Gear Review: Reebok RealFlex Optimal
They looked like a pair of sneakers at the first glance; but looking closer, the shoes revealed its purpose as an everyday running trainers, or simply everyday trainers. I was referring to Reebok’s new line of Minimalist shoes, the RealFlex series, designed to complement the feet’s natural movement, but with that extra bit of protection against environmental elements.
These shoes, at 235 grams (Men’s model), are rather lightweight compared to other regular trainers, but definitely not amongst the lightest in its class given the recent boom of Minimalist-type shoes in the market and that almost every big shoe brand now has its own range of “less-is-good” shoes.
The uppers are constructed neatly, coupled with breathable nylon mesh and a suede-like material to give it the “sneaker look”. It has a very basic design, without the frills and techie features; just the plain old uppers giving a minimalist feel, the way I like it. The Optimal model has some (and in my opinion, sufficient) cushioning and support at the heel counter to give it a comfortable and secure fit. The tongue too is slightly padded for comfort, but is a tad too long for my liking; a possible cause of abrasion when it meets the skin during the countless dorsiflexions (upward movement of the foot at the ankle joint) in a run. I personally would have also liked two more eyelets at the top to secure the feet better.
The midsole is constructed from a high-density foam material that contributes to bulk of the shoe’s weight. This material, together with its asymmetrical placement of 76 nodes is the line’s unique selling point. This unique construction is believed to provide the runner with a close-to-barefoot experience with much desired flexibility in the midsole. Some nodes in the forefoot section as well as in the heel section are inter-connected to offer some stability upon initial ground contact; an effort to balance flexibility with stability all in one design. At the same time, these two sections also possess some kind of slight protrusion, better known as “sensors” claimed to help the runner land more appropriately on the forefoot. The bottom of the shoes doesn’t have regular carbon rubber outsole per se, and it is the midsole material that is contacting the ground. Given the density of the midsole, I don’t foresee its wear to be a major problem.
I got to take the RealFlex Optimal out for a run, intending to go an hour in them and returning home to change into my regular trainers for the rest of my planned workout, not wanting to go too long in a new pair of shoes. By the end of the first hour, I felt comfortable (and gutsy) enough to continue the remaining 80 minutes in them, without a moment regretting this decision.
It was quite natural landing on the forefoot in these shoes, and as I was doing so in the early hours of the morning. All I could hear was the “clip-clop” contact between the forefoot protrusion and the ground. I wasn’t sure if that was the function of the “sensors” – to remind runners that they’re landing properly - but after a while, this insistent tapping became a little annoying in the still of the morning. The midsole was also a little firmer to the feel, and perhaps more responsive on ground contact (than expected initially), as opposed to the softer, squishier sensation I had experienced before with other shoes. Not that I prefer one more than the other, but both would serve different purposes in different workouts. They also didn’t feel as close to the ground as one would expect from a Minimalist shoe, something that might disappoint pure Minimalist fans.
Overall, I thought that the RealFlex Optimal would make a decent pair of running trainers. That said, the Reebok RealFlex series would also serve as a decent all-rounded trainer and casual shoes, designed for a good blend of comfort and freedom. The RealFlex series comes in the Optimal, Train and Transition models for different purposes.
- Relatively lightweight compared to regular trainers
- Comfortable and secure fit
- Design subtly promotes forefoot landing
- Long tongue may cause irritation at the skin for those who use low socks
- Some runners may prefer a “closer-to-ground” feel for an enhanced barefoot experience
- Weight – 235g (US 9)
- 76 independent multi-directional “nodes” sole – Works together throughout your stride, promoting natural movement and flexibility, while protecting you from the elements associated with barefoot running
- 3D Ultralite bottom – Proprietary foam material engineered to be lightweight, with extra durability and responsiveness
- Minimalist construction designed to help provide lateral support for left-to-right training movements
Where to find them?
The Reebok Realflex Optimal (Men & Women) is available at Reebok Paragon, Stadium and selected Royal Sporting House stores.