Updated 3/1/2012 for the release!
On March 1, 2012, New Balance finally released their next generation of minimalist shoes in their Minimus line — the Minimus Zero Roads and Trails! It’s been about a year since New Balance rolled out their first shoes under the “Minimus” line — minimally soled trail, road, and “wellness” or life shoes (we’ve reviewed them all, including the recent water/winter update called the “multisport” as well as the made-from-recycled-plastic newSKY).
The first generation of New Balance Minimus shoes lacked a neutral sole, meaning the first gen “Minimi” didn’t have a “zero drop” sole (one where the sole is the same thickness at heel and forefoot). Rather, they had a heel that was about 4mm more thick than the forefoot. Why is that so important? Namely because an elevated heel impacts your biomechanics by making it harder to land midfoot or forefoot, and by extension, easier to heel strike (more on this via Lieberman).
What’s 4mm? It’s certainly not much, but still enough to notice if you’ve (re-)learned natural biomechanics/neutral shoe walking and running.
Thankfully, the 2nd generation Minimus shoes from New Balance are taking out the 4mm and going “full monty” — neutral from heel to toe, and as you’ve probably guessed, this is why they are dubbed the “Zero.” Finally, “zero drop” minimalist footwear from New Balance! The wait was killing me!
Meanwhile, the Minimus Zeros also have a revamped, wider toe box to allow your toes to expand laterally on impact. The overall weight and stack height is also reduced compared to the original Minimus collection.
About two weeks ago the fine folks at New Balance kind enough to send a pair each of Minimus Zero Road and Minimus Zero Trail shoes to a few of us Birthday Shoes’ bloggers — Tim Kelley, Leah Sakellarides, and me (Justin). What follows is something you won’t find anywhere else on the web — a first look at both the Minimus Zero Road and Trail from three people in one place, plus video, plus over 50 photos.
Read on and see and hear our first take!
Tim’s First Look at the Minimus Zero Trail and Minimus Zero Road from New Balance
My background experience with the New Balance Minimus lineup is a bit limited as I have only really extensively used the Minimus Trail shoes for casual wear. I felt the Minimus Roads had too much of a heel on them to get a good feel of the ground and have stuck to road running in Vibrams FiveFingers.
Minimus Road Zero [Tim]
I was very excited when the first Minimus ZERO photos leaked out as I thought they would be more in line with what I was looking for in a minimalist shoe. I’ve been wearing the Road ZEROs for about two weeks now casually and for running. I’m in love with the styling (I’ve been rocking the bright red, and especially like the one-sided “burrito-style” attached tongue) and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on them. Overall, they are quite comfortable and so far my only qualm has been with the narrow width of sole under the arch of my foot. I have rather wide feet and my foot strains the soft uppers and spills over onto the inside of the sole. I haven’t experienced this problem with either the Minimus Trail or the Minimus Trail ZERO (discussed below) so going up a half size here might be one potential solution.
While running, the Minimus Road ZEROs have a wide enough toe box to allow for my feet to expand with each step and the soles provide more than enough protection while still giving a decent feel for the ground. I think they would be a great shoe to use if one was transitioning from traditional running shoes to something very minimal like the FiveFingers. I should also note that I run on varied surfaces and from a traction point of view, the Road ZEROs did great on asphalt, brick and concrete but I did notice they were extremely slick on metal grates, especially when wet, where that hasn’t been a problem in other running shoes.
Men’s New Balance Minimus Road Zero [Photo Gallery by Tim]
Minimus Trail Zeros [Tim]
I also really like the look and feel of the Trail ZEROs. While I haven’t gotten enough of an opportunity to check out the Trail ZEROs from a running perspective, from the few times I’ve worn them casually I’ve found that they are comfortable once I get them on my feet. Again, the toe box is nice and wide and New Balance has done away with that annoying “strap” on last year’s Minimus Trails that went across the metatarsals. This was my biggest complaint with wearing the older Trails for long periods of time, as my feet would start to feel cramped, but now my foot can expand with each step.
