Friday, 25 January 2013

Let’s Talk Shoes, specifically Inov-8 Bare X 180 and X-Talon 190

It seems that between blogs I’ve become something of a shoe whore.  I’m not going to post a photo of my growing athletic shoe collection, that would be embarrassing, but since my last shoe review of the Altra Samsons (still loving those by the way) I’ve bought a pair of Inov-8 X-Talon 190s and also a pair of Bare-X 180s. 

The Bare-X 180s were slightly planned, in that I entered an online competition that gave every entrant a 20% off voucher for a limited range of Inov-8s, and as I’d been looking at them prior to getting my Altras I thought “why the heck not, they can always sit in the cupboard until I need them”. 
Looking at the various reviews, the Bare-X 180s seemed to meet my needs most.  They have a very light construction, zero drop and a removable insole.  Lightweight flexible sole with a pattern meant for the road (and maybe dry light trails at a stretch) with plenty of grip, and a very low weight overall at 180g per shoe.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any fresh out of the box photos of them, so what you see below is after a reasonable bit of use towards the back end of 2012, all on the roads either at home or on my travels.  The keen eyed amongst you would have also noticed that I have lock laces on them, or in this case half a pair of lock laces as that’s all that was needed.

Let’s start with the fit; basically once you’ve got them on and got the laces adjusted they feel like a pair of slippers, soft, flexible, snuggly (that’s the first time I’ve said that about a pair of shoes) and generally pretty form fitting.  Ground feel is good for a minimalist shoe, probably on par with the Altras or Merrell Trail Gloves. 
So what about performance?  Since I bought them, the ALtras have really been my go-to road shoe.  Not a lot of obvious grip, flat soles with a few almost cartoon anatomical trad pieces, but where they really work well is with a hard-ish rubber and all those razor-siped cuts which give great grip on the tarmac whether wet or dry and on dry trails.  The Inov-8 is not billed as a trail shoe, which is a good thing, cos it aint. It would handle a dry hard trail but not much more, I think a touch of moisture even on grass would leave you flat on your arse.  On the road, in the dry they are as good as the Altra but in the wet, they underperform.  The sticky rubber just doesn’t grip anywhere near as well as the hard, razor-siped sole, and in the wet you just feel that the feet are not far from slipping under you every time you push off, particularly around my home where the farmers leave a lot of mud on the road.  The lack of grip dictated my choice for a recent 10k race, going for the Altras in preference to these, just necasue I wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to fall flat on my face.

In the dry, you can see the wear on the sole with every run, not quite what I’d expect from a shoe designed for the road.  The Altra by comparison has probably ten times the mileage on it  and no visible wear. 

Running comfort is great and on a par with both the Merrel Trail glove and the Altras.  I’ve not tried them without socks yet but they have always felt light and airy and well ventilated with my feet definitely not overheating.  In the wet, they don’t seem to hold a lot of moisture which is great.
Overall verdict, not bad.  Probably a 7 out of ten.  By comparison the Altra would be a 9 (losing one point for lack of direct sales in Europe).  A good shoe, but the grip performance and wear let it down in my opinion, so the Altra will still be my go-to shoe for the road, but the Inov-8 Bare-X 180 will be up there for the dry. 



So now onto the X-Talon 190.  Not my intended purchase, I was looking for the Bare Grip, but couldn’t get it in my size.  Apologies again, but no out of the box photos, just a few taken after today’s run in the snow.  The mud on the left is from when I put my foot down on what looked solid, but was a light covering of snow on top of half an inch of ice and a muddy puddle.  The SealSkinz socks saved my feet today.

 
Now this purchase came about in November; I’d signed up for an off-road duathlon of 5km run, 18km MTB and another 3.5km run all in Sherwood Forest.  That’s another entry but it was a great race and a great day.  Anyway, with the weather we’d been having, and my Grim Reaper experience, I didn’t think the Trail Gloves or NB Minimus would cut it, so I went out looking for a serious off-road shoe.  First I tried my old astroturf and hard grass shoes that I used to used for refereeing rugby, but I found them too heavy, too small (feet have grown) and having a negative affect on my gait. 
Having already bought the Bare-X 180s, I was impressed by the fit of the Inov-8’s and their off-road pedigree.  Having not been able to find the Bare Grips in my soze, when I looked at the range, with light weight and zero or 3mm drop being absolute criteria, the X-Talon 190 jumped out, and the Aberdeen branch of Run-4-it had them in stock, reserved by a very helpful assistant called Freya.
Again the fit was very good, snug, even lacing and lice and light.  Ground feel is reduced with these, but if you look at the lugs on the tread are you really surprised?


As it happened, it turned out that the run course in Sherwood was pretty sandy, well draining trails, so rather than being very heavy and slippy underfoot like the claye soil where I live, it was dry but loose underfoot.  Performance of the shoe was excellent on the run. I kept them on for the bike leg as well as I have open cage pedals on the MTB, and they performed well there holding well onto the pedals. 

I’ve used them since then for a few runs in the snow and ice and stick mud around home over the last few weeks as well and I can’t fault them for grip in those conditions either, a view that was seconded by someone from my cycling club who said they’re good on anything but ice.  Basically those big lugs just lock into any irregularities or soft bits and hold on for all they’re worth, and they also clear the mud off well as well.  I’ve not had to dig any mud out of the treads yet.
So, grip excellent, weight excellent, groundfeel good for the tread pattern, colour a bit on the garish side, but I did need them in a hurry. 

The only drawback for me, and this is no fault if the shoe is that they are extremely single minded and do that one thing very well, but as result I can foresee that the soft, sticky rubber tread will not last on the road at all, so pick your approach route to your trails carefully if you want to preserve them.

Overall a good 9.5 out of ten from me. 

Great value for money as well for both of these shoes, if you are prepared to do a little work you can find them at decent discount if you are prepared to accept last year’s models.  I’d go as far as to say that value for money, these may be the best shoes I’ve ever bought ( I can’t include the Altras in that comparison as someone managed to get me a promotional pair of those).
So here’s where I’ve worn them recently

An offroad run http://connect.garmin.com/activity/263580103

And a Sunday club run on the MTBs (too cold and snowy for road bikes) http://connect.garmin.com/activity/264039857

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