Sunday, April 14, 2019

New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi 3: A Great Road Trail Hybrid for the Right Foot

Article by Mac Jeffries

New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi 3 ($100)
My interest in the Gobi 3 started with a different shoe- the Zante 4. What a good-looking shoe. What a narrow, un-run-ably harsh - but good-looking - shoe. I wanted to love it, but it was just a non-starter for me; they barely even make it out of the kitchen before I was pulling out the return label. So, when I saw that the Gobi 3 was built on the same Fresh Foam  23mm/17mm platform as the Zante 4, but with a wider toe box and softer outsole tread meant for softer ground, I was intrigued. How did the lightweight road/trail hybrid perform? You’re probably gonna have to scroll past some awesome sponsors to find out!

The Fresh Foam midsole - combined with the softer Hydrohesion outsole - is very well suited for hard trails and most any surface a little harder, or softer. They look GREAT. The full-bootie upper seems to keep out debris very well.

Sizing: Although better than the Zante, they still fit narrow (I switched my D out for an EE, something I usually only do in dress shoes and hiking boots.) Putting them on and lacing them up takes about an hour. They will probably get stolen because they look so good.

Tester Profile
Mac is a former collegiate defensive lineman who runs to fill the competitive void left after school and to stay in shape. He is in his late 30s, runs 50-80 mpw, and at 6’3”, has come down from his playing weight of 275 lbs to a steady 205 lbs for the last 10 years. Jeff’s PRs are 19:30, 1:33:xx, and 3:23:xx. He also teaches and coaches XC & T&F.

Men’s: 8.9oz / 252g;  Women’s: 7.7oz / 218g
Sample 4EE was 15.7oz / 445g - yes, big shoes are heavy).  
Stack Height: 23mm heel / 17 mm forefoot,  6mm drop
Available Now

First Impressions and Fit:
Mac: What beautiful shoes. Mine came in the petrol / flame: the flame really pops against the blue / grayish body. Looking forward to getting them dirty!

Although slightly wider than the parent shoe Zante, these still fit narrow. Virtually all of my running shoes are 14s; I have never had to buy EE width running shoes… but I exchanged these 14s for 14EEs. And although I am glad I made the switch, the heel is now a little wider than I would prefer. Ideally - for me - I would have ordered a D width heel and an EE width forefoot. Obviously, we all have different feet, but that is worth keeping in mind depending on your foot shape.


Mac: The upper manages to be the conversation piece of the Gobi 3. It is a full bootie upper: there isn’t a tongue in a traditional sense, instead, the upper fits your foot like a sock, and some TPU(?) overlays provide good lockdown to the midfoot.
This has pros and cons. On one hand, the bootie capably executes its designed purpose: to keep your foot in the shoe and everything else out. After several runs on pavement , gravel roads, and dirt trails, I didn’t have anything make its way past the seamless entrance into my shoe. Win. On the other hand, you really have to be purposeful when putting the shoes on so that the bootie doesn’t scrunch down to the point that the top laces will be drawn against your skin instead of the “tongue”. Also, although the shoe has ample midfoot lockdown, achieving that lockdown can be a puzzle. It isn’t that you have to cinch down the laces especially hard, it’s just that they don’t stay in place as you cinch them up. It is a race against the clock - or a game of Twister with your fingers - as you fight to pull the slack out of one level of laces before the previous lace level relaxes.

I will add - as a happy afterthought - that the overlays are very well placed to give a secure fit with no irritation. Maybe the most important of these overlays is across the toes, which New Balance calls “Toe Protect”. I haven’t tripped over any roots yet to test it out, but it will certainly lend some durability to a very light, forgiving upper. There is zero rubbing; the volume / height of these shoes seems to be just about perfect once I went to wide.


Mac: The 23mm heel / 17mm forefoot Fresh Foam midsole that was so incredibly harsh in the Zante 4 - I swear they were every bit as harsh as my old Merrell Trail Gloves - really finds a home on firm trails when paired with the new Hydrohesion Outsole in the mix. Whereas plush road shoes can be too squishy on anything softer than asphalt, these firm shoes feel great off-road. While they don’t offer the Zen-like euphoria of the Beacon's Fresh Foam or Reebok’s Forever Energy foam, they offer a pleasant - if not overwhelmingly lively - ride.

Mac: The Hydrohesion outsole does what it is intended to do: offer security on a variety of surfaces in a slip-resistance package. I made a point to hit some slick looking patches of smooth, wet cement, and the grip was admirable. As stated earlier, the outsole is softer than many rubbers out there - which could be cause for concern over long-term durability - but it pairs well with the firm midsole to offer a pleasant ride.
Zante v4 Running Warehouse
Note the contrast with the Zante 4’s outsole, a vast continuous flat expanse of firmer, stiff rubber with no flex grooves, and which, while it provides pop off the road makes that shoe harsh. Here the Hydrohesion is softer, the lugs more prominent allowing them to deflect and cushion and also makes the shoe more flexible than Zante 4.
The lugs are not super deep, so the Gobi 3 will struggle in super sloppy conditions… but if you are the type of trail runner who runs in those conditions, you already know to own a small quiver of shoes for different ground conditions.

