July 29th, 2018
Imagine pair of shoes which the sole didn’t begin to show any significant signs of wear until around 1000 miles in testing. Or an upper that can take all the abuse we can throw at it throughout a full on season of racing and training but still remains in one piece at the end of it. There aren’t many shoes that could hope to achieve this, but inov-8 are making steps to help make this more of a reality than you may think.
Inov-8 are doing this all with the help of a wonder substance called Graphene. We got invited along to an exclusive press launch and here’s what we found out about this exciting leap forward in shoe technology. Heres a little video to whet your appetite
WHAT IS GRAPHENE
We’d better start by explaining what Graphene actual is……
Graphene was discovered in 2004 by two scientists in a lab at University of Manchester. They decided to see what would happen if they stripped down graphite to its most simple form. The substance Graphite may ring a bell because it’s what gives your pencils their lead.
Graphene was discovered in what could only be described as the simplest form of science.
They basically used a solid piece of a particular type of graphite, placed a piece of sticky tape down onto the surface and peeled it away, Simple right?
Upon putting the sample of the tape under an electro-microscope they got the first glimpse of the super substance that was set to potentially change the world.
Graphene as a material is simply described as a one atom thick lattice of carbon atoms, so thin that it’s transparent. It has 200 times the strength of steel but it’s impossibly light. The bonus is that it’s also biodegradable. Another bonus of the material is its also one of the best conductors of electricity known to man.
The discovery of Graphene was made in 2004, but fast forward 6 years(2010) the two scientists Andre Geim & Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel prize for this amazing discovery that was set to change the world. The worlds news was full of excitement, with talk of space elevators and revolutionary bullet proofing. So why can’t we take the elevator to the moon yet or why hasn’t this wonder substance changed our lives another 8 years later…..
Basically, the spanner in the works is producing it. Graphene is currently very expensive to produce, mainly because to make high enough quality batches it takes scientists and a laboratory to achieve it.
The lab at Manchester’s Graphene institute is currently the world’s leader in the production and development of Graphene in its highest quality form. This is fitting because just up the road in The Lake District was where solid forms of Graphite were mined in the hills for many years. The Lake District is also the home of the inov-8 headquarters, where in the same hills and fells as graphite was mined, shoes have been tested since the company’s birth around 17 years ago.
INOV-8 & THE GRAPHENE INSTITUTE
The impregnation of rubber with graphene was an idea that excited the scientists at the Graphene institute, so who better to approach with their findings than a company who specialises in giving its customers maximum grip.
After an initial meeting it was decided that a partnership would be a match made in heaven. Inov-8 were to help fund the institutes research and in return the institute would help inov-8 to create truly ground breaking products with the use of Graphene.
First up on the research agenda was to be the hardest wearing, stickiest compound rubber possible. The great Northern powerhouse was about to have wind blown through its sails once again with this partnership.
THE STICKY SOFT HARD DURABILITY PROBLEM
There has been an age-old problem with rubber and its grip properties since it started being used for commercial uses like tyres and soles of footwear.
To get maximum grip from rubber on hard surfaces it needs to be a softer compound, but this obviously makes it more susceptible to faster wear, dramatically reducing the life span. With very soft rubber compounds it can even mean losing lugs or tread due to them snapping off when over stretched or under pressure. This obviously defeats the object of the grip.
More traditional harder compounds of rubbers last far longer but lose out on grip when used on many harder and smoother surfaces, it’s just not as versatile as a softer compound.
This is where inov-8 and the scientists from the graphene institute step in to solve this age-old problem.
By adding Graphene to rubber you can make it harder wearing, more elastic and overall a stronger compound. While testing inov-8 and the laboratory used 20 different rubber/graphene compounds and 232 prototype shoes. 45 athletes from all around the world across various disciplines of running and fitness were used to test these prototypes to their limits. One pair used in field testing was wore by an ultrarunner who clocked 1000 miles in one pair and the rubber was only just started to show signs of wear and tear. In the lab this same compound was stretched to more than 7 times it original size before it split.
This the new improved compound of rubber solved a problem but also made apparent another, this was that if the sole was going to last this many more miles then the upper would need to also get an upgrade too.
In steps Kevlar… Kevlar has been used since the 1970s for many applications from bullet proof vests through to ships sails. Its strength to weight ratio makes it 5 times stronger than steel but extremely flexible, which is perfect for a shoes upper.
Now before you start thinking along the lines that this means one pair of shoes for the rest of your running days, there are other factors to consider. Although the uppers could be perfectly described as bullet proof and the soles will potentially do 1000 miles plus, you still have to consider the other pieces that make up a shoe. The cushioning of a shoe has a life span, this cushioning is extremely important as it protects your feet from some of the pounding we put them through. It also allows the shoe to flex and move correctly and naturally as we run. As this depletes, so do its benefits and protection. There are many factors to consider but your weight and running style will impact on the lifespan this cushioning.
