Sunday, June 16, 2019

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 2 Review: Superb Upper Update Now Matches Ride Performance

Article by Mac Jeffries , Peter Stuart, and Sam Winebaum

Editor’s Note: Our full multi tester review follows soon but we wanted to share our first impressions of the Beacon 2 as what has changed and what has remained the same is so crystal clear.

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 2 ($120)
Sam: I first saw the Beacon 1 at the New Balance booth at the 2018 Boston Marathon. It had a sort of “lifestyle” easy going, not really a performance running shoe look, slipper like classy and soft upper and all. When I saw that it had a new form of Ground Contact GC Fresh Foam and almost no outsole, unlike the other Fresh Foam models with their stiff full coverage outsoles I knew it likely be a fine running shoe. Then I heard about the weight at a mere 7 oz or so and I was sure!

Indeed it was one of the big surprise and best shoes of 2018 for just about everyone on our test crew and thousands of others. Yet, back to lifestyle… The Beacon 1 upper was for me to loosy goosy and unstructured in hold and did not keep up with the superb platform. So it was with great interest that I first saw the Beacon 2 at The Running Event last December. When I saw the rear thin molded heel to lace up area of the upper, highlighted by a different color on my test pair, I felt that this update might really perfect the Beacon.
Mac: Finally… the Beacon has come BACK! I vividly remember trying on the OG Beacon in a NB store in Tampa a year ago this month: I could tell it was something different just sitting on the shelf, and after squeezing my foot into their size 13 and jogging down the hallway, I had to have a pair. Incredible cushion to weight ratio, firm protection, simple construction, smooth ride… so good.  Since this was before the nationwide release, I did what any reasonable person would have done: looked up the phone numbers of all the NB stores across the country until I found one that had a 14 in stock and would ship it to me. In fact, the v1 is one of the few shoes that I have bought multiple pairs of the same shoe and version, and I was getting ready to buy a third pair on closeout at RW when, at my doorstep, obviously delivered by Santa himself, updated Beacon 2 arrived. Good news: they didn’t screw up a good thing. Consider me giddy.  

Peter: LOVED the Beacon! Ran 400 miles or so on first pair, bought another, put about 300 on those. Such a great, simple, efficient jack-of-all trades shoe. As time moved on and other shoes came out (Razor 3, Hoka Rincon, Peg Turbo) I didn’t run as much in the Beacon. Now here comes the Beacon 2, with a great looking upper and the same great ride. How does it hold up? How does it compare to the other NB shoes with Fuel Cell?

Mac: Upper. Everything that you liked about the v1 is still here - firm, lightweight cushion.
Sam:  Significantly improved mid and rear of the shoe lockdown as well as front hold.
          Dramatically less moisture absorption. Half of Beacon 1 which gained 1.8 oz in the rain.
Peter: Upper looks better, retains less water and fits great without any messing around.

Mac/Sam: Besides the upper, the rest of the shoe is virtually the exact same. Although I love - present tense - the feel of the v1, we always want something better; I would have loved some anti-gravity foam or something. Outsole still sketchy on wet stuff.
Sam: Slightly shorter and pointier in upfront fit compared to v1
Peter: Novelty of light, bouncy ride may be eclipsed by the newer foams by NB such as FuelCell.

Estimated weight (men’s 9): 7.5 oz / 213 g   
Samples Weights:
9.7oz  (men’s 14), 0.1oz heavier than the B1
7.2 oz / 204 g (men’s 8.5), 0.18 oz  / 5g heavier than B1
Stack Height: 26mm heel, 20 mm forefoot. 6mm drop
Available June 2019. $120

First Impressions and Fit

Mac: What the heck is up with that heel??? I won’t steal Hope’s line, but she nails it: the back half of this thing is crazy looking. Cool, but crazy, as if the Beacon had a baby with one of those swimming speed suits. Next, the front of the upper has obviously been thinned out and perforated for better ventilation.

