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Nike’s Self-Lacing Back to the Future Sneaker Is Not Just for Fuckboys

My shoelaces are whirring. All around me, in the Nike store, there’s a cacophony of wind-up and clicking noises that sound like a cluster of dentist chairs being raised in unison. In the future, this will be the soundtrack for putting on our shoes, thanks to the newest Nike creation — the first-ever “self-lacing” sneaker, the Nike HyperAdapt shoe.

Although the sneaker is new, it’s not the first of its kind. The self-lacing Nike sneaker first appeared on Marty McFly’s feet in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, when McFly steps into them in an imagined 2015. Someone smart at Nike clearly wrote “Make these a real thing someday and time them perfectly to the movie” on their vision board, because the timing of the HyperAdapt’s release seems prescient. Technology, fashion, and sneaker press all wrote excitedly anticipatory pieces about the sneaker prior to the launch and Wired even featured the sneaker on the cover of its coveted Design Issue.

At first glance, the HyperAdapt is more modern-looking than its 1989 prototype. While the 1989 version looks like a hi-top that would make any modern fuckboy happy, the HyperAdapt resembles a Nike Free or more traditional athletic shoe. But unlike traditional athletic laces that criss-cross across the tongue of the shoe and are tied by hand, the HyperAdapt has electro adaptive reactive lacing (EARL), which run across the shoe in parallel lines. A light-up panel goes under the instep of the shoe, and two small blue dots are located below the heel. Press one blue dot and laces tighten and coil like a snake around a stick, press the other and the laces instantly relax and loosen their grip.

According to Tinker Hatfield, the Nike designer who conceived of 1989’s self-lacing sneaker, the shoes should “come alive” when you step into them. “It would sense you. It would become the shape of your foot, and when it came alive it would light up. Wouldn’t it be great if shoes could do that?” he told Wired he first imagined. The HyperAdapt fulfills that vision. Almost instantly after you put your foot into the shoe, the blue panel flashes, there’s a soft rihhhhhhhhhh, as the sneaker and the laces grip your foot in a soft hug that it doesn’t loosen. In a missed opportunity, no one in the group of editors, including myself, exclaims, “No more laces, all right!” when this first happens. Tiffany Beers, a Nike engineer with gray-blue hair and a good black eyeliner game for 8 a.m., responsible for designing the shoes, looks at us all expectantly as we rock back and forth, Instagram, and try to feel what it’s like to wear a sneaker of the future.

Photo: Courtesy of Nike

HyperAdapt feels not unlike any other sneaker Nike has designed, albeit a little stiffer, thanks to a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery in the heel of the shoe. It’s not uncomfortable, though. Over the next hour, the group of us literally run around the Nike store before opening hours, to put the sneaker to the test. We’re encouraged to slam the ground with our feet, pivot, do squat jumps, touchdown dances, shoot hoops, and run through a video simulation of Central Park, all to test how we feel in the sneakers. Unsurprisingly, thanks to over 5,000 hours of user-acceptance testing by actual athletes, none of the sneakers or their battery packs break. Everyone dutifully reports that the shoe “feels good.” The blue dots don’t perfectly match up with the button underneath the shoe that controls tightening and loosening, but everyone gets the hang of it and realizes that the key is to press slightly underneath the drawn-on-dot.

Not since the age of 6 have I considered tying my sneakers to be a pain point (for now, the HyperAdapt comes in adult sizes only; kids everywhere still have to learn the life skill of tying their shoes), but having a mechanism that sets the tightness of my shoe is nice. Nike imagines that it will be more than “nice” for professional athletes whose performance depends on having a perfectly calibrated shoe, down to the laces. But as the Adidas CEO snarkily asked of HyperAdapt, is it a “save-the-life product?” Probably not, for a normal person. But that’s a lofty expectation for a sneaker. No one thought much of the battery-powered vibrating mascara and automatic soap dispenser either, but our lives are arguably better with them in it (especially the mascara). Despite the $720 price tag, others seem to agree. After going on sale last Thursday, the Nike store has been fully booked with HyperAdapt appointments. “No more laces, all right.”

Nike’s Self-Lacing Back to the Future Sneaker Is Cool