Our Twenty-Toed Take on Today's Most Talked About Shoes

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

Our most astute readers may know that we have reviewed two previous iterations of Vibram’s now ubiquitous FiveFingers. The first marked the introduction of an awesome product. The second offered some useful updates to the original. Now, however, we’ve strapped on the Bikila, which is an entirely different animal than its predecessors. The original FiveFingers are akin to a Swiss Army Knife in terms of their usefulness and functionality, whereas the Bikila was designed from the ground up as a running shoe (after all, they are named for a barefoot marathoner). To say the least, they draw attention and elicit the opinion of passers-by virtually anytime you strap them on. That’s why we decided to bring you dual coverage from two of Gear Patrol’s running men. Read on to get their take.

Zach’s Take:

Although I am required to run in the military, I am by no means a runner, so for all those guys out there that think the FiveFingers movement is just for elite runners, well, to be quite frank – you’re wrong. Even a casual runner has a lot to gain from running barefoot, not to mention that using the Bikila as a gym shoe offers unparalleled stability. Vibram claims that by wearing the FiveFingers your legs will become stronger, you’ll have better balance, and, among other things, your posture will be improved.

I can attest to all of those claims as my calves are still on fire from my run this morning, while lifting I don’t have the annoyance of uneven shoe compression, and my lower back pain has subsided. That all adds up to a near-perfect shoes, if not for for a couple of minor drawbacks. First, you’ll need to ease into these bad boys. I wore them for 2 months just walking around, which I figured would prepare me for a 3 mile run, but sadly I was wrong and I paid the price in soreness and a couple of blisters. Second, the shoes begin to smell horrible only after a few runs; luckily, this concern is mitigated by the fact that they are machine washable. Lastly, be prepared to talk to everybody and their brother about the shoes; they are a magnet for conversation. So, to the shy or timid, you’ve been warned. Now get out there and run!

Dusty’s Take:

I’m a natural skeptic – it comes with the territory for me as a gear hound. That being said, it’s pretty significant that I went from a running shoe traditionalist to an unabashed FiveFinger’s fanboy within about two weeks of sliding on (with some degree of difficultly) the new Bikila. Like most runners out there, I struggle with my fair share of injuries – for me it’s my right knee and ankle that like to give me hell. In the FiveFingers Bikila, however, the pain that often dogs my miles is near nonexistent. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that they are some miracle cure, but I will say that the improved ergonomics of my stride and the forefoot-striking gait that they encourage is clearly reducing the impact on my joints. Add to that the fact that I feel fast and light on my feet, and you’ll quickly see why the Bikilas have made more fun for me than it has been in years.

Just as Zach said, I wouldn’t suggest going cold turkey off of your regular shoes, though I haven’t experienced as difficult a transition as some report. I’m probably making about half my runs in these FiveFingers these days, and a pleasing benefit is that the muscle memory associated with the barefoot style does translate some into traditionally-shod running. I find myself keeping my stride lower and longer, with my weight forward. These shoes really do feel like a second skin for your feet, albeit one with a healthy amount of tread. There is a lot of info and debate out there right now about the benefits of barefoot running, and with equipment like the new VFF Bikila available, I’m ready to encourage any runner to give it a try and feel the benefits for yourself.

Editor’s Note: Due to their popularity and general awesomeness, the Bikila model of FiveFingers isn’t the easiest shoe to lay hands feet on at the moment. If you manage to find pair or place an order for some, getting the right fit it crucial to your running enjoyment and to take advantage of their benefits. They do not follow standard Euro sizing, so avail yourself of the fitting tips and sizing chart on Vibram’s product page, or, even better, try them on in store. When in doubt, err to the small side.