Karhu is a Finnish running shoe company that was started back in the early 1970s who disappeared for a while and began making running shoes again in the early 2000s. The keystone of their shoe designs lie in their Fulcrum Technology which is based on the idea of forward propulsion throughout foot strike. Over the years they have made some great trainers including the Flow Fulcrum Ride reviewed on Runningshoesguru last year.
The Fulcrum technology in Karhu shoes has always been fairly low profile and unobtrusive. However, for 2012 Karhu has created a larger Pebax Fulcrum which adds quite a bit of height to the shoes and really increases the heel to toe drop.
Karhu Forward Fulcrum Ride Upper
One aspect of this shoe that Karhu really got right was the upper. A sharp royal blue dual density mesh is both breathable and protective as well as having great reflective properties. The heel cup hugs nicely and the plush interior of the heel cup and collar are complimented by a well cushioned tongue that is actually sewn into the forefoot fabric anchored by the rand of the shoe. Big design points for that feature Karhu!
The fit of the Forward Fulcrum Ride is instantly comfortable with a snug heel opening up gradually to a nice wide toe box. This is the kind of upper you can put on for the first time and head out for a daily run without any break in period. A well cushioned insole adds additional comfort to this already plush upper.
Karhu Forward Fulcrum Ride Midsole
This is where things start to get interesting. Karhu employs a nicely resilient EVA foam which is reminiscent in some ways of Nike Lunar foam. However, it is overshadowed by the bulky and stiff Pebax Fulcrum system which extends from the heel of the shoe all the way through the mid foot. The ensuing ride feels stiff and block-like and exaggerated height of the heel made me feel like I was wearing platform heels.
Karhu Forward Fulcrum Ride Outsole
Durable carbon rubber lines much of the outsole and I applaud Karhu for not leaving any exposed plastic to scrape against the pavement. Traction is moderate but certainly sufficient for road running.
Karhu Forward Fulcrum Ride Overall Impressions
It seems that Karhu’s emphasis on forward propulsion led them to design a shoe that actually makes the wearer feel as if they are leaning forward involuntarily while wearing them. The Pebax Fulcrum, the primary design principle, really seems to be the only fault of this shoe. I can understand that Karhu’s history as a running shoe company is based on Fulcrum technology, but in my opinion, this enlarged Fulcrum does not work for three reasons.
First, the heel drop is atrociously high and one can feel it just putting the shoes on.
Second, the only flexible point on this shoe is the toe box which causes me to feel like I’m slapping the ground in these shoes.
Third, this extra large Fulcrum really undermines the great EVA cushioning which Karhu claims they tuned to different durometers (hardness) in different areas of the shoe.
My recommendation would be to take the Fulcrum off the Forward Fulcrum ride highlighting the other incredible aspects of this shoe. Reduce the heel drop of the shoe to something more natural feeling (8-10mm) and keep the rest of the the same. With those changes Karhu would have one of the best lightweight neutral trainers on the market.