Color: Grey/Orange/Lime green.
New Balance's marketing pitch: Stability with a smooth and comfortable ride
Surfaces tested on: Road, 18° C/64° F
Upper: Spacer mesh, synthetic leather and 'Fantomfit' welded overlays.
Midsole: Quad density EVA foam, 8mm heel drop. T-Beam midfoot shank, Ortholite insole.
Outsole: Hard rubber in heel, blown rubber in forefoot.
Weight: 355 gms/ 12.5 Oz for a half pair of US 11/ UK10.5/EUR 45/29 CM (NB sizing).
Widths available: Standard 'D' (reviewed), B (narrow), 2E(wide), 4E(extra wide) in select colors.
The New Balance 1260 V4 is the Massachusetts based brand’s top tier stability shoe, and it also happens to be assembled in the United States using a mix of local and imported components. This has long been New Balance’s talking point, since they are the only athletic footwear brand to make a good part (around one fourth) of their production in the US. Naturally, not all of these are performance running shoes, as this also includes products from other categories. This approach, in addition to being their USP, also helps New Balance aspire for what can potentially be big business – kitting out the US military. Allow us the digression that follows below.
There is a little known statute called the Berry Amendment’, which mandates that the Department of Defence (DoD) must buy boots and uniform which are 100% made in the USA. It can make exceptions where US manufacturers don’t have the capability for doing so; athletic footwear being case in point. But companies like NB and Wolverine Inc. are trying to change that, and NB recently pitched the 950 V2 prototype to lawmakers earlier this fall, a shoe made 100% of US sourced materials . They have strong support from people like Maine Congressman Mike Michaud, who made NB’s case stronger by pushing the House of Representatives to pass the Michaud Amendment. This required any footwear provided to the armed forces recruits (upon initial entry) be made in USA.
Considering that DoD gives new recruits a cash allowance of $65-70 to buy a pair of trainers, this business has long term potential for suppliers, apart from generating great PR and jobs in the US. Wolverine Inc. is also in the running for this, and the obvious thing for them to do is to supply boots (Bates), long part of their core business. In that context, Wolverine’s acquisition of Saucony in 2012 is fortuitously well timed; can this open up the possibility of made in USA Saucony shoes?
Notwithstanding the DoD contract, other brands are toying with the idea of producing shoes closer home to the world’s biggest athletic footwear market. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Nike CEO Mark Parker mentioned that the brand was open to making shoes domestically.
Patriotic fervour isn’t the only reason. Contrary to popular perception, making shoes in far east isn’t cheap anymore. Footwear manufacturing hubs which were once desolate outposts now generate GDP’s greater than many smaller countries, significantly elevating the cost of doing business there. That leaves countries like Vietnam and India.
Vietnam remains the last bastion of athletic footwear production, its contribution steadily rising when it comes to overseas footwear sourcing. India has long being an apparel sourcing hub, but remains unpromising for footwear. Hurdles like shoddy infrastructure, labor issues and lack of material suppliers make complex footwear manufacturing unviable. Adidas and Nike suppliers have a factory there, but we’re yet to see many shoes with a ‘Made in India’ tongue label. The only ones we’ve seen on the shelves so far are the low-tech, cupsole models like the Adidas Stansmith or Superstar.
High labor cost has been a major obstacle as far as Made in USA shoes are concerned. But recent advancements in design like no-sew uppers reduce complexity, also with the end result of offsetting higher manpower costs. So Nike’s remark on Made in USA products wasn’t just a casual mention; shoes like the minimal Flyknit are harbingers of what may follow.
This essence of manufacturing frugality can be seen on the New Balance 1260 V4’s upper, which features the no-sew ‘Fantomfit’ overlays. And with the lengthy, sourcing preface done and dealt with, we can starting addressing the finer aspects of this stability shoe.
This is our second New Balance review, and we’re starting to get mightily impressed by the quality of New Balance’s upper fit. Agreed, the Fresh Foam 980 did not live up to its promise of superior cushioning, but had an upper which pleased in many ways. The 1260 V4 is no exception, and has an upper fit worthy of its stability nomenclature. For this is something we, as shoe reviewers, strongly believe in: a stability midsole is only as good as a well fitting upper.