The fit is nearly identical to the OG Beacon, with the exception that the foot really slides especially easily into the weird heel collar. Something about putting it on gives me the same feeling as one of those Youtube videos where all the pieces fit into a box just right. Also, just like the B1, the upper has a lot of volume, so I use a midfoot lock to help keep it in place. I went with the D width on these, despite going with the EE in the Rebels; they seem to be fine, just like the B1s.
Sam: The textured raised profiles of the high achilles molded rear contrasts sharply with the softer and darker toned front of the shoe with its hints of the same rear area color. The look screams performance and modern design while v1 just sort of disappeared visually. I tried one on each foot and my first run was also v1 on one foot and v2 on the other. The fit is “similar” and on the same last but.. dramatically improved. Beacon 1 had a somewhat sloppy easy fit at mid foot and upfront.
Its collars were low and while supportive didn’t really mold nearly as well to lockdown the foot as what we have in V2. I could clearly feel the very thinly padded contrasting color molded rear hug and support the rear of the foot with the support extending to mid foot. Not a stiff support just a secure stable wrap.

Peter: Wow, NB is not afraid to make some major design changes to an already great shoe. The high back tab near the achilles and the stiff heel cup make a statement and the front looks like a much more streamlined version of V1.

Mac: This is where you will see most of the improvements to the Beacon 2. The knock on the v1 was that it could get warm and retain water a bit. This was obviously a focus area for the NB Design Team, and it appears as if they hit the mark. The front of the upper is much better ventilated and a little thinner; it definitely is less water absorbent. The heel, as striking as it looks, is actually very functional and comfortable. Your foot slides right in, and doesn’t come out. The tab above the heel is available to help you pull the shoe on, but it flares back so as not to irritate your Achilles. If there is a negative, it is that the upper is still a tad voluminous. I used a midfoot lock - that you can see in the picture with both shoes in the pine straw - and had zero sliding issues.

Sam: Mac is absolutely right. Beacon 1 retains lots of water/mositure. I tested this today during my run in the rain. I heard all kinds of squishing sounds from my right foot with the Beacon 1 and none from the left with Beacon 2. Well, well….Beacon 2 absorbed +0.9 oz / 25 g,  while Beacon 1 absorbed a staggering + 1.79 oz / 51 g. I suspect much of the additional weight was absorbed in the thickly padded collars of the Beacon 1 as well as its upper which has a more 3D thickness and feel to it.
The entire rear unit is more and more consistently pliable and higher overall than Beacon 1 which had a hard heel counter, the thick padding and not nearly as much support. The futuristic looking rear of the Beacon 2 is highly functional while wild looking. Very, very well done functional and visual design.
Beacon 2 has a very thin collar area with a band of pads running from just behind the lace up to just before the rear achilles area sitting down about half an inch. All the rear structure comes from the single piece molded rear exterior piece which has rubbery consistency when pressed with the raised lines of the profiles providing structure while concave cavities provide flex, just like the Fresh Foam midsole side wall geometry in function and appearance. Cool tie in.
The top of the conventional non bootie tongue is smoothly lined on top with some texture on the underside to I assume grip socks. There is a bit of stiffening right at the top edge and then further down the tongue transitions to a thinner lightly padded construction whereas the Beacon 1 was pretty much all of the same softness and thickness and it seems less breathable overall.

I did find the front of the toe box somewhat shorter and pointier in V2 when run side by side with V1. I don’t think I would size up but to note. Otherwise as Mac notes the fit is quite broad but now unlike Beacon 1 well secured for me.
Peter: I’ll keep it brief. Outstanding update to the upper. The achilles tab is totally unobtrusive, the shoe slides on easily and I had to make almost no adjustments to the shoe once I laced it up. Breathability is much improved.

