Sunday, November 4, 2012

Merrell Road Glove - Review

Merrell Road Gloves were the first pair of truly minimal shoes to hold a serious spot in my shoe rotation. I picked them up towards the end of Spring/beginning of Summer, and they're still my speed work, tempo and on most occasions racing shoes. Not to get ahead of myself here, but I think it's not giving too much more away to say that the shoes work for me, but what about the finer points?

Ins And Outs

The heal and forefoot regions of the shoe are mostly covered with what I can only describe as rubber nubs. These provide grip and are separated by a midsole cushion. The upper is a breathable mesh, and while there is absolutely nothing special about the laces, they are at least thin and not apt to retain water. The upper heel also has a feature that I've really grown to love: the finger loop.
Man, I love those finger loops.
It's just so functional, and while I can't claim to be that in tune to style, we put up with ridicule over toe pockets, so why would you let this bother you?

The upper toes each sport a reflective band about 3/4" long. Why Merrell would put reflective material on top of the toes as opposed to the side or even rear, I have no idea. Any reflective material is better than no reflective material, but you have to be in front of and above the shoe in order to see it, putting it in what I think is the least beneficial position. Inside the shoe (around the heal and ankle at least) is this sort of suede, fabric material that mostly likely serves two functions: secure fit and blister prevention. The integrated, non-removable insole appears to be made of a more durable material, but still serves the same purpose.

On the Run

Merrell reports that the Road Gloves are zero drop and sport a mere 4mm of cushioning along the midsole. This cushioning really feels more like an extension of the sole itself because it gives very little if at all. This translates to good ground feel and feedback on your stride, but little shock absorption. Weighing in at just under 7 ounces, they're light compared to traditional trainers as well. This is not a transitional minimal shoe; it's the real deal. There isn't as much ground feel or flexibility as my Vibram FiveFingers Speeds, but it's enough for me, and I don't have to deal with toe pockets.

As the name implies, the shoe is more than suitable for road running. It provides abrasion and some bruising protection from hard surfaces. However, if you step on a stray piece of gravel on the sidewalk/asphalt, you'll feel it. The rubber nubs on the bottom make the shoe feel exceptionally grippy on dry roads, but a little traction is lost on wet asphalt. The shoe also works on dirt and up to a certain level of rocky trails. Again, it's a road shoe, but I've found it works just fine on kept, partially gravel trails with the same caveat as the road: step on something sharp and pointed that doesn't fold under foot and you'll feel it.

At a subjective level (which is important), I enjoy running in these shoes. I have fairly long, thin feet with a decently high arch, and the fit is secure, but in no way restrictive. I feel connected to the road and not like my feet have gone numb. I can feel my stride and adjust on the fly. I think this makes the shoe a great first real minimal shoe, after you've walked down the heal/toe drop, support, and cushioning levels adequately. The inner is comfortable with or without socks (no hot spots for me). I've run 10+ miles in a single sockless run, and haven't had an issue with blisters. Honestly, feet are gross though. No really, they are, so it's nice to know socks don't spoil the experience (like on a warm, sweaty feet kind of day).


Super comfy inner, and even the logo is durable
I've put about 575 miles on these to date (not counting any "walking around," non-running miles), and they certainly feel like they've got some more life in them. Even the "Merrell Barefoot" logo on the insert doesn't appear to have started to fade. I did try on a new pair the other day for kicks and comparison. The new pair certainly felt more rigid and a little tighter as you would expect, but it didn't feel like a completely different shoe.

Merrell partnered with Vibram for the sole, and it seems to have been a good call. I run nearly all of my miles on either sidewalks (crappy, North East USA sidewalks) or asphalt (crappy, North East USA asphalt) and those little nubs, while showing some use, are still getting the job done and still have plenty of life in them. As far as visible signs of wear on the shoes, the area where the upper meets the lower just above the big toe seems like it might be the first spot to give.
This could be the weak spot
Now, I don't feel like it's going to go any time soon, but if you are looking for a weak spot, this could be it. That being said, I'm really expecting to get at least a few hundred more miles out of them.


All things considered, these shoes seem to be quite durable and have excellent ground feel/flexibility. The cushioning is thin, firm, and practically unnoticeable. Other than a slight raise at the arch, there is no real support in this shoe. It's a minimal shoe that won't get you picked on by the big kids.
Maybe those reflectors are so you can see your own toes at night?

The name "Road Glove" seems appropriate for these shoes. The fit is secure but comfortable, and the grippy nubs on the outsole give you a sense of control over the road. Each step feels sure and efficient. With mileage, looks and performance like this, it makes the $110 MSRP for "less" shoe seem like a good deal.

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