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Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Review

A lightweight, stiff-soled flat pedal shoe best suited for trail riding
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch
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Price:  $150 List | $150.00 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, Boa closure, excellent power transfer
Cons:  Not the grippiest, more difficult to get feet in
Manufacturer:   Pearl Izumi
By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 6, 2021
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 10
  • Grip - 30% 7
  • Fit and Comfort - 25% 8
  • Rigidity and Power Transfer - 20% 9
  • Breathability - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Weight - 5% 9

Our Verdict

The recently updated Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch is an intriguing flat pedal shoe with sleek looks and Boa closures. This lightweight model has a stiff 3/4 length nylon shank that gives them excellent power transfer. These comfy kicks have a low-medium volume fit with Boa dials that make it easy to adjust the tension on the fly. The PinLoc Outsole features Goodyear rubber and a shallow chevron tread pattern that offers average levels of pedal grip, while the recycled Cordura uppers allow for great breathability and quick drying. They may not be the grippiest shoes we tested, but we were quite impressed by their low weight and efficient power transfer and feel they are a compelling option for trail riders to consider.

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Price $150.00 at Competitive Cyclist
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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84
Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, Boa closure, excellent power transferExcellent pedal grip, comfortable, true all-mountain performanceGrippy soles, casual looks, reasonable price, versatility, lightweightGreat pedal grip, sturdy construction, protective features, comfortableImpressive grip, protective, reasonable price
Cons Not the grippiest, more difficult to get feet inOn the expensive side of the spectrum, Stealth rubber wears more quicklySomewhat loose fit in the forefootHeavier weight, sizing runs a little smallHeavier weight, limited breathability
Bottom Line A lightweight, stiff-soled trail riding shoe with average grip and above-average breathabilityThe flat pedal shoe by which all others are judgedThis casually styled flat pedal shoe is a versatile performer with excellent gripComfortable, beefy, and protective, these are a great option for gravity ridingAn affordable shoe that delivers impressive grip, comfort, and protection
Rating Categories Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Five Ten Freerider Pro Specialized 2FO Roost Flat Ride Concepts Powerline Ride Concepts Livewire
Grip (30%)
7
10
9
9
9
Fit And Comfort (25%)
8
9
9
10
9
Rigidity And Power Transfer (20%)
9
9
8
8
8
Breathability (10%)
9
8
8
7
7
Durability (10%)
7
8
8
9
9
Weight (5%)
9
8
9
4
5
Specs Pearl Izumi X-Alp... Five Ten Freerider... Specialized 2FO... Ride Concepts... Ride Concepts...
Rubber Type Goodyear PinLoc Stealth S1 SlipNot ST DST 4.0 MAX GRIP Kinetics DST6.0 High Grip
Tread Pattern Full Chevron Full Dot Full Hexagon Dot Hexagon dot Full Dot
Weight per Shoe (ounces) 12.87 (size 43) 14.11 (size 11) 12.96 (size 43.5) 16.97 (size 11) 16.15 (size 11)
Weight per Shoe (grams) 365 (size 43) 399 (size 11) 367 (size 43.5) 467 (size 11) 458 (size 11)
Closure Boa L6C Laces Laces Laces Laces
Lace Keeper N/A Yes Yes Yes Yes
Volume Low-Medium Medium Medium Medium Medium
Upper Materials Recycled Cordura Synthetic Leather Leather/textile Welded microfiber Synthetic/mesh
Midsole EVA EVA Cushioned EVA
Insole AM/MT insole Body Geometry

Our Analysis and Test Results

Pearly Izumi has been making cycling shoes of all kinds for years and they recently updated their X-Alp Launch flat pedal model. These are one of only a few flat pedal shoes on the market that use a Boa dial as opposed to a traditional lace closure. Additionally, Pearl Izumi teamed up with Goodyear (yes, that Goodyear) to develop the rubber compound used in their new PinLoc Outsole. We found these lightweight shoes to provide top-notch power transfer and a comfortable fit, although they couldn't quite match the grippy-ness of our top-rated models. That said, we still feel they are a great option for trail riders seeking a lightweight and efficient flat shoe for going the distance.

