By Austin Bonds
I don’t like New Balance running shoes.
I suppose a better way to contextualize this statement might look like this: “I used to not like New Balance running shoes. I didn’t care for the fit, and if a New Balance model did end up in contention with another model – the other shoe always won out from on fit. A classic example for me would be the pairing of an 880 and the Brooks Ghost. The Ghost surpassed the 880 in overall fit. But as singer and songwriter Bob Dylan once made clear, “the times they are a-changin.’” New Balance running shoes are changing – for the better.
I personally attribute this renewed interest in New Balance to Fresh Foam, a midsole that I hope will be a game changer for this iconic brand as Boost was for Adidas in 2012. A few months ago I received the Fresh Foam 1080, and I’d like to unpack some of the pros and cons of this soft but responsive trainer after some eighty miles (thus far) of wear and tear.
If you are a fan of the Brooks Glycerin, Asics Nimbus, Saucony Triumph, Adidas Ultra Boost, or Nike Vomero, the New Balance 1080 v6 is worth a closer look as it rivals these from a cushioning standpoint. The price, at $150, is similar to these models in that regard too. I suppose that more shoe means more money, but there are indeed times when a few extra bucks make an investment worthwhile. This is for you to decide.
I’ll begin with the upper of the shoe. The New Balance 1080 fits true to size, and step in comfort is nice. An engineered mesh (which is an increasingly common phrase today I might add) provides ample space for the toes to evenly spread, and the midfoot saddle wraps the feet well. The Fresh Foam midsole is what gives the 1080 a twinkle. A single piece runs from the heel to the forefoot and makes for a soft but responsive ride. The eight-millimeter heel drop is an added bonus as I favor shoes with lower drops (eight or less).
The New Balance 1080 also utilizes a bootie inside the shoe to enhance the fit, and the tongue, of a medium thickness, is soft across the top of the feet. A hexagonal outsole pattern with adequate spacing and two flex grooves increases the flexibility of the 1080.
Though I have a revived interest in New Balance due to the Fresh Foam midsole, there are some tweaks that can be mulled over by the shoe engineers for updates to this model down the road. First, it’s not often that shoe laces come under scrutiny, but the 1080 laces presented a few issues for me. The stretchy laces slightly hindered the fit in the midfoot, and I had to further employ them through the use of a runner’s loop to secure my slipping heel. I recognize that shoes will require a runner’s loop from time to time, but those that are constructed well in the heel and negate the need for this loop receive higher marks.
The flex grooves in the 1080 outsole are a good starting point, but I’d like to see them cut deeper in future versions as the shoe is slightly stiff to me from a flexibility standpoint. The 1080 outsole is also comprised of blown rubber, which may present some durability issues for some runners based on how hard they are on their shoes. A small section of carbon rubber exists around the heel, but more can be added in the future to protect the midsole and increase the shoe’s longevity.
What’s compelling about the 1080 is that it’s a solid shoe among a diverse collection of Fresh Foam models. The Zante, Vongo, and Hierro round out a robust list of options that accommodate runner needs and preferences well. The 1080, based on my mileage thus far, isn’t the ideal shoe for faster workouts as it’s on the heavier side, but it’s certainly suited for longer runs when the feet will be pounding the pavement for hours at a time.
New Balance has adopted the “Always in Beta” phrase as a motto of sorts lately, it’s undoubtedly a fact that the Fresh Foam technology is helping the company continue to (beta) test what works and what doesn’t work for future footwear models. The 1080 and the other Fresh Foam models are good steps in the right direction. Or to put it another way, this is why I’m now liking New Balance running shoes more. I anticipate seeing more of this in the days to come.
Images courtesy of Running Warehouse