Mac: The ride is… good. The shape of the bottom of the shoe encourages a nice toe-off after impact, but the sensation is “only” good. I am admittedly spoiled: it doesn’t have the energy return of some of the new TPU or Pebax midsoles out there. It’s good, but it doesn’t inspire me to write poetry, either. Unlike the Zante, it is actually fine on asphalt, and predictably feels really good on firm trails and gravel roads. If you can get the fit right, you could even consider these for racing; they are certainly in the weight class of “trail racing” shoes. They just don't have that “pop”, and with the lack of heel security in my current EE pair, these will be assigned easier miles in my rotation.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

Mac: Who would buy this shoe? Anyone who runs a mix of firm trails and asphalt. It also looks great as a casual shoe, and makes a fine travel shoe: the bootie allows you to take it on and off easily multiple times at airport security screenings without having to constantly re-lace. At its heart, however, this is a running shoe, and one with a specific purpose , at that. 

Honestly, this has been a challenging review to write. Shoes that you love - or hate, lol - tend to seemingly write their own reviews; shoes that are Good are somewhat more difficult to write about. Picture one of the most beautiful dates that ever said “yes” to dinner; although you didn’t have a bad time, there was just barely enough chemistry to go out with them on a second date. That’s the Gobi 3. Would I buy them and encourage someone in the market for a hybrid shoe to try them? Absolutely. But I would try out others, too. That being said, I think someone with a more narrow foot that regularly runs on the right combination of surfaces could potentially fall in love with these.

Mac’s Score
I am trying out a new rubric for my reviews. We will see if it catches on :-)
Ride (40%) - Feel, Energy Return, Cushion to Weight Ratio, Fun
Score 7 meh Ride, Good Cushion to Weight

Fit (30%) - Lockdown, Comfort, Sizing
Score 7 Heel too wide or toe box too narrow; lacing issues

Value (20%) - Measure of Cost, Performance, and Expected Durability
Score 8 Retail $100, and some colors can already be found on closeout

Style (10%) - Aesthetic Appeal
Score 10 (yup. They look great.)

Overall  Score: 7.5 / 10

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante 4 (Mac’s Score 4.8) (RTR Review)
Ah, the parent shoe of the Gobi 3. Identical 23mm/17mm stacks of Fresh Foam midsole, within a fraction of an ounce on weight. Man, I wanted to like the Zante 4, but the ride - with no(?) flex grooves and normal rubber outsole - was incredibly harsh, and the fit was incredibly narrow. Although I realize my review of the Gobi 3 isn’t exactly glowing, the fact is that the Gobi 3 IS a marked improvement: more cushioned ride, fine outsole, and an intriguing upper. Gobi 3 all day, on any surface.
New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon (Mac’s Score 8.6) (RTR Review)
The Beacon is one of the best shoes made in the past 11 months, and gets a place on this comparison list because of the Fresh Foam midsole. (The exposed midsole of the Beacon, however, relegates it 100% to road running - definitely not a hybrid). The ride of the Beacon is simply fantastic - maybe FF works better for me in thicker slabs? - plus the Beacon has a significantly better cushion to weight ratio. Beacon obviously a better road shoe; Gobi is the better trail shoe if conditions are less than perfect.
Topo MT-2 (Mac’s Score 7.4) (RTR Review)
Now we are comparing apples to apples. Topo has a much better fit: secure midfoot, generous toe box room. That being said, something about the MT-2 didn’t work for me. The MT-2 is heavier, the upper was a little too substantial, and the higher stack was a little unstable cornering. Plus, the FF Gobi midsole - even though I feel like I was tough on it in my review - definitely outperforms the Topo's midsole (I consider Topo's midsoles in general to be their weak point - they seem to provide ample protective cushioning, but they always seem to give me a blah running experience. Too bad, because Topo may produce the best-fitting shoes in the industry). I will take the FF Gobi 3.
Nike Terra Kiger 4 (Mac’s Score 7.9)  (RTR Review)
The TK4 is a fantastic trail runner. The fit is much like the MT-2 above - that is a good thing - and the Phylon midsole is significantly better. The TK4 is slightly heavier with a little more cushion, so it really boils down to the terrain you will be tackling.
Reebok Forever Floatride Energy: (Mac’s Score 9.2)  (RTR Review)
This isn’t apples to oranges, this is apples to an entry-level BMW. Mainly including this “comparison” (contrast, really) because 1. I have reviewed the RFE on RTR, so reading it may help you navigate my tastes to help you make purchasing decisions, and 2. To highlight the difference between a good midsole and a great one. The RFE is designed to be a road shoe, but the outsole has enough teeth for it to function just fine on dry trails. The RFE is lighter, the lockdown is better (once you get the size right - size down!), and the midsole is fantastic. Forever Energy ftw.   

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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Anonymous said...

How would you compare this to the Summit Unknown? It looks to me like they made the same shoe twice! Great looking shoe!

Mac said...

I haven't worn the Summit Unknown, but since it is based on the 1400, I can draw a few conclusions. The 1400/SU Flight Gen material is pretty firm, firmer than Fresh Foam for certain. The 1400 is built on a somewhat narrow racing last, also, but both the 1400 and SumUnknown offer Width options. Therefore, I would say Gobi 3 for easier miles and SU for faster miles, but I would love for someone with more first-hand experience to weigh in.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Mac and Unknown,
I have run the Gobi 1 (but not Gobi 3) and Summit Unknown. Mac has it right. The Summit Unknown is quite narrow upfront and a high performance trail racer shorter distance shoe. I found it somewhat more cushioned (due to the lugs) than its cousin 1400 both having a RevLite midsole whereas Gobi has Fresh Foam. The Unknown has a rock plate which does not get in the way and works effectively. It was a better all around shoe for me leaning towards trail than the more relaxed Gobi 1 where the emphasis is more on door to trail than trail. It makes an excellent road trail hybrid if you like a firmer yet not ridiculously so ride. It is more stable than the 1400 and fast on all surfaces. See our Summit Unknown review at the link below.
Sam, Editor

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