Nike is celebrating Air Max Day in 2023 by turning the clock back an extra year to 1986, the year the Air Max 1 prototype came to light. This shoe would eventually become the Air Max 1 we’ve come to love, debuting in 1987 and earning its spot in the Mount Rushmore of sneakers.
It’s hard to ignore that since its original release, the cushion unit on the One began its shrinkage.This reduction in size wasn’t limited to just the Air Max 1 as Nike had decided to retool all of the Air Max units of the 1980s/1990s for longevity. Up until 2005, Air Max units — including the 93, 95, 97, and so on — featured a distinct seam that cut across the bubble. It was presumably where the upper and lower portions of the Air Max unit were fused together — and also where the Max began its disintegration. Air Max collectors have far too many deflated Air bubbles in their collections, and although the pairs from 2006 and beyond have distinctively smaller Air units, they do have a longer shelf life.
The smaller Air unit was hardly the lone complaint; there was a lot to be perturbed about the Air Max 1 until the mid-late 2010s. The toe-box, mesh, tongue length, heel shape — nothing was hidden from nit-picking. That is, until Nike introduced the “Anniversary” edition of the Air Max 1 in 2017, delivering the OG “Sport Red” among several other OG and modern colorways.
In comes the 2023 “Big Bubble” edition, officially called the Air Max 1 ’86. In this side-by-side comparison with the 2017 Anniversary pair, you can see the distinct modifications that bring Tinker Hatfield’s first Air Max running shoe back to square one. Check out the comparison notes below.
All photography by Sneaker News.
Let’s begin here – a simple shot of the shoes above their respective shoe-boxes.
While the 2017 goes the retro route, reviving the orange lid and diagonal silver striping, the Air Max 1 ’86 debuts a worn-out aesthetic as if pulled out of a closet of unreleased samples.
The money shot. It’s as clear as day – the Big Bubble conjures envy. It lives up to its name, coming in nearly double the size of the ’17 pair.
Aside from the enlarged Air unit, the dimensions of the heel are completely different. The heel of the midsole tapers upwards and the mudguard and heel protecter sit higher.
Another shot of the heel reveals just how different the two releases are. The exterior finish on the 2023 pair is extremely smooth, whereas the past model features a texture.
Toe-box shape has been a key focal point of debate. We’ll say it – the toe-box for Air Max 1s from 2010-2015 were misshapen. The 2017 fixed that issue, bringing the profile closer to the toes. The toeguard on the 2023 Big Bubble sits considerable lower.
Aerial shot of the toe-box sees a wider base at the lace collar and a more rounded shape at the toe.
The labels have different shades of red (the 2017 appears more consistent to the Sport Red featured throughout the shoe). Both opt for nylon constructions, with the 2023 pair featuring a thicker nylon down the tongue.
Insoles feature opposing arrangement of the Nike Air logo. The 2023 logo is much sharper.
The outsoles also show the wider and rounded toe and heel of the 2023 version.
The 2023 laces are a softer sport lace, whereas the 2017 version utilizes more rigid material similar to synthetic twine that just could not keep a knot together. Great upgrade.