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February 15, 2011

New Balance Minimus Road Shoe Review

Remember how New Balance doled out information about its Minimus shoes in very small increments over last summer and fall, only releasing partial photos and snippets of information in an effort to create buzz about the products and initiate a slow boil of customer demand? Well, with the release date nearly upon us – they’re officially available on March 1st – I’m taking a cue from New Balance in the way I review their shoes.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to build some excitement around this line of shoes - and trust me, by the time we get to the end, there’s something very cool that’s gonna happen. But it’s going to be a slow boil – at first just generating a small amount of heat with a shoe that I’m basically kind of lukewarm on, before moving onto a model next week that I think might be one of the hottest products of 2011. And we’ll cap it all off with … well, you’ll just have to wait and see when we get there.

New Balance Minimus Road

We’re kicking things off with the Minimus Road version, about which I’ve already sort of tipped my hand a bit. It’s not that it's a bad shoe … it’s just not a minimalist shoe. New Balance categorizes it as a transitional shoe, targeting the same market who would be interested in the Newton Gravity, Brooks Green Silence, or Saucony Kinvara: runners who are seeking barefoot biomechanics without giving up the familiar features of a traditional training shoe.

However, since I scolded Saucony for disingenuous marketing in calling the Kinvara a minimalist shoe, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct the same criticism toward New Balance with this shoe. Most likely, I’m getting hung up on the name; if something’s called Minimus, I expect it to be, you know … minimal. So maybe they just need a more accurate name. Like Medius, perhaps. Or Transitionus. You get the idea ... but I’m starting to digress.

So here’s what you get with the New Balance Minimus Road version: a transitional trainer with 16mm of midsole in the heel and 12mm in the forefoot, resulting in a nearly-flat 4mm drop. At just 8oz, it’s fairly lightweight compared to traditional trainers, and actually equal to some true minimalist shoes such as the Terra Plana Evo. It’s extremely well-constructed - as you’d expect from New Balance – and has a handful of subtle design elements that give you a feel for the biomechanics of running naturally. We’ll look at those from the top down.

Mesh upper with wide toe box

The Minimus Road’s upper looks like a classic running shoe, and actually brings to mind some of New Balance’s old-school looks from the 1970s. Its mesh upper has decent ventilation, but probably runs a bit hotter than Saucony’s Kinvara, and isn’t nearly as airy as Newton’s Gravity. The toe box is nice and roomy, providing plenty of space for foot splay, which is a great departure from classic running shoes. The heel area is built like a standard trainer (at least on the upper – more on this soon), with a fabric liner and a small amount of padding around the collar.

Traditional heel structure with padded collar

One really cool aspect of the upper is that New Balance designed it to be worn without socks – so the sockliner fabric extends throughout the interior of the shoe, and is sewn directly onto the midsole, without any insole to mess around with (see next photo).

I thought this was a nifty touch as well: Less is more – get it? It’s not only a sweet slogan, but it looks like the shoes are texting me. Just like all the cool kids do.

Below the upper, the Minimus Road has a relatively firm midsole with a very slight arch support built into it. Given the thicknesses of heel and forefoot, there really isn’t any ground feel to speak of, but there also isn’t any of the cushiness that you experience in traditional running shoes (or for that matter, even in some transitional shoes). The midsole will hold form pretty well if you land with a midfoot strike, but will also absorb shock if you regress back to a heelstrike pattern as you fatigue.

Undercut heel area in profile

However, one intriguing aspect of the midsole seems to promote midfoot strike just by its shape. Looking at the heel area from the side, you can see that the midsole material is undercut and doesn’t actually contact the ground along the last few centimeters in the back of the shoe. In practice, this makes it far easier to land more forward on your foot – and if you’re already accustomed to midfoot running, the Minimus is made to order for you.

Ndurance rubber outsole with honeycomb pattern

Underneath the midsole, New Balance uses a proprietary rubber called Ndurance that is cut into a honeycomb pattern, with small cutout areas for decreased weight and increased flexibility. The heel area has a more traditional-looking tread, but the remainder of the outsole is relatively smooth, and honestly doesn’t provide great traction in any sort of off-road use. They also get a little bit slick on wet surfaces, but the only times I found this to be a limitation were on excessively steep roads.

