Note: This is yet another discovered unpublished review from November 2019. The Propel is impossible to find these days but I figured I should still post this up for completeness sake. Due to the MCO lockdown to arrest the scourge of COVID-19, all outdoor activities were barred since early March and only lifted May 4th. With the write-up already completed last year, I was able to get reacquainted with the shoes and grab a few shots with the iPhone 11 before “AirDropping” them to the iPad for editing. So here’s the short write up on the shoes having logged 200km in them.
When I started running back in the early ‘90s, Nike and New Balance were the only 2 brands I wore. NBs were made in the USA then and they were built like Volvos. Indestructible yet really comfortable, NBs were one of the most innovative shoe companies at that time. As they got overly engineered and chunky – they had ENCAP, C-CAP, Rollbar, Abzorb – and that’s not counting the needlessly complicated nomenclature, I stayed away from the brand. If you’re interested in NB history, check out this Sneaker News article.
So after being off my shoe rotation for much of the 2000s, I got reacquainted with the brand when they released the Zante in 2015 which featured a then new midsole foam called FreshFoam (FF). The FF was an improvement over the stiff and firm RevLite material. The Zante had a fantastic upper construction and were made without superfluous materials. I liked them enough to own 2 pairs even though I found them to be a bit too minimal for marathon use. My next pairs of NB would happen only in 2018 with the Beacon [review], followed by the Rebel and Propel In 2019.
With that bit of backstory out of the way, let’s move along with the Propel.
The selling points for the Propel are their lightweight cushioning properties and accommodating upper, built on a stable platform of FuelCell midsole foam. Launched as the training companion to the more performance oriented Rebel, the Propel simply offers fantastic value to the budget conscious runner, without sacrificing the key elements that make a shoe great. Despite all the positives, tough luck finding them in Malaysia. The Propel and Rebel were on the shelves for such a limited period of time and sold at full RRP that finding and making that purchase decision a ridiculous proposition. Luckily, wide versions of the shoes were available discounted from an online shopping portal and that was how I snagged my pairs.
There’s really nothing much to write home about the Propel, really. It’s a simple shoe, a daily trainer in the mould of the Pegasus, Launch, GoRun Ride Hyper, and Solar Glide. The problem is, NB’s range of shoes are so bewilderingly wide that unless you’re a geek, the Propel will be lost in the sea of 840, 890, 880, Arishi, Echo, Beacon, Tempo, And Roav, just to name a few.
How good is the Propel? Good enough to displace the Zoom Fly 3 [review] as the daily workhorse and long run shoe. Much more forgiving than the lower slung Boston 5-8s, the Pegasus 35 (I don’t have the 36 which retained much of the 35’s setup), and the Dynaflyte 3. That said, the true-to-size NB are less suited for up-tempo workouts, the domain of the aforementioned shoes from adidas, Nike and Asics.
At a surprising 8.25oz, the Propel is lighter than the Pegs and Epic React [review], most daily cushioned trainers from Asics, adidas and Brooks. Given its wallet friendly price tag, the Propel’s upper isn’t something fancy nor refined as the Rebel’s excellent knitted upper. Just the usual breathable engineered mesh with hints of trace fibre stitching. I wish there is another row of lace eyelets to accommodate a runner’s knot, so good thing the Propel already have good heel fit and laces long enough to triple knot!
There is a thin layer of external welded overlay around the toe cap but an external heel counter is noticeably absent. The almost-too-generous fit (the shoes are wide version) turn out to be a blessing as they allow me to swap out the stock insoles for the more supportive ones from Spenco as I slowly worked through my post-injury routine. My ankle has since mended enough for me to revert back to the stock insoles.
Moving down to the flared midsole, you’ll find sculpted sidewalls both on the lateral and medial sides that offer all the stability the runner needs – going around corners are all well handled. I can say confidently since a single 2K loop of my daily running route entails negotiating 12 turns! The Propel’s FuelCell midsole offers enough cushion for the long miles and is stable enough for all but the wobbliest of runners. At 200km, there are some minor creasing observed on the midsole due to compression. That’s totally normal for a midsole this soft.
The 27mm/21mm stack height isn’t particularly high, thus the shoes’ impact dampening isn’t in the realm of a maximalist shoe like Hoka. Not to worry, you’ll still get a nice step-in feel.
Flip the shoes over and you’ll notice the full rubber contact outsole with multi-directional flex grooves, including a massive longitudinal one reminiscent of Asics’ Guidance Line. This is one flexible shoe. Along with the Floatride Run Everyday, the Propel has one of the best traction out there, grippy on all the surfaces I run on – tarmac, gravel, steel gratings and sand – wet or dry. If there’s a negative, it’s the somewhat less stellar heel durability as you can see in the photo below, expected perhaps, due to the softer rubber used. They should still last me 450-500km and as I’m working to regain my fitness, I’ll take comfort over durability.
There’s really little to complain about the Propel. The earlier comments about the one-less eyelet, heel wear and the (almost too much) roominess were me really nit-picking a super affordable pair of shoes under RM300, after rebates and discounts. The Propel gets my thumbs up. Good luck trying to find it.