Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Xtep 160X Review: Bounce n’ Roll Racer/Trainer

Article by Michael Ellenberger and Derek Li

Xtep 160X ($140-$160)

Michael is a patent attorney and 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon.

Derek is a family physician based in Singapore. Having dabbled primarily in triathlons before, he has been running more seriously since 2013, and owns personal bests of 1:17 and 2:41 for the half and full marathon.


Michael: Xtep has been making running and road racing shoes for a number of years, but with their flagship 160X, they’ve launched themselves into the global “Great Plate Race.” The 160X has a monolayer (surprisingly stretchy!) upper, a Pebax-based midsole (“X-Dynamic Foam”), and a carbon fiber plate with a bifurcated curve. This shoe was worn for the second-fastest Chinese marathon ever (Dong Guojian, 2:08:28). I won’t be running (nearly) that fast, but I did get to try out the Xtep over a variety of terrains and paces and - guess what? It holds up - but you might not want to rush out and buy it right now. 

Derek: I first became aware of this model a couple of months ago when a friend of mine in the running industry bought a pair to train with, and had positive feedback on this shoe. I got mine through online marketplace Taobao and was cautiously optimistic that this shoe would make for a good uptempo trainer at a competitive price.


Weight: 6.9 oz (EU42)

Derek measured a EUR43 (US9.5) using a Zin measurement system (using IAAF standard at center line of the midsole) and got the following stack, including the sockliner:

Forefoot 28mm, Heel 31mm (3mm drop)

AliExpress (Knit Version) approx. $160, AliExpress (Mesh Version) approx. $140


Michael: Midsole bounce with plate yields a springy effect; smooth enough for even slower-paced training

Derek: Bouncy relatively soft midsole


Michael: Slightly sloppy upper; tongue and lacing concerns 

Derek: High volume upper; color bleeds from upper; transitions a bit slow for a carbon plated shoe.

First Impressions and Fit

Michael: The 160X, at first pass, is sort of an amalgamation of a number of carbon fiber-plated racers; a general silhouette reminiscent of an early generation Nike Vaporfly, with some Adidas Adios-esque shaping in the heel and even a little Endorphin Pro in the midsole swoop. But, I’m happy to report that on-foot, the Xtep is something new altogether; there are shades of other racers, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel quite like anything I’ve ever worn - in a good way. There’s a distinct softness to the heel but rigidity through the midfoot - it feels like a racing flat, to be sure.

Initial lacing is a bit quirky, though - I had a hard time settling the tongue flat against my sock, as it kept bunching or sliding laterally with various lacing pressures. Once settled, my pair in Euro 42 were slightly large (as expected - a US 8.5 is usually a Euro 41.5) but with a pair of thicker socks, I was locked in and ready to roll. 

Derek: The looks are pretty flashy. It’s available in quite a few different colorways, all of them are pretty vibrant. My first impression was that the finish smacked more of an athleisure type shoe than a performance shoe. The thin ripstop type mesh plus extensive use of suede fabric elements reminded me a lot of the Nike Zoom Fly SP. Step in feel was pretty comfortable, but i quickly realized that shoe volume was high, and the sizing was a bit long, i.e. I am probably better off going a half size smaller for this shoe. I recommend going a half size down from your regular size. The extra lace hole isn’t punched so while it looks like there is a heel loop option, there isn’t a hole on the other side of the fabric to run your lace through. Jogging and walking around, the bounce of the midsole is evident, as is the surprising flex of the shoe considering it has an embedded carbon plate. 


Michael: There are two upper variants on the Xtep 160X; the model I reviewed had a more traditional mesh upper (whereas another offering has a Flyknit-esque knit material) which was certainly light (the mesh version is lighter than the knit option) but didn’t feel totally locked down. Fortunately, despite the ultra-thin composition, I didn’t feel any concerns cornering in the 160X, or as if it was going to rip or tear - but I did feel as if it was bunching very slightly at the toe box. Because, as previously mentioned, my size 42 was slightly large, I’m willing to write some of it off - but I do wish there was a bit more structure in the toebox - something I don’t normally say! There were overlays, to be sure, but I didn’t find them particularly effective (to their credit, they didn’t cause any irritation, either). More frustrating, I consistently had trouble getting the tongue to keep from sliding to the medial (inner) side beneath the laces, even across a variety of socks. It wasn’t a huge deal - having the tongue tucked sideways didn’t cause any problems - but I think a gusset would have gone a long way.

