Images with thanks to Asics
ASICS’ signature GEL cushioning technology has come a long way since it launched in 1986’s Freak and GT-II. The original iteration involved tiny but mighty units placed under the heel and forefoot for resilient shock-absorbing comfort. Now, more than three decades later, GEL has evolved into the 360-degree unit that highlights the GEL-Quantum 360 5. In fact, this evolution has come so far that GEL is now stable and durable enough to properly hit the trail – and ASICS are doing exactly that with the GEL-Quantum 360 5 TRL.
The trail-ready edition of the GEL-Quantum 360 5, the TRL version features the same midsole as its road-running predecessor, before adding a rugged purpose-built upper, and a thicker tread. In honour of this game-changing application of GEL, we’re taking a look back at the most noteworthy milestones in the history of cushioning technology, as well as the timeline that has taken the GEL-Quantum 360 off the beaten path.
Take a look back at GEL’s evolution below, and scoop up the GEL-Quantum 360 5 TRL now via SneakerHub.
1979 – ASICS Research Lab
Nowadays, just about every brand under the sun has their own special in-house team that’s solely dedicated to research, experimentation, and pushing technological boundaries. However, way back in the 70s, ASICS were one of the first sneaker brands to officially launch such a division with their ASICS Research Lab. Implemented in 1979 (just two years after Onitsuka Co. Ltd. merged with both GTO and JELENK to establish the ASICS Corporation) by Kihachiro Onitsuka himself, the Kobe-based Research Lab served as an incubator for some of the brand’s most important achievements, including Air Flex – ASICS’ own version of air cushioning, and one that embedded canals into moulded EVA midsoles to ‘turn shock waves into ripples’ in silhouettes like the Alliance. Following the release of the Alliance, though, the Research Lab began working on an entirely different kind of cushioning.
1986 – ASICS Freaks and GT-II
By the time 1986 rolled around, ASICS’ Japanese Research Lab was ready to introduce a brand new alternative to its Air Flex cushioning. Aptly dubbed ‘Alpha GEL’, the new system used something never before seen in the world of footwear cushioning: semi-liquid silicone. By encasing the soft elastomer in a solid construction, the Research Lab produced the most resilient form of footwear cushioning yet. In addition to that resilience, the GEL was also supremely lightweight – according to ASICS, GEL weighs half as much as EVA foam and offers as much as 20% more shock absorption.
Alpha GEL officially made its debut in the Japan-only Freaks before getting a wider release via the now-iconic GT-II. Unsurprisingly, both the Freaks and GT-II were instant smash hits, and the GEL technology immediately became the brand’s go-to. In fact, GEL has been such an enduring addition to the ASICS line that it’s still synonymous with the Japanese brand over 30 years later.
1993 – ASICS GEL-Kayano Trainer
The GEL tech has received a number of subtle tweaks over the years, but the original technology has proven so successful that it hasn’t really needed to be improved upon over the years. The same tech that debuted in the Freaks and GT-II in 1986 is nearly identical to the GEL units that graced the eponymous GEL-Lyte line throughout the late 80s and early 90s. In 1993, however, GEL got a thorough overhaul thanks to the introduction of the GEL-Kayano Trainer. Designed by Toshikazu Kayano in response to the rising popularity of the cross-training movement, the GEL-Kayano was full of unique features to make it the perfect all-around performance shoe.
Hytrel overlays made up the branding stripes, and provided support to the slip-on Mono-Sock system and Coolmax mesh upper, while Texon board inserts and extended slip-last construction made for the best orthotic support available. However, it was the modified GEL units that really set the GEL-Kayano apart from the rest. While visible new Theta GEL improved shock absorption in the heel, more porous P-GEL in the forefoot combated over-pronation. Both Theta GEL and P-GEL would remain hallmarks for years to come.
2003 – ASICS GEL-Kayano 9
Whereas previous GEL-Kayanos – including 1993’s OG – tweaked the GEL units ever so slightly, the GEL-Kayano 9 took things to a whole new level as the silhouette celebrated its 10-year anniversary. By 2003, ASICS had perfected their GEL to the point that they could produce uniquely shaped units that were a major evolution over the prototypical designs of old. The GEL-Kayano 9 employed a cup-like unit that actually cradled the heel (as opposed to just providing shock absorption under the foot itself), and the unit in the forefoot was circular and placed directly under the ball of the foot. It even had helical French cruller–inspired grooves to allow for shear deformation during toe-off. The result was arguably the best GEL cushioning yet.
2015 – ASICS GEL-Quantum 360
Visible GEL cushioning had been around since the early 90s and the days of the OG GEL-Kayano, but ASICS provided wearers with 360 degrees of the award-winning tech for the very first time with the 2015 GEL-Quantum 360. Developed over five years by ASICS’ renowned Institute of Sports Science – essentially the brand’s modern day Research Lab – in Kobe, Japan, the GEL-Quantum 360 introduced a new unit that was shaped like a horseshoe, stretching all the way around the midsole, while visibly cradling the foot from forefoot to heel. ‘Providing maximum shock absorption and unmatched durability,’ the 360-degree unit has been the workhorse of the GEL-Quantum 360 line ever since. And the latest version of the cushioning is exactly what you’ll find in the GEL-Quantum 360 5 and its new trail-ready compadre.
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