Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Initial Review: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante- 2nd Generation Fresh Foam. Smooth did just get Fast.

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is a 7.5 oz 6mm drop racer trainer just released in limited quantities ahead of a certain "big" running event in NYC this weekend. It represents the first shoe of the 2nd generation of New Balance's Fresh Foam concept. It will go into wider release in March 2015 along with a new version of the Fresh Foam 980 now called the Fresh Foam Boracay (Feb.2015). See my preview from this summer's Outdoor Retailer here.
Fresh Foam Zante

I reviewed the previous generation trainer the Fresh Foam 980 here as well as the Fresh Foam Trail here. The Trail was a home run for me, the 980 overly stiff and firm for my taste. The Trail did a better job of leveraging the geometry of the concave ( for cushion) and convex (for firmness and support)  hexagons which are along the midsole to soften and smooth the ride on roads yet provide excellent stability and performance on most trails. The Trail was outstanding on all surfaces.. This computer generated patterning of materials based on stride forces and their effect on the shoe's mid and outsole is the key innovation of the Fresh Foam line. At OR I discussed the shortcomings and strengths of the then current models and saw where they were heading with Fresh Foam Zante and Boracay. I was optimistic.

Well, I am happy to report that New Balance really listened and learned from reaction to the first generation of Fresh Foam.   The Fresh Foam Zante is a fabulous shoe.  I am calling it a light trainer racer in the same category as the Adios Boost I like so much due to its Boost material rebound and snappy toe spring or  the Saucony Kinvara which weighs about the same and which for me is too soft and unstable in the forefoot.  More than decently cushioned especially in the forefoot, only 7.5 oz, and very smooth running due to its simple construction, hexagon patterning and continuous outsole the Fresh Foam Zante is one heck of a fine shoe. It is equally comfortable at speed or slow, an unusual combination as often fast responsive shoes are not particularly suited to slower running, for example the Saucony Zealot I recently reviewed here

So while the Zante and Fresh Foam 980 are  different shoes they are of the same basic design concept:  hexagons to tune the cushioning, a single density midsole, and a continuous outsole. Why could the Fresh Foam Zante a far lighter shoe at  7.5 oz feel so much better,to me : less harsh, stiff and firm, and far more responsive and smoother than the Fresh Foam 980?

Midsole Outsole: The Fresh Foam concept in practice
  • The Fresh Foam midsole material is softer or in tech speak has a softer durometer at about 40 vs. around 45 for the Fresh Foam 980 by my not totally accurate but still relatively accurate gauge. The 980 was about the firmest midsole I have measured with the exception of the way to firm Pearl Izumi E:M N2 Road version 1, Version 2 a very different story, review here. The concave hexagons which tune the cushioning on the lateral side are larger towards the heel and longer and flatter towards the forefoot. The 980 had convex firming hexagons towards the toe which I think made the shoe overly firm and stiff.
    Fresh Foam Zante- All Hexagons on the Lateral side are Convex for cushion and better flexibility
      Fresh Foam 980- Forefoot Convex hexagons added firmness and stiffness to forefoot.
    The forefoot hexagons, now on both lateral and medial sides seem to help provide the nice snappy flex and toe spring. Far more flexible and snappy than the 980, understanding the 980 had a higher forefoot stack as well as firmer outsole material upfront.  The heel through mid foot medial side retains convex hexagons to provide a touch of pronation support and guide the foot to toe off. 
  • The outsole material, unlike the 980, is made up of 2 densities of rubber. A firm decoupled heel piece, with the rest of the outsole a considerably softer rubber  not far in firmness from the midsole firmness by my measurements.  The outsole hexagons in the forefoot are elongated compared to the 980 much as they are on the 980 Trail  The majority of the Zante outsole is considerably softer than the outsole of the 980 Road.  In all likelihood the overly firm feel of the 980 came from this very firm outsole covering so much of the shoe combined with a firm midsole.  The Fresh Foam Zante's close matching of the midsole and outsole firmness contributes to the smoothness of the ride from heel forward. The heel crash pad is firm, almost too firm for me. I wish the very slight heel bevel was increased with more of an angle as on the Adios Boost.  I think that would really make the shoe even smoother from heel to toe but this a minor complaint.
So, the net results of these midsole and outsole improvements is a far smoother ride from heel to toe and a more flexible shoe than the Fresh Foam 980.

