Nike Shox Ace
If there's one brand that has revolutionized the tennis shoe industry, it's Nike. By including advanced cushioning systems, light-weight upper materials and innovative stability systems, Nike has redefined the acceptable performance of tennis shoes.
One of the biggest advantages for Nike tennis is that it can borrow shoe technologies developed by Nike for a variety of different sports and fine-tune them for use in a tennis shoe. For instance, the development of more and more sophisticated cushioning systems in Nike tennis shoes can be traced to developments in Nike running shoes.
There's no doubt that runners need plenty of cushioning from their shoes, and it was in Nike running shoes that we first saw Nike Air, Air Max and Air Zoom cushioning technologies. In 2001, Nike revolutionized the running shoe by introducing the Nike SHOX cushioning system. While traditional cushioning systems focused solely on absorbing energy at impact, SHOX technology also focused on returning energy for the athlete's next step.
Sixteen years in development, the Nike SHOX system was inspired by an indoor running track with a very springy response. Unlike the SHOX system seen in the Nike SHOX Ace tennis shoe tested here, early SHOX development focused on a variety of springs, such as open and close leaf spring applications. SHOX development continued from 1984 through the early 1990s, but prototypes lacked the stability, durability and light weight required for a practical application. In 1997 Nike developed a SHOX shoe with four injection molded SHOX columns and the earlier leaf spring designs were abandoned. Four years later, the first Nike SHOX running shoe was released.
True to Nike's development of its Air cushioning technologies, it was not long before the SHOX system started to make its way into other sports. In 2004, Nike released several SHOX basketball shoes, including the SHOX Explosive and the SHOX Elevate. Nike introduced the SHOX Glamour women's tennis shoe a year later. Developed for WTA professional Serena Williams, the SHOX Glamour was the first tennis shoe to feature SHOX technology.
With female players already enjoying the benefits of SHOX technology on the tennis courts, the guys were left eagerly anticipating the release of the SHOX Ace men's tennis shoe. When the SHOX Ace became available in late April of 2005, we hit the courts for an extended playtest.
Comfort features abound on the SHOX Ace shoes. Soft leather uppers combine with mesh for a comfortable and ventilated fit. For a cushioned ride throughout, the SHOX Aces feature full-length Phylon midsoles. Phylon is compression molded EVA and provides a lower profile and more responsive cushioning system compared to traditional EVA midsoles. For enhanced cushioning in the heel area, the SHOX Aces feature low profile, tennis specific SHOX columns.
For the first few outings our team found the SHOX Aces to be a little stiff. Finding the shoes to require a brief break-in was Don. "Out of the box, these shoes felt a bit stiff and required some breaking in. After a few hours, they softened up and fit my feet well. The generous toe-box suits my wide feet and there were no 'hot spots', meaning I didn't feel any pinching or poking. Heel cushioning was good, but was most noticeable when walking, since I try to be on my toes when playing." Also finding the shoes stiff out of the box was Chris. "There was some initial stiffness with these shoes which lasted the first few wears. Once the shoes had broken-in, they became very comfortable for walking around in and wearing casually. I never found the fit and support I need to comfortably play in these. The fit in the forefoot was too wide and my feet slid side to side, causing some rubbing on the bottoms of my feet. My feet were also sliding forwards inside the shoes on fast stops causing my toes to take a hammering against the tip of the toe box. On the plus side, I was happy with the level of cushioning. The SHOX in the heel seemed to offer a fairly firm but very responsive ride. The cushioning felt the most firm when walking around, with none of the squishiness of a soft EVA midsole. I've found certain softer shoes (EVA midsole) to make my heels ache during long days on my feet - not so with the firmer ride of the SHOX Aces. Most impressively during play, the level of shock reduction seemed to increase the harder I impacted the court, and I found excellent cushioning when on the run."
