Boot up

Boot up

Buying a shoe isn’t what it used to be.

The footwear you now sport is no longer just an accessory, but a device—a container full of secret patents and arcane technology, the science powering them the result of long, dedicated, arduous research.

Also Read Shoe Gazing

So when Nike’s new Lunarglide is accompanied by a marketing campaign that says it is, indeed, rocket science, it’s not just clever wordplay. From football shoes that can be broken down and remade to special shoes made for discerning motorcyclists, we look at four new shoes that make your cellphone seem about as complicated as a hammer.

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Nike Lunarglide

Dark glide of the moon

Nike’s Lunarglide, the company says, is the next “big revolution" in running footwear.

“Running shoes are the largest commercial opportunity in footwear in India," says Sanjay Gangopadhyay, marketing director of Nike India Pvt. Ltd. “Not everyone who runs here is running a marathon, but even with training and in gyms, they feel the need to use running shoes."

The Lunarglide uses a combination of special materials and unique construction to make it lighter than most running shoes. Runners, says Gangopadhyay, have traditionally had to choose between stability, a fit that lasts for extended periods of time, or cushioning which makes the shoe lightweight and comfortable. “With Lunarlite (the new technology), you don’t have to choose just one of the above," he says. The ethereally-named substance is a midsole filled with special foam that adapts to the arch and gait of the foot, adjusting the balance of comfort and stability to changing external conditions such as weather and terrain. “Your stride differs based on various factors—fatigue, slope, the surface you’re running on," Gangopadhyay says. “The shoe automatically adapts to these changes."

Aiding this is Flywire, a technology inspired by the unlikeliest of sources. “It’s a method of making shoes lighter modelled on how suspension bridges, like the new Howrah Bridge, are constructed." Suspension bridges reduce dependence on large concrete pillars by engineering wireframe structures around pressure points. That same principle, applied to a shoe, results in a reduction in material use of nearly 30-40% from the upper sole.


Reebok EasyTone

Q&A | Bill McInnis, Reebok International

When shoes claim to be rocket science, who better to ask about them than Bill McInnis, who’s done both. A former Nasa engineer who worked on the space shuttle programme, McInnis is now managing director of advanced research at Reebok. He and his team developed EasyTone, the new Reebok shoe that claims to tone your leg and butt muscles—all you have to do is to wear and use them normally. The shoe has embedded miniature “balance balls" under the sole which create what McInnis calls “micro-instabilities", forcing your leg muscles to adapt, resulting in them having to work 28% more than usual. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How was EasyTone conceptualized?

The initial concept was built on the foundation of a technology Reebok had in the early 1990s called “dynamic cushioning" which was an air-transfer cushioning system.

The idea of balance training also played a role at this early stage. The fastest growing trend in gyms is stability training using balance balls, which deliberately introduce instability, so we decided to use this technique in the shoe. You can see the DNA of a balance ball in the outsole design of the EasyTone.

What is the foundation of the science of shoes?

The science of shoes is really the intersection of biomechanics (how the body functions) and mechanical engineering (how a device functions). We start with a concept statement of what we’d like the shoe to deliver from a functional standpoint and what it should do for the athlete. The challenging part (and the science and research) is in turning that concept idea into a physical shoe that delivers on that statement.

What sort of tests and stress runs do you put prototype shoes through? What parameters do you test them on?

We test all of our concepts extensively. EasyTone had over 16,000 hours of consumer wear-testing. Our wear-tests consist of consumers living with the shoe for over 300 hours of wearing. We ask a full battery of questions at the beginning, middle and end of the test periods to determine what people like and/or dislike about the product over time.

We make appropriate changes based on that feedback and retest until we have a product that delivers on its promise. Some of our lab testing includes multi-directional force plate testing (force plates measure reactions generated by the shoe on a flat surface, and are usually used to analyse posture and gait), mechanical impact testing (to measure specific cushioning attributes over time) and EMG (electromyography) testing that measures the muscle activity of individual muscles. EMG testing is where our “28-11-11% more muscle activity" data (28% more activity when compared with normal shoes) comes from. We compared muscle activity walking in EasyTone versus muscle activity wearing conventional foam-based shoes.

