upper made from a single knitted weave, not only is the Flyknit Racer “light for flight”, but it’s also more environmentally sound due to reduced waste.
Kicking off this Flyknit Racer review, I’d like to talk about the colour options available. The original line-up featured volt/black and orange/grey.
The volt/black colourway was the ‘hero’ shoe that was used in all the advertising and promotion. Nike also debuted the volt/black colourway on its various sponsored athletes at the Olympic games.
Personally, I went with the orange/grey colourway due to the likelihood that they would be seen less frequently in the wild and also for the tamer colour.
Earlier this year, Nike released a black/grey colourway. I wasn’t keen on this colour option where I felt it clashed with the overall look of the Flyknit Racer.
Recently, Nike introduced a new red/black colourway into the line-up. For me, this is a great looking colour combination where it’s striking but without being as attention grabbing as the volt/black colourway.
Nike apparently has plans to release yellow, green and purple colourways later in the year.
Availability of all the options appears to be healthy, which is unusual with Nike where they like to phase colours in and out of circulation.
The Flyknit Racer is intended to give a snug, sock-like feel; almost like that of a track spike. Because of this, you will want to go true to size. The fit is also quite narrow and there is no wide option available, so those with wider feet may need to upsize, though this defeats the purpose of the close-fit. The shoe is intended to be unisex, so women will need to downsize to find their ideal fit.
“Light for flight” is the slogan used for the Flyknit Racer. My UK size 8 pair hovers at around 160g per shoe; a ridiculously low weight that only a few other racing flats have managed to beat. I had to shake the box when I first received mine to make sure they were in there!
The Flyknit Racer’s upper is entirely constructed from Nike’s synthetic yarn. The one-piece construction means there is very little waste or excess. The weave also makes for an extremely breathable shoe, something that was sorely lacking from Nike’s Lunaracer. It’s possible to literally see through the weave in certain places and see your foot beneath. Running and racing in the summer is a joy in these, thanks to the ventilation, and I can definitely feel the difference when I change into other running shoes of mine. Of course, breathability also means things can get inside the shoe easily, namely water. During the winter, I regularly race 5ks and the cold air is less welcome; if it rains (it normally does in Britain), my feet get soaked.
The Flyknit Racer’s upper has a contrasting colour scheme to it, with the outer area of the foot predominantly decked in the shoe’s primary colour and the inner foot in the secondary colour. The Nike swoosh has been printed on using a paint that I can only describe as looking like white wash, with a powdered look.
Almost the entire upper is intertwined with Nike’s Flywire technology. These are strong, synthetic wires that have been woven into the weave with loops exposed where the lace eyelets would go. The laces are then threaded through these wires at the same time and as you tighten the laces, the wires get pulled and the upper conforms to the contours of your feet. What you get is a snug feeling of support, without any additional weight. It is possible to further customise the fit, particularly if you have wider feet. You can choose to thread the laces through the Flywires or not, which will allow you to tighten or loosen different parts of the upper. There are 6 eyelets on either side of the upper and I personally do use all of the 5 Flywires available. The use of Flywire in the Flyknit Racer is possibly the most successful application of it so far, compared to the Lunaracer where the plastic top layer used to hold the wires in place also made the shoe dramatically less breathable.
Certain parts of the upper have also been strengthened with a closer, thicker weave for added support or high-wear, such as the heel area and where the shoe creases upon toe-off.
Over time, the Flyknit Racers will mould into the shape of your foot for a very personalised fit. Certain Nike stores offer a fitting service where the shoes are doused in steam whilst you wear them; they are then left to cool and you should have a pair of perfectly fitted Flyknit Racers. The same process can be repeated at home by wearing the shoes in a steamy bathroom and then allowing them to cool. Personally, I preferred to break my shoes in the old-fashioned way by running them in. My red/black pair are still relatively new and comparing them visually to my worn-in orange/grey pair, it’s easy to see they haven’t quite moulded to my feet yet.
The tongue is a separate stitched-in piece to the upper and is held in place by threading the laces through two loops. This for me is the only bug-bear, because the tongue can occasionally slip and move to the side, however your mileage may vary depending on how tight or loose you wear your shoes.
My orange/grey pair was the original launch model and shipped with oval laces and the red/black pair shipped with flat ribbon laces. The ribbon laces are much cheaper and more difficult to keep tied, requiring a much sturdier knot. I’m considering replacement oval laces (40 inch length) for mine to improve the situation. This change was across the entire line at some point in early 2013, affecting both Flyknit Racers and Flyknit Trainers.
