New Balance is proving, at least in running specialty, that it ain’t your uncle’s New Balance. The makers the most popular non-running shoes in backyards and fraternity houses across the country, New Balance are known mostly for making monochromatic footwear in a multitude of widths for the pudgy guy flipping your burgers on the Fourth of July and the scrawny kid with the bowl cut and the genetically attached beer can.
In running specialty, New Balance had fallen so far as to barely register on the radar. Oh sure, there were a few die-hards who remember the 320 from back in the day, but for the most part, NB had little or no credibility in running. Someone saw the writing on the wall–more than half of their customers would be, um, no longer purchasing barbeque shoes in 10 years–and recognized the need for a huge market about-face. So NB went out and hired the best marketers and designers from the other running shoe companies, and in very little time began to produce some of the best shoes on the wall.
Take, for example, the 1400. Technically a race flat, is serves well as a daily trainer for most of the population. It is simple, lightweight, unencumbered by bells and whistles. It is almost exactly what a running shoe should be. So is cousin 890, the trainer version of the 1400. Their Minimus series–Trail and Road–are some of the best available in those categories, the Trail 110 being arguably the best. NB are firing on all cylinders, they are en fuego, they are bomb.com. And now with the Zero Drop Minimus on the wall, NB are again proving to be the real deal. They are making some of the best feeling, best fitting, most functional shoes on the wall, period.
The Zero Drop Minimus is a true minimal running shoe. You know how I dislike the word minimal when it comes to running shoes, but I’m far too lazy to come up with another, more appropriate word, and “biomechanically appropriate” is a hard sell. But it is a true minimal shoe: 12mm forefoot and rearfoot, simple upper with overlays placed sparingly, light and flexible. In an improvement over the original Minimus–which is thankfully still available–the fit is a little less roomy through the forefoot, while still allowing for plenty of toe splay. Through the midfoot, the upper is just snug enough that you don’t need to really pull the strings tight. When the shoe is laced to the foot it disappears, just as a good shoe should.
Underneath, the midsole foam is firm without being stiff. The original Minimus was a bit too stiff for some, but here they’ve nailed both comfort and function. There are a couple shoes in the minimal range–coughBrooksPureFlowcough–that are a wee bit too spongey-soft to really allow for a quick turnover. All told, this is what a true minimal shoe should be. And, for those of you who tuck your shirts in and match socks by color, the Zero Drop look cool too.
The Zero Drop will work well for those who are looking for a true minimalist shoe: They’re going to run to feel the ground beneath them and enjoy the sensation of movement. It will be a brilliant shoe for doing General Strength circuits. It will function well as a daily shoe for kicking around the Central Market comparing olives and cheeses and shit, since the high flexibility and zero drop will strengthen the feet and lower leg while you shop. I’m using it as a daily kick around shoe, though I don’t put in a lot of thought about olives and cheeses, and when I go over to the park to do strides or some GS stuff. I’ve done three runs in them–35, 45 and 60 minutes–and each time I felt like I was barefoot while being very well protected against the rough and tumble bike lanes of Brentwood. And the other day when I was in the Thunderbird on 2222, TWO people asked me what shoes I was wearing and where I got them. Rogue, I said. Rogue.