The upper is quite supportive through the midfoot, with a semi-stretchy midfoot band readily visible on the medial side that provides more than adequate stability for light overpronators. I don’t want to call this shoe a stability racer, by any means, but the strong midfoot wtap with a stiffened carbon-infused midsole (we’ll get to that!) do anchor this shoe pretty effectively, and I don’t think runners will have issues with foot fatigue in the 160X. 

Derek: The upper actually works ok in terms of lockdown, and i think the main issue is that it fits a bit large, and volume is quite high with the stock sockliner. I punched a hole where the extra heel loop eyelet should be and used a heel lock lacing method, swapped in a thicker sockliner from another shoe, put on my thickest pair of socks (Nike Elite Cushioned) and i was able to get a pretty decent fit. I generally let my Nike Elite Cushioned socks gather dust because they are too warm for Singapore weather, but they seem to work ok in this shoe, which is another way of saying the upper is pretty breathable. Still, if you are planning to buy this, i would like to reiterate that one should go down a half size. Oh, and steer clear of the very bright colours as the dye does bleed into socks. This is especially evident in white socks.


Michael: Xtep has paired a proprietary Pebax - one of my favorite midsole starters, called X-Dynamic Foam here - with a rigid carbon fiber plate to create a lively, poppy racer in the 160X. And guess what? It lives up to the hype. Unlike in some recent options I’ve tried (having just reviewed the On Cloudboom), I think the midsole cushion here does a great job here dampening the potential harshness of carbon without detracting from the snappiness. I would equate the X-Dynamic Foam to a slightly more pliable BOOST, landing it somewhere in-between Saucony’s PWRRUN and Adidas’s BOOST. It’s not as forgiving as Nike’s ZoomX, to be sure, but not quite as harsh as Adidas’s variant - a nice medium feel.

My only “concern” regarding this cushioning mechanic is that it does feel rather heel-centric - as you transition to faster paces and a more midfoot strike, you lose some of that bounciness from Xtep’s X-Dynamic Foam. A slightly larger dose in the forefoot - upping the stack by, say, 2 or 3 mm - would have been welcomed here to make it a “true” marathon racer. As it is, I think the cushion is adequate for a marathon racer, but perhaps not perfect - and, conversely, may be more effective for runners who tend to heel strike. 

And then there’s that carbon fiber plate. 

You can see the exposed carbon fiber both under the footbed through the outsole, and in a small area around the medial heel. 

The black underfoot X at mid foot appears to be mainly decorative.

It’s stiff (of course), but not as noticeable as the plate in the Cloudboom or even Skechers Performance Speed Elite Hyper. It’s not gentle, to be sure, but it’s subdued enough sandwiched with the midsole that you won’t feel as if you’re stepping on a hard material with every step.

Derek: The midsole has a pretty nice bounce to it, somewhat softer than Saucony’s PWRRUN PB foam in the Endorphin Speed and Pro but less bouncy than Nike’s ZoomX. The carbon plate here is unfortunately all but non-existent to me as the shoe is plenty flexible. I imagine because of the softness of the foam, it would have been even more flexible without a plate. Given the geometry and softness of the foam, i think the ride would be better appreciated by a forefoot striker. I am more of a midfoot striker, and to that end, while the foam is bouncy and soft, the shoe doesn’t feel as special as it could be. 


Michael: Xtep has done a great job here - the 160X’s outsole is well-done, with sufficient rubberization and covering to suggest durability, but without detracting from its “racing” motif. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Japanese-style racing flats that trickled into the United States - the Takumi Sen, the TarherEdge, or the Hanzo - with rubberization centralized under the forefoot and ringing the heel. As far as I’m concerned (and in the limited wet-condition testing I conducted), it’s going to hold up well to tricky conditions, which in itself should position the 160X well compared to some of its peers (who have noticeably more questionable performance in slick conditions).

Derek: I am very impressed with the outsole of this shoe. It is thin, but quite durable. The thinness of the rubber actually makes it very pliable, and you can actually see it deform together with the midsole, e.g. if you press down with your finger, the whole outsole deforms inward as though it were exposed EVA, quite remarkable. Despite the full forefoot coverage, the shoe flexes very well, not just fore-aft but side to side as well, making a supinated foot strike quite comfortable. Grip is pretty decent for me, but I have only used it on dry and wet roads so far. 


Michael: As noted above, the PEBAX-based midsole “masks” any potential harshness of the carbon, elevating the 160X into the springiness that many racers lack. Indeed, as more and more brands create top-shelf plated offerings, I am coming around to recognizing what many already have - that a racer is only as good as its midsole, no matter the carbon fiber plate. And while it’s a delicate balance (of course!), I think the bifurcated plate in the 160X - great as it may be - is significantly improved by Xtep’s X-Dynamic Foam.

