I’ve been wearing these shoes for nearly six months on and off, taking them over a number of different terrains, so feel pretty qualified to pass a few judgements as to what this shoe is like and the type of terrain it’s suited too. Being an Englishman, I naturally feel some allegiance towards a British company, and also one that comes from a fell-running background, where many of these shoes were born and developed. Aesthetically these shoes look good too, so you can see that a fair bit of attention has been paid towards making sure they appeal. So us men of the Australian ultra running world should like them, but the fast-growing ladies market too with the women’s version.
The Top line
As many runners know, we’re in the midst of a ‘barefoot’ style of revolution, and my preference has been towards this type of shoe for the last 2-3 years. The Talon 190 is very much in this mould with a thin layer of protection on the sole, complimented however with a number of ‘spikes’ or grip-like ‘claws’ on the sole. Indeed, the word ‘Talon’ means ‘sharp claw of an animal’ and this is exactly the type of thing that Inov8 has in mind with these spikes. I’ll admit that it took me a fair few weeks to get to grips with this shoe, and there were a few times I did think about abandoning them altogether to go back to the trusted Nike Frees. But stay with them I did, and I certainly do believe that they have their place on the trail, and they’ll continue to remain part of my shoe repertoire.
As trail shoes go, this one is extremely light (190g for UK8), but it is tough with it too. The mesh on the upper is extremely breathable and for the GNW, this means ample of opportunity for the leeches to enter into the shoe with relative ease 🙂 On a more serious note, for the very warm and humid conditions of Australia, this is ideal. But despite the lightweight material, the shoe appears to be very durable, with a coating of rougher mould placed around the toe-cap, and a piece of rubber that extends from the sole of the shoe over the toe area for added protection. I admit, it’s not fool-proof by any means, and if your toe hits a large rock, then you’re going to know about it. However it’s a damn sight more than the Nike Frees offer right now!
The most interesting thing about this shoe however are the ‘talons’ on the bottom of the sole, or rather our ‘spikes’. This is a pretty unusual design as far as running shoes are concerned and I can only think that this is born out of the fell running community, where grip like this is essential for the bogs and wet conditions of the Lake District in the UK. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons I stopped wearing them for a 2 month period over the last 6 months, was that on drier and more compact surfaces here in Australia, the spikes do become a little aggravating after a while on the bottom of the foot. Admittedly this is not a massive issue, but I’d rather not be running as if I’m balanced on columns.
Around 2 months ago, I did an out and back on the GNW here in Australia between the Basin camping ground and Congewei School. It was a lovely dry and warm day, and for the most part the ground was hard, compact and dry. I noticed on the return journey towards the Basin while out on the high ridges of the Watagan State Forest that the spikes really started to get on my nerves. I’d also experienced this at the North Face 100km race a few weeks prior, running along the Jamieson Valley road towards Kedumba. Again, not a huge issue, but just irritating and I couldn’t wait to get to the softer wet trail that lay ahead.
The short of it is that for dry hard surfaces, these shoes are not great if you like a smooth ride. Where they really do come into their own is on very wet tracks, which allow the ground to absorb the ‘talons’ much better. Only last week, I did an out and back on the six-foot track in the Blue Mountains. The ground was pretty wet, so I thought I’d give a brand new pair (straight out of the box) of 190s a run for their money. I was very impressed with the results. My ability to smash it hard downhill was unsurpassed, and wearing the shoe gave me far more confidence over any other shoe for running downhill, because I trusted the grip so much. They’re also fantastic over rocks and technical terrain, and again this is where they really do come into their own.
I also like the fact that the shoe offers very little in the way of support. The heel to toe drop is something like 3mm, and like the Nike Free, you’re able to mould and manipulate the shoe if you so desire. I’m not a fan of heels that offer support as it seems to make my Achilles pretty sore. I actually bent and moulded the heel of the Talons even further, reducing any kind of support they could offer.
The shoe fits true to size too, but is on the ‘long’ side if you understand what I mean. They also feel fairly narrow when you first try them on, but I’ve found that they tend to push out a little once worn a number of times, so no worries or issues with the fittings on these. The fact that I took a pair straight out of the box and ran a hard 52kms in them should show that very little ‘wearing in’ time is needed here.
I’ve been after what I would call a more robust version of the Nike Frees for sometime now, and it appears as if this shoe could have some of the answers, but only in wet weather conditions it seems. I’ve noticed also that Inov8 have brought out a version of these shoes minus the ‘spikes’ on the sole called the f-lite 195s. Could this be the perfect trail running shoe for me? Only one way to find out and to buy a pair I feel.
I do like the robust nature of the 190s, however on my first pair the rubber sole toe cap pulled away after just one run. This maybe due to a production error, but I have spoken with another person who wears the Talon 190s and they had a few slight issues with the quality of the build too. On their shoes, the rubber spikes on the sole seemed to come away quite easily. I must admit that I have had no such issues, and I’ve even worn these for some 10km training runs on the road – although I personally wouldn’t recommend doing that often!
The Bottom line
So where do these shoes sit on the mountain scale we’ve devised? Well I’d give them just about a four… they’ve tried very hard and they’re nearly at the Summit, but there are just a few things that let them down slightly. The rubber spikes are a great innovation for a wet course, but I think to choose this shoe for a race, you need to be confident that most of the terrain you’re going to be running over can absorb them. If you’re running on hard compacted trail, I wouldn’t use these shoes.
Would I buy them? Well sure I would as I’ve bought two pairs already, but I’m keen to give the f-lite 195s a real going over on the trails over here in Australia, particularly some of the harder compact ones. One thing’s for sure though, I may even consider wearing them for certain sections of the GNW race later on in the year, and I know exactly which legs too. For now though, they do stay in the stable of Dan running shoes, which is an exclusive club of two. The Merrell Trailgloves are now ‘shopping shoes’.
Review by Dan Bleakman