Barefoot Shoes

New Balance Minimus “Barefoot Shoe” line slated for Spring 2011

New Balance recently reached out to the minimalist running blogging community with news of their upcoming, Spring 2011 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 o…

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 Competitorhere’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.

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

16 replies on “New Balance Minimus “Barefoot Shoe” line slated for Spring 2011”

I heard a bit about these a while ago from an “insider” but didn’t have any real details. I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. First, it’s just ugly. Like, “we went out of our way to make it ugly,” ugly.

Second, why no totally neutral option at first? I’m cool with offering the “transition” shoe – it might even be the one I’d buy (if I were buying one). But there’s no reason not to offer the zero heel to toe drop model at first.

Third, they’re calling it light at 8.5 ounces? Yeah, light compared to your standard trainer. Not compared to a flat or a VFF.

I applaud the thought behind this, but I see this more as a nike free-esque entry into minimal running, not an alternative to VFFs.

By the way, Justin, love the redesign (moving the links to the top). Much nicer!

And people say VFFs are ugly…

It’s interesting to see how Vibram can have their own thing going and still just sell their soles to the competition. Well, I suppose the terminology is “partnering,” but still. Having your pseudo-spokesperson talk down about VFFs while saying how great your shoe is – a shoe that uses your partner’s soles – is great. In the end Vibram wins either way. I need to figure out a similar business model.

Oh man, VFFs are not freaky compared to that orange S&M Spiderman plastic mesh :/

It’s a good business decision by Vibram, since soles is a major revenue stream, but I hope they continue to focus on what makes VFFs great, and not continuing to ‘shoe them up’. Take the 2011 models, for example. I understand they’re trying to bridge the product gap and make them more mainstream, but I think they need to be careful of the brand identity; the more traditionally (and trendily) ‘shoe-like’ they become, the more they lose focus as the ‘5-fingers’ is relegated to a marketing gimmick.

But products aside, the more people that run barefoot, or are transitioning to it, the better, for them and for society as a whole.

Can’t wait to get my hands on these. I’m also looking forward to the MT101s coming out in October. Only wish they’d make their way on the market sooner. I also run in Bikilas, Treks, and the Brooks Green Silenece. The VFFs over the course of the last year have certainly improved my form. I don’t think i was every much of a heel striker to begin with, but i can barely walk now in my old mizunos. Once you become a forefoot runner there are a lot of great options out there on the market to look forward too outside of just the VFFs.

PS – Krupicka is amazing. Reading his blog, and watching him train with Jurek is pure motivation.

Keep up the good work.

From Anton’s lastest blog 8-2-10, it looks like he is wearing this orange monster. Look at the picture showing him sitting on the pickup truck. I to look forward to the release of the 101s. Enjoy your running all.

The pictures of Anton look more like MT100 or MT101’s to me. Viewing the pics directly from his blog allows you to zoom in some more, and the shot of him sitting on the rocks shows a shoe that looks almost exactly like the MT100 but in a different colorway. I think orange may just be NB’s new color for all their minimal shoes (Minimus, MT101, etc.)

You could be right — I was having trouble zooming over here (not sure why) — the “N” does look a bit different now that I look at it closer.

I tried on a prototype of these a month ago or so and quite liked them, although I wish they could drop a few ounces and retain the durability. I run alot of barefoot, and honestly I can’t really get worked up about a 4mm drop–as much as I tried, I couldn’t notice it.

The one hangup for me about these shoes was price. As long as I can get racing flats for $30-50, it is hard to justify the $90-100 that I was told these would run.

Hey everyone, let me clear up some of the confusion…the pictures you see above of Anton are not the Minimus he is wearing…it was a special makeup of a 100 upper onto a sole unit of the 790, the minimus trail comes in two colors and that orange is one of them but the shoe you see above is not minimus…that being said…I ran in the Minimus trail shoe last night. It was a much more enjoyable experience than I ever had running trails in my VFF. I was able to run 8 miles and not have to worry if I was stepping on a stone or not or if the bottom of my foot was going to be severly bruised. I ran 5.5 miles with no socks and then I tried running in them with socks. If you want a more enjoyable experience with them right off the bat wear socks but expect a blister or two if you dont wear socks. Im taking them out today again. Stay tuned for more….

Also, yes the 4mm drop actually made the running experience a little more enjoyable. The reason NB didnt go with a zero drop is they did testing with zero drop and they found that it made the shoe a little “slappy” to their liking. The 4mm drop gave them a good middle ground of still being minimal but provided a smoother transition from midfoot to forefoot.

And yes, all Minimus shoes will be $100 retail. The trail, road, and recovery shoe.

Inov8 already have shoes in the market that offer only a 3mm drop and 3mm sole. So their standard light trail shoe (think it’s the X-talon and a more road version) are already more minimal than these new ranges are looking.

I’m interested in trying a pair (big VFF user 2*KSO, 1*Classic, 1*Bikila and some FeelMax Osma). Afraid New Balance and Merrel aren’t impressing at the moment.

I can’t wait! I am, however, wondering about the comment in the interview above: “for NB Minimus we developed a new, more anatomically-correct last”. Anatomically correct for whom? The beauty of NB is all the different lasts they offer to fit all/most foot types. I have discovered I can only wear a NB SL-2 last, which has a narrow heel, high instep, deep toe box, and wide forefoot width. How to find out if that will be available in these shoes? I need shoes ASAP and am happy to wait a few months, but will be pretty disappointed if I pass up on other SL-2 shoes now and then find the minimalist doesn’t fit me. Any ideas? Thanks.

I bought a pair of these yesterday and LOVE them. I wanted to sleep in them, they were so comfortable! I, too, run in Five Fingers, but they dig into my heels and toes at times… these feel like slippers.

Just bought the orange NB Minimus size 10. I wear a 42 Bikila and 10.5 in regular running shoes. Fits me just right with a thumb’s width from the big toe to the front end. I’m dropping my Mizuno race flats for these. Lighter & with less seams. I recommend though wearing the NB thin socks for marathon training just in case you’re prone to blisters on the arch. I can feel some stitches ever so slightly but may be a big deal after thousands of footstrikes. Definitely complements my Bikilas & my naked feet for road & trail racing. By the way, I’m training to qualify for Boston 2012 and this may just fit the bill in case my Bikilas don’t live up to the challenge.

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