A bit over a year ago I wrote a post on the somewhat complex relationship between running shoe midsoles, ground surface properties, muscle tuning, and limb stiffness (read the muscle tuning-limb stiffness post here). As a result of my experience with shoes, the research I did while writing my book, and conversations with gait experts, I’ve come to believe that if we had a simple way of matching shoes to runners in order to optimize muscle tuning and limb stiffness for an individual on the surface they plan to run on, we’d be close to the holy grail of shoe fitting protocols.
So what does this have to do with a shoe review? Well, the New Balance MR1600 racing flat is a shoe that scores points for me in nearly every category, but it lacks that certain something that would make it rise above the rest in a niche filled with some pretty amazing footwear.
A few months ago I reviewed the New Balance RC5000, which is NB’s ultralight racing flat. It’s a solid shoe, but I was a bit concerned about the narrow fit through the midfoot and the tendency for my ankles to tilt inward when standing in the shoe as a result. Durability was also a concern.
Weighing in at under 5.9oz in size 10.5, the RC1600 is like a beefier brother to the RC5000 (which weighs 3.5oz), and improves on it in a number of ways. Though the fit is similar in the two shoes, the thicker sole stack height of the RC1600 (21mm heel: 14mm forefoot) makes it feel a bit more stable under the midfoot – the sense of rolling in is not as pronounced. Along with the thicker stack comes a higher drop – 6mm with the insole out, and 8mm with the included insole. As I typically do, I swapped out the insole for one of my Skechers masterpieces - a barely there, 2mm thick insole of uniform width in both the heel and forefoot. The 6mm drop may be too much for some, but it feels fine to me.
The midsole of the RC1600 is fairly stiff, maybe just slightly less so than the RC5000, and this is a good thing in a shoe built for speed. When running fast I find that a stiffer shoe gives a little more pop, and this is the reason why the adidas Hagio remains my favorite flat for speed work and 5K racing (just got a pair of the adidas Takumi Sen, which may turn out to be even better in this regard).
The outsole on the RC1600 is a big plus. Unlike some other racing flats which opt for little rubber nubs glued to the sole, the RC1600 has full rubber pods covering prime wear areas on the lateral heel and midfoot, and across the entire width of the forefoot. Nubs are present, but only on the tip of the forefoot and the front of the arch. I’ve personally not had issues with rubber nubs falling off, but have heard from people who have experienced this in other shoes - I may simply not get enough miles on a pair of flats to experience the issue. Given the outsole configuration, I expect the sole durability of the RC1600 should be very good relative to other racing flats.
The upper of the RC1600 is really, really nice. It’s a great looking shoe, and extremely comfortable, even on a sockless foot. The ankle collar is soft and does not dig in, and the fabric mesh that the upper is composed of is soft as well – no hot spots for me in this shoe. The upper seems very well constructed, and I expect it will be much more durable than that of the RC5000.
As is typical of racing flats, the RC1600 is not a wide shoe. However, I ordered a half size up (these were a personal purchase) and do not feel squeezed at all. I’d say the fit is just a tad narrower than the Saucony Grid Type A5, and identical to the RC5000. For those of you with wide feet in need of a road flat, the Mizuno Universe is probably your best bet.
So what’s not to like about this shoe? Really, I like the shoe a lot, and highly recommend it as a racing flat. My only real complaint about the design is the the sides of the tongue tend to fold under when putting the shoe on, but that’s just a small annoyance and easily fixed in an update.
My real issue with the shoe, and the one that brings us back to the muscle tuning discussion in the first paragraph, is that the sole just does not feel like a good match for me. I typically like shoe soles to either disappear on my feet (Saucony A5) or provide some amount of stiffness and pop (adidas Hagio) to make me want to go fast (see my 5 rules for determining if a running shoe is right for you). The sole of the NB RC1600 just feels kind of dead or flat to me. I can tell it’s there, and it seems to rob me of the kind of pop I expect from a shoe like this. My guess is that this is entirely and individual thing, and the shoe is just not the right match for my body, so I’d live to hear your experience if you’ve run in this shoe.
The New Balance RC1600 is a solid offering among racing flats. Fit is adequately wide on my medium width feet (after going a half size up), durability should be good (30 miles on mine with no real significant wear), and they are lightweight and good looking. This is definitely one to consider if you’re in the market for a flat!
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