Ever see Transformers? Be that the old cartoon on telly or the modern day slick flicks (prefer the former myself). Either way, in the Raidlight R-Light 002, you have the French trail running shoe equivalent. Looking at these you anticipate that all those slightly eighties-esque color patches will start to disassemble and reassemble themselves into another fighting form.
And in a way they do. Unlike their robot counterparts, however, the physical profile of these remains intact, but the expectation of what they can do and how they perform transforms as you get to grips with them.
I’ll be honest. Initially, out of the box, I hated them. Big, bulky, old fashioned looking to my eye – although fairly light considering their visual size at 320g. Indeed, the first time I tried them on readying for a run, I shunted them straight off, thinking I wanted to simply enjoy this particular run, and that I wouldn’t enjoy it in these. So I whacked some familiars on instead and left to test them another time.
Okay, so that’s not a great first (aborted) date and presumptuous on my behalf. But looks can be deceiving, right Optimus Prime?
When I did get to slipping my foot into these, I was actually blown away. That was after I actually got my foot in. With a fully stitched in tongue, it’s a squeeze, but comfortable once in. Those used to a minimalist will feel a little clunky straight away, but it is surprising how quickly they, ahem, transform to feeling perfectly moulded and super comfortable on the foot.
I’m used to a lower ride, so the higher stature of these with a 12mm heel-to-toe drop and a whack of material between your foot and the ground means they land squarely in the traditional camp of trail running shoes. That extends to protection, making them super suited to serious mountain terrain, their stiffness particularly in the mid to rear foot, also applicable to steeper terrain.
The lacing system is cleverly designed as non-crossover, meaning it gives firm hold-in but also has a little give in it for foot swell. As is the way with most European-models, the fit is snug and slim – no big boned big foot will get into these, but for those that do, it’s a very comfortable ride.
In the midsole, there is a four-axis shank, lending to its stability on trail and firmer ride. The outer is super strongly-built, with double stitching holding everything in place. The durability of these – I judge having only run approx. 80-100km in them – is up there with the best.
Here is where the transformer analogy really kicks in, however. Or should that be Inspector Gadget analogy. One of the selling points of Raidlight shoes is adaptability and customisation. Set in the heel, underneath the inner sole, you will find a small detachable cushion block that can be lifted out and replaced with a firmer or softer ride cushion (this is obviously only pertinent to heel strikers and when walking). The AbShock pad is an easy customisation to make with three pads to choose from: Medium-Gel, Dynamic and Absorb. The inner sole itself can be customised to five different types from Neutral through Pronator, Supinator, Slim Fit or Ultralight. Then there’s the Grip Pad – Raidlight offer buyers the option of never-ending replacement of soles, with different hardness options that you can choose when replacing. Select Poly Grip for most surfaces or Winter Grip with Icelock pads made from fiberglass designed for excellent grip on ice.
Other accessories that cover every gamut of adventure running include R-Stab Fit, a removable plate that ‘gives you wings’, fitting under your mid sole to provide more surface lift and stability on sand or snow. There is also Protect Fit, two styles of gator membrane for which the shoe has specific attachments points to match, giving better than usual performance for the brand-specific gaiters.
The thing about Raidlight – not a brand seen much to date in Australia, but soon to sprout up courtesy of distribution by Hardcore Brands – is that there is significant heritage and therefore in-field development bolstering its credibility. Founded in 1999 by Benoit Laval, an avid runner who ran more than 100 trails on all continents, it has become a popular brand with Adventure Racers. Now, Adventure Racers racers are the type of guys and gals who, when the trail running fraternity stop ’cause the trail peters out, just keep running into the untrammelled wilderness, often for more days-on-end that most ultra runners can ever claim. They are tough as nails. Their running conditions are tough. And their gear needs to be the toughest. And Raidlight has built its product around the requirements of adventure racers. Ergo…
They are also typically French – there’s no apologies for being a little garish or for those little design features that look like useless flash to you and me, but in fact each little accoutrement has purpose (i.e. those little flaps for attaching gaiters perfectly – no Velcro stick strips needed).
A final analogy: I once had the pleasure of being sat in a Peugeot rally car. Another French bit of kit made to eat up wild trails. That ride was one of the best of my life. That rally car did things on dirt roads that no other rally car could. Brutally fast, at one with the environment, with little mechanical tweaks that just worked for going fast in the bush. Transpose that to Raidlight: another French design that kills it in the bush, sturdy, hard-nosed, fast. Of course, like the Peugeot, you gotta learn how to navigate the trails to get the best from it.
Great for: steep and rough mountain running; adventure racing, Inspector gadgety-types
No so great for: minimalists, simpletons (people who like to keep it simple)
Test conditions: both technical and groomed trails. Approx 55km.
Tester: Chris Ord
Tester mechanics: midfoot striker, mid packer, prone to calf injury (#needstotrainmoreconsistently)