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New Balance Hanzo U Review

New Balance, Asics, Nike, Adidas and more are known for racing shoes that are only available in the Japanese or International market.  I have discussed this frequently on this website but became intrigued regarding some of the trainers available.  The Hanzo series is a Japan only set of racing shoes (except the Hanzo S and the Hanzo C, which is called the 1500 elsewhere) that includes the U, T, C, R, S.  The Hanzo U is the lightweight trainer of the Hanzo series, a number of New Balance Japan shoes meant for faster running.  Previously called the 1040 series, the Hanzo U is billed as a lightweight mild stability trainer and marathon/ultra marathon shoe for the masses.

Specifications (I know little as this as this is a Japan only shoe)
Weight: Unknown (guessing around 9 oz)
Stack Height: Unknown
Drop: 8-10mm Drop (guess)
Classification: Light Stability Trainer/Ultra Marathon Racer


FIT/UPPER

I typically wear a size 10 mens shoe and a size 28.0 (10) fit me well in the New Balance Hanzo U.  Given the availability of wides on the Japanese market, I purchased the 2E version.  As with most Japan only shoes, this provides more room in the mid and forefoot while the heel remains a similar width.  The Hanzo U is technically a racing shoe and has a snugger fitting design.  The 2E upper allows for plenty of room in the forefoot.  I would probably want to wear the D (normal) width next time as there is a little too much room in the midfoot and I have had to really snug down the laces.  So for those concerned about which width to get, unless you know you have wide feet throughout, go with the normal width.


The forefoot does have a toe guard, but it is extremely flexible and has not caused me any issues.  The heel has just enough room without being sloppy.  The upper and heel collar are extremely soft around the heel.  The heel counter is external and has a split for the achilles,  This is one of my favorite parts of the upper.  The heel fits extremely well and even on long runs, I have had no achilles tension.  The split external heel counter is an awesome design and I have also enjoyed this in recent Adidas Solar series.  The tongue is attached on both sides of the shoe, so there is no slippage whatsoever. This shoe can be worn sockless as the upper is so soft, but I would still caution that only the most experience individuals try this.  A last note on the upper: the laces are some of the longest I have ever experienced.  Even after lace locking and double knotting, I still had a ton of length left.


RIDE/MIDSOLE

The combination of REVLITE and RAPID REBOUND creates a responsive and slightly softer ride.  This was surprising as most REVLITE shoes I have found to be quite firm.  The ride is extremely smooth as there is some heel bevel and the sole is fairly flexible from the midfoot forward.  There are several diagonal flex grooves in the outsole of the forefoot.  These provide a very smooth toe off at all speeds.  The softer (ish) sole does provide plenty of protection but is not a Hoka.  The sole is more traditional height wise, so the flex grooves provide plenty of flexibility.  When combined with the RAPID REBOUND, the Hanzo U has a faster feel when the pace picks up.  The additional rubber in the forefoot does provide a little more firm feel landing farther forward, whereas the softer rubber in the heel provides a bit more cushion when landing farther back.  The gentle heel bevel and softer sole will also provide plenty of protection, cushioning and smooth riding action for those rearfoot strikers.


Although I do not have exact specs on this shoe, I would guess the heel drop is in the 8mm drop range.  It feels a little lower than most traditional trainers, but does not feel extremely so.


STABILITY

The primary source of stability in the Hanzo U is a soft small medial post that begins in the heel and ends toward the front of the midfoot.  I call it soft because like the  rest of the midsole, it is not the firm REVLITE I am used to.  The stability feels gentle and adaptive unlike traditional firm posting.  The stability is light enough that I barely noticed it was there at first.  I can feel the post when I fatigue, but it is subtle when combined with the slightly softer midsole.   So for those that need some gentle guidance or want a tiny bit extra when they fatigue on long runs, this level of stability is great.  For those that need more, the Hanzo U may not provide enough (especially with the slightly softer sole).


