American Trail Running Association member BOA® Technology is continuing to push boundaries in trail running shoe technology with the release of the upcoming La Sportiva Cyklon. This new model, similar to previous BOA-powered trail running shoes, includes the patented fitting technology, the BOA® Fit System, which incorporates “a micro-adjustable dial, super-strong lightweight laces, and low-friction lace guides” to improve performance and fit.
Recently I interviewed Dan Feeney, Ph.D., manager of biomechanics research engineering at the Performance Fit Lab at BOA Headquarters in Denver, about his role in shoe testing and design, insights into shoe technology, and what makes BOA trail running shoes unique when compared to other shoes on the market.
During our conversation I also got a “sneak-preview” of the Cyklon, which will be released in two weeks on April 15, 2021.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] Could you take us through a typical day of your work at the Performance Fit Lab?
[DAN FEENEY] We have two broad phases of testing that take up most of our time in the lab. The first is large-scale validation studies. We completed our first validation study at the University of Denver in “Agility and Speed” and found our configurations can significantly improve how quickly, powerfully, and efficiently athletes can change direction in a large, 31-person test. This study laid the groundwork for the second main task in our lab: ongoing performance tests. We run weekly five to six person ‘performance tests’ to evaluate products going to the market using the same methodology we validated in our large-scale studies.
Most of our weeks are filled up with performance tests, collaborating with brand partners to ensure their products are seeing the same improvements in performance that we saw in the validation study, and providing qualitative and quantitative feedback to improve products. Lastly, we constantly investigate new tools, biomechanics papers, and methods to ensure we are leading the way in biomechanically measuring the impact of fit on performance.
[TAYTE] You are a former NCAA Division-1 runner and professional triathlete, as well as an accomplished trail runner. How do you merge your passions for running with your job in the lab?
[DAN] I love running and feel incredibly lucky to blend my job and my passion for trail running. Moreover, I believe practicing the sport you are studying grounds you in reality and keeps you studying aspects that are meaningful to athletes. As a biomechanist, I can measure all sorts of things about how we move, but my passion as an athlete allows me to truly focus on what is important for runners. I can ask myself questions such as, “what do I care about when I am racing up or down steep gradients?” I use those kinds of questions to improve our research methodology. Of course, one of the beauties of running is letting go and not thinking about anything, so I enjoy my fair share of that as well!
[TAYTE] What are some of your favorite pieces of tech you get to use to test shoes and what kinds of things are being measured in the lab?
[DAN] We have a ton of fancy equipment in the lab to test trail shoes from a force-measuring treadmill, metabolic cart (to measure how much energy it takes to run at a given effort), and high-speed cameras to measure movement over 100 times per second, but my favorite way to test trail shoes is using our mobile equipment on the trail. We need our fancy lab equipment to validate what measurements are ‘sensitive’ to fit, meaning as fit improves, so will this variable. One example is vertical loading rate; this measures how quickly force gets loaded onto the body and this seems to be lower in better fitting footwear.
My favorite aspect of our lab is taking wearable sensors to measure force, pressure, and the movement of runners onto the trail, since that is where the shoes are meant to perform. Since we are based in Denver, CO, we have an awesome group of testers from local running clubs all the way to some world-class runners. I always subject myself to any new type of test before asking anybody else to do it.
[TAYTE] Could you share some memorable, funny, or unique stories from the testing lab?
[DAN] We typically ask athletes to work pretty hard in our lab, whether that is running near all-out or snowboarding moguls for a few hours, so the delirious talk from tired athletes is always funny. Another interesting one is the first time an athlete tries the BOA Fit System. Our product is best experienced by trying it on, so seeing that “a-ha” moment when they first try it on is one of my favorite things.
[TAYTE] What are trends you’re seeing in running technology and what’s the next tech for trail runners?
[DAN] We have seen the revolution in road racing and track shoes based on highly compliant foams and carbon plates, and I can’t wait to see how brands incorporate these findings into trail shoes. Once you create such a lively shoe with different foams and carbon plates, fit becomes critical, especially on a trail.
We have tested a few shoes in the lab that I believe are going to be super shoes in the trail space, and I am excited for them to come out. Finding that balance between a shoe that can make running more economical with one that provides stability and precision on trails is key!
[TAYTE] What are some of the most essential features to a BOA trail shoe and what makes it different from other trail shoes?
[DAN] As you can see from shoes on the market with BOA like the La Sportiva Cyklon, VK, and Saucony Switchback 2 (among others), we are getting away from the traditional U-Throat of running shoes. In the traditional shoe closure system, you are trying to press laces into the ridgeline of your foot, which creates an area of high tension right at the knot and generally less conformity farther away.
We find that a wrapping fit can conform to a wider variety of foot shapes, provides excellent heel lock and instep hold, while allowing other areas of the foot to be free. Additionally, our laces and guides (what the laces go through) are low friction, which allows the shoe to provide a dynamic fit over the course of a stride.
[TAYTE] How do you balance an athlete’s perception of how the shoe feels with how it actually performs in the lab?
