In last month’s Gear of the Year post I mentioned that 2011 might be considered the year that Merrell caused a seismic shift in the footwear landscape with its outstanding Barefoot series of shoes.
Here was a major industry player embracing the minimalist movement, taking the lead in instruction and promotion of natural running technique, and creating several different varieties of shoes to choose from – with each one maintaining the company’s high standards of workmanship and performance. Two of their shoes ended up on my Keeper List – the Trail Glove as an all-purpose trail runner, and the Tough Glove as an everyday office / casual shoe – and their Kids Glove was a narrow second place to the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo. (All of the previous links are my product reviews.) All things considered, it was a pretty good rookie season.
|Merrell Barefoot Road Glove|
Noticeably absent from that initial lineup, however, was a dedicated road running shoe – but Merrell has now filled that void with the Road Glove. It’s not officially available for purchase yet, but one lucky reader of mine will get an opportunity to try them on very soon; that’s right, we’re doing a giveaway! You know the drill here, though: review first, then contest details. So let’s get to it.
Here are your vital specs on the Road Glove: it’s a zero-drop shoe with a 4mm midsole and a standing height of 10mm. It's completely flexible and allows full range of motion throughout the foot and ankle. Its weight hasn’t officially been verified from Merrell, but my size 11 model weighs slightly under 8oz, so I’m guessing that the official spec will be around 7.5 oz. [*UPDATED: per the Merell rep, the weight is 6.6 oz. Perhaps I need a new scale.] That last number is probably my biggest drawback about the shoe, as I’ll explain later.
|Breathable mesh upper; rubberized toe bumper|
From a design and construction standpoint, the top half of the Road Glove looks remarkably like last year’s Trail Glove. The uppers primarily consist of breatheable mesh with some synthetic overlays to aid in with lateral stability. There’s a thin rubber bumper at the front for a bit more protection from stubbed toes.
|Seamless interior footbed|
Like other Merrell Barefoot shoes, the Road Glove is designed to be worn without socks. Both the sockliner and the interior surface of the upper feel smooth against the skin, and the seamless footbed effectively keeps the foot in place while providing soft comfort as well.
The heel area is also similar to the Trail Glove, with a synthetic foot sling for stability and a thin collar that sits comfortably against the skin. In my testing, there is very minor “gapping” on the inside surface of the ankle, which is only a drawback if you do a lot of trail running in these (as I do – see photo further down).
Fit through the upper feels slightly wider to me than the Trail Gloves, which I found quite narrow in the midfoot region. I haven’t had any issues putting these shoes on, even on the infrequent occasions when I wore them with socks. The lacing system is also somewhat different, with a more traditional setup than the Omni-fit system on the Trail Glove. This could be bad news if you like to really customize your lacing, but not a big deal if you’re mainly a “lace ‘em up and go” person.
There appears to be a bit of confusion about the midsole of the Road Glove – specifically, whether or not it has a rock plate. The “place holder” product page on the Merrell website indicates there’s a forefoot plate, but I’ve seen other reviewers say there’s no plate. I’ll clarify this with the rep and report back here. [*UPDATED: there's no plate.] Otherwise, the 10mm standing height of the Road Glove is approximately 2mm lower than the Trail Glove, and ground feel is noticeably better than the Trail Glove, thanks also to a more streamlined outsole.
About that outsole: it may be designed for road running, but it’s more than adequate to take on the majority of trails you encounter as well. In fact, probably 75% of my mileage in testing these shoes was done on gravel fire roads and groomed trails, and I had very few problems with gripping the ground. Needless to say, there’s absolutely no problem gaining adequate traction on roads or all-weather track surfaces. The rubber compound is Vibram’s TC-1, the same material that’s used on the Trail Glove, which has proven remarkably resistant to wear after high mileage (probably 300-400 miles total) on my pair.
|On the trail in Toro Park|
Honestly, the outsole traction seems almost like overkill - which leads to my primary issue with the Road Glove: mainly, it’s a bit too much shoe. If my recorded weight is correct, it’s actually heavier than the Trail Glove, when road shoes are generally lighter and leaner than their off-road siblings. It’s worth noting that despite their extensive outdoor footwear credentials, Merrell has limited experience with making a dedicated road shoe. Consequently – and this could be just wild conjecture by me – they’ve made their first road running shoe by starting with a trail shoe and stripping it down, rather than making a running shoe from the ground up. In my opinion, when they stripped stuff away, they didn’t go nearly far enough: the outsole could be carved out more, the uppers could be thinner or lighter, and some of the support elements could be reduced or eliminated.
There’s a relevant comparison to be made to New Balance, another established company who has embraced minimalism over the past couple of years. Before making minimalist footwear, New Balance had a wealth of experience with racing flats and track spikes, and presumably had a good understanding of what parts of a shoe were essential and what others could be removed. Accordingly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the New Balance Minimus Zero road shoes I’m currently testing are significantly lighter than Merrell’s Road Glove – but I’ll wait until that review goes live (probably in February) to give you details on that one. [*UPDATED: with the corrected weight, the discrepancy between New Balance and Merrell isn't exceedingly large. New Balance is still lighter, though.]
So I’m not wild about the Road Glove as a dedicated road shoe; however, I think it’s an outstanding hybrid for runners who spend a lot of time on both paved and dirt surfaces. If this review had posted before the end of last year, I would have included the Road Glove on my 2011 Keeper List as my favorite hybrid. And if you don’t happen to be a shoe reviewer and have to actually pay money for your shoes, the Road Glove just might give you the most value for your buck when it comes to a “one style does all” training shoe. Wear them on the roads, take them on the trails, go off course to visit the cows … it doesn’t really matter what you do in these; the Road Gloves can probably take it.
|Road Gloves and cows ... because why not?|
Merrell’s Road Glove retails for $110, but is slightly discounted at Amazon.com. And now it’s time to get your lucky commenting hat on, because we’re doing a giveaway!
In conjunction with this review, Merrell has generously offered one pair of Road Gloves to a winner selected at random from the comments below. Keep in mind that this is a men’s model, so the ladies are entering for a boyfriend, spouse, or relative here – and if a girl wins this one, that dude had darn well better appreciate it.
Since this is a fairly substantial prize, my “major” contest rules are in effect: you’ll get one entry just for commenting and saying any fool thing you like. You’ll get an extra entry for linking to this post from your blog, and a third by linking from Facebook or Twitter. When you comment below, please let me know how many entries you’ve earned – up to three total – along with a link so I can verify if necessary. The winner will be announced this Saturday evening, January 14th.
Thanks very much to Merrell for sponsoring this giveaway, and good luck to everybody!
*Product provided by Merrell
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at email@example.com.
Get updates as soon as they're posted! Click here to subscribe to Running and Rambling.
Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.