It seems obligatory at the start of any positive shoe review to say something like “great shoe, but it won’t make you run faster”.
For the X-Talon 190, this statement simply doesn’t apply, and for the trained runner, this shoe will support faster running. Offering stunning grip through an aggressive outsole and touted by Inov-8 as the world’s lightest cross-country and mountain racer, the X-Talon 190 has everything required to deliver great speed.
To get the weight down to a feather-light 190g (for a UK8 shoe), the upper is absolutely minimalist. The majority of the upper is a mesh material which offers excellent drainage and means that the feet don’t get hot, but the level of foot protection is, like the rest of the shoe, extremely minimal. The toe bumper feels like a layer of thick paint applied over the mesh, and while some minimal protection against vegetation is offered, the protection against rocks and sticks present in most trail shoes is missing.
In terms of protection and bounce, the most generous assessment of the 190s midsole is that it does exist (and that is saying something – check out the forthcoming review of the Bear Grip 200s which are built sans-insole). The mid-sole thickness at the toe is 10mm, increasing slightly to 13mm at the heel, which equates to an Inov-8 rating of 1-arrow (3mm). The very thin mid-sole can be a problem on rocky trails – trail running authority ‘Rod the Hornet’ (he knows what he’s talking about, trust us, but doesn’t want to use his real name) on CoolRunning comments on the CoolRunning thread on this shoe: “Wore them at 6ft this year and went about as hard as I could go. I loved the lightweight feel of them. I must say I had a major problem with stone bruising thru the heel, to the point that 4 weeks after the event was still tender. Would recommend if you are new to these, invest in a pair of gel inserts. I bought a good insert and it takes the edge off the hard trail.”
Trialling these shoes in fast race conditions where dainty foot placement wasn’t a priority, similar under foot bruising to Rod was experienced, and following his advise on gel inserts, the bruising issue was markedly reduced. Quality gel inserts from Scholls are available at most chemists for around $25.
The grip of the X-Talons is their defining feature. Offering moulded studs similar to a touch football boot, the outer sole is made of a sticky rubber that grips extremely well on well on all surfaces from metal walk-ways through to mud, pavement and rock. The Inov-8 marketing material remarks that the “shoes use our exclusive sticky rubber compound which has been specially developed using climbing rubber technology. This rubber optimizes grip in wet conditions, however the trade off is it wears down quicker.”
The honest assessment from Inov-8 that notes the faster wear of the outer sole applies to the overall shoe. It would be easy to rip the upper on a sharp rock, and an entanglement with a vine while trialling the shoes in the Inov-8 Coastal Classic separated the top lip of the outer off the toe bumper. A quick super-glue repair job rendered the shoes as good as new, but after a few hundred kilometres, it is evident that a life of around 500km maximum would be a reasonable expectation. This isn’t a harsh criticism – the design purpose of the shoe as an extremely fast, lightweight racer is delivered on in full, and the fact that life as a general trainer is limited is hardly unexpected.
Race conditions offer the best test grounds for any trail shoe. After running the inaugural 2010 Coastal Classic in 3.13, dipping under 3 hours this year was a stretch goal for me, and wearing the X-Talon 190, a final time of 2.54.52 was achieved. While cooler conditions and plenty of training went into the improvement, the lightening-fast Talon 190 were a meaningful contributor to this improvement.
Great For: Anything fast – races, tempo runs, fartlek. The grip is awesome, and handles all conditions well – mud, exposed rock, metal walkways, pavement.
Not So Great For: Up to marathon distance would be OK, but for longer distances, a shoe with more under-foot and toe protection is recommended. With a 3mm drop, Achilles tendon issues are possible for runners not accustomed to minimalist offerings. On very rocky trails with sharp rocks, under-foot bruising can be an issue.
Test Conditions: Road, mixed trail and road, fire-trail, technical trail with mud and slippery rock conditions, ~400km. Race tested in the Inov-8 Coastal Classic (30km) and the In2Adventure 8km Trail Race.
Tester: Nick Wienholt – ultra-trail runner based in Sydney’s southern suburbs, Nick recently completed three of Australia’s toughest trail ultras (Bogong to Hotham, Cradle Mountain and The North Face 100), highlighted by a finish in the top 40 at The North Face that included a silver buckle. He plans to dedicate the spring to short-distance events like the marathon.
Tester mechanics: Mid-weight (74kg) experienced trail runner with neutral pronation and fore-foot strike.