From a weight standpoint, they are actually on par with some of the lighter Vibram FiveFingers. New Balance saved a lot of weight in the uppers by using a very thin nylon-like mesh which is translucent in places. The tongue is a single piece of thin fabric so actually putting them can pose a bit of a problem. The tongue tends to folds over on itself and the lack of much structure in the uppers means I have loosen the laces quite a bit to slip my foot inside and then I have to retighten and adjust everything once my foot is properly seated. When moving in them, the uppers have a tendency to buckle over onto itself right above of the metatarsals which feels is a bit awkward.
I haven’t gotten the chance to take them out on the dirt trails yet, but I am apprehensive about how much support the uppers will be able to provide for side to side motion on quick switchbacks. Only time will tell how good a trail shoe they’ll be, but they are quite comfortable and other than the difficulties in putting them on, should make a great addition to the Minimus line.
Men’s New Balance Minimus Zero Trail [Photo Gallery by Tim]
Tim’s Takeaways (and Video!)
Overall, I like the direction that New Balance is headed with a truly minimal sole and looking forward to testing these out a bit more.
Now for some video!
Leah’s First Look at the Minimus Zero Trail and Minimus Zero Road from New Balance
Minimus Zero Road [Leah]
Form meets function… yes! That’s a win in my book. I love the look and feel of these. Not only have I been wearing them running, but I wear them all over the place since they look great on. (I’ve even worn them skateboarding on my longboard). They’re styled like a low profile trainer with sleek lines and a different approach to the tongue… a mono-tongue. I love the idea of it. It’s a great new design that hugs the top of my foot nicely.
I’m especially drawn to the extremely soft mesh upper. It feels great on the foot and has lots of give and flexibility. It sort of feels like I’m wearing a thick sock rather than a shoe. I haven’t had any hot-spots and my toes have lots of room to spread out in the wider toe box. They’re super lightweight too. My women’s size 8 weighs in at 4.9oz per shoe (9.8oz/pair). No clunkiness here!
I took the Minimus Zero Roads out for a few 3 mile runs on an asphalt trail with some hills and they performed great! The word that always comes to mind is “spongy”. The midsole is made of REVlite which is a durable foam compound that has ⅓ less weight than an average compound found in a typical midsole. This seems to add a little bit of a spongy softness factor to the feel of the sole. The minimized 12mm stack heights of the heel and forefoot give the feeling of being closer to the ground. The sole features a Vibram R-Lite rubber with large low circular lugs. Since they are meant to be worn on the road, you don’t need an aggressive tread. The sole is designed with an almost completely level surface except for some contact points that are strategically placed for prominent points of impact. It provides the perfect amount of traction and a surprisingly good amount of flexibility. The 0mm drop is definitely noticeable as well. Having a level sole allows for a nice neutral stance and your foot is capable of striking more naturally.
Only a minor gripe, I still feel “aware” of the Zero Road while I’m running since there’s lots of room in the toe box. My forefoot and toes tend to move and shift around in there which reduces my agility. It doesn’t deter me from wearing them though, this shifting seems to come with the territory of a wider toe box. I’d like to have a more form fit, but then my toes would not be able to stretch out naturally.
I’m digging the Zero Roads so far! Since they look great on you can also wear these as a casual shoe. Also, the fabric is so light, soft, and forgiving that they would be great to travel with. You could throw them in your suitcase or duffel without having them eat up a lot of room or adding excess weight. If you’re in the market for a super lightweight road runner you might want to check these out when they come out in the spring, they are so unbelievably soft and comfortable that you may not ever take them off!
Women’s New Balance Minimus Zero Road [Photo Gallery by Leah]
Minimus Zero Trail [Leah]
The Minimus Zero Trail is an ultra-minimal flyweight model with a new Vibram T-Lite outsole. They are so lightweight that my size 8 only weighs 3.7oz each (7.4 oz pair). New Balance took the design to another level with these new trail runners. These are some futuristic looking kicks! They’re bold, but I really dig the bright orange color. They come across techie with the grid pattern and the white contrasting detail and laces. The upper is made of an ultra-thin, laser cut, fully-welded overlay. It’s a more structured fabric, but they’re comfortable and I haven’t had any hot-spots. Also, the tongue is soft and almost feels like a second skin on the top of the mid-foot. The only thing that gets me is the toe box. There’s a paper thin translucent “window” on the top through which you can see your toes. It isn’t a forgiving fabric and it folds funny causing it to make a popping sound when I step (you can see it folding in the closeup shot). I also feel this structured material of the window against the top of my my toes while I’m running. It doesn’t do any harm, it’s just a minor annoyance. I don’t feel as if that area of the upper is working in sync with my step since it’s not very forgiving. It’s sort of crinkles instead of flexing with my foot.
