The updated Minimus Zero Road is chock full of improvements that minimalist runners will love, and strikes a nice balance between hardcore minimalism and providing just enough protection and comfort to really hammer the pace. It would make a good race day shoe for runners accustomed to natural running, or a good road training shoe for those seeking minimalism in mild doses. Use should be restricted to road or track.
New Balance’s Minimus Road shoe was among the highest-profile releases of 2011—but for purists like me, it wasn’t really much to shout about. There were some fatal flaws such as a high stack height (vertical distance between your foot and the ground), a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, and a heavier weight (8.0 oz) than many other shoes in the category.
The company listened to user feedback and gave the shoe a significant makeover, addressing pretty much all of the drawbacks from the debut model. They also refined the name a bit, adding the “Zero” to reflect that they’ve fixed the heel to toe drop that bothered me the first time around. And with the Minimus Zero Road weighing in at 6.4 oz (size 11), New Balance nicely resolved the weight issue as well.
The upper utilizes a soft dual-density mesh that feels quite comfortable against the skin to accommodate sockless use, and the toe box is roomy enough for your toes to splay naturally on footstrike. The material breathes very well in warm weather, and sheds water quickly after becoming wet. A thinly padded ankle collar and low profile around the anklebones help contribute to overall comfort with high mileage runs.
On the Zero Road, New Balance uses a burrito-wrap closure in place of a standard tongue, a design that removes one entire seam along the top of your foot, resulting in less potential for skin irritation while running sockless. However, the burrito style also tends to compromise lateral stability a bit, and the Zero Road uppers don’t have much in the way of stability overlays to help keep the foot on the insole. In my testing I experienced some movement of my foot inside the upper, particularly in the forefoot area, and especially when running at high speed.
Midsole height of the Zero Road is a uniform 10mm from heel to toe, which combines with the outsole for a total standing height of roughly 12mm. Outsole rubber is used sparingly, leaving large portions of EVA foam exposed, which improves ground feel and flexibility. This particular Vibram rubber compound is somewhat soft, and traction is fine for standard road use, but I’ve found it somewhat lacking on fire roads, gravel, or slick asphalt. Between the exposed EVA and soft outsole rubber, durability may be an issue after a few hundred miles—but I currently have about 150 on my pair, and there are no signs of breakdown yet.
After a few months of use, I tend to reach for the Zero Road when I’m doing a tempo run or other speed work—but I switch to something with better traction or a little more secure forefoot fit when I’m looking for a long run that might take me off road for a handful of miles.