Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit Review

March 12, 2018
Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit
GEAR INSTITUTE RATINGS
77
Fit
3
Comfort
8
Responsiveness
4
Ride Quality
6
Speed
6

The Good

  • Lightweight
  • Exceptionally comfortable upper
  • Great outsole traction

The Bad

  • Lace system prone to failure
  • Poor foot stability on midsole platform
  • Low energy return in EVA midsole
THE VERDICT
The Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit is a very comfortable shoe for lower intensity or low demand running, but fit and security issues make it difficult to recommend for high mileage use. Merrell’s midsole EVA technology doesn’t compare favorably with other companies in our test group who have adopted more resilient and energetic materials.
FULL REVIEW

The Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit is a new addition to the company’s popular Bare Access series, which is one of the last minimalist / zero drop model lines to continue beyond the barefoot revolution. It essentially takes the well-established Bare Access platform and makes two significant revisions to the top side: a flex knit upper that is all the rage in road running, and a speed lace system designed to improve efficiency of application. One of these revisions is a smash, the other is a smashing failure; read on to see which is which.   

Fit

The last of the Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit is a good match for the shape of our testers’ feet, with a secure anatomic fit in the rearfoot and nice rounding in the toebox for foot splay. Length is true to size. Thin elastic laces use a lock closure to secure the midfoot to the midsole of the shoe, but in our testing this system had two critical flaws. First, the laces frayed very easily causing them to pop out of their casing and making them very difficult to move through the lock clasp. Second, the detachment of the most proximal lace attachment from its anchor point, making it impossible to adequately tighten. Even our testers whose lace systems didn’t break reported having difficulty getting a secure fit through the midfoot.   

Comfort

In contrast to the lace system, the new 3D knit upper of the Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit is an absolute home run. Its material construction is softer and more sock-like than any shoe we’ve tested this spring, and the entire upper flexes easily with your foot without creases or irritation. The sock-like construction extends to the rearfoot, where there is no ankle collar padding, but the elastic knit mesh stays secure on your heel through full range of motion. The mesh has outstanding ventilation and breathability in warm conditions, but insulates adequately when cold. The only discomfort we experienced on top of the foot was due to sliding on the midsole because of poor lace security. Underfoot, there is not nearly as much cushioning as some other lightweight shoes, which may detract from comfortable landings for those unaccustomed to lower platform shoes.

Responsiveness

The Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit has a firm underfoot feel, with limited bounce or energy return compared to other shoes in this category. Our testers reported that the FlexConnect dual density EVA provides nice support, but doesn’t augment the transition from rearfoot to front foot or provide any pop at toe off.

Ride Quality

Because it is a zero-drop shoe, ride quality of the Merrell Bare Access Flex Knit is highly dependent on running form. Midfoot or forefoot strikers will have a supported landing and appreciate the flex groove EVA midsole that allows a smooth natural transition to toe off. The relatively low platform provides a secure landing, and the M-select rubber outsole has great grip on asphalt, with shallow grooves that make it a great option for hybrid road/trail use.

Speed

The Merrell Base Access Flex Knit should be a very fast shoe because of its very light weight and secure outsole traction in all conditions. However, the somewhat lackluster energy return and tricky fit issues made it difficult for some of our testers to generate foot speed. This is also somewhat dependent on your form, as heel strikers will have a much harder time sustaining a tempo pace than runners accustomed to leaning forward and landing flat footed.

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WHERE TO BUY
MSRP
$130.00
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HOW WE TESTED

Testing of our lightweight road shoes was performed by a committee of testers, both male and female. Our group consists of six to eight testers who wore the shoes for total distances of approximately 20 to 80 miles. Single runs ranged in distance from three to 26 miles, and included casual training as well as speed workouts and road racing. The majority of our testing is conducted on asphalt roads or all-weather tracks, but we occasionally venture off-road onto jeep trails or smooth trails. Each tester prepares a summary overview of how each shoe performed in the criteria of fit, comfort, responsiveness, ride quality, and speed, and he or she also includes any additional thoughts or observations about the shoes during the test period. Feedback from all testers is consolidated into the criteria ratings.

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