Paul found the SHOX Aces to require a more extensive break-in. "Some intense pinky toe rubbing was brutal on the first wear. It subsided as the shoes broke-in. On the first day, with the thinnest socks I could find, I still could not wear these shoes more than 15 minutes at a time. After a few days they opened up enough to wear thick padded socks. The pinky toe rubbing was a distant memory, and the snug fit had become very pleasant. Cushioning was evident and sufficient, although I much prefer the Air Max design of the Breathe Free IIs." Granville found the somewhat stiff feel of the SHOX Aces to be present for the duration of the test. "While these are comfortable shoes, they are comfortable like a good pair of dress shoes are comfortable. The uppers provided a nice fit in the forefoot, but only after significant time on the court. These shoes are stiff, and there is just no other way to put it. The SHOX heel does not provide much cushioning, with a very hard/stiff heel. Perhaps best for large (heavy) players who have a better chance of compressing the heel cushioning."
The SHOX Aces offer a medium high arch support. While Granville had "no issues" with the arch support, Paul was left wanting. "The arch support seemed fine at first, but it flattened out over time, leaving my arch needing more support. The last day I wore these shoes at work, at the end of the day my feet began to ache from the lack of support."
Don would have also liked more arch support in the SHOX Aces. "The medium arch is probably sufficient for most players. However, I have a high arch and prefer a little more support. No problems, but I would have liked a little higher arch." Chris offered, "the arch support was not a stand out feature for me. There was just enough there for comfort and adequate support, but nothing that made my feet feel locked in or especially secure."
For improved stability, the SHOX Aces feature a double-lasted forefoot and low profile SHOX columns. Each SHOX column has been engineered with a convex bulge on the outer edge of the shoe and a concave groove on the instep side. The result is that the SHOX columns compress first towards the instep, making the shoes more resistant to ankle roll.
Our team was divided when it came to the support and stability offered by the SHOX Aces. Finding the forefoot fit too wide to be supportive was Chris. "Not the most stable shoes for me. The forefoot fit was too wide and there was no way to tighten things up. The bottom lace seemed to be set too far back in the shoe. If the bottom lace had been closer to the toe box, I think I would have been able to cinch in the forefoot fit a little. With the loose fit in the forefoot my feet were sliding all over the place. Every lateral change of direction had my feet sliding inside the shoes. The sliding side to side took a toll on the bottoms of my feet and I got a few blisters during longer matches. My feet would also slide into the front of the shoes when coming to a quick stop. The tips of my big toes took a beating. However, heel stability was much better and I never felt like the shoes were going to roll on me." Also looking for more stability was Paul. "These shoes were fairly unstable compared to other shoes I've worn. The shoe is designed to combat the tendency to roll outward, but it wasn't enough for me. I rolled my ankles 3 times in these shoes - not severely, but just enough to get my attention without getting injured. My feet began to slide around a bit inside the shoes as well after break-in. This coupled with the diminished arch support left me disconcerted."
Granville found a more supportive fit from the SHOX Aces. "I found a good fit in the forefoot, in addition to sitting rather low to the ground. I found a very stable fit with little concern of roll-over. I wear ankle braces when playing and the tight fit on entry somewhat hindered me when getting into these shoes." Don was also pleased with the level of support offered by the SHOX Aces. "I felt pretty secure when playing in the SHOX Ace shoes. I had to be sure to cinch up the laces tightly, but these are pretty structured shoes that provide good stability, so I felt very secure and 'locked in'. I never rolled my ankle or slipped inside the shoe. I did wear 2 pairs of thinner socks, but I often do this, depending on how a shoe fits my foot."
Overall Sole Durability
Again, our team was somewhat divided when it came to determining the durability of the SHOX Aces. Finding a steady amount of wear over the foot bed was Granville. "I found a consistent level of wear over the entire outsole - no real weak spots noticed. The outsole rubber feels a bit harder to me, which seems to significantly improve durability without compromising traction." While Don "hardly noticed any wear at all, Paul found the SHOX Aces to offer similar durability to the Air Max Breathe Free IIs. "The outsoles demonstrated average durability; not as durable as the New Balance CT802s or the Wilson Crossfire IIs. Made of the same material as the Nike Air Max Breathe Free IIs, they began to wear down first next to the pivot point, at the inner edge. They continued to wear much like the Nike Air Max Breathe Free IIs."
