Nike & Adidas the trainer El Clásico
Before I embarked on my education in relation to all things trainers I regarded the industry to be somewhat of a two horse race. The trainer world for me was defined by a fierce rivalry between the Oregon based Nike and German born Adidas. While this may tell some of the story, what I quickly learnt was that there was much more in play across the broader footwear landscape. Of which I was yet to explore.
To use an analogy for sports fans, Nike and Adidas are the Barcelona and Real Madrid of the trainer world. What I mean by this is that they are pretty universally regarded as the top two. Existing almost in a league of their own. Their positions are interchangeable, and that’s what makes them such great rivals. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything of value happening outside of the ‘Top Two’ however, and today I want to explore one of the trainer world’s less publicised match ups; New Balance vs Saucony.
The battle for third: New Balance vs Saucony
We have already established that the top two are almost impossible to argue as being any combination other than Nike and Adidas. Naming a third is where things begin to open up to interpretation. I think brands like Reebok and Puma would be bookies favourites sighting their similarities to the top two in terms of ethos and application. I am intrigued about two other brands however, two that don’t seem to get put in the conversation too willingly. The first being Boston founded New Balance, and the second being Pennsylvania’s own Saucony. The reason I find these two so interesting is because they are so comparable. As well as being, in my view, equally undervalued in the trainer world, considering the way they stack up in terms of the traditional measures we use to analyse the success of a footwear brand.
How are New Balance and Saucony different from other brands?
New Balance and Saucony are both over 100 years old. Thus meaning they have been in business much longer than any of the other brands mentioned so far in this article. Both were also able to grow their brands and establish major footholds in the industry by capitalising on their own distinct niches. New Balance began as an orthopaedic support company and applied those principles to running shoes. While Saucony, although beginning as a “casual” shoe company, quickly took to developing running shoes for children and became the gold standard in producing this type of footwear.
This is clearly where New Balance and Saucony differ from the other brands that compete for the same limelight as them in 2019. All of the companies that produce trainers parade as sportswear brands, but their commitment to the sportswear space is varied. With the likes of Nike, Adidas and Reebok also able to produce many lifestyle models focusing on fashion, as well as performance. New Balance and Saucony on the other hand seem more content remaining in the running shoe space, or perhaps are just less adept at balancing the two.
How do New Balance and Saucony match up against each other?
We have already established both New Balance and Saucony have been surpassed by some of their competitors. Potentially down to the other brands’ ability to shift focus more towards fashion in order to appeal to wider demographics. That isn’t to say New Balance & Saucony are totally inept in this regard. Ultimately to compare these two to Nike or Adidas would be a pointless exercise. Instead I think it would be interesting to make some comparisons between New Balance and Saucony. Two brands which I believe are infinitely more comparable.
Both are considered elder statesmen in the trainer world, and both might be considered a purists choice. Similarly they lean on the importance of quality during production from strong craftsmanship. While similarly as highlighted, also remain highly regarded in the performance running shoe space. I think when it comes to the history of each company their lineages are of course different but come from similar places, with similar ethos and so at least in regards to backgrounds it would be hard to choose between the two.
A flagship product can define an entire brand. A successful and well received product can in a lot of cases set a foundation for how their entire product line is perceived, and celebrated. New Balance’s flagship product has to be the New Balance 574. When you picture a New Balance in your head you inadvertently think of this silhouette. Originally released in 1988, the model is a lightweight and durable unisex runner. Which first came to prominence for its performance credentials when worn by Dick Beardsley who finished second in the 1982 marathon.
Featuring a breathable mesh upper, and EVA foam midsole allows this shoe to capitalise on astounding comfort and durability while running. As a result of it’s innovation as a runner, it has since become a staple for many people not just for running, but gym going and casual wear. With perhaps its most important and valuable asset being its price point. Retailing at under £50 it is one of the most affordable shoes you are going to find considering what it is able to offer.
In comparison, Saucony’s signature product is the Saucony Kinvara. Now in its 9th iteration this model is one of the most-popular and well-reviewed running shoes on offer each year. Just like the New Balance 574, the Kinvara is a sleek neutral running shoe. Featuring a unique blend of plush cushioning, with market leading sole flexibility, the full Kinvara line is versatile enough to serve 5K runners to full marathons and everything in between. Putting an emphasis on a natural ground feel.
If I was to choose a winner in this section of the New Balance vs Saucony match up I would have to go for the New Balance 574. When it comes to application there really isn’t much between the two, both offering some of the best techs the two brands have to offer. The one gleaming advantage the New Balance 574 has, is of course its heritage. It stands up as one of the most iconic running shoes of the last 30 years. With a history as rich as the Converse Chuck Taylor and the Vans Old Skool.
It isn’t just about the poster boy products from a company’s portfolio. It is almost always more significantly about the technology that underpins them. In 2015 Saucony launched the Saucony Everun, a TPU-based (thermoplastic polyurethane) material that acts like a sponge during impact and a rubber band during takeoff. Designed to transfer energy to the ground and back to the runner to reduce impact injury and fatigue. While Adidas uses their TPU Boost, as the entire midsole. Saucony judiciously employs the Everun as a “topsoil.” They place a thin sheet of Everun over their traditional EVA midsole to provide both cushioning through the Everun and responsiveness through EVA.
Differently to most brands like the aforementioned Saucony, Adidas and Nike who are famous for one cushioning technology in particular. With it being widely applied through each of their models. New Balance take a contrasting approach, offering a number of cushioning systems in their models. As a result, runners can choose the proper cushioning technology for their respective needs. Which makes a direct comparison with other cushioning technologies rather difficult. So I have decided to focus on the most popular of their many cushioning technologies, the New Balance Fresh Foam.
The technology is an EVA foam compound injection moulded to form the shoe’s midsole. It is essentially a triple construction process to develop the midsole through imaging and study of the human foot. Fresh Foam is unique to the convex and the concaves in the midsole. These structures are meant to disperse and absorb pressure during impact. New Balance has creatively employed Fresh Foam over the years to fit the need of the runner.
For me the Saucony wins this battle. The Fresh Foam is impressive but with inconsistent ride experiences reported that has hindered their popularity. Everun seems to be a Goldilocks of TPU-based cushioning. It is not as sinking as Adidas Boost but slightly more comfortable than Fresh Foam.
Picking a winner in the New Balance vs Saucony battle
If I were forced to pick a winner I would have to choose Saucony, but by the narrowest of margins. New Balance is an amazing running brand with a rich history and impressive product line, but when compared to Saucony it doesn’t match up quite as well. Saucony continues to grow as a leader in the running shoe market and continues to push the envelope on their technical features. They offer popular shoes in nearly every category and continue to be a leader in each. So if we are talking running shoes New Balance definitely falls short.
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