It's no surprise that Nike, with its long history and expertise in lightweight racing flats, would see one of its trainers in a top position in our lineup. In this case, it's the Pegasus 34, which we felt earned the Best Buy award. It's a pretty versatile shoe with enough padding, support, and cushion to make most runners happy without sacrificing speed or fit. While they're solid speedsters, we felt that some of the others in our lineup had better racing qualities, notably the On Clouds, which took the Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat award, but the competition between them was fierce. Below, we delve into a handful of measures to find out where the advantages of each shoe lie to help you figure out what works best for you.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 ReviewPrice: $110 List | $87.96 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extremely comfortable upper, cushioned landing, good price
Cons: Outsole can pick up gravel, Zoom Air units uncomfortable under toes, heavy
Bottom line: A padded racing flat worth the money.
Toe to Heel Drop: 10 mm
Style (Traditional,minimalist,etc.): Neutral
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Competitive lightweight racing flats are really difficult to pull off. Their light design typically means reduced durability and limited stability features, which means they might wear out quickly and fail to function well for the broad range of runners looking for light, low-profile shoes. Not only that, but they need to be affordable. The Pegasus 34 intersects at just the right coordinates along each of those axes to be affordable, broadly applicable, and fast, which pushed us to grant them our Best Buy award. Throughout this review we examine them next to some of the top shoes on the market right now, bringing to light some of the annoying flaws and some of the great strengths they have over other top competitors like their cousin, the Nike Free RN, and others like the Adidas Adizero Boston 6 and the On Cloud.
Responsiveness is not typically an area where racing flats excel. Their light construction requires that they have a good deal of cushioning to dampen the harder smashing that happens at high speeds. That added cushion typically limits the ability for the sole to be as responsive as more rigid, structured soles. That holds true for these too, though they do about as well as can be expected given their natural feel and great comfort.
These padded kicks did well for racing flats, but there were a few other high rollers that might make more sense if responsiveness is really important to you. The On Cloud did a bit better in this category and also won our Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat award. Alongside it is the comparable Adizero Boston 6. However, responsiveness is really the realm of stability shoes like the Saucony Hurricane ISO 3, which comes in as one of the heaviest shoes in the lineup, but offers great responsiveness. Another shoe really worth a look is the HOKA Arahi, which won our Top Pick for Stability and offers a great, motion-controlled, cushioned ride.
Sticking the landing can be pretty tough for some designs, usually when it anticipates a particular landing style (e.g., heel-strike instead of forefoot), and a runner with a different style wears them. Arguably, the 10mm heel-to-toe discrepancy anticipates a heel-strike and there was concern that the design might not accommodate a forefoot strike, but its thick Cushion ST EVA midsole and Zoom Air units placed at the forefoot and heel made this a super comfortable lander for any style.
In fact, because of those features, we put these next to the Editors' Choice Brooks PureFlow 6 at the very top of the measure and their place there was a major factor in earning them the Best Buy award. We think most runners will be super happy running in these cushy speedsters. We would be remiss though, if we didn't mention that in the next tier down were, the Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flats, On Clouds, and Top Pick for Stability, HOKA ONE ONE Arahi, both of which had a good degree of cushion, but were slightly more stiff and might be less comfortable for some runners.
Perhaps fitting the mythical creature - a flying horse - these sneakers can fly, but they're still heavy as a horse. They come in at 22.4 ounces a pair in a men's 11, almost 10% heavier than the next heaviest racing flat, the Brooks PureFlow 6. Their Flymesh upper is fairly thin, though the heel counter and extra collar padding could add a bit of extra weight when compared to something like the On Cloud with its super thin, streamlined padding and mesh. Really, the bulk of the weight comes from the trade-off in cushioning that makes such a comfortable landing. We see the exact same thing in the PureFlow 6 and in the heavier stability shoes like Saucony Hurricane ISO 3.
If weight is a major factor in your decision, there are a handful of significantly lighter trainers that will interest you. On the highly cushioned side, we have the Saucony Kinvara 8 at 17.6 ounces in a men's 11. On the less cushioned side we have the Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat winner, On Cloud, at 17.3 ounces, and on the minimalist side, we have the New Balance Minimus 10v1 at 17.2 ounces in a men's 11.5.
