HOKA Bondi 6

I forgive bike makers when they don’t make good bikes, because many of them just don’t know any better. Running footwear makers are just plain obstinate.

[Note: I quite like this shoe, as you'll see further down, but I have cranky stuff to say first.]

I’m not usually this uncharitable toward those in my clan. But, what I’ve seen over the last half-dozen years as what you’ve seen: HOKA One One is a force of nature. It has remade the tech footwear running landscape. At the cash register. But not on the shoe wall! Yes, footwear companies like Skechers (GoRun Ultra R2), and Altra (Duo) are stepping toes into the maximalist water, but nobody’s studying HOKA, trying to best HOKA at HOKA's game. Here's a dozen years of trends among our readers, who are pretty representative of American triathlon and, I argue, therefore representative of tech running writ large.

In our latest footwear poll, the Chinese brand 361° is trying its best to be Asics and, predictably, got zero percent market share among our readers. Why? Because Asics is trying hard to convince our readers that it’s still 1985, and we've all gotten the message. A decade ago 3 in 10 Slowtwitchers used to lace up Asics when they went out for a run. Last year we asked, “If you came to HOKA, which brand did you come from?” Twenty-seven percent said Asics, and Brooks was next at 15 percent.

Footwear magazines are no better. I read 3 different top-10 lists today. In each case, a different brand was represented, as in, 10 different brands each had a “winner” in the top-10 run shoe list. I can imagine the ad salesman asking the marketing VP at each company, “Do you want to be a winner?” And, if yes, “Which of your shoes would you like to have win?” Last year I notice HOKA’s Clifton 4 “winning” a lot of these best shoe faux competitions. Really? Of all the shoes HOKA makes, Men’s Health says this is the one for its readers? Highsnobiety ran a puff piece for the – you guess it – Clifton 4. The run shoe industry, and the magazines covering it, have now jumped the shark to complete untrustworthiness. (The Clifton 5 is out now; if this shoe “wins” best shoe, should I be confidence this was a straight-up, shoe-by-shoe, competition?)

So, while run shoe makers try hard as they can, through hubris, stupidity and not-invented-here to ignore or half-measure HOKA’s success, and the footwear magazines host 3rd-grader participant awards disguised as “best shoe” winners (Reebok? Under Armor? Best in tech running? Really?) HOKA has been trying a little too hard for my comfort to be a normal run shoe brand. In other words, while Asics is trying really hard not to be HOKA – and is succeeding, to its detriment – HOKA has put out a few shoes that have me worried its trying a little to be Asics. Just Don’t Do It!

But I – obviously and significantly – digress. I’m here to talk about the Bondi 6. Just above is what they look like afoot. Just below is what they look like on the scale.

I lamented what had happened to the Bondi since its original intro back in early 2011. It got heavier, wider at the outsole, and just wasn’t the shoe it used to be. Fine. They made it into a different shoe. They had a different use for it. But, what shoe slotted into the niche that moderately supportive, cushioned, lightweight trainer the Bondi originally filled? The Adrenaline-replacement HOKA? I thought it might be the Elevon. It almost was (is). Unfortunately, the Elevon missed in cushioning. I have to think this was unintentional, because HOKA itself claims this shoe is “plush”. Not even! And the reader comments below that shoe on HOKA’s website demonstrate how plush it isn’t. Still, the shoe was a win in just about every other category (for me). The Elevon should’ve been called the Bonquest. Or the Condi. It was half Bondi, half-Conquest (narrower, harder than the Bondi, but better than the old Conquest). If HOKA improves the plush on the Elevon, that shoe is going to be a winner.

I quipped to someone recently that I expected to really like the Bondi 6, because every odd edition of the Bondi (the 3, and the 5) were misses, but the even editions (the 2, the 4) were hits. And, yeah, that’s pretty much the case with the Bondi 6. Mind, HOKA still doesn’t know what this shoe is. In its own categorizer it rates the show “neutral” rather than “moderate” or “stable”. The Gaviota is HOKA’s “stable” shoe but I sense that HOKA thinks “stability” is a dirty word among runners, and so is fain to use it. Look, I’m a mild overpronator. Many of us are. Nike makes a shoe for a 130lb Kenyan who runs literally twice as fast as I do, and then tries to sell that shoe to me. I weigh 170lb and I’m pretty typical of triathletes. Even elite male triathletes aren’t much lighter than I am. We need a shoe with more heft, more substance, or we’re cruisin’ (as my father used to say to me in the 1960s) for a bruisin’. I’m sure I’ll get love notes below what I’m writing telling me that if I would only – slowly – build up my foot muscles I could save money and run happily with no shoes at all. Just, I’ve been running competitively for 45 years. No more experiments with my feet.

When I took the Bondi 6 out for its first run it felt marginally better than the 5. I didn’t want to be that guy who writes like a wine reviewer. After a second run, I felt like I had to start measuring things because, no, the Bondi B (of 6 or 7 years ago) this shoe is not, but it just feels better than the Bondi 5.

I keep all these prior Bondi editions, not because I’m a run shoe hoarder, but I’d like to know if what I feel is backed up by metrics. The Bondi 4 binge ate, and grew in weight from 10.9oz (in my size 46) to almost 11.8oz when it reemerged as the Bondi 5 (that I ran in twice and then just gave up). It’s gone on a moderate diet, losing almost 3oz of that weight it gained, dropping to 11.5oz when it emerged as the Bondi 6.

I showed in my review of the Bondi 5 that this shoe also grew in its footprint, literally, with both the forefoot and rearfoot outsole expanding in width by several millimeters. The 6 is slimmed down a little in outsole size as well, receding most of the way back toward the footprint of the 4 (in the image above you can see how much wider the Bondi 5 is in the rearfoot than the Bondi 6).

This pretty much validates how this shoe feels to me. It’s a moderate improvement on the 5, enough to move me back from the Elevon to this shoe as my everyday runner. Mind, I’d still prefer this shoe to be a little slimmer in the outsole, both in the heel and in the forefoot, so that my foot doesn’t feel levered when I hit the ground, like an airplane touching down at an angle, the force of hitting the runway jacking the plane down to level. Yes, I need some width, for stability. Just, not quite as much width as the Bondi 6 has.

If you look in the image above, this is the rearfoot outsole of the Bondi 6 (right) compared to the 4 (left). See how the 6 is closer now to the 4 than to the 5? Bravo! (I still wouldn't mind the footprint to be a little slimmer, but the 6 is an improvement over the 5).

HOKA has gone over to seamless knit uppers and this is the single best thing HOKA has done over the past 3 or so years. The Bondi 6’s eyestays and shoelace hole pattern, the thickness of the tongue, the length of the shoelaces, are all properly calibrated and placed in this shoe. This is the best fitting Bondi of all its shoes I've run in. It is the single best feel, on my foot, of any HOKA. Any mild issues I have with this shoe is from the midsole down.

Were HOKA to improve the midsole ride in the Elevon, this would produce for me a conundrum. Just, this is the very problem I want from HOKA. Give me the problem of having to choose between two superior shoes.

Read more about the HOKA One One Bondi 6.

[NOTE: A vibrant forum thread on this review is ongoing.]