V series in a new wrapper?
Im pretty suspicious of the Bauer/Nike hockey corporation since their little Vapor XXX maneuver. Essentially Bauer took the Vapor XX, a woefully under-built skate and slapped a new label on it. Sure it was the pro stock version of the skate, but essentially they didnt improve anything. They took a known piece of garbage and gave it another year of life by changing the name and willfully deceiving the public.
Thus, approaching the Flexlite, which appears to be a V series skate with a color change, I had to wonder if they hadnt done the same thing. Granted the V series showed more promise than any skate that Nike had made to date. However, the expected lifespan of six to eight months was hardly an improvement. So did the evil Bauer/Nike empire attempt to pull a second fast one in the same year? Well, not entirely.
Nike skates in general
Nike introduced the world to the soft boot and continues to make one with this skate. Essentially this style of boot has a very hard exterior for rigidity. The inside is filled with a cushioning material that forms to the skaters foot. Nike has the ability to adjust the density of this foam allowing them to engineer various levels of stiffness in the skates. Essentially the exterior of the boot has very similar in every model since the inception of the Quest line. Only the interior comfort padding changes from skate to skate.
The theory behind this type of boot is that players can have a comfortable skate right out of the box. This was a somewhat revolutionary idea in hockey. It is a sport where to this day many serious players still sacrifice some comfort for a tight fit. To this day, the idea hasnt fully caught on in Pro level hockey. To the best of my knowledge, the only player to ever use Nike skates in the NHL was Sergei Federov who was getting paid a rather hefty sum to do so. Further, he played about three or four games in them before becoming so frustrated that he went into an epic scoring slump.
Still, this isnt to say Nike skates havent been comfortable right out of the box. Nike indeed has that part down pat. Their skates since the Quest line have needed little to no break in. This isnt the real problem that plagues the Nike skate line. The issue is that the stiffness of the padding in the boots breaks down very quickly. Further the exterior of the boots simply isnt stiff enough to compensate for the breakdown of the padding.
The Flexlite continues in the soft boot tradition. It is a very light skate with substantial amounts of padding inside. True to the theory, the Flexlite is a comfortable fit out of the box. However, it isnt a fit that will work for everyone.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the V series skates was the ultra wide, in fact vacuous, toe box. You could park a school bus in the toe of these and still have ample room for your feet. Nike saw the error here and made the toe box both lower and narrower. Dont believe that this means the Flexlite is a skate for people with narrow feet. It is still wider than a CCM skate. There just isnt room for feet with three extra toes anymore.
The Nike Flexlite is still one of the better fitting skates for players with very wide feet. Even in the normal widths it has much more room than many brands of skate will have in an EE width. This is great if you have enormously wide feet. However, if you want to skate well with normal wide feet, it mean that these will not work. The Nikes will be flopping like a dying fish for most people.
Like its predecessor, the V-12, the Flexlite has a very thin tongue. This makes for a very nice fit under shin guards. Also, despite lacking any thickness, complaints of lace bite in the V-12 were exceedingly rare. Often a tongue this thin gets many complaints, but Nike did a commendable job with it.
The outsole of the Flexlite is full carbon fiber. It is ventilated to allow for quicker drying and less stink. Carbon fiber is the best material currently in use for outsoles. It is light and very strong. This prevents twisting and allows hard skating players to keep their blades on the ice while cornering.
The edges of the outsole are also rounded. This is important as allows for sharper turns without the boot hitting the ice. When the boot hits the ice, the player falls.
The toecap on the Flexlite is uncovered plastic. This keeps the skates from getting ratty looking without the use of Protec toe. While fabric covered toes are quickly becoming a thing of the past, a few models on the market still sport them.
The exterior of the boot is a hard, dull silver material. This is a Nike exclusive, and while it is very stiff, it isnt nearly as hard as the composite exterior of the Easton Synergy skates. This has both good and bad sides. The Nike material will bend slightly if needed. Sometimes players will need to have a spot stretched beyond what the interior padding will yield, and this is possible with the Flexlite. However, the downside is the loss of rigidity over time. The Nike skates simply wont hold up as well as the hard shell of the Easton Synergy.
The interior of the Flexlite is lined with antimicrobial, hydrophobic lining. This keeps the boot from absorbing players sweat. Foot sweat can stink and wear out a skate prematurely. The antimicrobial aspect will help to minimize this.