Many bits and pieces combine together on the 1260’s upper and result in multiple functional benefits. The upper mesh has two layers; the top part being a single layer breathable fabric, backed by a second layer of lining. The lining is foam enriched, and squeezing that between your fingers yields some amount of squish. This lining is also what makes the interior appear near-seamless, and also smoothens any bumps resulting from other upper components sandwiched in between.
External upper has this appliqué called the Fantomfit, which are 3D screen printed overlays. This extends right from the toe box to rearfoot, replacing most of what would have been traditionally stitched-on overlays. It is a combination of support structures and openings, depending on the location. The toe box is an open area, while oval perforations are located throughout the midfoot area.
The ’N’ logos are also printed as part of the upper. These have night time visibility, but only with mild effectiveness; they lack the full shineback of stitched-on reflective bits.
Lace eyelets are reinforced holes on florscent synthetic leather panels which appear to be tiny bits attached to the Fantomfit upper. But take a closer look through the oval holes, and you’ll see the leather pieces extending downwards to the upper base, sandwiched between mesh layers. This is saying that all the eyelet loops form a part of underlying support straps, placed to functionally enhance the quality of fit.
Tongue has generous foam padding, its top mesh being the same used on rest of the upper, and a lining which feels luxuriously soft. It also comes with a separate section upfront which lends the component some elasticity when you pull it towards your direction. The neoprene like material near the toe-box has in-built stretch, and helps spread the tongue nicely over foot once you pull on its end after lacing up.
The lack of side attachments however, has the tongue sliding quickly to one side a few minutes into a run. Not sure why New Balance decided to leave this part ungusseted; the second layer of lining could have served perfectly well as a place to seamlessly attach the tongue. This is the only lacuna in upper fit we think worth mentioning.
Collar is extremely comfortable. The mesh used is plush, yes, but the foam is spread wide over the collar, reaching into lower parts of rearfoot. This design produces a snug feel which few will find any reason to complain about. A higher level of grip can be brought upon by using the last lace eyelet.
The outer heel area is constructed using glossy synthetic leather overlays, and the 1260 has an ‘Asym Counter’ callout on its medial (inner) face. Nothing seems out of place visually, so what does asymmetrical stand for? It refers to the design of the internal heel stiffener designed to provide heel rigidity. Most shoes will use a stiffener of near symmetrical medial and lateral heights, and it is here where the 1260 differs. The outer (lateral) wall of stiffener is much lower than that on medial side, and the pictures above visually explain the difference. When you fold the upper over the rigid walls, variation in stiffener height is clearly discernible. Why so? The 1260 V4 being a motion control shoe, New Balance feels that a higher medial side will help control foot-roll when combined with the multi-density midsole.
Does it work? Whether an asymmetrical counter actually controls foot roll is certainly debatable, but what we can certainly tell is that the heel counter does feel supportive. In that sense, this design feature does a measure of good, whatever level it might be of.
Upper fit has excellent uniformity of wrap around the foot, feeling even from collar to toe box. Snug would be an appropriate word to use, and the internal synthetic leather straps, foam padded lining and Fantomfit effectively combine to making the upper feel secure. For runners who do not find the ‘D’ fit ideal, know that New Balance offers four widths in the 1260 V4, ranging from B (narrow) to 4E (extra wide). That alone should address any potential fit needs people might seek of the 1260. Lacing is wide, consistent and well distanced, and no part of it burrows into the foot.
The real test of a comfortable upper is when you wear it without socks. Here, the 1260 V4 passed with flying colors, its smooth insides feeling comfortable over bare skin. Doing so opens up some more room, a natural byproduct of socks being removed from the equation.
Sizing runs slightly larger, not unlike the previously reviewed NB 980. We feel that the 1260 V4 runs borderline true to size, and some might feel the need to go half size down, depending on personal fit preferences.
The 1260 V4 is a far cry from the time when a stability or motion control classification automatically translated into an ultra firm ride. The 1260 midsole has all the usual trappings of a support shoe – harder medial post, plastic shank and all that. But the level of cushioning is pleasantly surprising, which will extend the shoe’s appeal to runners other than those just seeking a pronation control shoe.
