First Look: Zoot's 2009 footwear line

I was recently invited by Zoot to attend their annual apparel Fashion Show. I capitalized it because it was the real deal—there was a runway, alcohol (microbrew, no less), and models. Plus it was up the road in Carlsbad, Calif., near Zoot’s Vista offices, instead of in Milan or Paris.

As one would expect, the models were fit, among them pro triathletes Mac Brown and Jim Vance, as well as local Encinitas hotshots like fitness trainer and swim coach Rachel Challis and HerSports graphic artist Kristin Mayer. Zoot had them there to debut the 2009 spring line to key dealers, and select media. With some new designs, Zoot is introducing some new color to their lines. The guys will stick with a lot of the basic blues, blacks and reds. In contrast, the women’s line will feature some new, brighter colors.

While the new apparel was of interest, I was drawn to what the Zoot staff, including Brandt Furgerson, Ben Harper and Zoot president Brian Enge were wearing on their feet. Something they weren’t talking about, that I’d not seen before. I pressed. In the span of five minutes, I had these three guys walking around with one shoe on their feet, such that I could get a closer look. Turns out, they were wearing the super-secret prototypes of their ’09 shoe line. Super secret, till now.

For the most part, their key design features from a year ago remain the same, including the long heel tab/low ankle design, the ported sole for water drainage and their pre-assembled lacing system. Each shoe undergos a name change, however, and quite a bit of functional and cosmetic change. Here’s some details on each of the three new models:

Zoot’s centerpiece race shoe is the 2009 Ultra Race 2.0. Those that have run in Zoot shoes will notice a slightly difference lacing end, with the lace’s pull point going through the shoe grommet instead of a plastic brace.

The upper consists of a shiny new pin-perforated syntheic upper, which Zoot says is breathable.

At first glance, I applaud Zoot’s use of neoprene with a cross-hatch pattern on the tongue and heel tab, each with a finger pull hole, is the ticket to a fast shoe entry. I ran in Zoot’s Ultra Tempo shoe out of the water to transition at Escape from Alcatraz a couple weeks ago. This shoe features a rubbery tab at the heel and a rubbery strip along the top of the tongue. But it has no holes. While they’re both tacky and grippy when dry, my wet, tired hands were slipping on both right out of the water. Maybe it’s not much of an issue if you’re not doing a wet half-mile run to transition. But it may be as much an issue on a rainy race day. I’ve yet to test my theory, but I think the neoprene and the hole will be a speedier solution off the bike, wet or dry.

The sole on the Ultra is psychadelic. I initially thought the carbon fiber arch, which carries over from last year’s Ultra shoe, was a gimmick, but talking to designer Brandt Furgerson, there’s function. The carbon continues forward along the instep to the big toe, creating a shoe with less flex and more toe-off rigidity, with propulsion effectively provided, Zoot says, by the shoe instead of through your foot.

With a low heel cup in relation to the forefoot, it’s a good neutral racer. Plus, it’s fairly light for all the features the shoe is laden with.

Zoot compliments the racer with a neutral cushion trainer, which they now call the Energy, and cushion trainer with medial stability, called the Advantage. Each of these shoes has more in common with last year’s shoes in terms of upper and sole design. While the new Ultra has the new heel and tongue holes, the Energy and Advantage use the same rubberized heel and tongue of last year’s shoe debut. For the athlete who can afford one shoe, either the Energy or Advantage will be a good option. Both has race features, but each has enough high-durometer rubber through the length of the sole to make it a fairly durable shoe that can last you a season.

They are expected to hit stores February or March of 2009, Zoot says. Price is as yet to be determined, but I’d be willing to bet they won’t be any less than the existing $130 for their current line.