Monday, June 13, 2016

Review- New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi Asks. What's our Run Today, Trail or Road?

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor Road Trail Run

New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi

The Fresh Foam Gobi is a 8.8 oz/250g men's 9, 6mm drop, trail road hybrid cousin to New Balance's popular Fresh Foam Zante. Based on the same last as the Zante v2, and surprisingly only a touch heavier by 6 grams, the Gobi features:

  • a lightweight trail worthy upper, 
  • adequate cushioning, 
  • a stable and energetic ride, 
  • an excellent multi surface outsole. 
It is a single super capable shoe for all roads and many trails. It has certainly been that for me as I have enjoyed it on the roads, wet, lightly technical trails, and even at the track for intervals. I always look for versatility as I often mix trails and roads in my running and the Gobi is among the best hybrids I have run recently, if not ever.

The Gobi is versatile and a great value at $95. Available July 2016.


Our Gobi sample was half a size above my normal 8.5 and fit perfectly, the half size providing a bit more toe room but still great rest of the foot hold. While I have not personally run in the Zante v2 ( Road Trail Run did publish a comparative review of the V2 to V1 here).
 I did try one on with the Gobi on the other foot and ran around my local running store, Runner's Alley, who were kind enough to indulge me. They know me by now! I sized true in the Zante v2 and this I think due to its less supportive upper particularly upfront.

The Gobi fit is snug or more accurately secure all over, appropriate for a trail or road performance trainer shoe with decent width over the metatarsals. There is far less of the arch tightness of the Zante V1 which I did not feel in my brief try on of the V2. The pointy ness of the toe is not noticed at my half size up as the toe box has good volume and height due to the bumper. The foot does not slide forward, often I think the cause of pointy toe issues with "roomy" shoes.

The mid foot features a tongue attached to eye stays (where the laces go through)  all the way back to the lace up  with tongue and lacing essentially all of a piece. The foot wrap and mid foot upper stability is excellent as a result . The tongue is appropriately padded, fairly firm and stays in place. The wide flat laces with some texture friction tighten through the eyes with some difficulty but once in place the tie stays in place, no re tying ever yet. It is easy to find the right tightness and what you chose stays put.

The red is actually a one piece overlay with below red mesh and below that black mesh whose inside surface is smooth and tightly woven to keep out debris. Gobi is not particularly breathable, about as breathable as most trail shoes, and certainly less breathable than the Zante. The red Fantom Fit overlays are relatively thick compared to the Zante and the entire interface between midsole and upper has a rubbery soft overlay all around for trail protection and I think a touch of foot lateral stability the platform.

The Toe Protect toe bumper is  pliable rubber, appropriately thick for a trail shoe but in no way hard and clearly helps maintain the over the toes shoe volume. There is a very substantial heel plastic heel counter, far more structured than the Zante V2's.

I am very surprised that such a substantial upper translates into such a light 8.8 oz shoe , understanding that midsole and outsole play the largest role in weight. The upper and fit is outstanding, equally suitable for trail or fast road or track running.

TOP Gobi BOTTOM Zante v2
The midsole is close as I can tell exactly the same firmness and with the same hexagon geometry as the Zante v2.
The midsole is a single layer of Fresh Foam EVA, no inserts of any kind, an elegant simple construction with its simplicity certainly contributing to lower manufacturing costs and thus the attractive price.  The hexagons provide varying softness support depending on the their geometry. Concave compress, and convex remain a touch firmer. The medial side is all convex for a touch of pronation support. The lateral side has all concave hexagons thus more give than the medial side. There is no rock plate and the stack (New Balance does not provide stack numbers but I am guessing about based on the Zante V2 plus 2mm or so for lugs at about 25 mm heel/19mm forefoot) may be a bit low for heavy duty technical trails for all but the nimble who likely will love the shoe.

The outsole is where the Zante and Gobi part and the result is fantastic for me. Instead of a continuous single sheet of hexagonal patterned and essentially flat outsole the Gobi has wider spaced low profile lugs of what seems to be a slightly softer outsole material, especially at the heel, where the Zante v1 had a very hard plug of rubber that I found made made its ride fairly harsh, Zante v2's plug being smaller in coverage.  The heel is firm but not harsh. The forefoot is softer but by no means mushy with the ride on road far more pleasant  but not quite as responsive and smooth as the Zante. Yes there is a sensation there are lugs and they are deforming slgihtly under pressure and that the contact is not quite as continuous as with the Zante v2 but what you gain is a more comfort and versatility, really a no compromises shoe suitable as a lighter daily road and trail trainer or racer for many.
LEFT Zante v2 RIGHT Gobi
The heel lugs are higher than Zante's, maybe up to 3mm high with a vertical face facing forward. Moving forward from the heel the lugs remain vertical, face forward. At the mid foot they have vertical faces towards the front and the back. After the mid foot towards the toe, the lugs gradually shift to a a lower front facing profile for smooth toe off. Overall the resulting feel and traction is excellent on all surfaces.

