Monday, December 5, 2011

Revisiting the Originals: Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS review

Is the Bikila LS an upgrade from the KSO?

When I was approached by Vibram's marketing people to review the Bikila LS, I was a bit confused. I've expressed a bit of a disdain for this model because I felt it was a step in the wrong direction. It looked more like a running shoe, which was a surprise from a company known for making the "anti-running shoe." I was, of course, interested in an opportunity to feel for myself.

Trying the Bikila LS on - First Impression
The shoes arrived, and I was excited to try them on. My first impression wasn't positive. I felt restricted in the shoes and my feet felt cramped. This isn't unique to the Bikila, as a foot that fits so closely to the foot is going to feel tight. Nearly all other minimal offerings feature a relaxed fit, allowing for the foot to function naturally in the shoe. Vibram is truly different. Much like my old KSOs, I don't particularly enjoy the fit for casual use. They felt kind of hot, but the uppers felt much smoother than in KSOs.  I Just as with all other shoes, standing in them and looking at them is rarely a valid assessment of performance. They're not hailed as "the original standing around and wiggling your toes" shoes. I hated my KSOs for casual, but racked up over 2000miles on them before they finally wore through.

Advice: You may not be impressed initially, but they really shine on the run.

The Bikila Stands up on its own. This is evidence that its a bit more "running shoe" like when
compared to its sailing-inspired predecessor.

Running in the Bikila LS
I took the shoes for their first run- a 12 mile total run with hill repeats in the middle. Since the shoes felt a little tight, I applied some Vaseline to my pinky toes and a couple pre-existing sores(thanks, 2012 NB minimus zero). After a couple miles of warming up, they felt quite nice. The ground feel was  less than that of the KSO, but still more than most any of the current offerings. The thin sole allowed for a barefoot style gait. What contributes to its prowess as a "barefoot shoe"* is that it fits so closely to the foot. Since Vibram's patent is pending, its going to take quite a bit(and thus far, unseen) creativity to make a shoe feels so much like a bare foot. As they say in their own ads, "The more it looks like a foot, the more it acts like a foot." Sole thickness is important, but for some of us, it takes a backseat to responsiveness. In a shoe like a Bikila, there is no "flopping" or folding, and its so close to the foot that it acts like a thick(maybe too thick) second skin, not a shoe.

I may be a bit biased because the Vibram KSO was my first minimal shoe, after a few months of running exclusively barefoot. This is the reverse of the conservative "transitional shoe" approach, but I put over 2000miles on a pair without getting injured. They also fit my feet rather perfectly, which may not be the case if a runner has a Morton's toe(middle toe longer than big toe), bunions, or just a different foot shape.

My 4th pair of KSOs(left) and the New Bikila LS(right)
Simplicity has been replaced by more technology. Whether that's good or bad is up to you.

The eye catching "podded" design allows for points of flexion while adding some
sole thickness for protection.

Something more recent from Vibram is the lacing system that replaces the standard hook and loop straps. The laces are nice in that they can't be overtightened like the strap. Vibrams have such a tight fit that a complicated mechanism isn't necessary. Laces look pretty sweet. I'm not above favoring a shoe that's easy on the eyes! Since the Bikila is a running specific model, it has reflective stuff on it. I doubt it will keep me from getting hit by a car, but it still looks cool.

The upper is much smoother than the KSO. Though a bit warmer, the inside has no seams. This keeps the runner from suffering the cuts that have scarred my feet as a result of wet KSOs. The buttery smooth inside is almost as good as the KSO Trek(Kangaroo leather model).

Bottom line: Had I bought the Bikilas for a general purpose running shoe, I would not have disappointed

Vibram's Bikila LS is generally a very good shoe. Though I'd like to see a thinner sole for road running, the current sole thickness is versatile. A runner can be on gravel, chip and seal, and non rocky trails and be very happy. If you're fortunate enough to have a foot the same shape as the shoe's last, then they will serve you well. Give them a fair shake that goes beyond putting them on and standing in one place.


  1. Nice review, dude. This is my favorite running shoe, even after all the other ones I've been wearing since I got them. I didn't like the first version because they were really tight on my mid foot - but these have the laces so there's no problem there. I think I jumped on the bandwagon a little late for the KSO's so I don't have much to compare, but I really find my Bikila LS to be the most like wearing nothing.


  2. I was googling around when i entered you blog. I am feeling pleasure to find the heartful knowledge on Vibram Five Fingers.
    Really You have done a great job. Hatts off.

  3. Thanks for leaving these up. I have owned classics, KSOs, KSO Treks, and am awaiting my brand new Bikila LS...thank you people of eBay for selling brand new rad older models. I found this blog looking for fitting. Sticking with the 44s I always have worn. KSO and Classics fit perfect in 44...Treks are a bit loose...darn Kangaroos...but hasn't kept me from logging some serious miles in them...even road running (not a good plan btw...way too stiff).