A few days ago, I received a pair of the new Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS toe shoes and want to share my first impressions. So far, I’ve only taken them out on one 2+ mile run, but can already tell they perform very much like my standard Bikilas and in some ways better. Rather than rehash all that has been said about the Bikila, which I think is the perfect hard surface barefoot running shoe (until now!), I will keep this concise by highlighting what is different about the Bikila LS.

The big differences are:

  • Speed lace system
  • Coconut active carbon upper
  • New dotted PU toe protection
  • Color choices

These changes represent improvements over the standard Bikila and I will cover each of them after the jump.

Speed Lace System

As it turns out, shoelaces date back to 3500 BC with “Ötzi the Iceman” making some major innovations (lime bark laces!) a couple of hundred years later, around 3300 BC. They are truly an invention that has withstood the test of time and Vibram has made its own improvements by adding laces to the new Bikila LS.

As you can see in the pics, the lacing system is limited in how far it can open because it’s a closed loop. So, don’t plan on being able to open them up wide and just slip in. However, when stretched open as far as they go, they are much easier to get on than the standard Bikilas.

The new Bikila LS is marketed as being able to accommodate wider feet and higher arches. I have high arches and struggle putting on my standard Bikilas. They are very tight at the top of my arch and the strap is just a decoration. In fact, after washing my standard Bikilas, I get a tingly feeling on my arch from lack of circulation. Luckily, it goes away after a couple of runs as they stretch out. For me, the Bikila LS solves this tightness problem, but there may not be enough added room for some feet.

Another advantage of the lacing system is being able to quickly dial in the perfect fit by setting the level of tightness you desire with the locking lace clamp and securing the end of the laces to a hook and loop tab. Unlike poor old Ötzi, there are no knots to tie or unruly laces flopping around. Setting the tension to my optimal fit definitely relieves some of the arch and heel pressure I feel in my standard Bikilas. Ah, the wonders of the modern shoelace.

Also, I was worried that the tongue might lay uneven against my arch. I am happy to report it’s totally comfortable and I can’t even feel it’s there.

Thumbs up on the laces!

Coconut Active Carbon Upper

The material used in the upper is completely different from the standard Bikila. The Bikilas LS uses the coconut active carbon upper previously seen on the Sport Trek. If you read my review of the Sport Trek, you know that I had a bit of a problem with this very thin and not so rugged material being used on a trail shoe. Mine ripped after just a few times out on the trails and I had to return them. Demanding stresses are put on a trail shoe and I question Vibram using it on the Trek Sports. However, on a road shoe it may be more appropriate. The coconut active carbon upper is definitely thinner, lighter and more comfortable than the standard Bikila material. They just feel great around my feet and in combination with the adjustable lacing system they literally “fit like a glove”. Ha, I think I said that in my original Bikila review. Well, these are even better. Will the material hold up to the rigors of road running? The jury is still out.

New PU toe protection

The “tear-resistant TPU toe protection” on the original Bikila has been replaced with “abrasion resistant PU toe protection” on the Bikila LS. In English, this means the old shiny toe protectors have been replaced with little raised rubbery dots. Those old shiny toe protectors were supposedly designed help prevent tears, yet my Trek Sports tore right along the edge of one. Also, they turn yellow over time. These new PU dots may rub off over time, but it beats the heck out of yellow toenails. There is also a big swath of these dots above the toes that adds protection and looks kinda cool. I’m not really diggin’ the new “PU” acronym, but the dots are an improvement.

As an aside, TPU is an acronym for thermoplastic polyurethanes. I don’t know why Vibram dropped the “T” and calls these new dots just PU. I will assume it means they are made of polyurethane of the non-thermoplastic variety. Perhaps some materials expert can help me out here.

Color Choices

The biggest change here is the added choice of a black/grey option for those who want that speedy Ninja look. It’s available in both men’s and women’s. I’ve yet to get in touch with my inner Ninja, so I opted for the green/grey. It’s not all that different from the palm/grey in the standard Bikila except the green on the LS is a bit less drab. You see very little of the green on them, so it’s pretty much a grey shoe. Boring perhaps, but it suits my style (or lack of it!).

There is also a nice teal blue option in the Women’s Bikila LS.

If you want to be “out there” with wilder colors, the standard Bikila may still be way to go. The men’s sky blue and women’s magenta, in the standard, still win the head turner award.

Summary

So, Vibram replaced the strap with laces and made a few other tweaks. No, big deal huh? Well, I think it’s great that they have been able to preserve the feel of the original Bikila while giving it a more adjustable fit and accommodating those folks with wider feet and higher arches. Good work Vibram!

Have you recently purchased or are you considering the Bikila LS? What do you think about them?