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Top 3 Zero Drop, Cushioned Road Running Shoes of 2012

Welcome to post number three in my top running shoes of 2012 series – this time I take on the zero drop, cushioned road shoe category. This is a category that grew in a big way this year, and is set to expand even more through the first half of 2013. Personally, I find a bit of cushioning makes a shoe more versatile, and I can run longer and more comfortably with some padding underfoot (obviously individual experiences will vary – if you prefer ultraminimal shoes, view my top barefoot-style shoe list).

There are a lot of great options in this category, and a number of solid choices that didn’t make my list. For example, the New Balance Minimus Road MR00 is really nice, but the sole lacks pop and it’s a bit narrow through the midfoot (it also has an odd bump along the outside of side of the sole in this region). The Saucony Hattori LC is another nice shoe, and probably would have made this list but for the fact that I get a hot spot under my big toe when I run more than a few miles in them. I’d consider both of these to be honorable mentions.

Let’s get down to the business at hand – here are my top 3 cushioned, zero drop road shoes for 2012:

3. Altra Instinct 1.5

Altra Instinct 1.5

When I think of the Altra Instinct 1.5, the two words that come to mind are flat and wide. Shaped like a Croc or Birkenstock, the Instinct is one of the most spacious shoes that I own. Version 1.5 sports a far more attractive upper than the original, and the full rubber outsole should provide ample durability. My only complaints about the Instinct are that it is a tad heavy and a bit inflexible, but for a flat shoe with a bit of cushion it’s a great option. View my full Altra Instinct 1.5 review here.

You can purchase the Altra Instinct 1.5 at Running Warehouse.


2. Merrell Bare Access 2


I give the Merrell Bare Access 2 a slight edge over the Altra Instinct 1.5 due to the fact that the Merrell Barefoot last fits me so perfectly. Roomy forefoot, glove like fit through the midfoot and heel, and very little excess material (resulting in a considerably lighter shoe than the Altras). Like the Instinct, the Bare Access 2 has a full rubber outsole which should provide excellent durability. Great shoe – you can read my full Merrell Bare Access 2 review here.

Purchase the Merrell Bare Access 2 at Zappos.


1. Skechers GoBionic

Skechers GoBionic

I need to provide full disclosure on this one – I helped with the development of the Skechers GoBionic by wear testing and providing direct feedback to the designers of the shoe. Thus, much like the Skechers GoRun 2, this is a shoe that I wore a lot and some of the suggestions I offered were incorporated into the final design. There’s a lot that I like about the GoBionic – it’s extremely flexible, semi-firm yet quiet, and fits me perfectly. I love the removable insole with finished footbed beneath, and the shoe is incredibly comfy both on the run and for all-day wear (it’s another shoe that I often wear to work). You can read my full Skechers GoBionic review here.

Purchase the Skechers GoBionic at Zappos.

—>Next up, my top 3 “hybrid” trail shoes of 2012.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Nick Phillips says:

    The GObionic is indeed an amazing shoe and has become my race shoe of choice.

    A blessed new year to you and your family

  2. Great reviews! I love my Altras!

  3. Steve Fines says:

    After running out of Kinvara 2’s I did my last marathon in the GoBionic.

    Love everything about them except the large blisters I got on the medial aspect of the balls of my feet. I’d never had this with the Kinvaras, or with the GoBionic training runs up to 15 miles or so.

    Trying to decide if I like them enough to do moleskin regularly or find a similar shoe that is slightly narrower right at that point of the footbed.

  4. Simon Belval says:

    After reading about the “natural springs” we have built into our arches I was wondering if having arch support such as in the Merrell Bare Access would impede a more natural running. What are your thoughts on this Pete?

  5. Samuel Ho says:

    Is there gonna be a “top 3” for trail shoes too?

  6. Paul Joyce says:

    Pete, this is probably my favourite shoe category. I am keen to try the Go Bionic but they are not available locally to try on and I can’t seem to find much information regarding sizing. I am a size 10.5 in the Merrell Barefoot range but size 11 in the NB Minimus. Which is the Go Bionic closer in size to? Thanks and all the best for 2013.

  7. Stephen Boulet says:

    Hopefully this will be a category that will experience growth in 2013.

  8. Gary Wilson says:

    Hi Pete: I run outside all year in Toronto, Canada on a concrete sidewalk. Melting snow getting in my NB MR00’s is very uncomfortable. Being interested in the GoBionic anyway, I was so pleased to discover Skechers has an all weather version for an extra few dollars so I bought a pair. More great thinking on Skechers part!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Have you tried them out yet? I don’t think they’re Gore-Tex so probably water resistant and not waterproof. If you want the latter, something like the Merrell Mix Master Waterproof might o the trick.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
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      • Gary Wilson says:

        I just bought them yesterday so I haven’t tried them yet. The sidewalks are currently clear of snow from the last snowfall so I ran in the NB MR00’s yesterday. As a result of your blog, I wanted to buy a pair of GoBionics anyway, so it was a no brainer to get the all weather version. I can report back the first chance I get to try them in slush from melting snow from salt or an above zero temperature.

        • Ugo Leblanc says:

          Hi Gary, i don’t know if you have tried your Go Bionic but for me, i live in Québec and the problem is that snow and slush get thru the holes under the outsole to the insole and my feet get wet after 10 minutes.

          So i have to wait until spring tu use them…

          • Gary Wilson says:

            Hi Ugo, thanks for the info. I called Skechers customer service in California and told them about the problem you have reported. They were not aware of the problem but they said they would follow up on the feedback to check it out. I also called customer service in Mississauga and let them know about the problem and that I had notified the head office in California. Maybe you should report it to California as well, including more precise details such as exactly where the water was coming through. I have run in the shoes, but not in wet conditions yet.

  9. Steve Kooyman says:

    There seems to be a shortage of instinct 1.5s (they have been removed from the Altra site and are listed as a Feb 11 back order on RW). Their cool TV commercials are probably adding to the issue. Any insider info on whether they will resume selling next month or perhaps are using this as a chance to move to v 2.0? Thanks!

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