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The Iconic Edition
|30 Jan|4 mins

Are Nike Air Max Bubbles Getting Smaller?

We measured Air units so you don’t have to.

Stereotypically, sneakerheads can be quick to complain whenever their favourite silhouette is reissued, most often because they believe it’s not true to the OG release. A particular genre that suffers much scrutiny is Air Max, and the apparently shrinking bubble sizes. Do they have a case?

Our bubble boffin has conducted a pilot study into a small sample of Air Max sneakers by measuring their bubble height to investigate. Retros of the same silhouette were compared by placing a ruler over the Air units, and the top and bottom edges were measured in millimetres. The variables were controlled by comparing the same silhouettes, same shoe size and, where possible, same colourway. The Air units were measured at the same point across each shoe. Here’s what we discovered…


Air Max 1 – 2004 versus 2005 versus 2017
The one that started the visible Air revolution. Here, the 2004 ‘Urawa’ was compared to the 2005 ‘History of Air’ retro and the 2017 ‘Anniversary’ edition. Each of these releases are highly regarded in the Air Max community as being good retros. However, it looks like the Air units have not changed at all in 13 years. Sitting at 12mm, the Air Max 1’s heel unit is more or less the base measure for the rest of the series. Despite not having access to the 1987 OG, we think the difference won’t be massive. The 1986 edition however, is definitely bigger and longer.

Air Max 90 – 2003 versus 2008 versus 2010
Now, this is interesting: a trio of ‘Infrared’ Air Max 90 retros from 2003, 2008 and 2010. Again, their heel Air units all measure in at 12mm. It wouldn’t be completely implausible to suggest the Air Max 90 retros from this era use the same Air units as the Air Max 1. The only difference is they would be packaged in different midsole carriers, as the smooth painted polyurethane used for the AM90 is prone to cracking and oxidising the foam underneath. While the Air Max 1 uses textured foam. Therefore, the main differences are mostly in the upper and shape.

Air Max 95 – 2008 versus 2015 versus 2016
The AM95 was the first in the Air Max line to bring visible Air to the forefoot, as previous flagships still used Encapsulated Air. Here, the 2008 and 2015 ‘Neon’ retros are compared alongside a Nike iD version from 2016. Again, it looks like there hasn’t been much variance between the three editions, at least in the midsole department. The heel Air units come in at a relatively whopping 16mm tall – the largest size possible at the time. Despite the flat painted finish, there isn’t any cracking, unlike the Air Max 90 retros. When it comes to the Air units though, we suspect the mid- to late-90s OGs are slightly bigger than those tested.

We’ve previously proposed that sneakerheads can be overly critical of retros. As it can be gleaned from this small sample, perhaps brands are actually trying to do their retros justice. Even accounting for potential human error, and any inaccuracies with our ruler, there seems to be no difference – at least where Air bubble size is concerned – between retros up to a decade apart in age.

Therefore, looking at this sample in isolation, it appears that Air Max bubbles have not gotten smaller.

Of course, attempting to answer this question opens up even more. Measuring the bubbles of nine different shoes is too small of a sample size to comprehensively say whether Air units as a whole have changed in size. Three silhouettes out of Nike’s dozens also do not reflect enough. In regards to methodology, for the sake of simplicity, the Air units were only measured in height and not length. This could be where the data is more quantitative. There are also other factors to consider. For example, do bubbles deflate or sag as they age? Do Air units vary in size across a size run for the same silhouette? These questions, and more, all offer fertile ground for further research.

Sneaker Freaker
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