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Hands-on Gear Review

Pearl Izumi X-PROJECT 1.0 Review

Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $320 List | $149.99 at Competitive Cyclist
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Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, Boa retention system, carbon sole, customizeable insoles
Cons:  Expensive, minimal foot protection
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Pearl Izumi

Our Verdict

The X-Project 1.0 holds the top step in the Pearl Izumi mountain bike shoe range. Unlike many of the shoes we have tested, the X-Project is hard to classify, as a cross country shoe or trail shoe. Its attributes blur the lines, with top end performance in nearly every category. Cross-country racers want a shoe that offers maximum power transfer, minimal weight, and a glove-like fit. The X-Project is all of these things, and it looks like a high-end cross country race shoe with its seamless upper and dual BOA closure system. However, when you walk or run in the shoe, the flex is noticeable and feels more like an enduro or gravity oriented shoe with a semi-rigid sole. We do not hand over our coveted Editors' Choice Award lightly, and we approached the Pearl Izumi X-Project 1.0 with a healthy dose of skepticism. With claims of being "as efficient as a fully rigid carbon bottom" while offering flexibility for walking or running, it just seemed to good to be true. For more on this category-shattering shoe, read our full review below. To see how all of the shoes we tested stacked up against each other, read our full Mountain Bike Shoe Review.

New Version of the X-Project - March 2017
Pearl Izumi has updated the X-Project with the release of the new X-Project Pro version. The lower portion of the shoe gets a full redesign, with a new carbon midsole and revamped rubber outsole. The upper also sees updates with a new cable layout for the BOA closure system, new color option, and different ventilation panels. Scroll down for more detailed comparison of the new X-Project Shoes vs. the older version.

RELATED REVIEW: The Best Mountain Bike Shoes Review

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Score Product Price Size Tested Weight Upper Material
Editors' Choice Award
44.5 1lb 10.8oz Synthetic seamless
Top Pick Award
44 2lb 1oz Microfiber
44 1lb 10oz Microfiber
Best Buy Award
44.5 1lb 11oz Microfiber
10.5 2lbs 9.3oz Synthetic Leather
10.5 2lb 2.65oz Polyester Synthetic Textile
44 1lb 8oz Synthetic Leather

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Curtis Smith
Senior Review Editor

Last Updated:
March 21, 2017


X-Project PRO vs. the Old Version (2015)

For spring of 2017, Pearl Izumi has updated the X-Project shoe. The appearance of the shoe has changed but is certainly a recognizable evolution of the 1.0 model we previously reviewed. The heart of the update is a new and improved carbon sole that Pearl Izumi promises is even better than what is found in the highly regarded 1.0 model. With the promise of better power transfer and improved flex for walking the X-Project Pro model looks to be an interesting product. The upper also sees changes, both cosmetic and functional with a new cable routing pattern for the BOA closure system, and a redesigned tongue that is designed to reduce pressure points at the top of the foot. The lug layout of the outsole has also changed with the intent of increasing off the bike traction. If the manufacturer claimed weight is accurate the new version will be slightly heavier than the old version at 370g for a size 43. The price increases from $320 to $350.

Check out a side by side comparison below, with the latest version for 2017 pictured on the left and the older version from 2015 pictured on the right.
Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro
Pearl Izumi X-Project 1.0

Here is a summary of the key differences between the (new) X-Project PRO and the previous version:
  • Re-Designed Carbon Sole — Claims of improved power transfer when pedaling and improved flex for walking.
  • New Seamless Upper — New BOA cable layout, and new upper for improved fit and reduced hot spots.
  • New Lug Design — New Lug layout and design for improved traction
  • Price Increase — Price is now $350 compared to $320 for the previous version.
  • Increased Weight — Claimed weight of 370g for a size 43 is an increase from the previous version.

We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the X-Project Pro which will be included in our next round of testing. Until then, the text and ratings below still reflect the X-Project 1.0.

