Pros: Top quality, light, comfortable and durable
Cons: Perf steel will never be as good as solid
***Important Update 9/2/05:
In what is the total opposite of what Ive come to expect from Grafs skates, the G series has been having some issues. Up till now, Graf has had a reputation for excellence. However, there have been numerous reports of the composite outsole on the G series skates actually delaminating rendering the skate worthless. This typically happens in 6 to 12 months of purchase.
Thus far, Graf has been taking returns on these defective skates and replacing them. Graf claims that there was a flaw in the manufacturing process which has been corrected. It will be some time before we see if the replacement skates are holding up better than the early models. While Graf has always made quality skates in the past, the full carbon outsole is something new for them. Until I hear more about what is happening with the G series in general, I am lowering the rating on the G3 to 3 stars.
The delaminating sole issue was apparently fairly isolated in the G series skates. While this was an obvious defect, it appears to have been a manufacturing flaw, rather than a design deficiency. The replacement skates have been superior to the early batches which has issues. Thus far none of the replacement skates has suffered a similar breakdown to my knowledge.
Still I would avoid buying the G series from an internet dealer. It is difficult if not impossible to get a pair of skates pushed through the warranty process without the help of a local hockey store who wants to keep your business. In the somewhat unlikely event that you do get a pair of G series skates with outsole issues from an internet dealer, you will likely be stuck with them. I moved the G3 rating up to 4 stars.
Its almost hard to remember who started all of this mess. Skates used to be skates and people didnt pick one up and gasp in pleasure at how light it was. Things came down to it fit or it didnt. In fact Easton and Mission were among the first to start shaving the ounces here and there from their skates. Easton was the first to cut some of the steel from their skate blades for the two-fold goal of lighter and faster.
But if Easton and Mission started the war, it was Bauer that escalated it to the level it is now at. The Vapor series might have been pitiful skates (and still are if you ask me) but they set a new standard. When the Vapor XX hit the market players didnt seem to care if it was disposable. They liked the flash appearance and amazing weightless feel of the boots.
CCM upped the ante with the Vector ZG. It was not only a little lighter than Bauers Vapor XX, but it also had some built in durability. While the foolish still threw their money into the Vaporous wind, smart shoppers steered toward the Vector. All the while Graf remained strangely silent, toiling away with some new creation in their secret labs. We got only the smallest glimpse to the future of Graf skates in the 735. What would their response be to the lightweight challenge?
Enter Graf G series. The folks at Graf are never going to jump into something headfirst. The amount of research that goes into any Graf skate is unparalleled by any of their competition. They have a reputation for top quality and unlike Bauer they didnt forge ahead with a lets fix any problems after we roll them out attitude. Were the G3s worth the wait? Would be more hearty than a Vapor. Could they stack up to the venerable Vectors? Read on, friend.
The most obvious difference between Grafs previous lines and the G series skates is appearance. While Graf did hint at their knack for a little chic in the 502, they didnt really introduce the world to their flashy side in the 735 with its sparkling silver quarter panels. It wasnt until the G series that they let it all hang out.
Traditionally Graf was a basic black skate maker (and why not, black goes with everything). However the G series sports a lot of white and silver. They are a sharp looking skate that is still every bit a Graf. While some other brands have obviously attempted to borrow looks from the Vapor series, Graf made gave the G series a cosmetic update all their own.
The construction is the biggest real difference in the G series skates. Essentially Graf created a new platform and then put their previous exceptional designs into the mold. A single piece heel counter, insole and outsole are what makes the G series what they are. This piece, formed from carbon fiber, is a first in skate technology.
The visual impact of these changes is the addition of a full composite outsole. Previously Graf relied on the stiffness of the Cobra holder to provide stiffness in most of its skates. Only a couple of the top models had any composite materials in their outsoles. The G3 has a full carbon fiber outsole with a built up heel for a more aggressive skating position. Carbon fiber is lighter and stronger than the plastic Graf used in its older models.
The insole and heel counter are a little more veiled. Typically the sole of the skate is laminated from a few layers of material. However a single piece of carbon fiber forms the entire sole of the boot, inside and out. There is still a padded insole in the skates of course. The huge benefits from a carbon fiber are a lighter and stiffer outsole. The stiffness of the sole directly impacts the amount of energy that is transferred from a players stride to the ice surface.
The heel counter which is part of this same unit is aramid fiber (Kevlar). This is a huge step up from the plastic used in all skates until last year. Now only Easton and Graf offer carbon fiber heel counters. The heel counter is what gives skates their stiffness in the upper quarters. Thus the G3 is a very stiff skate.
