Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inov-8 F-Lite 195 Review (Short)

Not quite there, sadly.
Really short: They're nice sneakers; but I won't wear them.

As you can see, they're beautiful shoes.  I would have preferred the black, but the red is spectacular.

I picked these up last night at the Shoe Mart, which happens to be on my way home from work. 

Pros:
  1. Light.
  2. Well-made (as far as I could tell).
  3. Good-looking.
  4. Minimal cushioning.
  5. Good ground-feel, for a sneaker.
  6. Sole seems to offer good traction, from looking at it.
  7. Upper is well-ventilated.
Cons:
  1. 4mm heel lift. [Correction, it's 3mm.  Thanks to Graham in the comments.]
  2. Narrow last.
  3. Big toe gets bent.
  4. Cushy insole, but that comes right out.
So I tried on a 10 (UK 9), my "new normal" size.  I also bought a 10 in the MT101, FYI.  Even in the 10, my big toe felt pressure pushing it in.  Not a good sign.  Nevertheless, after confirming the Shoe Mart's excellent return policy, I bought them and took them home.  I took out the insole (which is not glued in; thanks Inov-8), and wore them around inside for a few hours. 

The heel lift bothered me from the outset.  I found that they strained a muscle in the sole of my left foot, just from walking around inside.  I took them off, put on my Treks, and went for a two-hour run.

The fellow I ran with was wearing the F-Lite 195s, in fact.  He loves them.

So this morning I packed the F-Lites back into the box, and drove to my local cobbler to ask him if he could drop the heel.  "Sorry", he said, "It's too flat.  Can't you run in them like that?  What about [racing] flats?"  I explained that these had the same heel lift as most flats.  Sigh.

Next stop was the Shoe Mart, where I returned them.

I feel bad about posting this review, in a way.  If I had found these shoes 18 months ago they would have been the answer to my prayers.  But after a year spent diligently training my feet to be stronger, and to run in Vibrams and barefoot, these will not do.  They are too narrow, and even the minimal heel lift is too much.  I'll stick to my Vibrams.

A note to Inov-8, if any one from that company ever finds this review:  Regarding your performance last, which I understand is the narrow last that underlies this shoe: why do you think that a last which deforms the foot from its natural motion improves performance?  Do you have any evidence, other than statements from runners with already-deformed feet, that this works?

Maybe next time?
Inov-8 supposedly has a BareGrip model coming out, with zero-drop from heel to toe, and hopefully a better last than the performance last.  If both those statements are born out in the product, I'll buy those.  (Hopefully they'll have a model with a less-agressive tread pattern, too.) In the meanwhile, I'll just stick with my 101s.

[Correction: Mark from the Shoe Mart says in the comments that this is not the case. What I reported above I was told by the salesperson in the Shoe Mart store, but I guess that was in error.] Now, the interesting point I got from my two visits to the Shoe Mart, is that apparently Inov-8 won't allow a retailer to carry their more-minimal models unless the retailers carries a lot of Vibram models.  That's their condition.  I was pretty surprised to hear that, but it's good business on Inov-8's part.  The Inov-8 models were shown in the same display as the Vibrams, right by the front door of the store. 

I also learned that the Shoe Mart can't keep the Inov-8 models in stock, so my opinion may be a minority one.

P.S. Follow-up here.

P.P.S.  The shoes Inov-8 ought to have made.