The first generation of the Minimus Road sucked. It felt like the designers spent all their time and innovation on the Minimus Trail, then phoned in the Road design. It was only marginally better than the Newton Sir Issac I reviewed a few years ago. They felt bulky and inflexible.
You know when you were a kid and you’d put boxes on your feet and march around the house at Christmas? That’s a close approximation of the first generation Roads.
Enter the 2012 Minimus Zero Roads. What a difference a year has made.
This may be the single biggest improvement I’ve ever seen in one generation of shoes. I get the feeling the design team realized they produced a turd, then redesigned the new Road based on the MT10. The sole has changed dramatically. The upper is even more radical. The shoe is lighter and more flexible. It’s zero-dropped (heel height is the same as the forefoot height.) It went from being the red-headed step-child of the minimalist shoe world to being a legitimate contender for one of the best minimalist road running shoes ever.
Here are the details.
The sole is lightweight and flexible. The New Balance design team collected information to determine the locations that receive the most wear on the soles of the original Roads, then used the data to reinforce high-wear areas with higher density rubber. It’s the same philosophy used to reduce weight on the Minimus Zero Trails. The result is a sole that feels like a solid platform without added weight.
As a road shoe,” traction” isn’t as important as it is with a trail shoe. The sole grips wet asphalt. That’s about all that’s needed.
The shoe does feel like it has a bit of EVA… maybe 1-2 mm. It’s on par with the Trails and most Vibrams. I’d prefer no cushioning at all, but this will breakdown quickly.
When I saw the upper for the first time, I had a “WTF?” moment. The tongue is actually part of the upper. The design team was looking for a way to make the shoe more comfortable when worn without socks. The obvious key is to eliminate as many seams as possible. To accomplish this, they drew inspiration fro a burrito.
Yep, a burrito.
Sounds like a pretty dumb idea, doesn’t it? At least I thought so.
As it turns out, this is the most innovative design I’ve seen since the Merrell Omni-fit lacing system. The design makes this shoe unbelievably comfortable. The sockless upper would be perfect, except for one issue. [edit- as several have pointed out, this design is not novel. Several other shoes from different manufacturers have used the design. Thanks guys!] 😉
When wearing the shoes for the Dallas White Rock Marathon (I managed to maintain my streak of ho-hum finish times), I developed a nasty abrasion on the top medial side of my big toes. I suspect this was a function of:
A) The weather. It was exceedingly wet. And cold. I thought Dallas was supposed to be warm in the winter, damn it!
B) The shape of my foot. The last used for the Minimus line, while good, does not fit my foot especially well. The last is anatomically shaped, just not like my foot. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in the shoe. For many, the last will fit your foot perfectly. It does reinforce the idea that it’s important to find a shoe that fits YOUR foot.
Aside from that lone issue, the upper is magnificent. It is FAR better than the interior of the Minimus Zero Trail, which was a bit of a regression from the previous generation.
The shoe is well-ventilated. The mesh-and-fabric upper allows air to pass easily. This also allows the shoe to drain well. I ran through many ankle-deep puddles during the marathon. The shoe went from “waterlogged” to “damp” in a matter of minutes. If it weren’t raining, the shoe would probably have completely dried.
When Would You Use This Shoe?
Road running is obvious. This shoe is definitely at home on the road. The minimal design gives some degree of abrasion protection without interfering with gait. I’m not a fan of wearing shoes for road running, but this would be one of my top four choices if I did (Vibram SeeYa, Luna huaraches, and Merrell Road Glove being the other three.)
The shoe doesn’t fare as well on trails. For non-technical trails, the shoe is adequate. Comfort alone would make it a decent choice. However, the sole does not provide much off-road traction or protection from the debris on technical trails.
Originally I thought the shoe would be a good choice for crosstraining, but the shoe doesn’t have quite enough structure. If you quickly change directions, your foot will move within the shoe. This creates a slightly unstable experience when doing anything but running forward. There are better crosstraining shoes out there.
The Minimus Zero Road is the best Minimus shoe developed to date. The design is exactly what is needed in a good minimal road shoe: lightweight, minimal protection, comfortable fit, zero drop. The friction on my toes does raise a red flag, but that could be a function of my foot shape. Reviews from others should confirm the nature of those injuries.
For overall design, I’d like to see New Balance continue with this platform. This is definitely their best effort. In fact, this upper would make a GREAT trail shoe if combined with a zero-dropped outsole of the MT110 and a better lacing system. Hear that, New Balance- this upper is MUCH better than the Zero Trail upper. 😉
These shoes may have earned a place in my collection, but the fit on my foot moves them down to the “B” team for roads. If these shoes were made from the same last as the Merrell line, they would be perfect. Likewise, if the Road Gloves were this light, they would be perfect. Between these two models and the new SeeYas, most people should be able to pick a minimalist road shoe that fits their foot and performs just as a great minimalist shoe should.
Check out Barefoot Angie’s review.
This product was supplied by the manufacturer.