Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Launch SPD mountain bike shoes are the next evolution in casual-styled clipless shoes with performance DNA. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp shoes instantly caught our attention when we pulled them out of the box and we couldn’t show up to a trailhead without compliments on how good they looked. And while we loved the shoes at first, as time wore on, our love affair with the looks, styling and impressive Vibram Ecostep traction made way for a rather significant critique. Read on to see what we liked and what we’d like to see changed.
Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Launch SPD shoe offers a sleek, skate style aesthetic built for clipless performance for riders looking to look cool and ride hard. The X-Alp Launch SPD has a Vibram Ecostep outsole that offers a solid combination of grip, traction and durability. It has a unique design in that the bottom is quite smooth around the ball of the foot, with lugs towards to toe and heel for traction while walking. The Vibram material is soft and very grippy, which we liked a lot.
A three-quarter length composite shank is designed to add stiffness for pedaling efficiency but allows plenty of flex for any hike-a-bike sections. The X-Alp Launch SPD shoes have impact cushioning in the form of an EVA foam midsole and a reinforced toe box for those root-punching, boulder-smashing off line mishaps. Pearl Izumi built the upper using recycled Cordura, a fabric that is durable and eco-friendly.
Pearl Izumi’s biggest change to the X-Alp Launch SPD this year, is the use of the BOA Fit System over traditional laces. There is one BOA Fit System for the entire shoe, which is our major critique and we’ll address that below.
The Launch SPD shoe is compatible with 2-bolt SPD cleats. Pearl Izumi offers the X-ALP Launch SPD in a classy Berm Brown or Black colors and are available in sizes 39 through 49.
First things first, we do like these shoes and love the way they look. Pearl knocked the styling, color, sole design and rubber compound out of the park. They’re breathable but not too cold or meshy to be used in cooler temps. When walking or unclipped the soft Vibram rubber is very tacky and grips very well.
We liked the stiffness to flex ratio on the bike but thought they were a bit stiff for side-hill walking. Power transfer is good, we didn’t get any cramps or sore feet on long descents and hiking straight up or straight down mountains is just fine. However on longer, off-camber hikes, the shoes don’t have much flex, which isn’t a huge deal since that’s a pretty rare occurrence in our riding routine.
What did knock the X-Alp shoes down off their pedestal however is the single BOA Fit System closure. We found it to be too large of an area to evenly tighten the lace across the top of the foot. The single BOA dial meant that the top of the foot was super tight while the bottom was loose. We’d try to completely loosen the lace and slide our finger under the laces to snug up before cinching down the BOA ratchet dial, but that only worked a little bit and did not feel good on the fingers. We’re not sure if we’d rather see a Velcro closure or an additional BOA Fit dial closer to the toes, but for our feet shape, we’d like to snug the shoes up a bit more comfortably.
Overall we like the shoes quite a bit but for our feet the single BOA closure just wasn’t quite smooth enough to evenly snug up the entire lace over the tongue of our shoe. We regularly felt the top of the lace would be uncomfortably tight while the bottom of the lace just above the toes felt a little bit loose for our liking. After sending our feedback to Pearl Izumi we got this reply back and look forward to seeing if any changes may offer more adjustability for slimmer feet: “We really appreciate your feedback and totally understand it may be a downside for people with lower volume feet. We will be keeping this type of feedback in mind for future iterations of this model.”
Beyond that one critique, which may not be an issue for those with a wider or fuller foot, we really like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp shoes. They’re comfortable, grip well, and got us compliments every time we showed up to the trails and they use recycled material where possible. We’d love to see an improvement to the closure system for really aggressive, high performance days on the bike, but beyond that, these shoes are definitely worth checking out.