Mac: The best thing I can say here is that NB didn’t screw this up. At press, I haven’t seen anything that claims to differentiate the v2 midsole from the v1, which is fine by me. It is enough cushion to get this 200ish lb runner thru an easy 17 miles and a hard 10 miles without the legs feeling trashed. It is a lot of cushion, but it is stable and firm: the thin layer of Fresh Foam that was un-run-ably harsh in the Zante 4 is just fantastic on the thicker Beacon 2.
Sam: Exactly NB didn’t mess with the midsole at all. Run side by side feels exactly the same as Beacon 1. The GC Fresh Foam here is for sure not as harsh feeling as in older Fresh Foam shoes but it is important to note there is far more minimal outsole than usual for a Fresh Foam shoe. Usually I can detect even minute changes in ride or cushion and I could feel none.

Peter: Kudos to NB for knowing when to leave a good thing alone. Soft, but not too soft. The NB Beacon V2 is about as good as a more “traditional” foam can be.

Mac: 90% of the outsole is simply exposed Fresh Foam.It is a modified version that NB calls Ground Contact Fresh Foam (GC) intended to be durable. Regardless, while it gives an incredibly smooth and quiet - no slapping and no more squeaking! - ride, I expect the wet traction and durability to be below average. If you scuff your feet when you run, 1. stop it!, and 2. understand that scuffing will degrade this outsole quicker than most. The yellow parts are firmer and more durable rubber. Some folks called for a little more outsole on the v1. I personally loved it then, and I love it now.  

Peter: The Outsole on the V1 held up better than I thought it would-based on the limited amount of blown rubber and the wealth of exposed foam. Still wouldn’t be my choice of shoe in the rain (Adidas Boston 7 with Continental rubber is a great choice for rain). It is quiet and holds up well.

Sam: I saw and detected no differences in the outsole or should I say outsoles as most of the outsole is that GC Fresh Foam.

Mac: As alluded to earlier, the ride is stable and firm, but very protected and well cushioned. Some have noted that Fresh Foam feels a little dead. Granted, although it doesn’t have the same pop as FuelCell, Hyper, or Floatride, you get out what you put in, and you can run hard for a long period of time without fear of trashing your quads.

Sam: With a 26mm heel, fairly low, and a 20mm forefoot, fairly high for such a light shoe, the ride is cushioned if on the dense side without a tremendous amount of bounce. It is quite responsive but given the lack of rubber doesn’t exactly have a resounding transition and pop off the forefoot as more pure racing shoe would and as such it also easier on the legs than a flat for sure. It’s a great riding shoe for all paces from slow to up tempo, although as with V1 likely not to excel in any. That is OK as versatility is the name of the ride game here. The new upper plays a huge role in the ride here really locking things down with considerably more security leading to a more stable consistent ride. The upper in V1 was just to unstructured for me with a quite loose mid foot hold on the medial side and a fairly sloppy forefoot lockdown which could get tiring at faster paces. Although only one moderate pace run in, it is clear that upper performance now matches ride very well.

Peter: As mentioned above. V2 rides just like the OG Beacon. It’s smooth, on the firmer side of soft and does well at any pace.

Conclusions and Recommendations

These - and I am including my extensive history with the v1 here - are among my favorite lightweight trainers ever. When I go out of town, and I only have room for one running shoe, I grab my Beacons. When I cannot decide what shoe to run in, I grab my Beacons. They can go long, they can go fast, they can go easy, and they do it all very well.
Mac’s Score: 8.4/10:
I made this really simple: I scored everything the exact same as the OG Beacon, with obvious improvements in the upper. What we get is a top-tier shoe with a RIDE that is just a smidge below the best stuff - Hyper, Floatride, etc. - available on the market today, and a VALUE that takes a hit because of the expected durability of the exposed outsole. I would buy this shoe any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.  

