New Balance was the first major player in the running shoe industry to embrace the minimalist movement - and thanks to their slow-boil marketing campaign (aided at times by this website), their Minimus Road and Trail models were perhaps the highest-profile releases of 2011.
Unfortunately for purists like me, the shoes were just a’ight; they had some compelling features - especially the trail model, with one of the most comfortable upper materials ever – but also some fatal flaws such as a higher stack height than I’d like, and a 4mm heel to toe drop that I wasn’t wild about. From my standpoint, they were more properly categorized as transitional shoes than minimal – but apparently the name “Transitionus” isn’t as sexy as the one they already had.
To their credit, New Balance took all of that feedback and gave both their road and trail models a significant makeover – and I’m happy to report that they’ve addressed pretty much all of the drawbacks from last year’s models. The new versions aren’t entirely perfect, but they’re certainly minimalist in virtually every way that matters. New Balance even refined the name a bit, to Minimus Zero, with the “Zero” part reflecting that they’ve fixed that heel to toe drop that bothered me the first time around.
And now for the big news: four of my readers will have a chance to try a pair for free. I’m picking one male and one female winner to win a pair of New Balance Minimus Zero Roads after this review, and when we get to the Zero Trail review soon, we’ll do the same thing there as well. Yahoo!
|New Balance Minimus Zero Road|
So let’s get to today’s review, featuring the New Balance Minimus Zero Road shoe. It weighs in at 6.4 oz and has a similar fit and last as 2011’s Minimus Trail, which was definitely the more comfortable of New Balance’s two offerings last year.
New Balance even adopted the same dual-density mesh from last year’s Minimus Trail to this year’s Minimus Zero Road. This upper is extremely comfortable against the skin, breathes very well in warm weather, and sheds water quickly after becoming wet. The toe box is roomy enough for your toes to splay naturally on footstrike, and the length runs true to size.
The upper is most distinctive for its burrito-wrap closure in place of a standard tongue. A few other companies have tried this in the past (such as the Brooks Green Silence), and it typically involves a bit of a tradeoff between comfort and stability.
There’s no question that the burrito style is comfortable, and with one less seam running along the top of your foot, there’s less potential for skin irritation while running sockless. Between the material and the design, the Zero Road has one of the most comfortable uppers I’ve felt on a road shoe.
The downside of this design is that overall stability can be compromised, and in my testing I did note some movement of my foot inside the upper, especially when running at high speed (well … relatively high. You know what I mean.). The Zero Road uses varied fasteners to help customize the fit – standard oval-shaped eyelets on one side, and fabric loops on the other – but even with the laces cinched tightly I had a bit of lateral displacement while running, particularly in the forefoot area.
Another factor in the stability issue is the lack of significant overlays on the upper, which is great for decreasing weight and improving ventilation, but not so good for keeping the foot in place on top of the insole. Overall, the amount of movement wasn’t terrible, but it’s consistent enough and noticeable enough to be worth a caveat here.
As mentioned, most of my movement was in the forefoot; in contrast, the heel region of the Minimus Zero is dialed in for a great fit, with a thinly padded ankle collar and a low profile around the ankle bones. The lining of the heel and the entire interior surface is very comfortable against the skin, and I’ve had no problem at all in going sockless.
Midsole height of the Zero Road is a uniform 10mm from heel to toe, which combines with the outsole for a total standing height of roughly 12mm; this is comparable to Merrell’s Barefoot line, and much lower than Altra’s Instinct (and women’s Intuition) as well as recent releases from SKORA (reviews coming soon). Ground feel is noticeably better with the New Balance than with Merrell, because …
… outsole rubber is used very sparingly, similar to what Vibram does with its Bikila models. The red portions above are EVA foam which runs the length of the shoe, and the white is Vibram rubber. This particular rubber compound is softer than the Vibram outsole on Merrell shoes, so durability may be an issue after a few hundred miles (I currently have about 150 on mine, and there’s no problem yet). The outsole tread is fine for standard road use, but I’ve found that traction is somewhat lacking on slick asphalt, and especially on fire roads or gravel.
The predominance of EVA in the midsole also makes the shoe extremely flexible, as does the entire overall construction. From a natural running standpoint, New Balance has all the boxes checked: light weight, roomy toe box, flat and low platform, and freedom of foot movement in all directions.
Finally, if you’re scoring at home for a comparison between Merrell’s Road Glove and New Balance’s Minimus Zero Road, here’s a quick tale of the tape: the Road Glove is slightly heavier, with a better forefoot fit, and better for hybrid road/trail use; the Minimus Zero Road is lighter, with better ground feel on roads but worse traction overall. Both are very comfortable for extended mileage with or without socks. I tend to reach for the Zero Road when I’m doing a tempo run or other speed work, and the Road Glove when I’m looking to bang out a high-mileage morning while keeping the option of going off-road if the spirit leads me.
The New Balance Minimus Zero Road retails for $109 from TravelCountry.com. However …
… it’s giveaway time! New Balance has agreed to give away one pair of men’s shoes and one pair of women’s shoes to winners chosen randomly from the comments below. We’re doing our “major” contest rules here: you get one entry for any comment in the box, plus another for a link to this post from your blog, and a third for a link from Facebook or Twitter. When you enter, let me know how many entries you get, and please leave URLs so I can verify. Winners will be announced Saturday night, April 7th.
One more ground rule to keep things simple: if you’re a guy, you’re in the contest for the men’s shoes, and if you’re a girl, you’re in the contest for the women’s shoes. In other words, no “I’m entering for my spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend” on this one – you’re entering for YOURSELF. Also, please do me a favor if you have an androgynous name and let me know which contest I should drop you in.
Very big thanks to New Balance for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!
*Product provided by New Balance. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
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