First look - the brand new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint running shoe

Photo : Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint

Continuing on the legacy of the Nike Breaking2 project, the brand new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint (let’s call them Flyprint) is the latest innovation from the running shoe giants and they say it’s a special one; with only 50 pairs being reportedly made and retailing for a dazzling £500, these are running shoes designed and built (and sold) in the extreme. But there’s far more significance to these shoes than a price and limited number.

The Breaking2 project was never about building a shoe that’ll last 600 miles, it was about being fast and the Flyprint marches to the same drum. Born out of feedback from Eliud Kipchoge, who noticed that in moist conditions the Flyknit upper on the Vaporfly Elite retained a degree of water and thus made the shoe incrementally heavier by the end of a race, Nike had to fix this.  

When running as fast as you can for 26.2 miles, especially at elite levels, heavier shoes make a dramatic difference to performance and so the solution to the problem also became the name of the shoe; the upper is a TPU (Thermoplastic Poly Urethane aka plastic) that Nike print to create each shoe.

Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint

The component parts of the Flyprint; printed upper and ZoomX midsole with carbon fibre plate. 

We sat down with Bret Schoolmeester, Senior Director of Nike Running Footwear, to talk about the shoe (that conversation coming soon in the next episode of our podcast) and what immediately struck us was how light it is.  You can see in the pictures that the upper is open enough for light (and air and water) to easily pass through, with the weave of the printing being more dense around pressure points in the heel, ankle and around the laces. The midsole is still the ZoomX foam as used in the Elite and features the same carbon fibre plate to maximise on energy return.

RELATED – Our review of Nike VaporFly 4%

3D printing isn’t a new technology in running, but it’s not often seen in high-end performance footwear. Schoolmeester identified three major advantages to this new technology. Firstly, it no longer retains water so remains light throughout the race; secondly the new shoe is lighter than the VaporFly Elite by 6%, a considerable reduction when working within the world of seconds and records; and thirdly each shoe can be redesigned and reprinted to the spec of an elite athlete within a matter of hours.

 The shoes that Mo Farah is reportedly running the London Marathon in were printed last week. This ability to fine tune a shoe to the needs of the athlete in such a short space of time means that the degree of experimentation that can take place increases exponentially and it’s through trial and error (and lots of error apparently), that real development comes.

A Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint upper being printed. 

What also makes this printing process so interesting is that it allows designers to translate athlete data into new textile geometries; we’re talking algorithms based on performance metrics dictating where and how the plastic is melted and how it’s layered. That’s very much at the pointy end of where running shoe design is heading.

It’s still not perfect, however. There is still a glued in sock liner (made from ZoomX foam of course) that Schoolmeester admits is a necessity that Nike have looked at removing, but there is also a strict policy of not making changes for the sake of making changes so the sock liner lives to fight another day. No jokes about Berlin here.

So why is this important to you and I, the ‘average’ runner? Well, new technology is always born out of the need for product to perform against an ever-higher benchmark and as that benchmark shifts, so do the requirements of all runners. Everyone is chasing their own record, their next challenge and brands need to be able to deliver to these runners otherwise they will look elsewhere. This is when refining new products at an elite level and allowing that technology to trickle down to the consumer is a must for brand survival.

Are you going to see 3D printers in Nike stores anytime soon? Probably not. Will the new production process be used to make future versions of shoes like the Pegasus and the Vomero better performing? Absolutely.