Your next question: “So if they are still going to be ready for swapping out around the same sort of miles as any other shoe why bother investing in these?”
Grip is the simple answer. Basically, most shoes as they near the end of their normal life span will not only have minimal cushioning benefits remaining but their lugs will be worn down massively and their uppers will start to resemble a sieve. The benefit of the new G series shoes from inov-8 is that the shoe will end its life span with 99.9% of the grip it had the day you opened the box, and an upper that doesn’t show your little toe off to the world. As obstacle racers there is nothing we want me than maximum grip across the mixed terrain we run over, so to have maximum grip for the lifespan of the shoe is a huge bonus.
But that’s not all, the benefits of Graphene don’t stop there. Until now shoe manufacturers have never been able to use a soft compound sticky rubber to create grip around the very edges of the shoes sole. This is because these lugs were likely to break away under the abuse of running over mixed terrain. Well this is no longer an issue with the introduction of Graphene to the mix. Inov-8 has been able to take its brand-new grip on the sole of the Mudclaw 260 G series and design it so it is right to the very edge and beyond. This will not only obviously maximise the grip offered by the shoe but also gives the shoe one of the most stable platforms under foot. How do we know all this about a shoe that’s only just gone on sale, well editor Carl was invited along to a very exclusive press launch where all the science and practicalities of the range were explained. More on this below.
To introduce the brand-new shoes and give us a better insight into the technology and research that has gone into them, inov-8 organised an exclusive press launch. It was presented in a perfectly suited environment of the Graphene institute, where all the research into this wonder material takes places. Editor Carl was invited along to this exclusive launch and joined just a hand full of other press members from all around the world to see the new models first hand, in what could be described as their birth place.
Here’s what Carl thought of the launch.
Manchester is one of those cities that when you’re in it you can just feel the energy surging through the place. It’s no wonder that it’s the hub of many things that are the forefront of science & technology. When I was invited along to the press launch, to say I was excited would be the understatement of the century. Anyone who knows me knows that shoes particularly races shoes are a bit of a geeky passion of mine, so to get invited along to this with just a tiny select few from around the world was a real honor.
Arriving at the Graphene institute the first thing that struck me was the sheer scale of the building, I hadn’t really given it too much thought but I expected maybe a couple of labs and a meeting room, but this place was that times 100.
Introductions to the scientists who were heading up the research and also the inov-8 designers and testers were first up on the agenda. It was a room full of people who had committed their lives to driving things forward in the sports and science world.
We had business investors, scientists, researchers, athletes & designers, all of whom were the top of their field in one room together. That make for a pretty electric atmosphere.
Once introductions had taken place it was time to don white lab coats for a tour of the research facilities.
Being show first hand what goes into making the Graphene and also some of the research and tests they did on the different compounds throughout testing, really hammered home just how much time effort and expertise had been used to produce this new generation of rubber. Fascinating is probably the word that best describes what we were shown throughout the labs of the institute, and knowing that this is the first steps in evolving not just rubber soles but also many other applications filled everyone on the tour with excitement for what the future holds.
Next up came the first look at the shoes. Now this is obviously what we were all excited for, and to be part of just a handful of people who had even seen these shoes was just amazing. I did warn you I was a shoe nerd.
After the opportunity to ask the experts in the room a range of questions and a little more education about what the future of Graphene could hold, it was time to see the shoes.
In stepped three of the PHD students, dressed in white lab coats. Each had worked on some of the research that went into getting the shoes to this stage. As the students placing each of the shoes onto their stands we finally got to see what their hard work and dedication had produced. Bright green, it was almost as if even the colour was created in a lab. This colour was what immediately struck you about the shoes appearance. Vigorous clicking of iphones and digital cameras followed.
As we all excitedly left the room where the shoes were introduced, each of us were hoping to be the first to get the exclusive glimpses of the shoes on to social media for the world to see. Blogs were updated, Instagram uploaded to and Facebook lives were over its was time to head back to the hotel for some R&R before the evening in Manchester.
Now in terms of perks of the job, this has to be one of the best I’ve had so far. A trip to an exclusive launch, a meal out that was shared with tables full of like-minded people and to top it off cocktails that belonged in the labs of the institute. What more could you ask for…..
It didn’t stop there, the next morning it was time to test the shoes against the elements. With the launch being set in Manchester we were literally a stones throw away from Lake district terrain. What better place to test the world’s toughest grip. And yes, I do mean test, we were about to be handed a pair of shoes that literally only one of two people have in the entire world. It was like a shoe lovers dream come true.
I’m not exactly what you could describe as fit right now so I’d opted for the shorter route while I witnessed some of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever had the fortune of running with move up the steep trails of the fells as if they were floating on air. It always fascinates me how they glide along so effortlessly. I explored the lower trails and fells with one of the fantastic members of the inov-8 team and got to really test the grip of the Terra Ultras on a huge mixture of terrain types. I’ve always been impressed with inov-8s because they are one shoe that you can always rely upon being safe to use straight out of the box.
