Sunday, January 19, 2014

Certified Fresh! Initial review of New Balance Fresh Foam 980.

The Fresh Foam 980 on display at the New Balance concept store, Singapore.

This is a brief review of New Balance's latest offering, the 'maximalist' Fresh Foam 980. It is NB's first foray into this 'new' TLD (Tall Low Drop) category, perhaps pioneered by shoes such as the Hokas and the Altras. Skechers Performance Division also got into the game, via their max-cushioned Go Run Ultra.

NB's 'maximalist' (FF 980) vs. its own 'minimalist' (Hi-Rez)

If shoe trend comes in waves, I guess the minimalist wave is transforming into the maximalist one, the latter somewhat defined as follows:
  • cushioning of 20 mm or more
  • heel-to-toe drop of 6 mm or less
  • weighing less than 360 grams (12.5 oz) for US size 9
  • adequate toebox room

So how does the FF 980 fare?


Early reviews of the Fresh Foams indicate they are narrow. As I have wide feet, my immediate reaction upon reading the articles on the 980 = "not happening!" 

When I visited a running specialty store which has the 980s, they only had the 980 in 2E (wide). Hmm.. "perhaps this is meant to be. Let's try it on."

The 980 in 2E fit my foot perfectly. Snug in the middle to forefoot, adequate toebox, and perfect length. 

The 980 with the Altra Torin

When I stood in the FF 980 for the first time, I was expecting "plush sofa" soft, but instead I felt an Altra Torin's firm-but-not-hard footbed. The slight difference was the New Balance felt just a tad more plush. Long story short, the 980 came home with me.

The 980 features a no-sew upper with welded overlays. Combined with the new Fresh Foam midsole, the overall package is beefy-yet-snug-and-light.

Very thick tongue, which fortunately didn't cause any discomfort in terms of fit and ride.

There is adequate toebox room, aided by the fact my pair is the 2E version. In other words, wide-footed runners may want to stay away from the regular D version.

This is 10.5 (US) in 2E width


At 290 grams (10.2 oz, for size US 10,5) per shoe, the FF 980 is a LIGHT maximalist.

With a stack height (from RW's blog) of about 26/22 mm (heel/toe), the FF profile is similar to Skechers' Go Run Ultra (see photo immediately below this paragraph). This NB feels unique during the run, with the midsole a tad more plush than the Altra Torin, but not as soft as Skechers' Resalyte.

Unlike the Hokas, there is no rocker midsole to aid stride transition. With the shoe being neither flexible nor stiff, the ride will largely depend on the 'fresh foam' midsole.

The Fresh Foam side-by-side with the Hoka Bondi Speed.

After two test runs, I am happy to report the FF 980 is a responsive shoe, with slightly muted road feedback, and plenty-of-protection feel. 

Plush foam extends to the heel cup area.

**note** A few runners who've tried running in the FF are saying the ride to be hard towards harsh; a firmness which I didn't feel.  I believe the runner's weight comes into play here. As a heavy runner (I am 180 cm / 93 kg , or 6 ft/ 205 lbs), I find the ride to be adequately plush with a touch of (welcome) firmness. There is no 'bucket-seat' enveloped sensation a la the Hoka's, but there is also the absence of the slight marshamallowy ride of the Go Run Ultra (the latter is a good thing).


I am always wary about shoe-related "technology," as I believe that the primary "technician," i.e. the runner, is the most important part of the endeavor. The Fresh Foam midsole is claimed to be a new technology, where the different sizes of the hexagonal patterns (see photo immediately below this paragraph) of the EVA midsole supposedly translate to a cushioned-yet-light-and-smooth ride. 

Runner's World on the FF 980 = "Soft foams can easily deform under weight and create an unstable surface. So, the data, basically a report of ground reaction forces, influences the shape and size of hexagonal structures around the midsole and the bottom of the rubber outsole to deliver a soft yet stable ride. Areas that experience higher impact get larger hexagonal structures. And areas that need added support--such as the medial (inner) edge of the heel--take on a concave shape so that there's more material there to give light stability under foot. A convex design is placed in areas where the shoe should compress more, like the outer edge of the heel or inner edge alongside your big toe."

The different sized hexagonal patterns extend to the full-layer of rubber outsole.

In practice, I am finding the ride of the Fresh Foam to be unique. Neither as soft as Skechers' Resalyte, and nor the snug-sofa feel of the Hoka. 

The 980's different-sized hexagonal patterns, from mid to outsole, provides, at least to me, a cushioned-yet-bouncy ride.


After being largely underwhelmed when I first ran in the Skechers GoRun Ultra (subsequently better running experience with the GRU afterwards, by removing the insoles), I was curious but not keen to try NB's foray into the tall-low-drop game, the Fresh Foam 980 (FF 980).

The 980 so-called "Fresh Foam" (not actually new material, still same ol' EVA, but drawn up differently from the design phase) is proving to be different than other midsoles I've tried, including the Adidas Boost.

The FF's fit is snug at the mid-to-forefoot, even for the 2E pair that I purchased. The tongue is curiously thick but fortunately didn't distract in any way. The no-sew upper (welded overlays) envelope my feet securely. For wide feet, stay away from the D width.

Overall, this NB didn't feel tall. The FF 980, at least for me, provides a smooth ride, with enough protection felt through the Fresh Foam midsole, as well as good (not great) road feedback.

Temporary verdict = this FF is personally "certified fresh!" until more runs say otherwise.

Certified Fresh!


  1. i think you pretty much nailed it on the head. though NB doesn't exactly state it thru their marketing, one assumes that it would be a plush ride and it's actually not. i found it to be semi-firm yet somewhat responsive, which is surprising with its stack height so high. still, i like the 4mm drop and the fact that my feet don't feel beat up after run. curious to see how it holds up in the coming weeks/months...

    1. Yes NB's marketing makes the FF 980 sound like it's sofa soft, but the semi-firm reality actually turns out pretty good. What do you normally wear? Hope the FF 980 works out for you.

  2. Hi,
    I do about 10 miles a day walking. i have a pair of brooks and have tried the ff980s. i am thinking about getting them versus the skechers memory foam which have a lot of good reviews on line.

    1. It may depend on the feel you like for walking, the Fresh Foam 980 is not soft (but comfortable), while the Skechers Memory Foam is a little on the soft side.

  3. Do you think someone with wide feet who have the EE width and still seems to feel tight at the midfoot would benefit from removing the insole?

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