Richard F |
Brooks have consistently improved the Cascadia, now in its 15th, iteration. The 15s are the fourth version of Cascadias I’ve used. The 11s were my first, and they’re still going with over 700k on them. The tread has more or less gone, as with my 12s that have 630k on them. Both were my favourites in their time, but only in dry conditions – in the wet they were treacherous on rock. So I didn’t buy the 13s. For a couple of years thereafter I relied on Hoka Speedgoats for wet trail running, but despite their excellent grip and cushioning, Hokas feel big and clunky. For me, traction and the confidence that comes from knowing when I put my foot somewhere it isn’t going to go somewhere else and take me with it, are vital for trail running in Hong Kong where, even after dry spells, the dark, shaded dells in the hills remain damp and the rocks can be slick with moisture even in the driest of days. The other key feature I prize is cushioning as, being an older runner, my heels, ankles and other joints soon complain if I jar them a lot, as happens when you are doing a longer run on HK trails’ ubiquitous stone steps. Third on my list is the overall fit of the shoe, the more glove-like, the better; I don’t like excessive movement of my foot in the shoe because it can lead to blisters and fatigue over time as the foot/ankle has to work harder. Cascadias have always appealed to me because they fit my narrow foot snugly. The Hokas are wide and floppy in comparison, but very well cushioned, otherwise an excellent trail shoe. With the Cascadia 14s Brooks had listened to their customers and the new sole was hugely improved with very good wet traction and stayed reasonably dry-ish inside on longer, wetter runs. However, my 14s were just broken-in when the lacing system started to fail. I’ll admit I was disappointed; the tread showed no signs of wear despite having 300k on them, but compared to the 11 and 12s which were robust for twice that distance (ok, they look at little tatty, I’ll admit, but hey, love is forever, right?) they had only just begun.
I’ve been buying my shoes from LBC in Mui Wo since they relocated and John’s team provide great help in choosing the right shoe. I eventually got around to asking about the 14s (hesitant as I was skeptical about the wet traction) and John assured me they were different. I bought them on his recommendation. I was delighted with the almost Hoka-grade wet traction and of course the glove-like fit. Cascadias have always had a good ground “feel” to them unlike with the Hokas, where the sole numbs your foot to the terrain. This feel probably reflects the amount of give in the sole, but the downside with the 14s was that on downhills, there was a lot of impact stress transmitted to the heel in particular, so that would slow down my descents (my favourite part of trail running). When I posted on my Strava feed that the 14’s lacing system was coming apart, John contacted me and told me this was a manufacturing defect and he offered to replace them with the new 15s free of charge. I was surprised, and delighted; normally if you’ve had shoes more a few weeks, shops won’t entertain replacements and will advise you to take it up with the agent. Let’s face it, few of us will do that because of the hassle involved. So John’s offer was very much appreciated.
I collected the 15s last weekend. I’ve done two runs in them. Here’s what I think. First, they are silver/metallic grey and blue, so, ok. The silver part looks a bit plasticky, especially around the toe area, but the ankle cut and neat lacing system, and the welding of the sole make the shoe look robust and fast. Time will tell; I hope the manufacturing defect in the 14s is resolved for the 15s! The sole seems thicker than on the 14s and the improved heel area padding was quite apparent as soon as I left the shop. Sadly. Brooks have dropped the lace pocked, unique to the 14s, which kept laces from coming undone and whipping the opposite ankle. But it’s a small point in what is turning out to be an otherwise excellent shoe. I’ve done two runs in them now, both in wet and wetter conditions, on mixed concrete/road, wet stone step and muddy trails. The first run was only 5k but gave me a feel for the shoe. Today’s 11k run around Nei Lak Shan country trail (NLSct) after heavy rains allowed for a much closer inspection of the 15s character. The fit is good, the traction in the wet is first class, with only some very occasional slippage from the front sole on push-off going up the steep sloping cemented stone path section of the NLSct leading up to the gondola station, (and of course on the sodden boardwalk sections, but EVERY shoe slides on those). Landing on angled wet rocks, sloped steps and other potentially slippery surfaces produced firm grip at every step, and as I went around the East side of the NLSct I became increasingly confident of their grip and was able to really let myself go. It felt great. Even when muddied underneath there was no significant movement on wet rock, so in that regard 15s are a winner. But the other feature that I became increasingly aware of when I was descending was how much better cushioned was the rear foot, which takes most impact on landing. Normally running down the 3k monastery trail, sloping concrete steps and path, from Ngong Ping to Shek Mun Kap I have to regulate my speed, because with the 14s my heels would be quite painful towards the bottom. But with the 15s I felt the shoe was doing much more of the work absorbing the impact and my heels were comfortable all the way down, even allowing for myself to speed up and run as fast as I could move my legs in places, two steps at a time, I was much faster. Had I not forgotten to restart my watch after the last refreshment stop on the Nei Lak Shan trail, I’m pretty sure that would have been one of my fastest descents of that section. There was far less jarring of the spine, so if you’ve got back issues, this shoe might be worth investigating.
There is plenty of clearance around the ankle and after a while I stopped being aware of the shoe and just enjoyed the run, always a good sign for me. The only issues I notices with the 15s were that they didn’t shed internal water as well as the 14s, which tended to pool around the toe area a bit, so on the descent there was some audible squelching. The other issue was, possibly because the interior of the shoe was wet and it wasn’t laced tight enough, the in-sole tended to slide a bit beneath the heel and bunched up slightly under my instep. I felt the interior of the shoe was a bit too wet and that probably lubricated the movement. So, in conclusion, this is a great shoe for HK trails. If you have a wide foot, it might not suit you, but otherwise try it. I’m sure you’ll love it if you’re a Brooks affectionado, it’s probably their best Cascadia yet. I’m getting another pair.
Traction in the wet 9/10
Heel cushioning 8/10
Versatility road/trail 9/10
Water shedding 5/10
Appearance 6/10 (looks a bit plasticky)
No lace pocket.