I had thought that maybe the addition of Kevlar to the upper might have taken some of this away but they were just as soft and supple straight out of the box as id always been used to them being.
Time for a little stop off in a café. The main group of runners now back from their higher fell adventures, It was great to hear that they had had so much fun testing the grip of the Mudclaws to the max while racing down fields. These hills were described as ones you’d probably have second thoughts about even sledging down, never mind going full pelt down by foot. But not a faultering grip was reported from a single one of them.
A runners connection to the ground is obviously their shoes, so it’s not surprising that athletes are so enthusiastic when something comes along that will improve this connection, especially so for the trail and off trail runners.
What stood out for me more than anything was just how impressed all the athletes were, the enthusiasm for the look feel and responsiveness of the shoes was overwhelming from them all.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “hes had some free shoes of course he’ll say they’re good.” This is just not the case. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m always more than happy to point of pros and cons of any shoe I get to test. And most forward thinking brands like to have feedback in whatever form it may be, good or bad. Ive written more about my personal experience with each shoe below.
NEW MODELS BREAK DOWN
MUDCLAW G 260
Due to be launched in the Autumn 2018. Each pair comes with pair of gaiters perfectly colour coded to the lab inspired green . Kevlar uppers to give the rest of the shoe the same toughness as the sole, known for its durability but also its breathability. The grip patterns and depth is primarily designed for soft ground like we face on most obstacle courses, but its soft compound makes it perfect over hard surfaces too. The new tread pattern has been spread right the way to the edges to give maximum grip and stability which can really be felt.
Drop – 4mm / 8.5mm heel – 4.5mm forefoot
Weight – 260grams
Grip – 8mm
RRP – £140
The Mudclaws with their brand new grip pattern are outstanding. Every bit of support is more than welcome to boost confidence on uneven terrain in the dry weather we’ve been having. I didn’t at any stage feel like my ankles were at risk across dry rutted ground. Although it hasn’t been the wettest few weeks I was able to show the Mudclaws the soft wet ground they desired in the depths of Devon, and to say I was impressed is an understatement. They performed really well in the sand, muddy and trails around the national parks and beaches of Devon. I even got the benefit for wearing the gaiters as I ventured in too far into the extremely muddy areas around the riverbanks. I was a little worried about the Kevlar adding an element of rigidity to the upper but this wasn’t the case at all. In fact you couldn’t really tell the difference between these and previous materials used for the upper. These are a level 4 out of 5 on the width scale inov-8 now use. So even for my wide feet there was plenty of room.
TERRA ULTRA G 260
Released in the first wave in July ,this model is designed with big miles and comfort on and off trails in mind. With the grip on the Mudclaw the Graphene allowed the designers to take the lugs right to the edge without having to worry about them breaking off, but with the Terra Ultra the Graphene has allowed them to use less of the grippy rubber on the sole across less of the surface, which means they are extremely responsive and flexible, but still just as durable. This responsiveness is a huge bonus for when you want to really react to the surface you’re racing on.
Drop – 0mm / 9mm heel – 9mm forefoot
Weight – 260grams
Grip – 4mm
RRP – £140
The Terra Ultras felt fantastic for me, straight out of the box. As regards to grip they gripped really well, even on ground that was loose and muddy too. This shoe is aimed at trail runners who like to clock up the miles and explore off the beaten track a little. And for me they suit this perfectly. A nice wide fit makes them extremely comfortable for wider feet too with a 5 out of 5 on the inov-8 width scale. Ultra runners can’t go wrong with this model.
THE OVERALL ROUND UP
So if these shoes aren’t going to magically last forever then what makes them worth the extra money? Its all about the quality of the GRIP, rather than it being about a shoe that last forever its more about having the best grip and shoe possible for its life span. Most shoes you’d be looking at anything between a 300-500 mile reasonable life span before the cushioning will start to no longer do its job. Traditionally with softer compound rubbers your soles would be worn out long before the 300 to 500 mile mark. What inov-8 have created with their Graphene impregnated rubber is a soft sticky compound that grips incredibly well, but with the durability of a traditionally harder compound rubber. This has meant a few things one being the ability to add lugs to the very edges of the sole especially on the Mudclaw, which would ordinarily be a no-go area for softer compound rubbers because of the likely-hood that the lugs would snap off. So the increased surface area due to these extra lugs hugely helps with the stability of the shoe.
Over the next 3 years we will see lots of exciting new technology being born from the collaboration between the Graphene institute and inov-8. My mind can’t help but imagine the possibilities for the future. I’m thinking along the lines of rip proof ultra lightweight jackets and bags and also the possibility of wearable technology all being featured in the ground breaking line up.
There are exciting times ahead for the inov-8 range that’s for sure.
For more information, to order or preorder your pair go to: www.inov-8.com