Hands on Review

This is the Pearl Izumi's second crack at the X-Project 1.0 model. The first version released back in 2013 utilized a virtually identical sole, midsole, and outsole, to this current model, but used a ratcheting buckle system rather than the current Boa closure. The online reviews of the first generation X-Projects are full of accounts of ratchet failures. While we did not test the previous shoe, we can assure you that Pearl Izumi got it right with the current version of the X-Project 1.0.

Performance Comparison

The Pearl Izumi X-Project is versatile  and we loved it for trail rides. It is the only shoe on the market that we found to pedal like a high-end XC race shoe but that allows flexibility for running and walking.
The Pearl Izumi X-Project is versatile, and we loved it for trail rides. It is the only shoe on the market that we found to pedal like a high-end XC race shoe but that allows flexibility for running and walking.


The Pearl Izumi X-Projects come with customizable insoles  and a range of both arch support and varius wedge inserts that slide into the insole.
The Pearl Izumi X-Projects come with customizable insoles, and a range of both arch support and varius wedge inserts that slide into the insole.
Pearl Izumi did a lot of things right with this shoe, and comfort is at the top of that list. The X-Factor has an excellent "Interface" insole system that comes with different foam arch support wedges, as well as varus wedges to allow the rider to create a custom fit based on the shape of their foot and pedaling dynamics. The foam inserts slide into the insole to provide more or less arch support. While the inserts only vary in thickness by a few millimeters, they make a noticeable difference. The upper material is seamless, and only .9mm in thickness. Combined with the micro-adjustability of a dual Boa system, these shoes literally fit like a glove. There is minimal padding in the upper when compared to other shoes such as the Giro Terraduro, but the upper is designed so well we did not miss it. The Boa dials are mounted on the tongue, which is well padded to prevent the dials from creating hot spots on the top of the foot. An EVA foam wedge at the heel is designed to absorb impacts, and while we did not notice a discernable difference when compared to other shoes that don't have this feature, it does not seem to negatively impact the shoe in any way.
The Boa dials are well placed on the top of the Pearl Izumi X-Project 1.0.
The Boa dials are well placed on the top of the Pearl Izumi X-Project 1.0.
Lots of mesh on the sides of the shoe keeps your feet cool on hot days. The downside to the mesh is that it also lets in fine sand, which may or may not be an issue depending on where you live.


The X-Project is one of the lightest shoes we tested at 1lb 10.8oz.] It is only rivaled by the Shimano XC 31, and the Sidi Dominator Fit. We would gladly take the minimal extra weight for the added benefits of the Boa closure and the stiff carbon sole. Weight is important, but fit and power transfer trump weight even when it comes to a shoe you are going to use for cross-country racing.

The Pearl Izumi X-Project is competitively lightweight  making it ideal for cross-country racing.
The Pearl Izumi X-Project is competitively lightweight, making it ideal for cross-country racing.

Power Transfer

Testing the X-Projects on some steep  loose terrain.
Testing the X-Projects on some steep, loose terrain.
How can a shoe have excellent power transfer and retain some flex for walking or running? Traditional thinking would say it couldn't. Most shoes designed for cross-country racing have very rigid unforgiving carbon soles in an effort to take shoe flex out of the equation when a rider puts down maximum power using a cage-less pedal such as the Shimano M520 or a Crankbrothers Eggbeater 2. The X-Project bucks the rigid sole trend with a shoe that is at home cranking out the watts on a hard climb and running up the same hill when you botch the line and have to dismount. We think this shoe has succeeded. The carbon sole is thick where it needs to be to minimize flex while pedaling, but flexes in key areas to make running or walking less awkward. We noticed no unwanted flex during hard, out-of-the-saddle efforts, and can say that the shoes feel as stiff and stable as you would expect from a high-end cross-country shoe.

The Pearl Izumi X-Projects display no flex under power  ensuring your effort is not wasted.
The Pearl Izumi X-Projects display no flex under power, ensuring your effort is not wasted.

