Coming up with my all-time favorite running shoe innovations over the past 20 years has actually been easier than I thought. We have breezed through the 1st three, and now here is number 4!
The thing I love most about this shoe is that it was launched immediately before the New York City Marathon in 2014, on October 31st, my birthday. Thanks Under Armour! And, I was there, because NYC always throws a big parade for my birthday (well… it might be for Halloween), and I am nearly always there for the marathon!
The Under Armour Speedform Gemini comes in at number 4 in my list of all-time innovative shoes quite simply because it was such a refreshing and quite technical product in the sea of mediocrity that defined running shoes at this time. It reset the clock for innovation when it was most needed.
Under Armour is an interesting company, a multi-billion dollar behemoth built on highly technical apparel by the ubiquitous Kevin Plank. His is a story really worth hearing, how in a relatively short period of time (with many… many speed bumps) he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to build a 4 billion dollar per year empire. You can read the story here. That said, UA seems to be a company unable to decide whether it wants to be serious about running shoes or not. But, when they set their mind to it, they really excel.
The UA Speedform Gemini had a number of very innovative technical inclusions. Along with the Curry One, the first signature shoe of NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, UA introduced its new “Charged Foam” into the Gemini in an attempt to align apparrel branding and a foam UA claimed would “adapt to any runner’s needs”.
Along with the Speedform Apollo, released earlier in the same year, the Gemini was designed in an apparel factory for the first time in history. The upper took cues from UA’s undoubted expertise in apparel manufacture, and was a 2 piece construction.
The rear part of the shoe was made in a women’s bra factory (indeed the factory that manufacturers all bras for Victoria’s Secret!), a stroke of genius given their years of perfecting form-fitting garments.
The result for the Gemini was a shoe with unique fit, comfort and performance characteristics.
Other key features of the Gemini were synthetic precision-fit, almost like a light weight neoprene used in the heel collar and upper tongue, and a perforated mesh with “no-seam” welding , a first for a running shoe. The shoe also incorporated a thin seam of exposed silicon running the circumference of the top collar to reduce slippage of the foot in the shoe.. another first for running.
Most of you know my views on internal plastic heel counters (I hate ’em) and this might be the reason I love this shoe so much! In place of the heavy and useless internal plastic heel counter, there is an external molded lightweight TPU heel cup that helps secure your foot in place when laced up.
Flexible external TPU heel counter adds contruction without compromising weight and stiffness
The weight of the Gemini is 8.5 ounces or 252 grams for a men’s size 9. For 2014, this was exceptionally light and only a whisker over my currnet upper threshhold for shoes I design of 250 grams.
Again UA turned to its apparrel expertise to build a shoe that was very cool to run in. UA used their signature moisture wicking technology from their garments to make sure that your foot stays cool and dry at all times.
The midsole was also very innovative, being one of the first to use 2 layers of differing materials, Charged Foam and Micro G to recognise both shock attenuation and rebound.
Traction in the Gemini is exceptional and suits a variety of surfaces, weather, and terrain. Mostly composed of blown rubber with judicious use of carbon rubber, the outsole contributes to the responsive natural feel and added comfort when running on uneven surfaces.
Finally, the Speedform Gemini addressed the very worse and cheapest part of all running footwear, the innersole or “sockliner”. In most shoes, even very expensive ones, the sockliner is the cheapest component and so frankly is normally terrible and completely useless.
UA changed this by introducing a “4-D footbed” that provides additional cushioning and supported the foot by molding to the heat from the runner’s foot.
Of all the shoes I have been involved with over the past 30 or so years, and that includes the likes of Kayano, the 2000 and 3000 series from ASICS, the Kinsei etc, the one I am most proud of, and that I think is the best shoe I have been involved with, is the Salomon Predict.
I am completely unashamed to say that in concepting and designing this shoe, we took several cues from the UA Speedform Gemini, including the 2 piece upper and the back part being made in that Victoria’s Secret bra factory! Everthing else was different.
The Under Armour Speedform Gemini slipped under the radar somewhat, and did not sell in great volume, but for me, it remains one of the most innovative shoes of the past 20 years.