Fit and Upper
The Zante is a half size small for me and fortunately I ordered half size up. Zante is built according to New Balance on a 'different last than the 1400.  The shoe is built on the new VL-6 performance running last and has a wider forefoot for proper toe splay." They are somewhat pointy and occasionally I could feel my toes touching either the front where the top bumper is fairly thick and substantial or the top of the shoe. Not an issue for me but this shoe may not work for those with wide high volume feet.
Fresh Foam Zante-Toebox

The upper is beautifully made up of 2 grades of mesh: finer up front and slightly more robust over the mid foot saddle. There are no seams in front of the last lace hole The overlays in the toe area remind me of the pattern on the Energy Boost, strips over the top and sides of toes without a connection down to the midsole where the shoes flex. As the shoe flexes, the overlays don't impede or bunch. Some recent testing I have been doing tells me the flexibility of the upper material plays a role in how the shoe flexes or how it is perceived to flex when running.

Ride and Recommendations
While some shoes require many runs to "figure out",  the $115,  7.5 oz 6mm drop, Fresh Foam Zante spoke clearly and almost immediately. This is a very refined, smooth riding fast shoe with some toe spring and a small hint of structure and stability much as the Adios Boost has. The New Balance marketing for this shoe is "Smooth Just Got Fast." and I agree.
Size up half a size.
The drop at 6mm is a very reasonable compromise between very low drop shoes where I struggle when tired and back on my heels late in a race, and conventional 10mm plus drop models.
The tuned hexagons, when combined with the relatively simple (one midsole material and 2 densities of out sole rubber) do not introduce, let's just say any "artificial ingredients" such as plastic plates, multiple densities of midsole foam, variations in the outsole pattern or stiff to flex overlays in the toe area into my feel for the ride.
While not heavily cushioned, it certainly is cushioned enough to be a daily trainer for lighter, faster runners.  This said a Hoka Clifton at about the same weight it is not in terms of max cushioning. For many this will be a great all race distances and tempo shoe. Unlike many speed oriented shoes it runs very nicely slow as well as fast.

Highly Recommended!

See Pete Larson's fine review of the Fresh Foam Zante at Runblogger here

( The Fresh Foam Zante was a personal purchase at retail)

Fresh Foam Zante are available from Running Warehouse: men's here, women's here. Your purchases support my blog. 

Deals for New Balance 1980 v1 Fresh Foam Zante


Anonymous said...

Tempting but I have to hold out for the borocay. Worried Zante isn't enough shoe for me ( I do like the 980 roads and trails)

Anonymous said...

these sound great. how would you compare them in ride/fit/cushion to 1400 and adios boost?

you haven't run in borocay yet? any thoughts on fresh foam vs. revlite?


Sam Winebaum said...

I have not run in the 1400 but I am pretty aure the Zante has more forefoot cushion stack height and about the same maybe a touch more heel height. Comparing the Adios Boost to Zante I find the heel cushion less harsh firm yet still super stable in the AB 1 vs the Zante. I slightly prefer the extra forefoot cushion in the Zante as like the 1400 the AB 1 also has 13mm in the forefoot. I do find the AB 1 forefoot a touch more responsive, better ground feel without being harsh and firm. Neither beat up my feet.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the review! I would be very grateful if you could make some comments on how the Zante feels and performs in comparison to the Adidas Boston Boost. One of them shall be my next purchase. The Zante sounds really nice, but my first impression of the Boston Boost was very good too (tried the fit in a shop and did a small test run). My current main shoe is the Saucony Kinvara (5), which i like a lot. Beside that, i feel fine to have them in rotation with Mizuno Wave Sayobara´s. I´m a mid/forefoot striker. Greets from Germany!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hello! The Zante is somewhat firmer overall than Boston Boost, particularly in heel where I found the Boston Boost without the medial side Torsion of the Adios Boost and Energy Boost made the shoe a bit too cushy in the heel for my taste. The Zante is closer overall to Adios Boost than either Boston Boost or Kinvara. I ran in the K 1 and 3 and found them soft and a bit unstable in the forefoot due to the large soft lugs. I have not run in the Sayonara or the K5 but would think the Sayorana might be quite comparable to the Zante in terms of weight with aomewhat thinner forefoot. more like the Adios Boost but without Boost, likely firmer there than Boost. Thanks for reading my blog!

