|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 48 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 very different story, review soon. 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
- 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. This close matching contributes to the smoothness of the ride from heel forward. The heel crash pad is firm, almost too firm. 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.
Fit and Upper
The Zante is a half size small for me and fortunately I ordered half size up. I believe the upper is based on the same last as other New Balance race light trainer shoes such as the 1400 and not on their training shoe last. 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 as a tempo shoe. Unlike many speed oriented shoes it runs very nicely slow as well as fast.
( The Fresh Foam Zante was a personal purchase at retail)
Get them while they last as the first batch is a limited release and support my blog by picking up your pair at City Sports via the links below. New Balance also has pairs available at their website.