Holy Perforated Steel!
Another big change for the G series is the perforated steel runners. Of course Nike, Bauer, Easton, and CCM have all been messing with this for a year or more. Graf seems to have put a little more thought into the perforations and their placement.
Nike/Bauers Lightspeed perforated steel was and continues to be pure landfill ammunition. Easton who pioneered the less is more theory of steel has a fairly good blade until it gets a little thin from many sharpenings. CCM put their perforations on the top of the blade learning a lesson from comparing the two brands. Grafs triangular cut-outs are even better thought out, removing progressively less material from the important part of the blade.
That said, they are still prone to bending. All perforated steel is more likely to bend or break than solid steel. The problems with the G series steel are substantially less pronounced than Nike/Bauers problems. The Perforated Cobras have a somewhat better track record than CCM or Eastons perf steel as well.
The Cobra is still what I consider the best holder on the market. It is very strong. The RMS (Rapid Mounting System) screws that hold them on are stronger and more user friendly than traditional rivets. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Cobra is . . . well, its aspect.
The Cobra has a very aggressive forward pitch. Some skaters who have switched from Bauers heel tilted skates have complained loudly about the feel of Grad Skates. Essentially, the Cobra puts skaters on the balls of their feet. Bauer touts their 9-foot rocker as agility. It is meaningless when a skater is falling backwards. Most skaters will accelerate more quickly, turn sharper and even skate faster with the Cobra.
As far as those who complain about it go, I always tell them the same thing, Give it a few weeks and then we will see if you still need to make a change. All of them have been raving about the new Grafs after they get used to them.
The tongue on the G3 is very stiff. Graf still uses a traditional felt backed tongue on these. However, there is little worry about lace bite. Between the shape of Grafs boots and the stiffness of the tongue, youd have to have some weird foot problem for this to become an issue.
The toecap is uncovered as it is on all Graf skates. This has two advantages. First it doesnt weigh quite as much to have an uncovered plastic toecap. Second there isnt anything to wear off the toes.
Fit and Comfort
Where the Vapor line was built for comfort and lightweight alone, Graf remembered to make their skates durable. Did they make them less comfortable in the process? I dont think so.
The last (or shape of the boot) is the same as it was in Grafs longtime favorite 703. The 703 is something of the starting point for Graf skates as far as trying on boots. In the normal width the 703 is similar to a traditional Bauer fit fairly narrow in the mid and fore foot with an average heel width.
The only real difference in fit from a Bauer would be in the instep. Graf skates are a much different design than either Bauer or CCM offers. The eyestay of a Graf boot is cut at a much more gradual slope. This virtually eliminates lace bite issues regardless of foot shape. I dont remember anyone every having lace bite in a pair of Grafs. Of course it also allows players with a high instep to wear them more comfortably than other brands.
Grafs unique design also locks the players heel in place without having to use torturously painful stiffness to keep it there. This would be the other difference from a Bauer fit. The heel is a little narrower.
If you have wider feet the G3 comes in a wide version as well. The G3 will fit similarly to an Easton skate in this configuration. The toe width may still be an issue for some skaters. If the wide G3 isnt working for you, there are other models that are inherently wider and will likely work. The G9 is the widest of the bunch.
Another nice thing about the G series (and Graf in general) is that they offer narrow width skates. I had a goalie looking for goal skates narrower than a Bauer for his long skinny feet. He went with Grafs and was amazed to find a pair of skates that fit him properly. While relatively few people realize that they have this problem, finding skates that arent too wide will change your life.
Grafs boot shape makes their skates easy to break in. The G series are a very stiff skate that can be used at pro levels of play. It will take most players a few hours before they are getting good bend out of them. However it is uncommon for players to have severe discomfort while breaking in Graf skates. Heck, they are one of the most common brands to be worn without socks.
Graf has once again raised the bar. The G series is the best built lightweight skate on the market. Are they as light as the Vapor? Nope. But they are going to outlast them. I would even suspect that the G series skates will last at least five times as long as the Vapors will.
The G series skates are very stiff, so they arent for everyone. Those who skate hard and often will benefit most from them. I would recommend the G3 to players who are at least in higher level recreational hockey programs. There is no upper level limit on these though. If you are a novice or intermediate skater you will probably be fine in the 7 series skates which are excellent skates and now very affordable as well.
Some of my other reviews that you might find helpful:
Hockey Skate buying demystified
Graf 735 Skates with T-Blades
CCM Vector ZG 130 Skates with T-Blades
Bauer Vapor XXX Skates
Easton Z-Air Comp SE Skates