bruce said...

picked up a pair of these and really like them! one thing seems a little odd to me, though i'm not sure how it affects me while running: the arch, which is fairly prominent, is farther forward than in most shoes i've worn. have you felt this to be the case?


Sam Winebaum said...

Bruce, I felt the arch too and others have commented on this. Some and I agree have found that with a few miles the insole packs down a bit and upper stretches too making that feeling go away. Might be different for you of course. Another option is to put an older insole from another shoe in them for a while.

bruce said...

did you find the placement of the arch unusual?

Sam Winebaum said...

Arch not unusual for me Bruce, a bit snug the first run, then fine for me, the shoe upper seems to curve under a bit for a performance fit. Check your insole to make sure it is not twisted and/or replace with a flatter one.

Anonymous said...

Have you measured what the heel height and forefoot height are?

Sam Winebaum said...

New Balance has a policy of not providing the stack heights, not sure why. While I have a decent way of measuring midsole firmness I don't have a similar method for stack heights. Trickier from what i understand. If manufacturer does not provide i usually wait for Running Warehouse's figures as they appear consistent. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

No problem. I appreciate your review!

bruce said...

hi sam,

this is actually a rec from me to you. i think you might really like the montrail fluidflex. i've been running in the first version and have tried on the second. i would say first runs true to size and plenty roomy forefoot for me, second runs large and is a bit wider in toebox.

these just feel very natural to me, and i don't run in 4mm drop shoes that much. no stability issues even though very little arch support. very flexible and smooth, responsive, and amazingly well cushioned for the light weight. feel quite good on the road as well. i don't know how they would fare on rough trails, though many people think they work well (eg, tom caughlan).

just thought i'd pass that along. but perhaps you've already tried them?


Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks Bruce! I have heard good things about the Fluid Flex. I wonder if they would be a good shoe for the snow running on well groomed trails I do out in UT where cushioning is not important. I did have the Bajada a few years ago for dry season trail running. They were great but upper collapsed medially quite fast. Not quite enough lasting upper support for me.

bruce said...

what's been surprising for me, with their 4mm drop, is that they seem to relieve my achilles strain while energy boost seems to aggravate it. does that make any sense to you?

Gert said...

Hi sam,

my left foot has a neutral running gait while my right foot is underpronating. Do you think the zante would be a good shoe for my tempo runs and races? Or do you recommend another shoe for my running style?



Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Gert, hard to judge. Do you pronate a lot or a bit? What training shoes work for you? Zante might work for you as might Adidas Adios Boost due to its plastic Torsion shank under midfoot. Havent run in them but Asics DS Might be another option.

Anonymous said...

Hi there if you have to choose between the Zante and the Zealot for daily trainer, what would it be? I'm fairly new to running in the 9min/mi range. Thanks - Richard, Anaheim CA

Sam Winebaum said...

Zante and Zealot while very similar in some ways but run completely differently for me due to their construction. Zealot very firm heel landing, while still cushioned due to very firm thick heel rubber. Also Zealot in my view has "support" features, under the mid foot , the width of midsole foam there or at least far more noticeable than Zante for me. Zante far smoother transition, more comfortable overall due to essentially simple construction but maybe not quite as snappy responsive in a "sports car" way as the Zealot. Both uppers outstanding. If you have a wider foot Zealot might be better due to ISO Fit. My preference Zante.