We are talking about a Trail and Road shoe here and in my testing on trail in wet and dry weather and on a combination of smooth dirt, wet grass, roots, and some rocks I never had any slip issues. Given the relatively low profile lugs, likely Gobi wouldn't be a great deep mud shoe but I do think the softish rubber will do well on hard pack snow next winter and the lugs are perfectly sized for inserting shoe screws.
On the road there is a small sensation that there are lugs present, a welcome touch of contact softness in the front but not much slapping, no wobbling on toe off and I certainly appreciate the additional  cushion compared to Zante upfront. The heel is fairly firm on the road, but quite a bit softer than Zante and lacks a touch of rebound.
The Gobi has a nice flexible toe spring towards the front of shoe and is laterally stiff behind but not so stiff as to not move with your stride. Wear has been minimal to date but I except that with road miles the outsole of the Gobi will wear faster than the Zante as it is softer in the heel Not to worry as there is that 2-3mm lug height to wear through and by the time they have some serious miles on them they likely will start to feel like... the regular road Zante!

The Gobi has been smooth, reliable and a joy to run in for everything I have thrown at it. The ride transitions very smoothly from a relatively firm heel to a softer feeling forefoot with minimal discontinuities on the road.  On the trails it is agile and secure.
If you are looking for a light, fun to run, and reasonably priced shoe that can take you anywhere, from the road to many trails, the Gobi is a great choice as a do it all well hybrid. Those seeking a trail shoe for more technical trails may miss the rock plate. This said the stability and grip on rougher terrain has been outstanding due to the combination of supportive upper,  consistent Fresh Foam midsole with well tuned hexagons, and angled lugs.  This said my trail running in them has not been particularly technical but I sure felt agile and sure footed!
Gobi has been for me the one of the best overall trail rides, especially for going faster and shorter over varied less technical terrain of the last few years and also.. one of the better road rides in the lighter performance trainer category this year. The Gobi should be a home run for New Balance. Highly Recommended

The incredible versatility, value and performance of the Gobi on all terrains earns it a high score. 

Sam's Score: 4.85 out of 5
-0.05 for sizing, up a half vs.normal or Zante v2 especially if you wear trail weight socks
-0.05 for a firm heel feel on the road and a slight lack of rebound.
-0.05 for lack of a rock protection layer for rougher terrain

Montrail FluidFlexST
The Montrail FluidFlex ST is nearly the same weight, incorporates a rock plate, and is very stable. Its ride just isn't as much fun or smooth as Gobi with a disconnect between a marked flex point behind the rock plate and the front of the shoe. 
adidas adizero Boost XT 
This trail racer (review) is firmer with deeper lugs. It is also a great road race shoe. It is not quite as versatile as Gobi in the training area but is a great choice for pure trail racing at shorter distances. 
Adios Boost 3
Many race trails in the adios Boost, the world record marathon shoe. It's version 3 upper is not quite as supportive as Gobi or adios Boost version 1. There are no trail specific lugs and the  forefoot is thin for rockier terrain.
Topo Magnfly and MT-2
Probably the closest comparisons. The Magnify (RTR review) is a great hybrid for moderate trails. It was my 2015 Road Trail Hybrid of the Year. While it has no lugs it has decent grip  It's upper is similarly supportive. The MT-2, Magnify's trail cousin I have not run in, but wit was very favorably reviewed here by ace ultra runner Dominick Layfield. I prefer the overall cushion of the Gobi for longer runs, the Magnifly rewarding midfoot strikers more as it has a firmer heel. 
Vazee Summit
Another light trail runner from New Balance the Vazee Summit weighs a little less than Gobi, has deeper lugs, a rock plate, firmer Revlite instead of Fresh Foam on a narrower on the ground platform and what appears to be more breathable but potentially less supportive upper. It is more of a trail specific shoe, less versatile than Gobi. Our reviewer Jeff Valliere called them one of his favorite go fast shoes.
The Gobi was provided at no charge to RTR. The opinions herein are entirely our own.

Interested in other 2016 running shoes?  
Click here for our summary page with links to all Road Trail Run reviews. 
Road Trail Run has in depth reviews of over 35  2016 models including a dozen of the top trail and mountain shoes.

Sam Winebaum's Run Bio
Sam is the Founder and Editor of Road Trail Run. He got the run and gear bug early, testing some of the earliest Nike shoes in the 70's, in high school, when Nike had their original R&D in his hometown. Early 100 mile weeks and lots of trail running led him to a HS 2:37 marathon, (2:28 PR), 2 junior division victories and 2 top ten all time junior times at Mt Washington, and the 1976 Division 1 NCAA XC championships with his Dartmouth team mates. Fluency in French took him for work to Switzerland where he ran many classic mountain races (30 in one year including ski marathons) and met his wife Dominique, also a marathoner. Raising a family and with entrepreneurial and consulting ventures in materials science, in-store media, early internet social media, and electronic medical records his competitive running took a long hiatus. He got back at it 10 years ago when work took him to the mountains of Park City, UT.  His annual goal is to break 1:40 in the half, and if he can...,qualify for Boston. Always a tech, shoe, and gear geek he is also the wearable tech columnist for Competitor Magazine.

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The Fresh Foam Gobi is available now from the stores below. All purchases help support Road Trail Run. Thanks for shopping here!

Running Warehouse
Men's Gobi here
Women's Gobi here 
Use Coupon Code RTR10 for 10% off!