The Vibram T-Lite outsole is built using a bubble-like pattern with cushioning pods that are strategically placed based on common points of impact as studied on the previous Minimus trail model. I ran my usual dirt single track trail in them a few times for a couple of miles each time. I feel nice and close to the ground with the heel and forefoot stack height of 13mm, and the 0mm drop definitely encourages a natural mid-foot strike. The sole has great traction but the pods are prominent and noticeable to me with each step. I’d say it feels a little like wearing some sort of modified cleat. I can feel the raised pod placement on the heel and forefoot with every strike. I have a nice range of motion and good flexibility, but I don’t feel as nimble or stable as I’d like. The heel feels nice and form fitting, but my toes move around quite a bit in the front. This tends to cause me to adjust my footing to accommodate the shoe on sharp rocky turns. Again, the material of the upper isn’t forgiving so I feel a little as though the shoe has a mind of it’s own and doesn’t “work” with me… especially on steep inclines and sharp turns. I’d feel more agile on the downhills if the material on the toe box had a little more flexibility and give to it. I’ve also found the laces to be quite long and I have tie them twice to keep them from hitting the ground.
I really dig the idea of these trail runners. They look awesome, they’re ultra lightweight, and they’re very comfortable. The only thing is the material of the upper is extremely thin and feels a little like paper to me. It has a mind of it’s own and sort of bounces back into place instead of having some give to it. I’d like to see how it performs over a longer period of time.
Maybe it will break in and have more flex with wear.
Women’s New Balance Minimus Zero Trail [Photo Gallery by Leah]
Justin’s First Look at the Minimus Zero Trail and Minimus Zero Road from New Balance
Minimus Zero Road [Justin]
What can I say that hasn’t already been covered by Leah and Tim? Well, I’ll say that if you’re already familiar with the Minimus Life uppers, then the Road upper is going to feel very familiar. Actually, I’d go so far as to say the entire shoe reminds me a bit of a neutral version of the first generation Minimus Life/Wellness, which to this day is still my favorite of the first Minimus line, largely due to the extreme comfort provided by the silky soft/smooth/sock-like upper. The Minimus Zero Road takes that upper and gives it a neutral, zero dropped sole. Not surprisingly, this works exceedingly well.
Compared to the 1st generation Minimus Roads, the Minimus ZERO Roads are night and day better. I found the first Minimus Roads to be head scratchers — very built up in the upper and pretty stiff-soled. Overall, I just didn’t find them that foot friendly and they seemed very disconnected from both the Trail and Life/Wellness. Thus, I am really happy to see New Balance take a fresh stab at the Road with the Zero.
I’ve only had a brief amount of time to test the Zero Roads, which given Thanksgiving and other insanity in my life, has mostly been relegated to casual wear with some heavy lifting thrown in. I actually liked the Roads for heavy lifting (dead lifts), which is something considering I’ve not been a huge fan of the older Minimus shoes for things like squats and dead lifts.
Looks-wise the red/white is loud but provocative. For some reason, this colorway just looks rich — fancy — to me. I feel I could wear them to an Indian wedding with a fancy bejeweled kurta top. I digress. Bottom line: world’s better than the first Minimus Road. Awesomely comfortable on the inside against my bare foot.
Minimus Zero Trail [Justin]
The Minimus Zero Trail is a daring attempt at minimalist shoe design. It’s hard to say just what struck me most about them when I first pulled them out of the box. First off, they are incredibly light. The Minimus Trail is the lightest of all the new Minimus Zeros with the men’s 9.5 coming in at only 4.4 oz! It’s amazingly light to hold and compared to the gen-1 Minimus Trails, the Zero Trails are featherweights. New Balance apparently went to lengths to minimize weight by coring out the EVA midsole wherever possible, something they only loosely did with the soles of the first Minimus Trails. They also worked to reduce the Vibram Rubber: rubber is used sparingly and piecemeal — you see the Vibram rubber clustered at the forefoot (comprised of six separated sections of Vibram rubber pod sections) and at the heel (two separate Vibram rubber sections) — as with this photo. The coring and separated rubber not only reduces weight, it also lends to crazy flexibility in the sole.
