In such a young sport, it seems weird to refer to “classics”, but if there are any, the X-Talon line from inov-8 is definitely a good example. Always seen in large numbers on starting lines despite a haphazard distribution in North America, it has definitely been proven to be one of the sharpest tools in the OCR shed. Its Velcro-like grip, low weight and water shedding properties have helped countless racers reach the finish line with minimal slip-induced energy waste.
The X-Talon 225 seem to constitute a replacement for the 190, which was the model of choice for minimalistic runners favoring ground feel and low weight, and willing to sacrifice on foot protection. Let’s see how they bear the weight of expectation…
Let’s start with some manufacturer’s info:
Weight: 225g in size US9
Precision Fit, narrower and more responsive
A quick look at the revamped X-Talon roster, it seems like the 200 is more likely to take on the flyweight mantle, with the 212 in the middle and the new 225 as the fat guy of the bunch. Reality proves completely different. I’m lucky enough to own all these models, which I proceeded to weigh (in size US9) to see what’s what:
X-Talon 200 (1st generation): 264g
X-Talon 212 (1st generation): 260g
X-Talon 190 (last génération): 245g
X-Talon 225 : 245g
inov-8 has therefore come up with a tougher, more protective shoe, without making it heavier than the 190, which were made with a relatively fragile and abrasion-prone fabric. The 225 use a new material, completely different from those used in the rest of the X-Talon range, and which seems very tough at first glance.
This bears out in the real world: after more than 125km in them, including a few races, the upper seems almost brand-new, with no noticeable abrasion wear and tear or suspicious folds, as was sometimes the case with the 190 or first-generation 200. Toe protection is adequate, similar to that found on the 200, and again much better than on the 190. The rear of the foot is even better-protected by a thick, nice-looking textured material. A leap forward compared to the 190!
No surprises from the sole: a minor evolution of the well-known X-Talon sole, with some changes that seem more cosmetic than functional to me. Its wear profile will also be the same, i.e. rather short lifespan, especially if used on anything other than soft ground. As usual, grip is beyond reproach on the mushy stuff, very good in mud, the compromise being on very hard surfaces such as asphalt, with a floaty feel in addition to accelerated wear.
Running feel is familiar as well: close to the ground, you’ll need strong feet and good running technique to take full advantage of those rather minimalist shoes. I personally love it.
Where things go awry is on water shedding. Race directors seem to enjoy having us trample in various liquid substances, so it becomes a major factor when choosing OCR shoes, and unfortunately, the 225 are definitely a step backwards in that regard. In fact, they could be used as an emergency container if you forget your water bottle, as water simply refuses to seep through the upper material. As a result, water can only leave through the top part of the shoe, which means running with heavy feet for several hundred meters. MacGyver types may decide to drill holes in the sole or the base of the upper, but I think no one should have to make such risky modifications to brand-new shoes.
On the other hand, that also means snow doesn’t get through the upper, but the narrow fit of the shoe is a lot less accommodating to the thicker socks worn during the cold months, which brings me to the second chink in the armor: comfort. Precision Fit is great for maximum response during direction changes, when the upper is flexible enough to prevent comfort from suffering too much. Alas, the stiffer material used on the 225, even after many kilometers, remains much less comfortable, especially on longer distances with slightly swollen feet. Nothing too severe, but here too, a clear drawback compared to its predecessor. Pity.
In the end, we have here a sturdier shoe, providing better protection without more weight, but not nearly as comfortable, nor as efficient at clearing water. inov-8 seems therefore to target a slightly different market with this new model, which doesn’t really follow in the footsteps of the 190. It will not make everyone happy, but may allow a less narrowly focused audience to try out the X-Talon range.
The shoes featured in this review were supplied by inov-8, which didn’t influence its contents.