Sam: New Balance improved the Beacon with laser sharp focus on the upper, morphing a near lifestyle fitting and looking shoe in Beacon 1 (which under the hood (or the foot) had a high performance platform) into a top to bottom, higher performing and better fitting shoe with a visual design to match its performance. It’s like taking bench seats and body roll out of Porsche and replacing with bucket seats and a tuned suspension to take full advantage at speed of what is under the hood. While very effectively implemented here Fresh Foam just doesn’t have the springy pizzaz of some of its competition including New Balance’s own new FuelCell foam but for sure it is light on the foot and wallet in comparison to some in its class.
Sam’s Score: 8.7 / 10

Peter: A great, simple daily trainer. Not as exciting as some other new foams, but a great transition shoe from totally traditional trainers to the new foams. I’m with Mac: if I had one shoe to bring on a trip it would very likely be the Beacon.
Peter's Score: 9/10 


New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 1 (RTR Review)
Mac: Same shoe, better upper. B2, unless I only have exactly as much cash as the B1 is selling for on closeout :-)
Sam: The upper changes sell me on the V2. V1 was just a bit to sloppy in its upper to really perform. And for sure I’ll also take the bonus lower moisture absorption.
Peter: All positive changes. Much better upper, same great ride.

New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel (RTR Review)
Mac: Just got back from a week-long trip, these two shoes (B1, actually) were the only ones I took. Rebel is a little less cushioned, but it is more responsive, has a better upper, and is slightly better on wet cement. B2 for longer stuff, Rebel for faster stuff. Still, they compliment each other well - two very different feels - and I am glad I own both.
Peter: What a difference a year makes. The Beacon used to feel special and different, but now it just feels like a great daily trainer. The Rebel feels special and different--and like an extension of the foot. Also a bit faster.

New Balance Fuelcell Propel (RTR Initial Video Review)
The Propel has different softer and considerably bouncier/higher rebound Fuelcell foam. It is about 2 oz heavier and more cushioned as well. Its fit while similar is slightly more accommodating and higher volume. It could be considered the easier days compliment to a Beacon 2. 

Reebok Forever Floatride Energy (RTR Review)
Mac: B2 is definitely lighter and better cushioned; it is also available in larger sizes and multiple widths. Forever Energy has the better outsole, slightly livelier midsole, and can be found for insanely cheap. Beacon is the more versatile of the two, and I would pay more for the Beacon.
Sam: While its upper is crude if effective in comparison I always tend to lean towards the livilest ride and Forever has that. This said the combination of great upper, very light weight and decent enough ride gives the nod to Beacon 2.
Peter: These are both great shoes. I think I’d go Beacon due to design and better upper materials. The Reebok is a bit firmer, and a little more traditional feeling.

Our full multi tester review follows soon!
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!

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Anonymous said...

It would be great to have a comparison with the Hoka Rincon and New Balance Propel too, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello guys, first of all, I would like to thank you for your work, it's a blog reference for me, congratulations from Spain!

Between the new balance beacon V2 and the new balance fuelcell propel, which one has the softer cushioning? Which of both is more similar to the Skechers gorun ride 7? How would you compare the cushioning of both with the Skechers gorun ride 8 hyper?

Thanks for the answer!



Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Fer,
Thanks for kind words about RTR!
Sorry should have included Propel (and have now in comparisons) but both shoes in early testing but for sure Propel is softer, bouncier, and with higher rebound than even the nice Fresh Foam in the Beacon. It is also about 2 oz /56 g heavier. Propel should make a nice easier days (although it moves fast) complement to the firmer Beacon for NB fans. GOrun Ride 7 is more cushioned than Beacon 2 and also would make a good compliment. Can't comment on GORun Ride 8 as it is still not released but in general Hyper Burst foam shoes have a springy feel, far springier than Fresh Foam but not as bouncy soft as FuelCell
Sam, Editor

Jim said...

+1 for a Rincon comparison.


Boris said...

I tried the 1080v9 and the Beacon 1 in 43. The 1080v9 was great, the Beacon 1 was too big and wide upfront, quite sloppy. Maybe I could have tried to downsize .5 on the Beacon 1.

Would you say the Beacon 2 is closer to the 1080v9 in terms of upfront fit ?

Thanks !

Curious runner said...

Also +1 for the rincon comparison pls!