At slower paces, I was pleasantly surprised by the 160X - with a super-cushioned heel and a relatively smooth roll onto the forefoot, there isn't that harshness that we’ve seen in the ride of some racers (even those that perform extremely well at pace). Upping the speed, I was again pleased with the handling of the 160X. Yes, there was some mild annoyance from what feels like extraneous upper material, but the roll through my foot strike continued to feel easy. As the pace gets faster (and particularly on strides), I did feel a slight lack of forefoot cushion - something I would expect would present as an issue during a marathon race, too. But for most use cases of the 160X - say, anything from 5K to 20 mile long run - I don’t think there’s much to complain about with the ride here. 

Derek: The ride is a bit of a mixed bag for me. If you get down to race pace efforts, the shoe actually performs quite nicely, but at slower paces, i think the low drop plus soft midsole work against me and i struggle to transition fast in this shoe. I find the shoe a bit too flexible as a carbon plated model. A stiffer plate (think ASICS Metaracer, Hoka Carbon X) would have done a lot to improve the transition of this shoe. I think they would have done better to go towards a more traditional 8-10mm drop as well, since the midsole is so soft. All in all, the shoe would work ok for intervals and easy recovery runs, but forruns in between, i think it would struggle. Again, I think someone with a more forefoot strike stride pattern would enjoy this shoe a bit more than me. 


Michael: What can I say? I’m pleasantly surprised with the Xtep 160X. Without the pure liveliness of Nike or Saucony’s latest and greatest, I believe the 160X still has a place on the shoe rack of many American runners. I would suggest the 160X for two demographics: marathon racers who want the snap of carbon fiber but are primarily heel strikers (who will benefit from the well-apportioned heel), and faster runners who want to train and do longer workouts in the 160X. I don’t think the performance is quite enough to “steal” runners from the VaporFly, AlphaFly, or even Endorphin Pro, but it is quite a compelling purchase at its $140-$160 price point, even in view of Saucony’s Endorphin Speed or Brooks’s Hyperion Tempo. I appreciate that acquisition of the 160X is trickier in the United States - AliExpress being the primary retailer, as far as I can tell - but I genuinely think it may be worth it for someone who wants a fun, fast lightweight trainer or long tempo run performer (and clearly, with some wicked fast marathons coming out of China, it can handle the quicker paces as well).

Michael’s Score: 8.9/10

Derek: Unlike Michael I was a bit disappointed with the shoe. It has all the right elements that I like in an uptempo shoe - unstructured upper, soft and bouncy midsole, light weight, curved carbon plate, but somehow the sum of the parts falls short of its promise. It is a very credible first effort at a legitimate racer, and i think just improving the fit of the upper both through reducing the length per size, and reducing the upper volume somewhat (could be just as simple as using a thicker sockliner), plus stiffening the carbon plate up a ton, would greatly improve the ride of the shoe. I think at the 3-4mm drop level, the target audience is a bit limited and they should go with a more appealing 6-10mm drop, even if it means adding more heel stack and increasing the weight a little. As is, I think it works best for forefoot strikers, and probably works best for me as a daily trainer leaning more towards easy paces. 

Derek’s Score: 7.9 / 10

Ride 8 40% Fit 7.5 40% Looks 8.5 10% Value 8.5 10% 


Adidas Adizero Pro (RTR Review)

Michael: The Adizero Pro is lower, leaner, and just a touch more aggressive - these two are actually pretty evenly matched, though (and both have gloriously grippy outsoles). Efficient runners might prefer the Adidas for its late-stage snap, and those looks at racing no further than 10K may similar seek the Adizero Pro, but I think the range on the 160X is a little better.

Derek: I fit US9 / Eur42.5 in the 160X and US9.5 in the Adizero Pro. I prefer the ride of the Adizero Pro for pretty much every run except the easy ones where the softness and bounce of the 160X make for a much more enjoyable and forgiving ride. The responsiveness and fit of the Adizero Pro is better for me as a speed shoe.

ASICS MetaRacer (RTR Review)

Michael: I love the MetaRacer for its snappy performance and class-leading upper, but I do think that Xtep’s midsole is a little bouncier than the revamped FlyteFoam packed into the ASICS. Heel-strikers will like the well-cushioned 160X, but I think more efficient runners who are seeking a lower, more aggressive feel should still turn to the MetaRacer.