Performance Comparison



The X-Alp Launch is a lightweight and stiff flat pedal shoe with Boa...
The X-Alp Launch is a lightweight and stiff flat pedal shoe with Boa closures and average levels of grip.
Photo: Laura Casner

Grip


Pearl Izumi teamed up with the rubber experts at Goodyear to develop the compound for their PinLoc Outsole. The outsole features a full coverage chevron pattern with a uniform tread depth from toe to heel. With a name like PinLoc we expected these shoes to be incredibly grippy, but we soon found that they can't quite compete with the grippiest models in this test. Don't get us wrong, they have adequate grip and work well enough, but if you're looking for super-tacky, we'd suggest looking elsewhere. That said, this level of grip may be a great middle-ground for riders who find some shoes to feel too grippy.

The PinLoc Outsole uses Goodyear rubber and a shallow chevron tread...
The PinLoc Outsole uses Goodyear rubber and a shallow chevron tread design. We found this combination to offer average levels of grip.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

The Goodyear rubber and chevron tread design make positive contact with the pedal pins and provide average levels of grip. When fully weighted, we found that our shoes clung to the pedals and weren't prone to slipping or blowing off. Unlike the grippiest shoes we tested, however, our feet didn't feel quite as glued to the pedals or locked on. This was most noticeable while climbing when it was easy to accidentally pull the foot off the pedal when powering through techy sections. Likewise, our feet didn't feel quite as secure on the descents when rattling over chunk as they did with grippier models. We think the stiffness of the soles has something to do with this, as they felt more prone to getting bounced than models with a little more give or flex. The shallow tread depth and sloped edges of the chevrons also don't seem to grab a hold of the pins as well as some other designs. On the flip side, we found making small adjustments to the feet to be relatively easy and didn't require as much unweighting as other models.

The Boa closure makes for a snug and secure fit, although it also...
The Boa closure makes for a snug and secure fit, although it also makes them a little harder to get on and off the feet.
Photo: Laura Casner

Fit and Comfort


We found the X-Alp Launch to be a relatively comfortable pair of shoes. They felt true to size in terms of length, but they have a lower-medium volume fit that is a bit more snug than most. They come with a comfortable footbed, and the recycled Cordura uppers feel good around the feet. The Boa dial pulls even tension across the top of the midfoot and makes tension adjustments quick and easy.

One of the first things we noticed when putting the X-Alp Launch shoes on for the first time is that they are a little harder to get your feet into than shoes with traditional lace closures. Since the Boa wire passes through a fixed fabric loop and can't be unhooked from the shoe, even with it loosened as far as it would go we had to wiggle our feet into the opening of the shoe. Once in the shoe, we noticed that they are slightly lower in volume with a snugger fit at the widest part of the foot. Folks with wider feet will likely want to steer clear, but we feel these should work well for people with low to medium volume feet. We found them to fit true to size in their length, but they only come in whole Euro sizes, so those who are usually in between sizes will probably want to size up.

They don't offer lots of foot protection, but the reinforced toe and...
They don't offer lots of foot protection, but the reinforced toe and heel have you covered in the most strike prone areas.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

The included footbed is comfortable and is nicely contoured under the heel and arch support. It has a nice, deep heel pocket that holds the heel securely in place, even when hiking up steep rock faces. The tongue is generously padded under the Boa wire, and the heel cup and front of the toe box are reinforced for a little bit of added foot protection. That said, those seeking a protective shoe for charging hard are better off looking elsewhere.

If you're looking to maximize your power transfer, the stiff-soled...
If you're looking to maximize your power transfer, the stiff-soled X-Alp Launch has you covered.
Photo: Laura Casner

Rigidity and Power Transfer


The X-Alp Launch have among the stiffest soles and best power transfer of all the models we tested. Whether you're spinning it out while seated or mashing up a steep section while standing, it feels like there is virtually no wasted energy. A 3/4 length nylon shank stiffens the sole from the ball of the foot back, while the front of the shoe allows flex through the toe for relatively normal walking.