Finding significant wear to the forefoot outsole regions was Chris. "These are not the most durable shoes when it comes to outsole wear. The outsoles seem to be focused more on traction. It was not long before I started to wear down the outsoles in the forefoot areas. The heel areas held up much better, with hardly any wear visible at the end of the test."
Our entire team was impressed with the level of toe durability offered by the SHOX Aces. Don said, "very tough toes on these shoes, and I didn't notice much wear here, either." Chris was in agreement. "The toe bumpers on the SHOX Aces did their job. While the bumpers took a beating, the shoes stayed intact. Both toe bumpers had plenty of scuffmarks by the end of the test, but there were no signs of wearing through to the uppers."
The SHOX Aces offer a very hard court friendly outsole pattern, with a traditional herringbone pattern combining with a pivot point under the forefoot. For the most part our team was impressed by the level of traction offered by the SHOX Aces. Chris said, "I was happy with the level of traction I found in the SHOX Aces. The shoes held the court well and I found a good level of grip when moving laterally, forward and backward." Granville agreed, "I found good traction with these shoes and could stop and start without any thought or compensation. No doubt due to the herringbone pattern and nice rubber compound which aids in durability."
Missing the traction of his Air Max Breathe Free IIs was Paul. "The traction of the Nike SHOX did not impress me as much as the grabby Nike Air Max Breathe Free II outsole. Upon side-by-side inspection it became apparent why. The SHOX Aces have a partial herringbone tread in the forefoot area and a big pivot point reminiscent of a traditional basketball outsole. Although made of the same material, the Air Max Breathe Free IIs felt like they offered better grip. The rubber on the Air Max Breathe Free IIs feels softer to the touch. The design allows it to flex. The SHOX Aces do not grab the court on lateral movements as well. I guess if they did they would pose a much greater ankle roll over threat. I didn't experience any slipping, but I didn't feel like I could rely on them, either." Also comparing the traction of the SHOX Aces to another Nike shoe was Don. "While I didn't have the same 'grippy' feel of the Vapor S2, I never slid out or felt I needed to hold back on aggressive direction changes."
At 17.7 ounces for a size 10.5, the SHOX Aces are heavier than the Air Max Breathe Free IIs, Air Zoom Vapor Speeds and Air Resolve Plus'. While not the lightest Nike offering, our team did not feel hindered by the weight of the SHOX Aces. Chris offered, "the SHOX system seems to add a bit of weight to these shoes. However, they were not noticeably heavy in play. I liked the heel cushioning so much that any added weight seemed worthwhile." Granville felt the weight of the SHOX Aces met his expectations for leather performance shoes. "Slightly heavy, but I would expect that for durable leather shoes. The weight was nothing out of the ordinary for performance shoes."
Paul was surprised by the on court feel of the SHOX Aces considering they included leather uppers. "Pretty heavy and well constructed with thick beefy leather. Surprisingly, they didn't feel too bulky." Don said, "The SHOX Aces are pretty 'full-bodied', but they didn't seem to impede my court movement."
While the SHOX Ace offers some impressive performance, we feel there's plenty of room for improvement in future SHOX tennis shoes. The SHOX system definitely offers some responsive cushioning on heel strike, but it was somewhat overshadowed by the stiff feel during break-in and lack of confidence inspiring support. There's no doubt that plenty of players will enjoy this shoe as is, but we feel it can be made to suit a wider variety of foot types with some revisions to the design of the uppers and lacing system. As is, the SHOX Ace offers a good match for players seeking a roomy toe box, the comfort of leather uppers, and the firm and responsive SHOX heel cushioning.