Initial Review: Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elite shoe

Pearl Izumi bill their new X-Alp Elite as their “‘go to’ shoe for those epic rides that involve any hiking.”  On its surface, Pearl’s goal of creating what could be construed as the ultimate hike-a-bike shoe seems a bit odd.  After all, for years cycling shoes have been getting lighter, stiffer, and sleeker- and most riders appreciate these improvements.  While shoes with grippier soles and sturdier uppers have been gaining traction for several years, it wasn’t until a trip to Sedona’s very exposed sandstone  trails a couple of years ago that I really got it.

Though I’ve done more than my share of pushing the bike while wearing carbon-soled wundershoes, there are certain riding areas that do not suffer hard-soled disco boots gladly.  Areas where a dab is a last-ditch attempt to save oneself from a big fall or where the trail is just unrideably steep.  What are the locals riding in those areas?  As often as not, I’m seeing X-Alps.  Click ‘more‘ to find out if Pearl Izumi have struck the right balance between riding and walking…

Available in whole European sizes only, the $150 X-Alp Elite appears to be a well-made shoe.  The striking white & green (or less striking black & red) uppers could pass for light hiking shoes- if not for the two Velcro and third ratcheting strap.  Removing the bolted-on cleat cover exposes the lime green midsole, which is otherwise completely covered with grippy carbon rubber tread.  The heel even borrows Energy Cell padding technology from Pearl Izumi’s running shoes.  At a claimed 415g (size 43), the X-Alp Elites aren’t meant to be light- but aren’t noticeably heavy either.

The Pearl Izumis’ fit works well on my low-volume (but average width) feet- though half-sizes (especially at this price point) would make the fit that much better.  The ratcheting top strap has a slick low-profile and solid three-position anchor at the shoe’s inside, which helps to pull the heel back into the deep heel cup.  A reinforced toe rand should help durability, especially off the bike, but is not cactus-proof.

On the bike, the X-Alp Elites surprisingly feel closer to light hiking than riding shoes.  The grippy tread makes for very reassuring dabs and comfortable pushing, even over longer distances.  For longer rides, though, the flexible sole can make for uncomfortable pedaling on even mid-sized pedals (like Crank Brother’s new Candys or PI parent company Shimano’s new XT and XTR trail pedals).  Anyone who is used to riding flats won’t mind the flexibility, but swapping out modern XC shoes for the X-Alps will quickly tire spoiled feet and calves.  Either way, a pedal like Shimano’s DX model or Crank Brothers’ Mallet will be the best bet.

Is the X-Alp Elite my “‘go to’ shoe for those epic rides that involve any hiking”?  As someone who hasn’t ridden flats in years and whose feet have atrophied as a result, I’d like to see a bit more stiffness from the cleat back for longer days (the ones that usually result in hiking)- something the X-Alp P.R.O. should offer thanks to its unidirectional carbon sole plate (for another $50).  On the other hand, for riding in technical terrain the X-Alps are absolutely my first choice.  The ability to bail gracefully and walk with dignity makes them ideal for areas where I’m a bit out of my depth or where consequences are too high to just send it.

marc

www.pearlizumi.com

Comments

Dana - 06/15/11 - 9:29am

How well would these work with platform pedals? After suffering a broken leg due to not being able to get unclipped, I am currently running platforms but have not found a good pair of shoes to go with them.

Greg - 06/15/11 - 10:27am

Nice review of a super shoe. You hit all the points that make the Alp-X Elite my favorite shoes since I got them a few months ago.

Last year I’d tried the slightly downspec version of the Alp-X, forgot the exact name but it had still had ratchets, and found that my normal size 41 was too small compared to other 41s from Sidi and Garne so with the new Alp-X Elite I went up one size from my “normal” 41 to a 42 and they feel very good on my feet especially using a cushioned sock like a Smartwool Phd or similar.

Adam - 06/15/11 - 11:52am

I’m really interested in the Pearl Izumi shoes. They just have that great look to them. Plus I just love PI’s stuff. But I didn’t know Shimano owned them. That’s new to me.

Andrew Brautigam - 06/15/11 - 2:34pm

Most of the DH guys run 5.10 (five ten) shoes with flat pedals. They use climbing shoe rubber on the soles so they’re super sticky.

Slow Joe Crow - 06/16/11 - 2:04pm

You’ve actually come close to my setup. I have the older (and cheaper) first generation X-Alp Enduro shoes with Crank Brothers Mallet pedals on my trail bike. I also have Candy pedals on my cyclocross/road bike and I’ve ridden several century rides with that setup without any foot discomfort so I’m not sure that a stiffer sole would be a good idea since then you start to lose the walkability that is X-Alp’s raison d’ etre.
That said, a toe spike option for extra grip on muddy run ups would be useful.

BikeGeek - 06/16/11 - 4:27pm

Brian Lopes and Ross Schnell have been riding these shoes as well, which to me speaks highly of the concept. PI have been working on this category of shoe for a while now and seem to be making some good progress. There is a carbon sole equipped Xalp Pro for peeps who need some more stiffness. Bunch of bike commuters I know also rock the other Xalp models as they can clip in for riding, but walk around all day at work in them.

Marc - 06/16/11 - 8:45pm

Dana,

The X-Alp soles’ tread will be a bit chunkier than a lot of people like with flats- see Andrew’s notes about 5.10s and other skate shoes. That said, they will be stiffer and would probably be my choice. They won’t grip as well as a (flexier) smooth sole for bunny hopping or other technical moves, but for pedaling they’d probably be a fair bit more comfortable. The removable cleat cover is a bit hard, though, which is a bummer for what you’re looking to do.

marc

Gerry - 08/25/11 - 10:49am

I ordered these shoes and was looking for the right pedal to buy. I race Super D and ride an AM bike on a daily basis so I like to do more tech and DH stuff so I was psyched to read this review. I am curious how the shoes work with a Crank Bros Mallet pedal? I’m leaning towards buying those so that I don’t have any “issues” clipping back in during a race should I need to take a foot off of the pedal.

Post a comment:

Comment sections can be a beautiful source of knowledge, conversation and comedy. They can also get pretty ugly, which is why we've updated our Comments Policy. If your comment isn't showing up or suddenly disappears, you might want to check it out.