First Look: New Balance Fresh Foam 980

Testing the "Science of Soft" at the NYC Flagship Store

This past Wednesday at the brand’s flagship store in New York City, New Balance launched the Fresh Foam 980. The event was celebrated through free in-store fittings, trial pairs for runners to take for a spin, free food and drink for attendees, and a raffle for prizes revolving around the new-look shoe.

On hand to ring in the new model were running coaches, New Balance brand ambassadors, and marketing representatives–assisting attendees with questions about the new model, which enters the fray in what has been quickly dubbed the maximalist running shoe category.

With a scant four millimeter heel drop in an ultra-plush midsole, the Fresh Foam 980 incorporates some of the newest running technology and design principles of the year ahead, where a near-flat profile is paired with cushioned and geometrically-supportive sole design.

Having tried on a pair during the night’s fun run through the streets of Manhattan, I can say that this was not the shoe I was expecting. Its place (rightly or wrongly) within the burgeoning maximalism category led me to expect a springy, bouncy shoe. Being a fan of minimalist running shoes myself, I was shocked to find the Fresh Foam 980 provided a solid and sturdy platform.

They’re by far the thickest shoes I’ve worn in a long time, but I didn’t notice a difference in my stride. Aside from the shoe’s ability to give me a higher profile to dodge ice and snow piles, my stride stayed the same as it typically does in a much slimmer shoe. What’s more, the shoes were lighter and more responsive than I would have assumed, given their stack height. All told, this shoe might look maximalist, but it’s a much more conventional model than one might expect.

We had a chance to speak with a few New Balance spokespersons, asking about where the design concept for the Fresh Foam 980 came from, where running shoes are headed in 2014, and what sets the latest shoe from the company apart.

Drawing inspiration from the clean, focused designs found in 3D printing, the Fresh Foam development team relied on geometry throughout the shoe’s sole to provide subtle stability and support. Creating a shoe which borrowed inspiration from 3D printing technology’s ability to create customizable materials was a driving design concept in the formulation of the Fresh Foam 980.

Representatives mentioned that this design consideration was crucial in determining how runners could maintain consistent support through their gait cycle, a heralded element of the new shoe’s design.

Outside the Fresh Foam 980, New Balance is looking toward the future of lean, simple, and efficient design throughout their Spring and Fall lineup.

Borrowing the best elements of efficient design from their push into the minimalist market, New Balance is looking at transitioning these technologies into their full array of shoes–creating efficient, adaptive shoes for runners of all cushioning profiles.

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