Derek: I wear US9 / Eur42.5 in the 160X and US9.5 in the Metaracer. Actually at my true to size US9.5, both shoes are a little on the long side, but the upper lockdown and fit is good enough in the Metaracer that i don’t see the need to size down. I think the Metaracer has a noticeably stiffer and more aggressive forefoot rocker that makes fast running and transitions more effortless, but the 160X has a more forgiving ride in terms of vibration dampening. I would favour the 160X for long runs and easy runs, but the Metaracer for fast workouts and race efforts up to 10km.

Brooks Hyperion Elite (RTR Review)

Michael: The Hyperion Elite (v1) is firm, higher-stack marathoner from Brooks that’s already been replaced - and man, it would have been awesome if it had a PEBA-based midsole like the 160X. I think most runners will be happier (and faster!) in the Xtep; it’s certainly a more gentle and measured ride. 

Saucony Endorphin Pro (RTR Review)

Michael: As mentioned in the review, the Endorphin Pro stands out not only for its carbon fiber plate, but also its top-of-class midsole. Indeed, the bounce on the Xtep is outdone by very few… but I think the Saucony is one of them. There might be a range of races where I’d prefer the Xtep - say, 5K up to 5 miles, and maybe races in more technical conditions - but most runners will have better results with the Saucony.

Derek: I wear US9 / Eur42.5 in the 160X and US9.5 in the Endorphin Pro. I think the Endorphin Pro is better in pretty much every area for me, except for easy runs, and the underfoot feel is fimer. The Pro has a better lockdown, and more refined ride with a more propulsive rocker. As a speed shoe or racer, i think the Endorphin Pro is a better option.

Skechers Speed Elite Hyper (RTR Review)

Michael: Like with the Xtep, I just want more midsole from the Speed Elite Hyper. And while I think all of us at RTR like the snappy and fun performance of the Skechers, I would expect the 160X is a more efficient marathon racer for the vast majority of runners - the cushioning on the Xtep is more substantial and generally more lively over long distances than on the Speed Elite. That said, those who really love the feeling of a carbon plate and want a fun midsole will certainly not be disappointed by the Skechers.

Derek: I wear US9 / Eur42.5 in the 160X and US10 in the Speed Elite Hyper (note that the Speed Elite Hyper does not come in half sizes, but even if it did, i would probably go for US10; i went US9.5 for the Speed 6, and it is quite snug at the toes and i made sure to go up to US10 for the Hyper and it was the right choice). I prefer the ride of the Speed Elite Hyper as a speed and uptempo shoe. It is not as bouncy as the 160X, but the rocker makes running in it noticeably easier and you just feel faster in it when you are going at race efforts. Tat said, the Speed Elite Hyper suffers from a weak outsole, and that may be enough to tip the balance for some people since the 160X has a pretty good outsole. 

On CloudBoom (RTR Review)

Michael: In the battle of the midsoles, Xtep beats On’s Helion offering in both volume and performance. I think, as before, there is a small swatch of runners who would choose the On over the Xtep for its stiffness and quick feedback - I’m imagining fast and efficient runners racing 5K to 10K - but most runners, and nearly all marathoners, will have better luck in the 160X.

Xtep 160X available from AliExpress (Knit Version) approx. $160, (Mesh Version) approx. $140

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was a provided at no charge. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

RoadTrailRun receives a commission on purchases at the stores below.
Your purchases help support RoadTrailRun. Thanks!

USA  Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns
EUROPE Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
Join VIP Family, Get Free Shipping and 15% in VIP Benefits on every order, Details here

REI Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE


Please Like and Follow RoadTrailRun
Facebook:  Instagram: @roadtrailrun
Twitter: @RoadTrailRun You Tube: @RoadTrailRun


Alan Gagg said...

Great review, just shows how a shoe can have different results for different runners.
Have you seen on the Aliexpress xtep page this,Xtep Racing 160X New Marathon Men's Running Shoes 980119110866
1 order
US $66.48. It is in a couple of colourways.Is this a previous model I wonder, although it does say new marathon racing shoe, maybe it is a non plated version.

Alan said...

Noted on closer look at the shoe it says 160RC Although the header says XTep160x.
It doesn't have much in the way of info and doesn't show the pictures of the carbon plate as it does on the other Xtep160x page.
At the very least a bit misleading if someone saw the cheaper shoe and bought that.

Derek Li said...

I recommend just using the links provided by the review as those are direct links to the model we tested. That other model you found was probably mislabeled by the store.

Anonymous said...

How does it compare with saucony endorphin speed, thanks

Anonymous said...

Rocket n' roll*