These Best Buys earn their designation in this category. Excepting only the rugged Minimus 10v1, the Pegasus performs better than any other lightweight racing flat. That longevity makes it especially worth the money. It has multiple layers of mesh, a Flywire support structure that helps spread flex stress throughout the upper, and a thick rubber outsole that will help it last. It could have some vulnerabilities to wear, like the front toe tab coming unglued or tears in the mesh, but those are pretty universal for this shoe style. It's also worth noting that we did not find any serious trends in degradation.
Aside from the above mentioned Minimus, which scored in the top tier, no other racing flats scored higher than these, though the Top Pick for Stability HOKA Arahi did have the same score with its streamlined componentry, tough mesh, and selectively-placed rubber on the outsole. The other top scorers were the New Balance 1540v2 and ASICS GT-2000 5, both of which are heavy, rigid stability models. We think that most runners will be satisfied with the durability of the Pegasus 34s if they desire a racing flat, but if they insist on something that will last a little longer, the New Balance Minimus 10v1 is worth a serious look.
Comfort is a fickle thing to measure. When we look at this category we consider padding and natural fit during the gait cycle. It's really frustrating finding something that is super padded and feels great in the store only to find that 5 miles into a tempo run you're annoyed by or chafing from excessive padding. These strike a great balance between those two worlds. They have just enough collar padding to feel plush and guard the foot against the heel counter, making it really welcoming to the heel and ankle and compatible with miles of sweater percussion and friction. The upper, with its Flymesh design and smooth Fitsole sockliner, fits the foot very well, creating a natural feel that makes the miles much nicer as they go by.
Because of their great upper, we ranked these up next to the Editor's Choice PureFlow 6, which also featured a healthy degree of padding along with a natural fit. These are the only two high scoring lightweight racing flats, with the Top Pick Lightweight Racing Flat On Cloud a few tiers down, next to most of the other racing flats. The choice between the two top scorers comes down to weight, breathability, and a flatter heel-to-toe discrepancy, where the PureFlow is lighter, breathes better and has a lower drop, and in our view, is the better choice.
This is an area where these could use a little more work. They have better than average breathability, but their competition does much better here. They recently re-engineered their Flymesh upper to be more breathable than in earlier versions, but they have plush padding, a sockliner, and multiple layers of upper mesh. The outermost layer of mesh is minimally permeable in some parts, particularly on each side of the midfoot.
Most of the other lightweight racing flats did better in this category, with the top of the scale occupied by speedy flats. The Minimus 10v1 earned its place at the top because of its near lack of padding and close-fitting, thin mesh. The Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat On Cloud got its place because of its single, thin layer of mesh and economical use of padding. The Editor's Choice PureFlow 6 earned its spot with its thin, seamless mesh upper that ventilated most of the foot. We suggest narrowing your search down to the latter two if breathability is a top concern.
Their stiff sole and sturdier upper makes them easier to take out to rougher roads, cross train, and even on trails.
$110 is where our Best Buy winners sit and we think they earn every bit of that. They are a versatile shoe that will last a few seasons and perform really well throughout that time.
We were so taken by the Pegasus 34 that we gave them our Best Buy award. They are high performance, lightweight racing flats with a traditional design. They came out near the top, but didn't quite have the low profile, lightness, or snap of the On Cloud, which won Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat, or the combination of weight, ventilation, and low profile of the Editor's Choice PureFlow 6. One of its great advantages, as noted over Nike's other great offering, the Free RN, is the better responsiveness found in its stiff midsole. The firm midsole limits the loss of energy and you feel like you keep your momentum better than with some of the cushier rides. This does come with the drawback that the shoe is a bit heavier than is ideal. We felt that the Clouds managed to solve that problem with their innovative CloudTec mid/outsole design so as to keep the responsive qualities, but limit the added weight of the stiffer sole. Though the Pegasus didn't win any Top Pick awards, they are a great shoe and will meet the performance expectations of most runners at a solid price.
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Most recent review: August 22, 2017
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