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.

First Impressions
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 women's New Balance Minimus Road.

Upper
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.

Midsole
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.

Outsole
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.

Performance
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!

Availability
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?

Tom Caughlan: is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

View Comments (70)

  • I've been trying to move my road running in a more minimalist direction, and am looking forward to giving these a try. From what you say about fit, I'll definitely try a pair on before I order them -

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  • Thanks for the great review. I'm looking forward to trying these out when they're available to regular people. I've been training in flats on pavement for shorter runs (under 7 miles). And, I certainly agree that a little extra cushioning between the road and my feet would be nice for my metastertials. So, I've been looking for an adequate long-distance road trainer. But, I've been dissatisfied with the options. As you mentioned, the Kinvara and Nike Frees have a pillowy cushioning, which I don't like. And, the firmer cushioned shoes, like the Green Silence or (my current distance road trainer) the Mizuno Ronin 2, have a heel-to-toe drop that's well over 4mm. So, I'm really anxious to try on the New Balance Minimus Road shoes!

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  • I was not planning on buying the Minimus Road -- until I read your review. I have Kinvaras and New Balance MT101s in my rotation, along with Puma FAAS 300s, and I'm a big guy. Low drop shoes feel good and encourage good form. I've had no problem running in the low drop shoes, except that I got Achilles tendinitis following my last half that I ran in the Kinvaras. I'm not sure whether to blame low-drop shoes for the AT, and I'm able to run and am on the verge of being back to 100%.

    Regardless, based on my experience in the MT101s and your review, I'm going to buy a pair of Minimus Roads.

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  • Thanks for alerting me to their narrowness; I won't even give them a thought.

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  • I've put in a year with LaSportiva Crosslites (same 10-11mm heel drop as the MT 101s) and am chomping at the bit to get something flatter. My plan is to get the Minimus Trails (rather than the Trail Glove because my feet are too soft & need the extra protection) and just use them for the few occasions I run on the road. If I start training for a road marathon again, the Minimus Road will be high on the list.

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  • I'm definitely looking forward to trying these -- I've been doing some of my shorter road runs in Nike Free shoes, and I love them, but I don't love that the Nike sole constantly picks up rocks which can't be dislodged easily. I've also just bought a pair of the WT101's to try on the trails. Thanks for the very thorough review!

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  • Thanks for the review Tom. Any idea the price on these when they're available for purchase?

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  • I'm not sure what the price will be, I would think reasonably around $85. It looks like the best data I can find regarding release date is 3/1/11. The wait is almost over!

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    • MSRP is $100 and the March 1 release date is confirmed by New Balance.

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  • Any idea what colors will be available? I heard from a NB dealer that black/red will be available first with blue/green in May, not sure if this is true though.

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    • Paul, all three colors (two mens, one womens) will be available on March 1. Now, your local store might not be carrying them all at release.

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      • What color are the women's? Hoping that it's something reasonable. :)

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        • White with orange. I'll reinsert it. It's pretty subtle.

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          • Thanks for the photo -- the white/orange works!

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  • I run in Nike Free's even for high milage and marathon's. How do these compare?

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  • I tried these and found what you found--smaller than usual NB shoes and narrower as well. It really felt like it was built on a much narrower last than normal (I run in the 101s). The ride was really nice, though, so maybe I will size up yet again and give them another shot!

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  • I'm doing my first 50 miler this year and am looking for a lightweight shoe that will do the job. I currently run in NB MT101 for trails but find after 20+ miles on the pavement, my feet really start hurting and metatarsals are barking at me. Ditto for my Saucony Shay XC flats which are fine on the track or road races <10 miles.

    My default road shoe is the Adidas Supernova Sequence 2. Not in love with this shoe even with my razor blade mods as it is too narrow in the toe box and has WAY too much heel drop, weight and heel pad. I have a relatively wide forefoot so the Minumus Road may not be the best bet. Any other suggestions?

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  • What the hell is this "Road Running" you all speak of? It sounds terrible. I want NO part of it. You're all CRAZY! Good Day. :)

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    • lol, I will have to agree with you on this.

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  • how would you rate these compared to the Saucony Kinvara?

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  • Bryon,

    I've been running on the MT101's for the past 4 months. Do you think there would be a big difference with the heel drop if I switch to this shoe for road running or maybe not as bad compared coming from a typical running shoe?

    Thanks,

    Chris

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    • Switching from the MT101 to the Minimus Road would represent a significant change. You would still need to slowly and carefully transition. Your foot may be stronger from the MT101, but your lower legs aren't used to such a small heel-to-drop.

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  • Do you know height under heel and forefoot for NB Road Minimus? And how does that compare to NB Minimus Trail?

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    • The Minimus Trail has a heel height of 9 mm with a toe height of 5 mm. Not sure about the Road yet. I'll check.

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      • I would guess the heel drop is approximately 18mm to 13mm. But, I don't have official stats on that.

        Antirabbit,

        The Kinvara feels quite a bit softer underfoot and the upper is quite a bit looser and more minimalist. I think that the Minimus Rd offers more support just due to the midsole foam being firmer. The upper of the NB fits and feels more like that of a traditional road shoe.

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        • Tom,

          Thanks. Ive been in the Kinvara's since the came out. I very much like them, but find my feet want less marshmallow feel at times. Feels really cool for a 8-10 miles, but I feel it gives way after an hour or so, perhaps the firmer feel is better for the long haul.

          I really want to try these out!

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    • The Minimus Road is higher. The heel height for the NB Minimus road is 16.7 mm and the forefoot height is 12.7 mm. (Good guesses, Tom!)

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  • If I read the review correctly, widths will be available for the minimus road in the fall? True also of the minimus trail? I'm already rocking a size 13 in the MT101 to fit my width so it'd be pretty sweet to more true to my size with a width option.

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  • It seems that the last used for the Minimus Road is different than that for the Minimus Trail (in spite of advertising to the contrary). Why would they do that? I just got the Trail Gloves, and LOVE the open feeling of the forefoot and toes. I was hoping for something similar in the Minimus Road, but alas, I may need to wait for the Altra line in another 6 weeks...

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  • I just bought a pair of the Road Minimus and found there to be ample room in the toebox (felt like my feet were swimming). I have logged many miles in the MT101s and feel that there is at least as much width in the forefoot if not more in the Minimus (This after only one short run in the Roadies)

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  • Just read on their site that the Altra's now have a release date of May/June. Previously, it read April. Not sure if they are getting delayed or what. I've been waiting patiently for them. In the meantime, I snagged a pair of Minimus Road and I have to say, I love them!

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    • Where did you buy them?

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