A pair of Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD Compatible MTB shoes arrived in the mail a while back to replace my battered and bruised Shimano M182’s. Like most dedicated cycling shoes the M182’s suck for off bike activity of any significance. The glass fibre reinforced nylon-polyurethane soles offer little grip on any surface, and the lack of flex and cushioning makes hiking a last resort. Being more into exploring and adventure than racing I figured it was time to give hybrid ride/run MTB shoes a go.
Recreational SPD compatible shoes are easy to come by but there aren’t many performance orientated hybrid options. Searching online lead me to Pearl Izumi. While the company continues to work on X Project (a race orientated ride/run shoe) their X-Alp range is generally well regarded by people who love to scamper around on rocks etc while out mountain biking. The Launch model sits at the top of the X-Alp range.
Built from input from multiple World Champion Brian Lopes, this is the All Mountain shoe for Epic rides. Its extremely efficient X-Alp bottom unit has the walkability of an aggressive trail running shoe.
• P.R.O. 1:1 Anatomic Buckle Closure: follows the natural anatomic shape of the foot to eliminate hot spots and remove pressure from your instep; and an adjustable instep strap with adjustable buckle mounting plate deliver ultimate fit and flexibility
• Quick drying, highly breathable mesh/synthetic upper delivers comfort and breathability
• Low cut construction for a light, fast fit and feel
• Dual density EVA X-Alp outsole/midsole with firmer second density EVA between pedal and foot for off the bike cushioning and comfort and on the bike power transfer
• Carbon rubber lugged outsole for superior traction and durability
• Energy Cell technology in heel crash pad for ultimate cushioning when off the bike.
The X-Alp Launch looked the goods but the first problem was that it isn’t brought into Australia. Nor was the shoe available to Australian customers via Pearl Izumi’s online stores…doh! Amazon however was happy to sell me a pair.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch First Impressions
The X-Alps shoes look slick and appear to be well made. At a glance you’d mistake them for an overbuilt trail running shoe. Funnily enough the color scheme matches the reverse Vitamin P finish of the Mojo HDR (a black version of the shoe is also available). In terms of fit, buying shoes unseen is risky for me due to my weirdly shaped feet. Would they even fit? Luckily yes! I ordered the same size shoe I regularly wear. The buckle closure features an adjustable instep strap with adjustable buckle mounting plate, and also appears to be user replaceable.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Review: On the trail
The X-Alp Launch has two distinct personalities: Off the bike and On the bike. It’s like having two shoes in one.
Off the Bike
Off the bike the X-Alp Launch feels like a trail running shoe. So much so that while getting ready to go out riding there’s a feeling of not being fully dressed! The mid sole stiffness is well disguised by adequate flex forward of the cleat, combined with the EVA sole, deep tread and overall cut of the shoe. Impressively the level of grip offered by the carbon rubber lugged outsole is comparable to a quality trail running shoe. The shoes make getting off the bike and exploring terrain on foot a bunch of fun.
Want to stand one footed on a smooth angled rock surface in your riding shoes and clown around? Well now you can 🙂
On the Bike
Off the bike the hybrid X-Alp Launch shoes tick all the boxes, but what about on the bike? Given how comfortable the shoes were while walking around I was skeptical of how they would perform. Once you click into the pedals though it’s hard to believe it’s the same shoe. While the X-Alp doesn’t magically transform into a fully blown competitive cycling shoe it definitely lose most of its trail shoe feel.
Masochists will be pleased to know that the buckle system instantly feels the business. Like any new cycling shoe there’s an initial period of fine tuning the adjustment of each strap so each foot is held firmly in place without overly restriction circulation. Likewise, even with the generous tread depth, clipping in and out is no problem thanks to ample clearance around the cleat.
The X-Alp Launch doesn’t offer the same rigid platform as a dedicated cycling shoe like the the Shimano 182’s does. It’s not that X-Alp’s flex excessively or unacceptably while pedaling – they’re far stiffer than my old Look SPD shoes – but they do have a markedly different feel to a dedicated cycling shoe. You can feel a lot more through the pedal with the X-Alp Launch and there is more freedom of movement, especially side to side. Coming from years of wearing dedicated cycling shoes it took some getting used to. In some ways the X-Alp encourages a looser, less rigid style of riding which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you aren’t obsessed with maximum efficiency.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Review: The Bottom Line
While the X-Alp Launch may not ultimately match the pedaling performance of a dedicated cycling shoe, it’s still pretty darn good with its own distinctive feel, and off the bike is stellar fun. The X-Alp Launch is definitely a MTB shoe that can be worn all day for epic on and off bike adventures.
Footnote: Pearl Izumi’s race orientated ride/run shoe, the X Project, should be readily available in early 2014.