New Balance brought a number of their models to BlackToe Running. For these reviews, I ran a few miles in each shoe, while not an extensive months-long wear test, it was definitely enough to get a feel for the characteristics of the shoes. Today, I test two cushioned New Balance shoes – the 890v4 and Fresh Foam 980.
One thing I’ve noticed about shoes is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the runner and the shoe, and one can’t really talk about shoes in a vacuum, without reference to the runner wearing them. Clearly, everyone is built differently, with a variety of body types, gaits, foot size and shape and running dynamics. So really, I can only share my experiences in relation to my own running. Hopefully, that will give you some perspective and reference point for my specific comments on each shoe and allow you to apply the right filter in relation to your own needs. To that end, I’ve posted my gory personal details in a separate post, so I can reference it in future reviews, and also not bore readers that want to continue to the punchline.
New Balance Fresh Foam 890
Maximalist is the word du jour amongst the running shoe community. The pendulum is swinging away from minimalist shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Access and New Balance Minimus lines, toward shoes with a whole-lotta-cushion. The prime example of which is Hoka One One, with most of their models having over 30mm of stack height.
The mainstream companies are taking their own, perhaps more conservative approach. The first NB entry into this category is the Fresh Foam 980. It’s worth examining the construction of the midsole, as it’s rather unconventional. It features a 3D printed midsole unit. It’s homogeneous, without fancy glued layers or shock-attenuating inserts like gel, air capsules or other crazy features that marketing folks like. During the construction process, voids are included in the exterior sidewall to tun different sections for varying support.
It all sounds very promising, so how does it perform? Well, it’s not the super-plush ride that NB is marketing. I would rate the cushioning somewhere between a transition shoe like the NB1400 or Saucony Kinvara and full-on premium cushion shoe like the Brooks Glyercin or Asics Nimbus. It doesn’t have the spritely energy return feeling that the best shoes in this category do. The shoe is flexible enough; despite not having any flex channels or grooves,I didn’t notice any real stiffness or restrictions on my foot bend. The heel-toe offset is 4mm, which is generally what I’m used to on my other running shoes. Runners used to a more traditional offset might notice a change here.
In contrast to the sole, the upper is fairly conventional – mostly mesh with a few welded overlays. It has a lot of foam in the tongue and heel collar. So much so, I think it ends up loosening the heel fit. The foam prevents the lacing from effectively pulling around the throat of the shoe and locking down the heel . In order to get a decent heel lock, I needed to really tighten down the laces to the point of squeezing too-tight on my instep on the top of my foot. I found the front of the toebox to be a bit pointy-narrow as well. The laces themselves are jank. They are rough-feeling, don’t slip through the eyelets easily, yet don’t grip at the knot that well.
I’m left wondering where this shoe fits in. The ride is somewhat firm, but it doesn’t have the light weight that many expect from a fast everyday trainer. It doesn’t really deliver the maximum squish to be able able to replace a conventional premium cushioned trainer. Maximal, it most certainly isn’t. The cushioned, 4mm offset category is one that some runners may appreciate and there aren’t many shoes in this category. So, I can recommend it if you already use a 4mm shoe for everyday use and want a similar geometry in a high-mileage shoe and if the narrow toebox and roomy heel works for your foot shape.
This is a small category – low-offset with moderate cushioning. The most comparable shoe is the Saucony Cortana. which has the same offset, weight range, but is more cushioned.
The Fresh Foam construction is a great idea. Using 3D printing takes advantage of current technologies and there are endless possibilities with tuning the midsole for a very specific ride in different areas of the sole. It looks to me that NB just needs a few iterations to produce a really great shoe with the Fresh Foam material.
New Balance 890v4
In contrast to the Fresh Foam, the 890v4 is a much more conventional animal. Using the same RevLite EVA as some of their other models, it’s essentially a premium neutral high-mileage shoe, with a lower-than-typical 8mm offset. This is a nice balance between the classic 10-12mm offset in more conventional shoes and 0-4mm of minimal and transitional shoes. The ride is surprisingly springy and responsive. Clearly, there is quite a bit of cushion underfoot. The shoe felt true to the 8mm offset. Like the 980, the upper is mesh with welded overlays, a big, plush tongue and stuffed heel collar. While I didn’t have width issues like the 980, I did have the same heel-lock problem. These are the only faults I could find in the shoe.
A very solid cushioned neutral high-mileage trainer. Responsive, and mid-offset.
Comparable shoes – premium cushioning, 8mm, 10oz, are the Saucony Ride and to a lesser degree, the Brooks PureFlow.