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.