Most of the midsole is made of New Balance’s ‘Abzorb’, a compression molded EVA foam. On the medial side, there’s a harder section of EVA placed as a support feature. But what you can’t see upfront are three things. The first is that area under heel is neither Abzorb nor the firm medial post, but a low profile sheet of rubbery foam called N2. This is visible when you turn the shoe over, and also if you are brave enough to cut the strobel layer open. The N2 layer behaves like a trampoline with each footstrike, allowing the weight to sink in. This helps increase cushioning levels.
Secondly, the medial post might seem huge outside, but in actuality only forms a small part of the overall midsole volume. It is restricted to an extremely medial position, and has little influence in reducing the amount of compression every time you rear-foot strike. Let’s look at the heel view of the 1260; you’ll notice that the regular, softer Abzorb foam extends right upto the medial side, with the firmer EVA located only in a small area. Lift the removable sockliner, and a circular cutout is visible inside. The material beneath that is Abzorb foam, with no part of medial post causing an overlap.
And lastly, New Balance mentions use of ActiEva Lite in forefoot as another element of cushioning. This is likely an embedded piece, as it is not visible externally.
When you piece all these parts together, it makes the 1260 a well cushioned and smooth shoe to run in. There’s also the deep side groove on the lateral midsole wall to consider; it eases compression during foot strikes, giving the shoe a bit of a lateral bias. The finishing touch to cushioning feel is brought upon by the removable insole, which New Balance sources from Ortholite, another Massachusetts based company. The Ortholite insole is evenly spongy, and identical to what’s fitted in the Fresh Foam 980.
We performed the same Fresh Foam 980 experiment on the 1260; which was to replace the plush Ortholite with a thinner Hoka insole. But unlike the 980 where that resulted in an instant deprivation of cushioned feel, the 1260 managed to keep its Mojo unscathed. The midsole still felt cushioned, and any reduction in softness was commensurate to the insole’s contribution in the overall scheme of things.
With all that said, none of the cushioned feel comes at the cost of stability. The heel and forefoot feels well planted, and midfoot rigidity comes from a novel shaped insert called the ‘T-beam’. The slightly raised midsole walls of heel also keeps the foot centered; there’s a visible (and functional) outwards midsole flare in the forefoot which keeps the shoe stable.
Outsole has great grip, and durability appears to be solid. Four separate pieces join together to form the outsole. The forefoot has soft blown rubber which sticks to the road well, and two harder pieces run along lateral and medial rearfoot. The heel crash pad has a small angle of curve, and a flex groove creates a gap between either sides of rearfoot. This helps transition, as well as cushioning. Speaking of transition, while the overall ride is reasonably smooth, it could have been better by making the outsole a full contact one. In the 1260, the midfoot area is recessed inwards, creating what is a small transition vacuum.
While not exactly featherweight, the 1260 V4 comes in at a comfortable 355 grams or 12.5 Oz (US 11), which is decent for a shoe which looks this bulky. A few years earlier, this weight would have earned it a slot under the lightweight category, but given the shift in design and material trends, that ship has sailed a while ago. The shoe also performs well on flexibility; deep forefoot grooves work together with pliable ‘Abzorb’ foam to allow obstacle free bending.
The $145 New Balance 1260 V4 is part of the growing tribe of running shoes where the line between neutral and stability shoes is becoming blurrier by the day. The new breed of crossover includes shoes such as the Guide 7, Adrenaline GTS 14, all of which work well for both neutral and stability seekers. The Kayano 21? That is a different story altogether.
Oh, and one last thing. With radical designs and bright colors to match in many of their newer models, New Balance is trying hard to move away from its staid, un-sexy white and grey trainer image. The Fresh Foam 980, and even the 1260 v4 with its graduated midsole colors, are an attempt to move away from the brand’s equivalent of a goofy, high school yearbook picture.
Comedian Zach Galifianakis does not think so – yet, as evident from his SNL parody of New Balance. But at least the brand’s trying hard enough, you have to give it that.
(Disclaimer: Solereview paid full US retail price for the shoe reviewed)