New Balance recently reached out to the minimalist running blogging community with news of their upcoming, Spring 2011 (March) new shoe line called the New Balance Minimus by way of sending off some macro photos of a pair of Minimus shoes. New Balance reached out to Birthday Shoes, specifically, and above, you can see a photo-stitched rendition of the three main photos NB sent to the blogosphere — but in this case they are mashed together so as to make sense of them. Also, after a bit of persistence, I was able to get them to send me two more photos (the ones at the bottom) that you won't find anywhere else. Note the orange outline is pure speculation on my part and if I had to guess, I'd say this is the Minimus Trail!
A heavy first look at what we know about the New Balance Minimus as well as a full photo gallery after the jump!
The New Balance Minimus or "NB Minimus," as the name implies, is New Balance's answer to the growing demand for less shoe — in particular, shoes that allow your feet to have greater movement and contact with the ground. The Minimus line will feature multiple shoes geared to different uses — trail and road running as well as general use like walking, fitness, and "wellness."
Like Merrell Barefoot shoes, New Balance Minimus has partnered up with Vibram to produce their shoe soles. It seems that Vibram is managing to not only grow the Five Fingers line, but also expand on their core business, which less we forget, is still manufacturing high quality shoe soles. I think my friend Tuck over at Yelling Stop may have hit the nail on the head with his thoughts on Vibram's current business approach — soles for their mono-toed shoe manufacturing friends and five-toed shoes (FiveFingers) for themselves. Things that make you go "hmmm ... !"
So what is the Minimus line offering? New Balance published an interview with Katherine Petrecca who is managing over the New Balance Minimus line.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
NB Minimus is a barefoot-inspired line of shoes created specifically for runners seeking a truly minimalist experience. It’s a cross-category collection, including road running, trail running, and wellness shoes ...
With NB Minimus, the idea is to balance this desire to deliver a "closer to barefoot" experience with the realities of the terrain on which people are running today, and the fact that most of us have been raised in shoes. With that in mind, for NB Minimus we developed a new, more anatomically-correct last, along with midsole heights specifically-engineered to deliver more natural movement, and better form. People will also notice that the uppers are a lot thinner, which helps reduce weight. The increased ground feel was accomplished by employing thin, flexible midsoles, and eliminating the inserts ...
To us, a meaningful 'closer to barefoot' experience is something very specific: a shoe with a neutral foot position, meaning that it has a minimal drop from heel to forefoot. It's certainly lightweight - under 8.5 ounces - although we're not content to make another lightweight shoe and call it 'minimal'. Also, and this is really important, it has to deliver a great minimal running experience - enhanced ground feel and a barefoot-compatible interior. That, of course, means reducing the number of seams, and making the shoe highly-breathable.
There should be a few things that jump out at you about the New Balance Minimus. First and foremost is that New Balance is talking the right talk — they want to create a shoe that provides a "meaningful 'closer to barefoot' experience." Also, New Balance specifically calls out a "neutral foot position" as being important.
That said, this first strike of New Balance Minimus shoes will have a drop from heel to toe of 4mm, meaning that they won't be strictly neutral. New Balance points out that your average traditional shoes have a 12mm drop, so a 4mm drop is obviously less. You'll find some racing flats with a 4mm drop as with Britt's upcoming review of the Saucony Grid A4s — comparatively, see the Mizuno Universe Wave 3 racing flats — they still have a 9mm drop from heel to toe. Coincidentally, the entire thickness of a pair of Classic Vibram Five Fingers is about 4mm across the entire sole.
I asked New Balance why they went with any drop in the Minimus, given their desire to go "neutral," and here's what I was told:
We decided to go with a 4 mm heel-toe drop because we really wanted to make these shoes very "run-able." The reality being that most of us were raised wearing shoes, so we didn’t want to go from a 12 mm drop to totally neutral for fear of injury — the transition from 12 mm to 4 mm will still take some time. We believe we serve as a nice midpoint between truly barefoot and some of our other competitors on the market.
Further, I was told that New Balance will be working on a fully neutral version of the next generation of NB Minimus, so New Balance is moving in the right direction here.
Interesting choice by New Balance for their first iterations of the Minimus. You'll have to forgive me for having a bit of pun here, but the New Balance Minimus seems to be geared specifically to natural running newbies. The question, of course, is if a midpoint shoe — one falling between your humdrum 12mm heel-toe drop and fully neutral as with Five Fingers — serves a purpose. I suppose you could make the same comparison between any shoe (even Vibrams) and going barefoot: is there a need?
I think for many, the answer will be "yes." Regardless, it will be interesting to see and experience just how barefoot the NB Minimus is. What will ground feel be like? Will the heel-toe drop impair gait — by how much?
Lots of questions — looking forward to exploring the answers! What say ye?
Further reading on the New Balance Minimus
There have been a couple other mentions of the NB Minimus around the web. Below are a couple interesting finds!
- An interview with New Balance Designer Kyle Strek over at Counterkicks — Possible Minimus road shoe mock-up photo?
- A Simple Kind of Man, Interview with Anton Krupicka by Competitor — here's a snippet
New Balance sponsors you and recently flew you out to Connecticut. What were you doing for them out there?
They were just having a sales meeting. They had all their sales reps, product managers, and designers in. The reason was to show all the sales reps new products and how to sell them. I was out there, because they are coming out with three shoes called the Minimus: the Minimus Road, Minimus Trail, and Minimus Wellness, which is like a Nike Free basically. They are like super low profile and have a four millimeter drop. It’s essentially New Balance’s entrance into the minimalism marketplace, in terms of a really flat, flexible shoe. I have a lot of say in terms of what goes into certain shoes designs. I have a really good relationship with the designers and the product managers. They listen very closely, so the shoes are pretty sweet. I like them a lot. So I was there to give my spiel about minimalism and meet the sales reps, because they are going to be basing the marketing campaign of these shoes around me.
Do these new Minimus shoes require you to stick your toes into something like the Vibram Five Fingers?
No. But I’ve done a fair amount of running in the Five Fingers.
What do you think about them?
I’ve moved away from them, because I would never use them for the mountain trails around here. It’s just asking for bone bruises and neuromas. I actually got a neuroma two years ago, I think, from running too much in those shoes on hard surfaces. If I were going to do barefoot running, which I do a lot of, I’d rather do it on grass turf or a field and do true barefoot as opposed to wearing the Five Fingers. For the kind of mileage I run and the terrain I train on, they are not enough. I need a little more protection. The Minimus Trail that we are coming out with is like the next step up from the Five Finger. It’s not something that I will race in, but I will definitely do a lot of running in it. I think it will fill a real important niche in the market, where the Five Fingers are kind of freaky and you have stuff like the Nike Free. This is kind of in-between, where it’s very minimal, but it still offers a little bit of protection.