The New Balance Minimus Roads are one of three minimalist shoes to be released by New Balance in February or March. This shoe will be joined by the Trail and Life version in the Minimus line. I wrote a very comprehensive review of the Trails here. They are one of the best true minimalist shoes I’ve tried to date.
The Roads are a little more difficult for me to review. I would not classify them as a minimalist shoe. Rather, I’d classify them as a “reduced shoe” due to the 4mm raised heel and thick, cushioned sole. According to a source at New Balance, this specific shoe was designed as a transition shoe.
A transition shoe is used by runners that move from a traditional raised-heel, supportive, cushioned shoe to barefoot or true minimalist shoes. Generally speaking, I disagree with the need for a transition shoe. I believe the best way to learn good form is to forgo shoes all together.
This isn’t necessarily the best way, I just think it is the best way.
So the shoe… if this shoe were to be used as a transition shoe, it is one of the best I’ve encountered. It has several important minimalist shoe qualities, such as a lighter weight, relative lack of cushioning compared to traditional running shoes, a wide toe box, and a modest heel (4mm over forefoot).
For a barefoot runner, there are better options available for a road running shoe. Since this shoe wasn’t really designed for barefoot runners, it’s not a surprise that I wasn’t thrilled with the performance.
When I first tried the shoe, the most noticeable characteristic was sole thickness. The sole is about 16mm at the heel and 12mm at the forefoot. This is significantly higher than my other shoes, which max out at around 3-5mm. On the ground feel- protection continuum, this shoe would definitely be at the “protection” end of the spectrum.
My first run was a three mile trail run. I was expecting the shoes to be horrible. Much to my surprise, they worked pretty well. The lack of ground feel was tricky, but the shoe allowed me to run almost as well as being barefoot. The shoe didn’t really interfere with gait.
Later that week, I went for a 12 mile run on an asphalt bike path. The run went well for about nine miles. At that point, the slight raised heel began taking a toll on my knees. This is typical of any raised heel shoe. Despite this, the shoe wasn’t bad at all.
Since those two initial runs, I’ve worn the shoes casually and on other occasional runs. For me, they function much better on trails than roads. On roads, I prefer as little shoe as possible. These are just a bit too much for my tastes. As a casual shoe, they worked very well. I was able to wear them for hours and hours without any discomfort.
There are two specific areas that New Balance definitely got right. First, the liner of the shoe is perfect for sockless use. I would rate the Roads as being slightly better than the Trails in this area, and I would rate the Trails as a 4 out of 5. The Roads would likely get a 4.5 out of 5.
Second, the style proved to be very popular with my freshmen students. Several kids asked me if they could have the shoes (not an uncommon occurrence…). Overall, I liked the appearance of the shoe, but I think I prefer the look of the Trails and Wellness.
Overall, this shoe succeeds as a very good transition shoe. If I were to encounter a runner that I believe should use a transition shoe, this would be the shoe I would recommend. I would definitely rank it above other shoes like the Nike Free, Saucony Kinvarna, the Brooks Green Silence, and others.