SPEED

The Hanzo U is technically a marathon/ultramarathon racing shoe and the REBOUND foam does add quiet a bit of responsiveness for a trainer.  This is definitely a lightweight trainer that can handle uptempo and speed paces.  I have used the Hanzo U for long runs, tempo runs and fartleks and the sightly softer sole becomes very springy at uptempo speeds.  This shoe shines particularly when you want a shoe for long marathon pace training runs and don't want to beat your legs up as much as a traditional racing flat would.  However the weight does hold this shoe back for me as a true racing flat due my own bias as classifying the Hanzo U as a lightweight trainer.  When attempting 5k to 10k pace, the shoe's weight and flexibility hold it back from all out speed.  However, for many not used to lighter shoes, this would be a great introductory lighter weight shoe for longer racing.


DURABILITY

As this is technically a racing shoe with a slightly softer ride, durability is not the focus.  With 150 miles on my pair, I am already seeing decent wear on the outsole.  The outsole is definitely made for road as there are is little in the way of traction or lugs except the forefoot.  I have used these on light trails but anything more aggressive or wet creates traction issues.  The sole is starting to soften more as the miles pile on and I do not expect more than 300 miles out of the sole.  Others who land far softer than I will likely get more miles, but on average the durability is less.  The upper on the other hand is very durable and I have not had any issues with loose seams.


THOUGHTS AS A DPT 

It is always interesting to see softer stability shoes.  The softer a surface is, the more unstable it is.  On the other end of the spectrum, the more firm, the more stable.  Each person has an optimal firmness that they will like based on many factors.  Muscle strength, muscle activation, joint mobility, joint proprioception, shock absorbing capabilities, beliefs and more.  That is why each person is also unique in how they respond to the level of firmness.  A softer stability shoe may not be as stable for some people as a firm neutral shoe.   We know that just because a shoe has a medial post, does not mean it is necessarily stable for some runners.  Often what runners describe as "stability" may be the proprioceptive input from either the medial post pushing into their arch or even the higher arch of the insole.    You may observe an individual say they feel the most stable in a certain shoe despite the fact that biomechanically they have excessive motion.  Remember that personal comfort is also an important factor for shoe choice (Nigg et al 2017)!  Additionally, remember that what we describe as excessive motion may not be excessive or abnormal for that individual (Nigg, 2001).  I have discussed extensively how excessive  pronation of the foot and ankle may have adverse consequences, it can also be protective from injury for some individuals (Barnes et al., 2007).  For more information, I suggest you read my article on Excessive Pronation as a Movement Impairment.
So while a softer shoe may technically be a little more unstable, remember how many factors go into this.  That gentle softness may provide a little more cushion for you and the mild post may provide just the right amount of guidance without trying to force your foot in a certain direction!


WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

For those that love a slightly softer light stability shoe that can also be used for marathon workouts, races and ultramarathons, the New Balance Hanzo U is a great shoe.  With decent room, a great fitting upper and plenty of mildly soft and responsive cushioning, this is a shoe that will keep you going comfortably for long miles.  This shoe is currently only available in Japan (I purchased it through a website called Global Rakuten), but hopefully New Balance will consider bringing it over in the future.


GRADING

Fit/Upper          9/10 (-1 for extra midfoot width due to 2E)
Ride/Midsole    9/10 (-1 for weight)
Stability            8.5/10 (-1.5 for softer sole)
Speed                8.5/10 (-1.5 for weight)
Durability          8/10 (-2 for outsole wear and traction)

Total Score: 86%

Thanks for reading!

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

Dr. Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

***Disclaimer: These shoes were purchased for their full retail price from RAKUTEN.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We put at least 50-75 miles on trainers and 10-25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. Currently I have 160 miles on my pair. My views are based on my extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

References
1. Barnes, A., Wheat, J., Milner, C. (2007). Association between foot type and tibial stress injuries: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine: 42: 93-98  
2. Nigg, B.  (2001).  The Role Of Impact Forces and Pronation: A new Paradigm.  Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine: 11(1): 2-9.
3.  Nigg, B., Vienneau, J., Smith, A., Trudeau, M., Mohr, M., Nigg S.  (2017).  The Preferred Movement Path Paradigm: Influence of Running Shoes on Joint Movement.  Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise; 49(8): 1641-1648
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