[DAN] At the end of the day, runners tend to select the shoes that work best for them, so I place a lot of emphasis in how runners perceive the shoes to fit. We often see this perception of fit correlates well with shoes that perform the most. I believe a lot of thought and design goes into making running shoes perfect, so runners themselves don’t have to worry about the shoe during the run.
[TAYTE] Could you take us through how BOA partners with various brands involved in trail running and when designing a shoe with these brands, how do you balance the vision of these companies with your own vision for the product?
[DAN] For the brands that you mentioned, we have years-long relationships where we are included in the initial design brief for the shoes (usually about 18 months before the shoe comes to market). During that time, our customer product development team works with brands to implement configurations (our dial, laces, guides, etc.) with the design goals of their shoes. Our lab typically tests these shoes one to two times during those 18 months to make sure the design direction is improving performance for athletes.
[TAYTE] Are there reasons BOA trail shoes are more advantageous on trails than other trail running shoes?
[DAN] We scientifically proved that athletes can change direction more quickly, powerfully, and efficiently in our performance configurations from our first validation study, which I believe is key to successful trail running. We are currently working on a similar study in “Endurance and Health” and are hoping to publish this by the end of 2021. For those who are curious, give a BOA-powered shoe a try on and see for yourself!
But wait, there’s more! On March 31, 2021 a second white paper publishes detailed data on how athlete performance is improved with the BOA Fit System.
CYKLON SNEAK PEAK:
[TAYTE] Tell me about the upcoming La Sportiva Cyklon shoe. What is unique about this particular model of trail shoe?
[DAN] The Cyklon is a fantastic example of a shoe that went through the design and development calendar beautifully. We met with La Sportiva’s team in Ziano di Fiemme, Italy in the summer of 2019 to discuss the goals of this shoe. They presented their plans for the midsole, outsole, and upper, while we showed them how we believed the panels on top of the foot could improve fit. During the following eighteen months, we tested the shoes in the lab and on the trail. We saw meaningful improvements in our measurements of endurance, health, and agility during these tests and I am confident those looking for a highly technical shoe will love this shoe.
[TAYTE] What are some notable “tech” features of the Cyklon?
[DAN] The Cyklon features an overlapping panel that La Sportiva and BOA collaborated on to improve agility and fit over a long race. The top and bottom straps are static while there is an elastic feature to this middle strap in the Dynamic Cage™ that we believe allows the shoe to better conform to athletes’ feet as they change over a long run. This dynamic cage locks the heel into place, provides firm hold at the instep, and still allows for toe flexion for the steep uphills.
[TAYTE] What do you like most about the Cyklon and what features have worked really well in the testing stages?
[DAN] My favorite aspect of the Cyklon is how versatile it is; you can bomb technical descents and climb steep rocks while still feeling lively on other parts of a trail run. We found substantial improvements in trail runners’ ability to quickly and precisely change direction, while keeping linear running fun.
[TAYTE] How has the product evolved from its initial development to now?
[DAN] This product has inspiration from Skyrunning, so creating it was all about providing structure and stability while keeping weight minimal. We started by stitching panels onto an existing product in the La Sportiva line (The Mutant) and used qualitative feedback to guide early iterations. Subsequent versions were tested in our lab to see how different iterations impacted metabolic cost, pressure distributions around the foot, landing impact, and ability to quickly change direction. The final version is a sleek implementation of what started out as multiple layers of fabric while still retaining the desired stability.
[TAYTE] You’ve mentioned the Cyklon is a “highly technical shoe.” Could you explain how testing has shown this shoe to be particularly effective on technical terrain?
[DAN] We tested this shoe with many of La Sportiva’s Skyrunning team including Jonathan Wyatt (six-time World Mountain Running Champion) who also works for La Sportiva. Gaining Jonathan’s confidence in this shoe gives you a good idea that this shoe can handle gnarly trails (he also lives and trains in the Dolomite mountains of Italy). The shoe will be great for technical races over 20 kilometers. The Rut and Speedgoat 50K in the US are great examples while iconic races like Zegama and other European classics will be great places for this shoe.
[TAYTE] This is your second trail running shoe collaboration with La Sportiva (the first being the VK). What is similar and different about this shoe as compared to the VK? What is it like working with a company to produce follow-up models, as opposed to a first-time collaboration?
[DAN] This is the second trail running shoe with La Sportiva, but we have also worked on a mountaineering boot (G2 SM mountaineering boot) and you will see us collaborating in additional segments (but I can’t quite share about those yet). The VK was all about creating a nimble and fast shoe that was low in weight but still could provide support on technical uphills. We actually got the weight of the shoe lower than the previous version of the VK with laces due to changes we made in the upper. The VK and Cyklon both represent specialized parts of a trail runner’s shoe quiver.
[TAYTE] When the Cyklon launches, will any specific BOA athletes be demonstrating it in their racing and training? Have athletes already tested prototypes or been involved in the design and testing process?
[DAN] La Sportiva has tested this shoe extensively with their European Skyrunning Team (who BOA jointly sponsors) and I will expect them to wear these shoes in 2021. We also have a local, Colorado-based trail running team that will be wearing these shoes on whatever races happen this year.