If you have been searching the web and social media, 2014 is the trend for “maximal” shoes. Although this category of shoes doesn’t have an official definition, but you can see that it is taking the learnings of the minimal trend (zero to low offset) with ample cushioning underneath.
New Balance’s Fresh Foam Shoe line hits the scene with the Road and Trail version.
What is “Fresh Foam”? “…an innovative midsole created from a single piece of foam that provides a lower, more natural underfoot feel.” It is still EVA, but redesigned in a different way. You will notice the convex hexagon shape at the heel versus the concave shape near the midfoot area. New Balance states that this affects the sponginess of the midsole material. For example, the convex patterned section occurs on the medial side, thus acting like a medial post while the concave section allows for more movement/cushion feel.
The 980 Road Shoe comes in at slightly above 9 oz. The size is true, but I could have definitely gone a half size up without any issues. It fits snug around the foot, but comfortably.
How does the Fresh Foam feel on the feet? Don’t expect it to feel a like a Hoka (e.g., Conquest – 4mm offset with 25mm/29mm). It is a bit firmer than what I expected. It has 4mm offset (12mm/16mm) . Runner’s World measures the profile at 22.7 mm/29.3 mm .
The upper is extremely breathable with no-sew overlays and is very accommodating for most foot shapes. The tongue is thick. It is noticeable, but not a hindrance.
The outsole is constructed for full ground-contact with a great transition feel. You will notice the slight tapering near the heel.
The 980 Trail Shoe (July 2014 Release) comes in around 10oz. I sized up to a 9 ½ in the trail version. It felt better on my foot than the size 9. The offset is at 4mm (12mm/16mm). I would assume the RW profile measurement would be similar to 23mm / 29mm . It feels more cushioned than the road version and feels great on the feet (the midsole on the lateral side is all concave versus convex (See phots below). The trail version doesn’t stray too far from the road version except for a more durable upper and a multi-directional outsole for traction. The tongue is gusseted to keep out debris. There is no need for a rockplate with the ample cushioning.
ROAD & TRAIL TESTING
The 980 Road Shoe has a smooth ride with the full-contact outsole. The cushioning good, but again don’t expect a Hoka-like feel. I really like the feel of the upper/overlay which conformed to my feet with no issues during dry and wet conditions. I put it through the paces on long, easy, tempo and interval runs. I was surprised of the responsiveness of the 980 on the road. The extra cushioning doesn’t sacrifice performance. I really like the low offset in the sub-10 oz package.
The 980 Trail Shoe feels like more cushioning than the road version. The lateral side of the midsole has a concaved construction thus allowing more movement/cushion feel. I was a bit skeptical about the traction, but it held up in muddy conditions. There is great ventilation and drains fairly quick after a river crossing. As in the road version, I really like the low offset in a 10.5 oz package. The 980 Trail Shoe is a solid performer on the trails and is a welcome line of “maximal” shoes from New Balance.
|980 Road Version
||980 Trail Version
The New Balance 980 Fresh Foam Shoes are for the runner looking for a great cushioning shoe with a minimal offset (4mm) that does not sacrifice performance. The trail version feels more cushioned than the road version. It’s not a Hoka or a racing flat, but can be used as an everyday trainer. Your feet and legs will thank you. The 980 is a great start and addition to the New Balance line of “maximal” shoes.
Footnote  New Balance states that due to variances created during the development and manufacturing processes, all references to stack height are approximate.
Footnote  “Profile” is a measurement of a shoe’s stack height, accounting for its outsole rubber, midsole foam, and sockliner. To determine heel and forefoot thicknesses, we cut away the shoe’s upper material, then take readings with a digital contact sensor. These readings give Runner’s World the shoe’s “drop”. (Source)