Friday, July 4, 2014

New Balance MT110v2 shoe review

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had a love affair with the original NB MT110.  It was one of the most anticipated trail shoe and in most ways it didn't dissapoint.  It was an industry leader for a lightweight trail shoe and it is common knowledge that Anton Krupica called it the best trail shoe he had ever used.  Of course, no one shoe is perfect.  The biggest complaint about it was its durability.  The perforated plastic-like material was prone to tearing open if it came in contact with a sharp rock or stick.  How long they lasted really depended on what type of terrain they were used on.

But despite its faults, it had one very magical aspect for me.  The fit.  It was simply perfect for my foot.  Built on the NB minimus last (NL-1) it was as if the designers snuck into my room, cast my foot, and then built a shoe just for me.  And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I have probably gone through 6 or 7 pairs since they first came out.  I love it for runs under 20 miles in the woods, even though I once used them for 70 miles of the Leadville 100.  If I was asked to design version 2, I would try to address a few things.  I would add some better traction.  I would change the outer material for more durability.  And I would add a bit more cushioning for longer runs.  From what I have read by many, my list of desired changes is a pretty common one.

When New Balance first announced and showed this new version a lot of people were surprised.  It looks nothing like the original.  With the different materials, much deeper lugs and a bit more cushioning, it looks like a perfect match for what I was hoping for.  The one thing that nobody understood was the change of last.  The V2 is no longer built on the minimus last.  I questioned that immediately, way before I ever held one in my hand.  I mean, the minimus design is what drew so many of us to that shoe (and the others built on the NL-1).   And it no longer looks foot shaped, it looks like a 1930's dress shoe with a super pointy toe box.

Hmmm....seperated at birth?

But sometimes looks are deceiving.  Unfortunately for me, this time they are not.  When I first put them on my feet, I could feel the tighter toebox immediately.  But as I've learned many times, the first impression standing in my living room doesn't nessisarily translate to how a shoe feels on the run.  So I headed out to the trails and put 15 miles on them.  My notes say: "First run in MT110v2.  Nice shoe, but the toe-box is too narrow." 

There are two areas that bothered my feet on this run.  You can see in the picture above how my foot fits on the footbed of the V2, next to the original version.  The addition of a footbed is another change on this shoe as the original didn't have a separate one.  The skin on the outside of my big toe, where my toenail starts, got "lifted" or sort of "torn" and my pinky toe, which is pretty small and short, again on the outside edge.  You can also clearly see the extra area in front of my foot which creates a dead feeling area at the front of the shoe.  Three days later I took them to Pats Peak to test their traction and see if I had better luck with the fit.  After only 7 miles I ran into the same problems.

Steep climb up the ski mountain.  Incredible traction!
Close up view

Being a bit bummed out, I decided to reach out to Brendan Murray, who I believe was the lead person at NB for the development of this shoe.  I explained that I was happy to see the shortcomings of the original addressed, but could not understand the decision to move to the PL-4 last.  He wrote me a very thorough explanation and then followed up with a phone call to help me explain better. I'm not going to post the entire email/conversation, but here is a small piece:

"Since we already had a 4 mm off-set trail model in our iconic minimus trail 10, we felt that continuing to make the 110v2 in the same fit and nearly the same stack heights would have been redundancy from our stand point and really limit the trail community with choices.  Futhermore talking with our ambassadors such as Tony, and their needs, they were asking for a slightly straighter lasted model in the forefoot - as ones foot needs adjust and change over time.  The idea of using the PL-4 last allowed for the trail runner who was seeking a lightweight trail model which provided slightly more girth in the midfoot and depth in the toe box, that the 10 didn’t, a new option.  The new 110v2 will also provide slightly more cushioning under foot (the trail 10 has a midsole specific stack height of 8/12 while the new T110v2 has a 10/14)."

He also gave me a perspective that I would have never considered.  He stated that although the original was extremely popular with the trail running community, they actually were not reaching the full sales potential based on their market research.  NB actually had a sizable amount of complaints regarding the NL-1 last for this shoe.  There is a visual look of a "hook" shape because of the way the shoe curves on the lateral side that actually prevented a lot of people from purchasing the shoe.  All of these factors led to the decision to change the last. 

Close up of lacing system, which does a good job at keeping the non-lasted tongue in place.

On the few runs that I took, my only problem was the toebox.  I want to like this shoe so badly.  The traction is awesome.  It seems to drain well.  It still retains that excellent balance of ground feel and protection.  They feel fast!  The materials seem like they will be far more durable than the originals.  If this shoe fit the way the original did I would probably have 500 miles on these things by now.

More cushioning than the originals

Here is what I suggest.  Forget these are the next MT110.  Consider them to be a new mountain/fells running shoe.  Try them on.  If they fit your foot shape and you liked the "running feel" of the originals, then you are psyched.  There are a lot of positive features of this shoe.  I just wish they fit me better.

9.8 Oz for size 11 (they fit a bit small, just like the originals.  Try the same size as what you wear in those (1/2 size up)

As a side note I also need to add that I don't like writing negative reviews.  I think that every shoe reviewer/blogger feels a sense of appreciation to any manufacture that has been kind enough to provide free shoes for review (which these were for me).  But I read too many reviews that are flowery bullshit because of that very fact.  I truly believe that the good manufactures listen and with enough feedback, make positive changes for the next version.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.  Either way, I don't write these reviews for them.  I write them for you.  I will never stop writing honest reviews, with both the positive and the negative.  Obviously it is only from my perception.  Everybody's feet shape and needs for a shoe are different.  But my goal with reviews is to give exactly that, my opinion.

Call for comments:
Have you tried them?  What's your opinion?