The tendon guard remains unchanged with the exception of cosmetics. While the blue reflector is still in place, it is smaller. However the tendon guard is still a rather high rising one on a small base. This was a common area for the V-12 skate to tear. I doubt it will be any different in the Flexlite.
Holder and blade
The improved Lightspeed II is another case and point issue where Nike/Bauer is pulling the wool over the publics eyes. The only change to this holder and blade appears to be cosmetic. While the Lightspeed wasnt all bad, it wasnt an improvement on the older TUUK system that Bauer previously used. At least CCM went from one of the worst holders to one of the best when they finally updated the Prolite and replaced it with the e blade.
The Lightspeed II is a variation of the TUUK holder. The main changes that Bauer made were to add 3 millimeters to the overall height of the holder and to make blade replacement easier. While the additional 3 millimeters of height seems insignificant, it was the best thing about the upgrade. Three millimeters allows for substantially harder cornering without bottoming out.
The change in the hardware, on the other hand was a disaster. The original TUUK had a pair of screws to hold the blade in place one in the toe and one in the heel. Removing the toe screw was a difficult operation even with the special Bauer tool to do so. The Lightspeed replaced the toe screw with a clip. Now the holder uses a single screw.
Problems with the screw not staying tight are common. In one pair of skates that I sold to a player, he was in three times with the screw coming loose. We were even using locktite to no avail. Further complicating the matter is the light screws that Bauer/Nike uses in these. It is all too easy to break one when tightening it.
Lastly, the Nike Flexlight utilizes perforated steel to lower the weight of the skates. The company hasnt had the level of problems that their Bauer counterpart has with getting the blade mounted straight, but if you decide to get a pair of Flexlites against my advice, I would make certain to sight down each runner and make sure it is straight before making you purchase.
Even with the steel being true out of the box, it is less than likely to stay that way long. This is the nature of all perforated steel. You poke a bunch of holes in it and it isnt a strong. However, the Lightspeed II is among the worst designs in pure terms of how easily it bends and breaks. Ive seen more broken Lightspeed steel than all the other brands on the market combined.
The Flexlite 20 is Nikes top of the line model for 2005. This should be a pro level skate, but as previously mentioned, there will not likely be any NHLers skating in this model or any other Nike skate. Still, one would think that any skate retailing in excess of $400 would be enough for recreational players. Sadly, it isnt.
Nike decided that they should go the way of the Vapor and make the Flexlight a lighter skate. The new models tip the scales dead even with the Vapor XX. This in itself is a red flag. If Bauers Vapor XX is disposable at that weight (and trust me it is), why wouldnt the Nike skate, which wasnt very durable to start with, be any better after the crash diet?
Numerous skaters informed me of issues with the V-12 skates breaking at the ankle after 4 to 6 months. My own experience was that after six months of skating twice a week, my own pair of V-12 skates deteriorated significantly. They broke down internally to the point that the heel counter literally stabbed me in the ankle and left me bloody after every session. Now call me crazy, but it seems like taking something out of that skate would simply act to accelerate that process. Nike needed to think about reinforcing the skate, not reducing it.
In all honesty, it remains to be seen if Nike has indeed come up with some clever way to make the boot lighter and stronger. The Flexlite skates just started hitting the market in the last few weeks, so it might be six months before the reports start coming in. However, given the dubious nature of Bauers re-labeling of the Vapor XX, I am very skeptical.
I wouldnt wish the Flexlite on anyone. If you have your heart set on a pair, you might want to wait six months before taking the plunge. That way you can ask around to see what other players experience is. I for one would bet that most of them will have a new pair of skates by that time (and they wont be Nikes).
Sadly, while Nike has been a driving force in making hockey skates more comfortable, they havent succeeded themselves. CCMs Vector and prior to that the Externo line were both clearly inspired by the Nike Quest line. Even innovator Easton put out the SBX which took some queues from Nike. All of these skates were superior to anything that Nike has made thus far.
The Flexlite marks Nikes sixth skate line in seven years of hockey. While Nike has made great progress and even come close to making a decent skate a couple of times, they havent got it right yet. I think we will see line number seven next year. Lets hope it is a lot better than this one.
I would recommend a pair of Graf G series skates, the CCM Vectors or even the Easton Synergy to anyone considering the Flexlites. All are far superior skates to these.
A few of my other reviews that you might find helpful:
Hockey Skate buying demystified
Bauer Vapor XXX Skates
CCM Vector Pro Skates
Easton Synergy Skates
Graf G3 Skates
Thanks to openroad for adding this item so I could review it.
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