Many runners identify Christopher McDougall as the man who triggered the minimalist revolution … but if you trace the phenomenon back one barefoot step further, you see that’s not entirely the case.
To be sure, McDougall was the guy who wrote about it. But the guy who actually taught and inspired McDougall was another character from the Born to Run book – and it’s not the famous ones like Scott Jurek, Barefoot Ted, or any of the Tarahumaras. Rather, it was Eric Orton, a man McDougall affectionately calls the Naked Coach.
It was Orton who taught McDougall how to run naturally, and who enlightened him about the evils of modern running shoes. It was also Orton who persuaded McDougall that he could become an endurance athlete, and who ultimately encouraged him to try a 50-miler and discover the world of ultrarunning.
|B2R Road Performance shoes|
And now it’s Orton who is becoming a key player in the natural footwear movement, with the debut of B2R running shoes. Obviously the company is keen to capitalize on the connection to McDougall’s landmark book, but B2R is much more than a “me too” participant in the game. They are distinguishing themselves by integrating biomechanically sound footwear with Orton’s extensive coaching background to create an overall fitness program based on the foundation of natural movement.
More on the coaching aspect shortly – but most of this review will focus on the shoes. They aren’t exactly minimal, but they work exceedingly well in allowing the foot to function naturally. There’s one sort-of gimmicky element – the split toe, as I’ll discuss shortly – but otherwise pretty much all the specs are what you’d look for in a shoe that does exactly what a running shoe is supposed to do, and doesn’t do anything it’s not supposed to.
From the right angle, B2R Road Performance shoes are somewhat indistinguishable from traditional trainers, with fairly traditional styling top to bottom. However, they are made with very lightweight materials, resulting in a finished product that is a mere 6.9 oz per shoe.
The uppers are a combination of breathable mesh and synthetic overlays for stability. The mesh is virtually identical to the material New Balance used for its premiere Minimus Trail shoe, which I compared at the time to the comfort of a soft slipper.
B2R shoes have a similar barefoot-friendly comfort throughout the upper and insole, and I typically wear mine sockless.
Stack height is anywhere from 10mm to 13mm, with zero drop from heel to toe in either case. There’s a removable 3.5mm footbed (I removed mine) outsole on top of a 6mm midsole and 3mm of outsole rubber.
About that outsole … as the name implies, the Road Performance model is pretty much geared toward street running, but traction is decent enough to use on mellow trails. B2R has a Trail Performance model scheduled for release this fall, with a more aggressive outsole for frequent off-road use.
Now for the split-toe thing: B2R shoes separate the big toe from the rest of the foot, allowing it to articulate, which supposedly provides improved balance and increased power transition. I’m not sure I appreciate the significance here; I think most any shoe with a thin midsole and flexible platform would provide the same benefit.
On the plus side, split toes also create something of a gloved fit at the front of the foot, and effectively secures the foot without unnecessarily confining it. Of course, the other consequence is that you need special socks; B2R provides two pairs of crab-claw-looking socks with each purchase, but I was happy to use regular toe socks on the few occasions I wasn’t completely sockless.
So that’s the shoe component of today’s review … but to Eric Orton and B2R, “ultimate running” (as it’s described on the website) is about more than simply shoes – it’s also a combination of adequate training, correct technique, and proper nutrition. Accordingly, the B2R system addresses all of these elements through accessory products, in-depth instruction, and even personalized coaching for its customers.
The entire workout system is designed by Orton, and revolves around strength training as the critical factor in developing full-body conditioning, from the feet up into the legs and core and even the upper extremities. Executed properly, the result is better running economy, which decreases injury and improves performance.
B2R’s training package includes support poles, a slant board, and an instructional video with exercises and workouts that develop foundational core and upper body strength. The workouts progress from levels 1 to 3, using most of the same equipment along with stability disks for higher-level balance challenges.
The workouts look easy, but they’re actually fairly challenging … and I honestly didn’t do them more than a couple of times. That’s not to say anything bad about them – it’s just that I barely have enough time to run nowadays, let alone carve out additional time for supplemental workouts. The combination of shoes and workouts may be a compelling combination for runners with more time to devote to it, especially those who are transitioning away from traditional running shoes – which nowadays seems to be just about everybody, thanks in no small part to Eric Orton, who you can see in action in the video clip that follows.
B2R’s Road Performance shoes retail for $100, and the Level 1 training kit retails for $80, both from the B2R website.
“B2R Wear Testing with Eric Orton” (along with a cool tune by Clutch – click to play):
*Products provided by B2R.
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