How different is the science behind, for example, a football shoe and a running shoe?

We start with a different “last" for each sport or activity. The last is the foot-shaped form that the shoe is built around and we vary internal volumes and heights based on the fit and activity needed for each individual sport.

The midsole/outsole designs of footwear products vary considerably from sport to sport as well. A football shoe and a running shoe are very different in both the above cases. The fit and shape of a football boot is much tighter, with less padding and stiffer materials (versus a running shoe) as the premium is on keeping the foot centred on the plate and providing proper ball-feel. The cleated bottom is obviously different but there is almost no cushioning in a football boot due to both the surface (grass or turf) and the need for energy return. A running shoe has a primary focus on the underfoot platform with designs tailored for individual styles like motion control or stability shoes.

What role does the material play?

Materials may be altered considerably from sport to sport, as I mentioned earlier; however, EasyTone’s differentiation is more focused on the bottom unit. Inside the two prominent pods on the outsole is a two-pod moving air chamber. The ambient air inside the air chamber travels back and forth underneath the foot at the same rate as the consumer’s stride. This is in addition to the normal foam and rubber platforms found in most athletic footwear.


Puma En Route Ducati

No niche left behind

While most shoe companies would be content with shoe solutions for sports that involve running around a field, Puma doesn’t seem to believe in leaving out the others. Take the En Route Ducati, a red and black leather shoe built…wait, for the “discerning motorcyclist".

“It’s specifically designed for our motorbike customers," says Rajiv Mehta, the managing director of Puma India. “With its smart ergonomics, this will sharpen the interface between man and machine."

What that means is a specially designed outsole with an integrated shifter and peg supports, an arched design suited for long rides, shoelaces hidden within the rim to prevent unfortunate tangles and, of course, an endorsement from bike-makers Ducati.

Puma supplies gear for Ferrari and the Ducati racing teams, and what began as a special project to provide footwear for specific everyday challenges faced by racers has now expanded into an entire division of products aimed at motorsports fans.

“It will go very well with your leathers and denims," says Mehta.


Adidas F50i

Safety in numbers

Ask the folks at Adidas what the perfect football shoe is, and they give you a cryptic Douglas Adams answer. It’s 36.

Both striker Lionel Messi and attacking midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who use Adidas’ range of football shoes, swear by that number. So what’s the secret to the answer? Another cryptic phrase: TUNIT.

“TUNIT is the name of the technology that allows us to make modular shoes," says Tushar Goculdas, director of marketing and sales for Adidas India. That means each separate component of the shoe—the studs, the upper, the chassis and the insole—can be customized according to the ground and weather conditions, making shoes like the f50i, which belong to the TUNIT range, not just one, but 36 different possible shoes.

“On dew-filled grounds, for example, you’d go for longer studs, but in summer, those will hurt your foot, so you switch to shorter, flatter studs."

But even 36 is a small number when you consider Adidas’ careful delineation of football shoes. “We have three different families of shoes, depending on playing styles," says Goculdas. The aforementioned TUNIT is favoured by flamboyant strikers and wingers, and is much lighter than the other two families. The Predator range, developed in close association with Zinedine Zidane, and used famously by David Beckham and Stephen Gerrard, focuses more on swerve and power, and has rubber fins in the front for smoother grip and the ability to swing free kicks. “The Predators feature a unique weight mechanism, we have free flowing lead granules inside a chamber in the shoe, which shift the weight depending on the play," says Goculdas.

The third family, called Adipure, is the retro football shoe—simple and all-leather. The more “traditional" players, such as Frank Lampard and Kaka, favour this, says Goculdas. “There’s technology in it, but not too much."

Varuni Khosla and Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story