New Balance Minimus

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The macro trend and current industry craze that is barefoot-style running has not been lost on New Balance. The company has offered minimalist running shoes for the past couple of years with its trail-oriented MT100 and MT101 models. But New Balance will significantly step up its commitment to the “barefoot” game in 2011 with the release of its Minimus line.

They won’t be available until March 2011. But Gear Junkie got an exclusive pair to test this week. After two test runs, I can offer a few conclusions to a shoe that was kept under wraps so heavily last summer that the company would only provide cropped “spy photos” for our staff to view.

New Balance Minimus trail.jpg

New Balance Minimus, trail-running version

What’s all the fuss about? The Minimus line, which will come in several iterations, is a change of course from traditional running shoes. It has scant padding and weighs 25 percent less than many comparable models. The design also includes a wider forefoot area, which the company touts as allowing the foot to expand naturally on impact.

The Minimus shoe I tested, the road version, feels flat, light, flexible, and fast on the run. By “flat” I mean to say there is very little manipulation of a runner’s gait from the shoe’s design. (That is to say “good,” in other words!) I have become a fan of shoes that do not direct my stride. Indeed, the whole barefoot movement, as its name implies, is anti-shoe to an extent — it’s all about letting your body interact with the ground as it would without a shoe on.

New Balance Minimus shoe.jpg

New Balance Minimus, road-running version

This philosophy is epitomized in Vibram’s popular FiveFingers line and other true minimalist shoes. New Balance doesn’t go to that extreme. The Minimus shoes are comfortable and semi “cushioned.” There is some foam and rubber between your foot and the ground.

Shoes like the Minimus discourage heel striking and bad form. This is accomplished with a minimalist-theme design — these shoes have no insole and almost no “padding,” for example — as well as touches that encourage you to land on the forefoot and midfoot more easily.

One of these design points is referred to as “drop.” It is the measured difference between heel height and toe height in a shoe. The Minimus shoes have a 4mm drop, which is significantly less (much flatter) than most running shoes.

All the effort to make a better, more natural shoe seems to have paid off. In my test runs this week, the Minimus has performed as promised. I am a fan of the shoe so far. It’s comfortable to run in, and it encourages a good, fast, “natural” stride.

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