New Balance Minimus Road Review
Available in March 2011, the New Balance Minimus Road as part of the company’s Minimus line along side the Minimus Trail and the Minimus Life. The entire line features a 4mm heel-toe drop to aid in forefoot striking, lightweight construction, and a “less is more” philosophy which is literally the graphic on the shoe “< = >”. Very clever, but I wasn’t convinced that this would be a shoe that I could run in on the roads.
Having had the pleasure of running in the Minimus Trail, I expected similar construction, weight, and road feel just without the Vibram outsole. The Minimus Road is slightly heavier than the trail (8 vs. 6 ounces) and the shoe immediately reminded me of a vintage NB shoe in both appearance and simplicity. This shoe is incredibly simple and to the point. It lacks a removable insole, which is consistent with the rest of the Minimus line. It feels very well constructed.
Two things I noticed immediately were that the shoe fits a half size small (even compared to other recent NB shoes including the Minimus Trail and MT101) and the forefoot is narrower than other recent NB shoes (widths will be introduced in Fall of 2011). When researching the specs for this shoe, NB states that they created this shoe from the same Minimus last and that the forefoot width is the same as the shoes named above. This narrower feel could also be caused by it fitting a bit too small for me, but I still feel like the forefoot was narrower in this shoe just from looking at it. Due to the snug fit, testing the shoe in my usual fashion a bit difficult, so I was subjugated to a series of 5-7 mile outings on the roads, crushed gravel paths, and bike paths.
The Minimus Road’s upper is plush and, for those indoctrinated in the practice, could be worn sockless without irritation. New Balance reverted to very simple laces rather than the bubble laces they’ve been using lately. The heel collar features ample padding (no achilles irritation here) and the shoe was very comfortable right out of the box. At first I was disappointed that the upper wasn’t some barely there mesh, but after road tests in colder weather I appreciated the protection of the Minimus’ upper from the elements. That does not prevent the upper from being breatheable and its tough, dual layered mesh should be plenty durable.
The Minimus Road is a firm ride with the EVA in the midsole feeling more like dual density rather than pillowy foam (compared to a Nike Lunaracer of Saucony Kinvara). I’m sure this will increase the durability of the shoe and I feel it provides a better road “feel”. This doesn’t mean that the shoe lacks cushioning, in fact quite the opposite is true. For comparison’s sake I feel like the closest companion in the current shoe market to the Minimus Road is the Brooks Green Silence. I find that this firmness increases the propensity of midfoot/ forefoot striking, but whether people like the firmness or not will be a matter of personal taste. This firmness also increases the amount of support the shoe offers and I feel that it could accommodate neutral runners to mild pronators without issues.
While the name first had me envisioning a barely there racing flat, the Minimus Road is a training or uptempo shoe for everyday running. I also was surprised by the overall height of the midsole as it puts a significant amount of material between you and the road, something I appreciated. The minimalist aspect of this shoe is really contained in its low drop and lack of support devices rather than lack of midsole foam. There really isn’t much in the way of arch support in the Minimus Rd and to NB wearers this is to be expected and appreciated, allowing the arch to function un-impeded by artificial support.
The Minimus Road features a grippy outsole consisting of hexagons that do not protrude out from the outsole. I never experienced traction issues with the outsole and I appreciated that it didn’t get in the way. The heel of the outsole features carbon rubber and is rounded toward the back of the shoe to decrease heel striking. I felt that it automatically led me towards a midfoot plant. There are no flares on the outsole and every edge feels rounded and natural.
New Balance could have easily made a low profile racing flat style shoe and simply called it the Minimus Road. However, it would not suffice as a training shoe for those of us out there who don’t feel that our metatarsals were made to pound pavement. The features of this shoe which make it a unique development are the rounded heel, low drop, and overall durability of this shoe that facilitate it being an everyday trainer. That being said, the “Born to Run” crowd may be disappointed by this shoe. Early specs released by New Balance brought jeers regarding the 4mm drop and many wondered why NB didn’t create a zero drop shoe. I abhor large 12-14 mm drops in running shoes, but I am not someone who could run high mileage on the roads in a zero drop shoe (not yet anyway). I think that the 4mm drop and significant and firmer cushioning allow the Minimus Road to be worn as an every day high mileage shoe, and not just a training tool as the Minimus Trail is often referred to. This shoe reminds me of my time working at a running specialty store and finding the trainers and racing flats from the 1970s and 80s before Nike came out with gigantic air pockets. These shoes were firm, durable, and flat without any bells or whistles.
My own experience in the Minimus Road was that I wanted them to be a half size larger so that I didn’t have to cut my run short for fear of blisters on my toes. This shoe made me want to get up on my toes and turn the legs over. In fact my second run in the shoe turned into an improptu tempo run and I felt like the firmness of the midsole aided the shoes transition. I especially liked wearing this shoe on crushed gravel paths as the firmness of the midsole complemented the softness underfoot. I enjoyed the simplicity of this shoe and a back to basics approach in construction and features. Personally, I am pleased that New Balance made a performance oriented shoe with enough protection for high mileage running on the road rather than a prop for the weekend warrior identifying with a fad. This shoe represents moderation for the minimalist crowd rather than gravitating to the extreme poles.
For a someone who trains on the roads and is looking for a more minimalist shoe I would recommend the Minimus Road as a great shoe to encourage a more natural foot strike. Transition to this shoe with caution, as the 4mm drop will leave you with sore calves that can pull on that Achilles tendon and pretty soon you’ve got crunchy crepitus buildup around an inflamed Achilles tendon. NB even includes a warning for new folks transitioning to minimalism. I have no doubt that this shoe could withstand 500 miles of road running and could function as an everyday trainer. However, I would be very careful about rotating a shoe with a 4mm drop with a shoe with a traditional 12-14 mm heel drop as you may experienced the aforementioned issues. And remember, buy a half size up!
The men’s Minimus Road will be available in the blue/green and black/red versions seen above. The women will have a white/orange version. All colors will be available at the initial March 1 release. The shoes will retail for $100.
Call for Comments
Are you looking forward to trying this shoe? Do you favor or incorporate minimalist shoes into your road running?