Other weight reductions are made by eliminating the thicker upper material and replacing it with this mono-filament fabric that is welded together (rather than stitched). As noted above, the material is translucent: when you wear the shoes you can see your toes in blurry outline through the toe box window (weird at first and awesome over time). Apparently, this material doesn’t soak up water making it more trailworthy. I’ll also say it seems to breath very well compared to the 1st Minimus — cold air is immediately felt on the foot on heading outside.
This high-tech monofilament fabric also has a stiffness to it — a structure — which is what lends the upper support and shape. And if there’s any issue with the Trail, I’d cite this as it.
As both Leah and Tim noted, the upper fabric has a tendency to crease in odd ways — sorta like paper. In particular, it indents around my metatarsals, most noticeably around the inside, bottom of my foot right by my first metatarsal (big toe side of my foot). See this pic for reference and follow the grooves. It’s almost like my foot is stressing the sole, which is the greatest point of structure on this shoe, at a point that causes a fold to push in on my foot at this point. I half expected to get a blister there after prolonged wear but a weekend’s worth of wear walking miles about Atlanta didn’t seem to cause any issues. Meanwhile, the angle of compression while running doesn’t seem to trigger the same indentation (so it’s not really bothersome there).
What’s going on here? Well, if I had to guess, it has something to do with the flattening out of the Trail Zeros when they’re fully loaded with my weight, specifically when my weight is distributed evenly from heel to toe. You see, the cored out, rubber at front and back (but not at the arch) sole collapses completely under the load of my full weight (as with standing). When I’m running, my heel only gets loaded at the end of a step, and even then it’s only for the briefest of moments before I am back at my toe-off. More testing is required. Meanwhile, it does seem that he fabric will break in a bit over time. I”ll also say that despite not having the silky smooth sockliner of the Road Zero (or Life/Wellness or original Minimus Trail), the inside of the Zero Trail is still quite comfortable on my bare skin (creasing excepted). I actually wonder if a wider version of the Zero Trail will fix this problem (you will be able to buy these wide by the way!).
When you see a ton of minimalist/barefoot shoes, you see a lot of design compromise — it’s hard to get the balance just right and if you add too much toe box, you make the shoe too loose. If you structure the upper too much, it loses flexibility (dorsiflexibility!) and adds heft (and the sense of being weighted down on the foot). Toe boxes in and of themselves are a compromise by default (Read my “Why toe shoes?” post for more), and introduce all sorts of challenges as far as designing foot friendly, dynamic footwear.
All of which is to say that something about the Minimus Zero Trail design really strikes me — sorta like how I can look at a mountain bike and just appreciate the design. I can’t help but appreciate the Zero Trails mixture of elements to be as light as possible, as minimally there as possible, and yet still have some element of being a “shoe” with structure (And not just some water booty). The Zero Trail isn’t flawless at all, but it will clearly push the envelope in the minimalist footwear market. It’s a daring effort from New Balance.
Finally, the Minimus Trail Zero ditched the rubber-band over the metatarsal area of the foot that you got with the first Minimus Trail. I don’t think anyone will miss it.
I look forward to putting these to the test further. In the meantime, I’ll keep seeing how the upper fabric breaks in.
Available as of 3/1/2012
The Minimus Zero Roads and Trails became available for sale on 3/1/2012 — both online and in some stores! If you’re an online shopper, you can check them out for $110 over at ShopNewBalance.com. If you pick up a pair, we’re super eager to hear what you think of them so comment below or email us!
About the Author — Tim is a bicycle advocate by profession and an Ironman triathlete for fun which keeps him healthy and fit. He got into minimalist footwear during the summer of 2009 after dealing with injuries resulting from running in “normal” running shoes. Check out what’s going on in Tim’s life through photos at www.TimKelley.net or follow him on twitter: @TimKelleyDotNet
Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad based in Atlanta where he works for MURAL in marketing. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.