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Hands-on Gear Review
Pearl Izumi X-PROJECT 1.0 Review
Cons: Expensive, minimal foot protection
The X-Project 1.0 is the top-end mountain bike shoe in the Pearl Izumi range. Most of the shoes we tested can easily be classified as cross-country, enduro, or downhill shoes but the X-Project blurs the lines. 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.
RELATED: Our complete review of mountain bike shoes
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
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.
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 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.
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.
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-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.
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
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: October 1, 2015
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