Traction, Running, Walking

The same carbon sole that makes this shoe pedal so well is also at the core of what makes it so versatile when it comes to time spent off the bike. Walking in a rigid cross-country shoe is awkward to say the least. Our feet are designed to flex and pivot as we walk. When you attempt to run or walk in a rigid shoe, the natural movement of your foot is inhibited and the heel wants to pull up and out of the shoe. Now don't get us wrong, you will not mistake the X-Projects for your running shoes, but they do have a noticeable amount of flex when walking or running as compared to a pure-bred traditional cross-country shoe design such as the Sidi Dominator Fit. To add welcome flex in the sole, Pearl Izumi equipped the X-Project with a lugged rubber outsole that is softer than what you would commonly find on the bottom of a cross-country shoe. It is noticeably more grippy on rock than the Giro Privateer, but slightly less grippy than the Vibram soled Giro Terraduro. The tread on the bottom of the X-Project is aggressive enough to dig through mud and grass for traction, and it also sheds mud efficiently, making it ideal for cyclocross. It also comes with optional toe spikes for loose, muddy conditions.

The Pearl Izumi X-Projects have noticeable flex in the forefoot  and a grippy sole helps with traction on slick rock.
The Pearl Izumi X-Projects have noticeable flex in the forefoot, and a grippy sole helps with traction on slick rock.


The Pearl Izumi X-Project surprised us from the beginning, and as time and the miles flew by during testing, the shoes survived everything we threw at them. We initially suspected that the seamless uppers would not hold up under the rigors of trail riding and cyclocross use, but we were wrong. While the uppers are thin, they are surprisingly resistant to abrasion. We did manage to abrade a small area near the heel of the right shoe after thousands of miles of dragging it over the cranks, but to be fair, this would cause the same amount of damage to most shoes. Despite never lubricating or cleaning the Boa dials during testing, they worked flawlessly and the cables never loosened or slipped. With the placement of the Boa dials on the tongue, impacts with rocks and other trail obstacles are almost eliminated. The outsoles are equally as impressive, showing only minimal signs of wear despite lots of time off the bike during trail rides, and tons of running in preparation for cyclocross season.

Steep run-ups are common in cyclocross  and the Pearl Izumi X-Project excels in these conditions with a sole that flexes  and aggressive  lugs to bite into loose soil.
Steep run-ups are common in cyclocross, and the Pearl Izumi X-Project excels in these conditions with a sole that flexes, and aggressive lugs to bite into loose soil.

Best Applications

This shoe is truly good at almost everything. It is light and stiff enough for cross-country racing and durable enough for use as daily driver trail shoe. The excellent walking and running characteristics make it one of the best shoes on the market for cyclocross. If downhill and park riding are your main focus, then you should consider shoes such as the Giro Terraduro or the Five Ten HellCat.


This shoe is not cheap, but there is just not anything else on the market quite like it. It is loaded with high-end features, and the overall product quality and execution is excellent, making it a good value despite the high price tag.


The Pearl Izumi X-Project is a top-of-the-line mountain bike shoe that leverages some unique features and technology, pushing it to the top of the heap in the high-end mountain bike shoe market. The variable thickness carbon sole is executed to perfection, yielding a shoe that pedals like the stiffest cross-country race shoes on the market, but turns running into a tolerable experience. Adjustable insoles, top-of-the-line Boa closures, and seamless uppers complete the package.

Other Versions and Accessories

Pearl Izumi also offers the X-Project 2.0, which comes with the same carbon sole and outsole, but features a different upper with a single Boa dial and Velcro strap closure and retails for $240. The X-Project 3.0 features the same carbon sole and outsole as well, but uses a ratchet strap and two Velcro straps for closure and retails for $180. Pearl Izumi also sells a full line of road and more casual clipless compatible shoes.
Curtis Smith

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Most recent review: March 21, 2017
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