Considering how lightweight the X-Alp Launch shoes are, we were quite surprised by their sole stiffness and impressive power transfer. In our in-hand flex tests, they were definitely one of the stiffest, and this carried over to our field observations as well. The 3/4 length nylon shank allows virtually no sole flex from the ball of the foot to the heel of the shoe. This results in some of the most efficient power transfer in the test. If you live for long, pedal heavy rides, these lightweight shoes won't weigh you down or waste any of your precious pedaling power.

On the descents, the stiffness of the X-Alp Launch's soles helps to prevent foot and calf fatigue, though it doesn't provide much in the way of pedal sensitivity. Sure, you can still feel your pedals underfoot, but the shoes don't really conform to the pedal. We found this was part of the reason they felt less grippy, as the shoe felt more prone to bouncing off the pedal in the really rough stuff. Off the bike, you won't forget that you're wearing a bike shoe, but the flex through the toe allows for a pretty normal gait.

The Cordura fabric seems to breathe well, plus it dries quickly.
The Cordura fabric seems to breathe well, plus it dries quickly.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Breathability


The X-Alp Launch have above average breathability. It's not that they have loads of ventilation, but the materials used in their construction allow air to pass through and keep the feet cool. We feel they should work well in a pretty broad temperature range except for below-freezing winter rides. They aren't the most breathable shoes we tested, but they certainly never felt too hot or clammy.

The synthetic side panels of the uppers have very little ventilation save for a perforated Pearl Izumi logo on the lateral side. The whole forefoot of the shoe is covered with a thin layer of recycled Cordura, however, that gives the X-Alp Launch a relatively airy feel. Even though it is tightly woven, the thin Cordura layer feels like it allows air to pass through so trapped heat and moisture can escape. Additionally, it dries quickly and resists getting saturated with sweat or moisture.

While we can't report any durability issues with our test pair, the...
While we can't report any durability issues with our test pair, the fabric loops holding the Boa wire seems like a questionable choice to us.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Durability


The X-Alp Launch appears to be a well made and high-quality pair of shoes that should have a relatively long life. Our test pair shows no signs of premature wear or issues that would make us question their durability. All of the stitching remains intact, the soles barely look used, and the uppers are in excellent shape beyond a couple of minor scuffs and some mud.

We are a little concerned about the fabric loops that secure the Boa wire across the top of the foot. The wire is quite thin and we feel that with repeated use these loops could be a potential failure point. The Cordura upper material also seems like it could be prone to fading, plus it is quite thin and seems like it could be more susceptible to damage than beefier materials. These concerns are just speculation, of course, but we feel are worthy of mention.

There was a slight variance in the weight of our test shoes, but...
There was a slight variance in the weight of our test shoes, but they averaged a shockingly light 365-grams per shoe.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Weight


Weighing in at 365-grams per shoe in a Euro size 43, the X-Alp Launch is an impressively lightweight pair of shoes. Pearl Izumi's use of lightweight materials and the Boa closure undoubtedly contribute to their super-light feel. While most gravity riders probably aren't all that concerned with the weight of their shoes, those who value efficiency and weight savings should give the X-Alp Launch a look.

We think the X-Alp Launch is a good value considering its unique...
We think the X-Alp Launch is a good value considering its unique features and impressive power transfer.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Value


The X-Alp Launch fall towards the high end of the price spectrum of shoes in this test. That said, Pearl Izumi packed them with features and tech usually found on more expensive clipless shoes. These shoes are lightweight with stiff soles and excellent power transfer, and we feel they will likely represent the best value to efficiency-minded trail riders who don't require the grippiest soles.

Conclusion


The X-Alp Launch is a unique and interesting flat pedal shoe from Pearl Izumi. It stands out for its impressively light weight, stiff soles, and excellent power transfer. It has a somewhat narrow fit, but we found it be comfortable and breathable with modest foot protection. The Boa closure gives it a distinctive look and makes adjusting tension quick and easy. The PinLoc soles aren't the grippiest, but they work well enough and might be the perfect middle-ground for many riders. If you seek a lightweight, efficient, and cool looking shoe for trail riding, we think the X-Alp Launch is worth a look.

The X-Alp Launch is a sleek looking and unique flat pedal shoe that...
The X-Alp Launch is a sleek looking and unique flat pedal shoe that boasts light weight, great power transfer, good breathability, and Boa closures.
Photo: Laura Casner

Jeremy Benson