The upper really is quite minimalistic, right through to the collar lacking any sort of padding to further reduce weight. What isn’t needed isn’t used is the order of the day.
Completing the upper is a loop at the rear of the shoe to help pull the shoe on and off. Reflective material has been applied to the loop for a small element of safety if running at night.
The Flyknit Racer’s insole is made from Nike’s ortholite material, which I believe is also used in their line of Free and Free Run shoes. These mould into the shape of your feet after a few miles. There is no Nike+ foot pod cavity beneath the insole due to the reduced thickness of the midsole; I simply use a foot pod wallet that threads through the laces with no intrusion to running at all.
The Flyknit Racer’s midsole is constructed from Nike’s Zoom material. It’s firmer than their Lunarlon material, yet just as light and offers an incredibly responsive ride. Initially, some may find the feel a little too harsh, especially if they have never run in racing flats before, or have come from traditional cushioned shoes. Putting a few miles through the Flyknit Racers will break them in and the ride will soften up slightly. I can only describe the feeling as being full of feedback; I know exactly when I’m running on tarmac, concrete or grass based on the feeling underfoot.
The Zoom Air unit is located in the midsole area. This shoe is ideally suited for runners that land on their toes or mid-foot. Lighter-weight heel strikers could possibly get away with this shoe over shorter distances, though I would be cautious about venturing into anything above a 10k for fear of injury.
The heel area of the midsole is flared to increase its surface area when landing on the ground, though again should not be relied upon by heel strikers.
The heel drop is approximately 10mm in height, so the term “racing flat” probably isn’t as accurate as it could be. Be that as it may, it has all the ingredients of a good quality racing flat.
Majority of the sole is covered in a layer of black rubber, possibly Nike’s BRS 100 found on a number of their other running shoes. This is quite a contrast to the Lunaracer, where only high wear areas are rubberised. In a nod to Bill Bowerman’s original waffle print running shoes, Nike have applied a waffle-patterned grip layout to the sole, affectionately named “Waffleskin”. They claim this pattern has been optimised for racing and speed and I can honestly say, it’s rare that I’ve ever felt like I needed more traction, even when racing in rain.
The central portion of the sole is exposed midsole material with a large Nike swoosh logo, matching the primary colour of the Flyknit Racer.
The rubber is incredibly thin at only 2 – 3mm in thickness in a bid to cut down on weight and will also affect the longevity and life span of the Flyknit Racer.
Use and performance
I have run in the Flyknit Racers in distances from 5k all the way through to the marathon. The shoe is designed to go fast and feels most comfortable when you’re toeing off in a race, rather than easily jogging. The configuration almost encourages you to lean forward whilst you run, again convincing you to run faster.
The fit and feel of the shoe gives you the illusion that they’re an extension of your legs and feet, rather than a tool for the job.
Personally, I think the shoe is most at home up to the half marathon distance. I regularly run Parkrun 5k events, 10ks and half marathons in the Flyknit Racers and the low weight is welcome during the closing stages when you’re tired and your legs are heavy with lactic acid. I recently ran the London Marathon in the Flyknit Racers and they admirably stuck with me, but from mile 20 onwards I began to heel strike due to exhaustion. Heel striking is not how these shoes were intended to be used and I was concerned with how they would handle. I finished the marathon without any injuries, though I would say anybody that takes longer than 4 to 4.5 hours to run a marathon should probably consider a different shoe with more support.
My original orange/grey pair have had over 180 miles put through them and they still look and perform as well as they did when I first got them. The only sign of wear and tear is on the outer edge of the sole where my foot first makes contact with the ground. The rubber has worn away by 1 – 1.5mm so I estimate I can get to 300 miles before I wear through to the midsole. 150 miles to 300 miles is typical for a racing flat, so these should be reserved for use only when absolutely needed.
These are an expensive shoe, originally retailing in the UK for £150. If they do make it to 300 miles, that’s 50p per mile of wear. They have come down in price slightly and can be found for £115 through third party retailers and Nike sells them directly for £130. For me, these are worth every penny for the fit and weight, hence why I have recently bought a second pair.
On the high street in the UK, only Nike themselves seem to have these in stock to try. It is definitely worth trying these on in person if you’re considering a purchase, due to the unique fit these offer.
If you have any questions about the Flyknit Racer, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.