Cutout areas in outsole, smooth overall tread pattern

Like other transitional shoes, the Minimus Road version targets a very specific demographic: road runners who are looking to move very gradually towards minimalist running, or who just want something a little lighter, flatter, and firmer than what they’re accustomed to. The barefoot-specific design elements definitely distinguish this shoe from traditional running shoes and effectively promote the mechanics of natural running.

Compared to the minimalist footwear market, the number of quality entries in the transitional space is relatively limited; of those, the Minimus is a fairly strong option. However, if you’re looking for a true minimalist shoe from New Balance, you’re going to have to wait for the next review. Trust me – both the shoe and the review are going to be worth waiting for.

*Product provided by New Balance
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com

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JenniferLeah 2/16/11, 2:03 AM  

Great, indepth review. It'll be interesting to see what unfolds with with :P
It's a good looking shoe!

Turi 2/16/11, 3:32 AM  

Transitionus - I kinda like that. Actually, it's pretty much what I'm looking for in a road shoe right now. Hope it comes in some better colors, though -

Jeff 2/16/11, 5:43 AM  

Hmm...I've been looking for something with a wider toe-box to replace my Brooks Green Silence.

IrunFar reviewed this shoe today as well - they mentioned that it felt about a half size small. Did you notice a sizing discrepancy between the Minimus Road and say the MT101?

Alex 2/16/11, 6:36 AM  

great review, awesome pictures. comparing this to the Kinvara...is the main difference that this shoe is firmer where as the kinvara is more spongy?

Andy 2/16/11, 6:55 AM  

I think I know what's coming, but it's still not zero drop. Which is weird, considering the demands of the fellow with whom the Minimus line was developed.

Donald 2/16/11, 7:21 AM  

Jeff: they run true to size for me. I had to size up 1/2 for the MT101, but not with the Minnimus.

Alex: Yes, exactly.

JimDog 2/16/11, 7:48 AM  

Nice review of the MR10!

I was lucky enough to test out the MW10 (walking version of the Minimus) and the MT10 (trail version).

I absolutely LOVED the MW10. The MT10 unfortunately I tested out before some critical changes were made to it.

I'm hoping to see a review on those to see if they have improved from when I tested them.

chirunner 2/16/11, 9:02 AM  

So how does the Minimus compare to the NB 100 or 101 in your opinion? And how does the Minimus compare in cusheyness (I know, not a word) compared to the Green Silence? I found Kinvara to be like running on marshmallows but not so in the Green Silence. Your thoughts?

Puller 2/16/11, 12:57 PM  

I am assuming the minimus trail is next!!! Can't wait! And if not that then maybe the Hattori? I really want both of these shoes!

drunkmonckey 2/16/11, 4:14 PM  

My question is, who in the design dept decided to make the bottoms of these look like shapeup shoes! They had to have intentionally tried to make the sole look thicker than it is

Angie Bee 2/24/11, 9:26 AM  

I too thought the name would imply minimal.

Scott 3/11/11, 9:52 AM  

Got mine in the mail a few days back and have about 10 miles on them so far. I typically run roads in the Grid A4 and trails in the MT101. The Minimus road is definitely less minimal than those two, but a pleasant shoe to wear. Comfy, and flexy through the midfoot and stiffer in the heel. No problems getting a nice midfoot/forefoot strike. I'll definitely be using them on higher mileage road runs (maybe upwards of 10-15) when I think I might need a bit more cushion.

The sizing on the Minimus: my 10.5 MT101s are perfect, my 10.5 Minimus are a tad big.

Stephanie 4/21/11, 1:28 PM  

I went to the New Balance store. I tried on the trail and life but never gave the road shoe a second look because you could tell it wasn't minimus from the outside. The woman's shoes are too narrow for me but I bought the life because they didn't have men's trail in my size. My biggest complaint was the shoe sales guy. Obviously, he's never fitted a barefoot runner before.

Rebecca 7/13/11, 9:39 PM  

Love my Minimus trail runners but the upper is completely coming apart after 3 months. I'll get another pair but wish they could take a stronger beating.

C├ęsar A. Morales J. 1/24/12, 3:56 PM  

hi there,
I am buying both the MT10 and the minimus road, but they appear to be be smaller than usual, I´red around that u should chose half a size larger than normal. So for example if I normally use 10.5 shoes which give me half a thumb space, should I go 11 on the NBs?

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