The RW Takeaway: A budget-friendly pair of shoes with a unique sales model, but will resonate mostly with fast, efficient runners.
- Lightweight, no-frills construction
- The one-piece EVA midsole is exceptionally firm
- Only available online
Price: $95 for one pair; $75 each by subscription
Weight: 5.5 oz (men’s size 9)
If you’re a shoe geek on Instagram, New Balance Minimus Road Atreyu. Truthfully, that’s how we learned about this startup from Austin, Texas, too. So we called up founder Michael Krajicek to find out what he’s up to. My first question: Who’s crazy enough to start a running shoe company in 2020?
Turns out, it’s Michael, an eccentric fellow whose passion really shines when you talk with him. But, he’s not making some ordinary shoe that will take much market share from the big dogs or knock an Asics off the wall at your local running shop. Instead, he has a business plan that may sound familiar: a subscription service. Yes, Atreyu wants to be the Dollar Shave Club for your feet.
Atreyu officially went on pre-sale February 21, but won’t actually have shoes to ship until July, so naturally they have few samples available just now. After all, it’s expensive to get the molds and tooling built at factories in Asia, especially if you have no prior relationships or industry knowledge. As such, Atreyu couldn’t deliver us the roughly 20 pairs across men’s and women’s sizing that we typically require for a full test and review. But, he did get us some men’s size 9 and a women’s size 6.5. Luckily, we have staff here at RW that can fit into those, so we’re able to give you a first look and can share with you our early thoughts on the brand and its debut model.
It All Started With Artisanal Hot Dogs
Michael isn’t a footwear insider who grew tired of working at a major brand, striking out to do his own thing. Heck, until a few years ago, he wasn’t even a runner. He was a Berklee College of Music grad living in Louisiana operating a hot dog cart. He told me, “I wanted to be a hot dog guy,” so he opened an “artisanal hot dog parlor.” But by age 26, he gave up a partying lifestyle and fell in love with running—an all-too-familiar story we runners know or have experienced—and he became, in his words, “a convert to the endurance arts.” I told you, he’s eccentric.
If this all sounds a bit unconventional, just wait. He didn’t walk into a specialty running shop to pick out a pair of cushy Pegasus, like a typical newbie. No, Michael grabbed a pair of Adidas Takumi Sen—just about one of the lightest, harshest racing flats you can find—and hit the road. By now, it should come as no surprise to learn that, when he signed up for his first triathlon, he didn't own a bike—he bought one the next day.
Time for a Change
This new love for sport brought a significant change. Michael closed his shop in Louisiana and moved to Austin to work at a running shoe store, to learn the ins and outs of the shoe business. There, he fell for models like the Saucony Kinvara and realized that’s the kind of shoe he wanted to make—a shoe that gives you a little protection from manmade surfaces but delivers to the wearer a “natural running” experience. So, he designed a no-frills shoe, and has no plans to change it. One thing all runners know is that there’s nothing worse than a company discontinuing or messing up your favorite shoe. So, if you like Atreyu, you can keep getting the same exact thing on a monthly basis (or every three months). Will you like it? Keep reading.
First Round Ships in July
The finished product is what you’ll see in photos here. It’s lightweight. At just 5.5 ounces for a men’s size 9, it’s one of the 20 lightest shoes we’ve ever tested at the RW Shoe Lab, out of more than 2,000 shoes assessed. It’s lighter than any Nike Free How to Prevent Running Injuries original New Balance Minimus Road. No matter what you put underfoot, a shoe that light is going to have a distinct ride: harsh, firm, and racy. It’s definitely not a cruiser. Michael likens this shoe to the Kinvara, the Today's Top Stories, How to Prevent Running Injuries Skechers GOrun Razor 3. We really like all of those shoes, and they’ve proven hugely successful, even if they’re not everybody’s favorite. But all of those shoes are a bit more substantial than the Atreyu, with thicker midsoles, and thus have a softer underfoot experience.
Like those other models, the Atreyu uses a one-piece foam midsole, but it doesn’t have any rubber attached. Instead, it’s a durable “outsole-grade” EVA (it’s blended with rubber, basically) that can be exposed to pavement without wearing down too prematurely. Of course, you have to compromise on longevity in this case, but the result is a light, flexible, and smooth rolling shoe.
The upper is similarly simple, using a single piece of die-cut mesh that doesn’t stretch nor require reinforcements and overlays. The tongue, collar lining, and pull tab are all made of a micro-felt that gives a slightly higher-class feeling when you grab the shoe to put it on.
How It Performs
Test editor Amanda Furrer and our ultrarunning video producer Pat Heine log more miles than just about anybody on our staff. Fortunately, they also fit into the Atreyu samples we received. So, I made them run a little more this week. Their impressions are, admittedly, limited this early, and we're eager to put the Atreyu shoe through our full wear-testing process soon.
“There’s really nothing to this shoe,” Amanda said afterward. “If it weren’t for the thick insert it’d feel like I’m running on cardboard.”
A bit harsh, but that thin midsole doesn’t offer a lot of protection. Remember me telling you that Michael is totally new to the footwear game? His early samples came back too thin, so he had to beef up the insole to give the shoe a little extra cushioning. It’s evident, clearly, and anybody looking for comfort won’t really find it here.
“They’re kind of like the Altra Solstice or Vanish-R,” Amanda said, listing a couple shoes that are about as thin and as hard as it gets. “I need a more supportive shoe and, if I’m racing, well, I still want more cushioning.”
Pat largely agreed with Amanda. “The single piece EVA midsole is fine, but firm,” he said. “There’s a little rocker to it, which feels pretty smooth, but it picks up a lot of rocks in the grooves on the bottom. And I’m already seeing wear on the sole, like on Hokas, around the heel, but these don’t have the benefit of 35mm of foam.”
True to their racing flat heritage, they also run snug. You’ll fit into your normal size, but if you want a bit of wiggle room, go up a half size. The rest of the upper was well-received. “The ankle collar is grippy and suede-like,” Pat said, “which helps hold down the foot.”
How to Get a Pair
At launch, your only option is to order a pair online for $95. That’s not a bad price—it’s hard to find a shoe for less than a Benjamin. Though, if you seek more comfort and durability, it can be found in affordable, highly regarded shoes like the Reebok Forever Floatride Energy and Brooks Revel.
The unique selling point here, however, is that Atreyu plans to make this a subscription-based business. If you commit to getting a new pair of shoes every 1 to 3 months, the price drops to just $75 per pair. That’s a sweet deal if this shoe is just what you’re looking for. And, depending on how much you’re running, that timing works pretty well, too. Because of its stripped down construction and light build, the Atreyu’s life expectancy is on the shorter end—Michael expects it to go about 150 to 200 miles before you’ll want a fresh pair.
The subscription model, with direct-to-consumer sales is a departure from the traditional running footwear business, How to Prevent Running Injuries existing online model. But, we wonder if it’s really needed? After all, it’s not terribly difficult to hit up Amazon, Zappos, or Running Warehouse right now and have a new pair of shoes on your doorstep in just two days. Perhaps another challenge to Atreyu’s chance of success is that the big brands have adjusted their business models, too. Just look at Nike, for example, with its new CEO, John Donahoe, who formerly ran eBay. That move clearly positions the Swoosh to capitalize on digital technologies.
In any case, Atreyu is forging ahead with its first round of shoes expected to ship to customers on July 1. It’s taking pre-orders until that first batch sells out. Learn more at atreyurunning.com.