Over the past two years I’ve run in shoes made by most of the major running shoe manufacturers, with only a few notable exceptions. This review eliminates one of those exceptions – UK based shoemaker Inov-8. It’s somewhat surprising that it’s taken me so long to run in an Inov-8 shoe given the fact that they are one of the more minimalist-friendly shoe companies out there. I think the main reason why I’ve avoided them for so long is that until recently most of their shoes have been designed for trail and fell running, and they have a reputation for being fairly narrow in terms of fit.
Recently, Inov-8 released a new line of shoes called the Road-X series. The Road-X line differs from other Inov-8 shoes in being specifically designed for road running (which is my most frequent running surface), and they are built on an anatomical last that provides a roomier fit, particularly in the forefoot. There are currently 3 shoes in the men’s Road-X line (one female shoe for now), and they present a gradation from less to more minimal. I like this approach a lot, as it gives people options for where they would like to jump into a more minimalist style shoe, and allows for a very gradual transition for those who plan to take it very slowly. Below are the three current Road-X shoes, with stats and descriptions provided by Running Warehouse:
Description from Running Warehouse:
“When efficiency counts, run natural in the Inov-8 Road-X 255. Utilizing a 9mm difference from heel-to-toe, this shoe offers runners a mild transition into the realm of midfoot style running. This low-to-the-ground performance trainer uses an ample amount of underfoot protection, which allows it to be worn as a daily trainer or racer. The Road-X 255 is lightweight, super comfortable and offers a responsive ride.”
Weight: 9.7 oz (size 9)
Stack Height: Heel (21mm), Forefoot (12mm) = 9mm drop
Description from Running Warehouse:
“Inov-8, the original minimalist trail shoe brand, now makes great lightweight road shoes. The Road-X 233 is best suited for the runner who wants to move toward the less is more concept. With a 6mm heel-to-toe height difference and a low-to-the-ground foot position, the Road-X 233 is a big step toward minimalist road running without being at the extreme end of the spectrum.”
Weight: 8.8 oz (size 9)
Stack Height: Heel (17mm), Forefoot (11mm) = 6mm drop
Description from Running Warehouse:
“The Inov-8 Road-X 155 is a lightweight, natural running shoe that offers the utmost in proprioception for the minimalist or elite runner. Unlike other Inov-8 models, the Road-X 155 doesn’t incorporate Dynamic Fascia Band but rather relies solely on foot strength from the runner. The Road-X 155 offers a 5mm heel-to-toe height difference that allows the runner to run in a smooth natural running style.”
Weight: 6.1 oz (size 9)
Stack Height: Heel (10mm), Forefoot (5mm) = 5mm drop (Inov-8 lists it at 3mm drop, not sure why the discrepancy)
My initial thought when considering which of the Road-X shoes to buy was to go for the 155 since it has the lowest heel differential and weighs the least – in other words, it would best suit my personal taste. However, one of the most common shoe questions I get asked in emails is for a comparable alternative to the Saucony Kinvara. The Kinvara tends to be a bit narrow in the forefoot for some people, and durability has been an issue for some as well. Some also don’t like the softness of the Kinvara’s sole. The 155 has no rubber on the sole, and is much closer to the ground, and is thus a step further toward the minimal end of the shoe scale from the Kinvara. Thus, for comparative purposes, I opted instead for the Road-X 233, knowing in advance that the heel differential would be just a tad higher than I typically like.
My first impressions of the Inov-8 Road-X 233 was that it was a good-looking, well-built running shoe. The upper of the 233 is made of a synthetic mesh, with overlays welded from the sole to the laces on either side to provide a snug fit around the midfoot. Aside from a flexible heel counter, there are no other noticeable stability elements in the upper.
Internally, the sockliner is thin, and there is only a small amount of contour under the region of the arch. The inner lining of the upper is soft and comfortable and allows for sockless running. My one complaint regarding internal comfort is the fact that the sockliner is perforated (you can see this in the photo below), and this causes some rubbing under my big toe (I have noticed the same problem with other shoes that have extensively perforated sockliners – e.g., the Scott T2 Comp). Swapping out the sockliner with one from another shoe is an easy fix for this.
In terms of fit, the last of the Road-X 233 matches my foot quite well. The forefoot is plenty roomy, and does offer a bit more space than that of the Saucony Kinvara, which makes this a viable alternative for those looking for a moderate-drop, transitional shoe with a bit wider forefoot. Among shoes I have worn, I’d say the fit is most similar to the New Balance Minimus Road or New Balance MT101 (perhaps just a bit narrower) – the latter is among the most comfortable shoes that I own.
The midsole of the Road-X 233 rides a bit closer to the ground than that of the Kinvara, and is considerably firmer. As a result, ground feel in the Road-X 233 is better – not at all spongy like the transitional shoes made by Saucony. The 6mm heel lift is noticeable, and if I had one complaint about the shoe it would be that there almost seems to be a a slight increase in firmness under the front half of the heel. This firmer area puts pressure on the region near where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone, and is quite noticeable when standing in the shoes.
The outsole of the Road-X 233 is ample and I would expect durability to be very good – unlike the Kinvara, there is plenty of rubber under the lateral forefoot to reduce wear in this region for forefoot strikers. Sole flexibility is good, particularly in the forefoot where the outsole is divided by what Inov-8 calls the “meta-flex” region.
In preparing my review of the Road-X 233 I took an unusual approach (for me) by running exclusively in this shoe for 2 consecutive weeks (about 50 miles). Overall, the experience was positive, though I found myself wishing the midsole was a tad softer. I actually prefer the softer midsoles of the low-drop Saucony shoes, but that is likely just a personal preference. If a shoe is going to be very firm, I prefer very little midsole at all (think Merrell Barefoot, Vibram Fivefingers, or Vivobarefoot Neo). If you like a firm midsole, then this shoe would be a great choice. Again, my only major complaint is the odd feeling firm region under the front half of the heel.
I view the Inov-8 Road-X 233 to be a competitor to shoes like the Saucony Kinvara, New Balance Minimus Road, and more traditional racing flats. In fact, in terms of feel it is much more similar to the Saucony Grid Type A4 than it is to the Kinvara, though the Road-X is a lot more roomy than the A4. It’s also a more flexible in the forefoot than the Minimus Road. Thus, if you are looking for a firm, reasonably flexible shoe with a moderate heel-forefoot drop and a fairly roomy fit in the forefoot, the Inov-8 Road-X 233 fits the bill nicely.
For those looking for less shoe, the Road-X 155 might be a better choice, or you could wait a few months for the arrival of the zero-drop Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 180 or 150 – check these photos out from Patton over at the Natural Running Store:
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