Inside the Radical Redesign of Asics Gel-Nimbus 25
The brand’s franchise cushioned shoe gets a total makeover—and won over this former Nimbus hater
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A staple of the Asics line, the Nimbus is etched into the legacy of the brand. For 25 years, it has been a leader in the cushioned category, delivering long-lasting comfort for neutral to under-pronating runners. But this year, it’s getting a major makeover. From a completely new look (which does not include the model’s signature gel peeping through the midsole) to 20 percent more foam than the previous version, stacking up to a whopping 41.5mm under the heel, it both looks–and moves–like a completely different shoe.
How exactly does a brand go about deciding to totally upend one of their classics? “The team has been building up to this overhaul for quite some time,” says Laura Bolgen, Asics senior manager global product line of performance running footwear. “There were a lot of people nervous about this update and we were acutely aware of our loyal base of consumers that we didn’t want to disappoint. The GEL-Nimbus sits in the neutral cushion category, but is often viewed as a safe and almost ‘stability’ style by many consumers. As long as we were able to keep the necessary support but update the style to lose weight, improve comfort and smooth out the underfoot ride experience, we were open to re-thinking every component.”
Typically the shoe development calendar is about 18 months, but Bolgen says they started a little earlier for this anniversary project–giving the team a two-year timeline. “We started the initial conversations about these significant updates when we were working on the 24th version,” she says. “As competitors adjust stack heights and the market continues toward max cushion, we challenged ourselves to not just ‘keep up’ but really rethink how Asics wanted to be seen in this category. Time was right with our technology and the current direction the market is shifting.”
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Over the course of the two years, a lot of different prototypes of the shoe-in-progress were tested. “The team went through five rounds of sampling to get to the final production pairs that you now have on your feet,” says Bolgen. “My best ammunition [for defending the overhaul] was the consumer and the critic’s voice. By including loyalists, media partners, Asics elite athletes, seasoned and beginning runners–the full gamut of consumers–in our testing, I was able to calm any fears of change. As long as the experience, durability and performance is there, change isn’t scary when you hear the consumer voice validating the update.”
Last spring, I got to be a part of the second round of that sampling. After running in an unidentified pair of shoes for a number of weeks, I was part of a focus group that gave feedback on the look, feel, and performance. It was such a departure from the previous look of Gel-Nimbus that I never would have known it was the model I was wearing. My impression was that the knit upper was comfortable and the look was great, but on the run it felt clunky and firm. I didn’t love it.
Now knowing that it was in fact a Gel-Nimbus that I was running in doesn’t surprise me. That model has never been a go-to Asics shoe for me. Previous Nimbuses also felt heavy and firm on my foot, more clunky than smooth. Maybe I was ahead of my time, but, until high-stack, max cushioned models emerged, shoes in the “cushioned” category never felt, well, cushiony.
So when the official pair of Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 showed up this month, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out, they made substantial changes between the sample I tested and the final version. They reduced the “overhang” of the midsole in the heel (sculpting it much closer to the heel), and maybe most noticeably, softening the midsole (for a smoother, more cohesive ride).
The result? A super-smooth, soft-yet-supportive ride on recovery and long runs, that didn’t feel like total mush when I picked up the pace for post-run strides. Asics not only maintained the experience and performance for Nimbus loyalists, but improved the shoe such that it compares with the best max cushioned shoes on the market today. The Asics’ Gel-Nimbus 25 has won me over and earned a spot in my weekly rotation.