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Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD Review

This shoe has the versatility, performance, and style to be a reliable daily driver for any rider, and it won't break the bank
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $160 List | $94.98 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual style
Cons:  Single boa closure, limited traction in wet conditions
Manufacturer:   Pearl Izumi
By Zach Wick ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 9, 2020
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 19
  • Power Transfer - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Traction Walkability - 25% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 15% 9

Our Verdict

As our testing period progressed, Pearl Izumi's new X-Alp Launch surreptitiously crept its way towards the front of the closet and became one of our favorite everyday trail shoes. It isn't the stiffest or lightest shoe we tested, but the balance it strikes between comfort, performance, walkability, and price is hard to beat. A 3/4-length composite shank gives the shoe similar pedaling efficiency to the best enduro-style shoes we tested, and the Boa closure system makes it fast and easy to find a comfortable, secure fit. The reinforced Cordura fabric upper protects from rock strikes on the trail, and its understated, casual style ensures that you won't get any sidelong glances when picking up your post-ride burrito.

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Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award 
Price $94.98 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 3 sellers
$180.00 at Competitive Cyclist$180.00 at Competitive Cyclist
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$299.95 at Competitive Cyclist
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$160.00 at Competitive Cyclist
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Pros Versatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual styleLightweight, comfortable, versatile, Boa closures, styling, reasonable pricecomfortable, versatile, great traction while hiking, boa closures, good styleLightweight, comfortable, stiff, great power transfer, vibram soles, customizable insolesLugged //Vibram// sole, versatile fit, stiff but walkable
Cons Single boa closure, limited traction in wet conditionsRoomy toe-box, slip-not rubber could be more grippySometimes too grippy for a clipless focused shoe, heavyNo on-the-fly adjustments, limited foot protection, expensiveLimited on-the-go adjustments
Bottom Line Comfortable fit, casual style, and great on-trail performance make this a versatile option for trail ridersThis uniquely styled shoe is packed with features and performance and is one of the best in the testStiff, comfortable, and protective, this shoe is a great choice for the demands of enduro-style ridingLightweight, stiff, and comfortable, this shoe is one of our favoritesA lightweight and sturdy shoe to take on the backcountry
Rating Categories Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD Specialized 2FO Cliplite Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa Giro Empire VR90 Specialized Rime 2.0
Power Transfer (20%)
8
8
8
10
7
Comfort (25%)
9
9
9
8
8
Traction Walkability (25%)
8
8
9
6
10
Weight (15%)
7
8
6
10
8
Durability (15%)
9
9
9
9
8
Specs Pearl Izumi X-Alp... Specialized 2FO... Five Ten Kestrel... Giro Empire VR90 Specialized Rime 2.0
Closure L6 Boa 2 Boa S2-Snap dials, velcro strap over the forefoot Boa dial plus velcro at toe box Laces L6 Boa and Laces
Measured Weight 436 grams 426 grams 511 grams 388 grams 419 grams
Width Options Regular Regular Regular regular and high volume Regular
Upper Material Recycled Cordura fabric Thermobonded upper Synthetic Microfiber XPEL Hydrophobic Mesh
Footbed Pearl Izumi Insole Specialized Body Geometry OrthoLite molded EVA footbed Specialized Body Geometry
Sole Composite shank Lollipop Nylon Composite Carbon-infused nylon shank Easton EC90 Carbon Fiber Lollipop Nylon Composite
Outsole Vibra, ECOSTEP SlipNot rubber sole Steatlh C4 rubber Vibram Mont Molded Rubber High Traction Lugged Outsole, Mid-Foot Scuff Guard, Accomodates Steel Toe Spikes Vibram
Size Tested 45 43.5 10.5 45 44.5

Our Analysis and Test Results

Pearl Izumi gave the longstanding X-ALP Launch a facelift in 2020. The redesigned version we tested isn't a huge departure from the old model, but a few key updates and a style makeover put it on par with the best trail riding shoes we've tested. Now featuring an easy-to-use Boa closure system, a reinforced toe box, and a durable upper in a walkable package, the X-Alp Launch is one of the most versatile models we tested, and it doesn't look out of place at the coffee shop.

Performance Comparison


These shoes are right as home as an everyday workhorse.
These shoes are right as home as an everyday workhorse.
Photo: Zach Wick

Power Transfer


The X-Alp Launch doesn't provide the same snappy power transfer as the XC-oriented race shoes we tested, but among its trail and enduro-oriented counterparts, it certainly holds its own. The 3/4 length composite shank in the shoe's sole provides a solid platform with similar stiffness to its direct competitors. When the time comes to stomp on the pedals and punch up a rise in the trail, the sole feels rock-solid under foot with no hint of folding or bending. Like most gravity/trail-oriented shoes worth their salt, the Launch has a little bit of extra cushion in the insole for those bottom-out moments. This helps to mute trail vibration, but also means a slightly less crisp power transfer when you really get on the pedals.


On the whole, we were very happy with the X-Alp Launch's power transfer. Riders looking to capitalize on every ounce of power they have should certainly look towards the racier shoes we tested that offer full-length carbon soles, but those models won't provide the same protection and comfort when things get rough on the downhills. On your average trail ride, the Launch won't let you down.

Ample padding and a simple, effective closure system make these...
Ample padding and a simple, effective closure system make these shoes super comfortable.
Photo: Zach Wick

Comfort


For an all-around trail riding shoe like the Launch, we think comfort is hugely important, and the designers at Pearl Izumi seem to agree. When donning these kicks, the protective padding and Boa closure system feel like they're wrapping your foot in a warm hug. The Boa pulls tension evenly across the top of the foot, ensuring that you don't develop any hotspots or chafing on long rides, and—as previously mentioned—the insole cushioning helps to mitigate foot and calf fatigue from vibration on long descents. The fit is fairly neutral compared to the typically-narrower "race fit" of XC shoes and should work for a variety of foot shapes and sizes. Despite the reinforcement, the Cordura upper breathes as well as any enduro shoe we tested, and we didn't have any problems with overheating feet on hot days.


We noticed a few minor issues in testing that held us back from giving this model a perfect comfort score. While we like the Boa closure system for its speed and ease, the single Boa doesn't allow for much tension adjustment across different areas of the foot. Our favorite shoes have either double Boas or at least a velcro strap in the toe area—some even have both for a huge range of fit adjustment. The extra cushion in the upper helps the Launch conform to your foot and mitigates the single-boa issue, but riders with less-common foot shapes might have trouble finding the perfect fit. Additionally, we noticed that the tongue can easily slip to the side when tightening the Boa. Regardless, we still think that most foot shapes will find this shoe very comfortable.

The Vibram outsole and flexible toe box make precarious hike-a-bikes...
The Vibram outsole and flexible toe box make precarious hike-a-bikes a little bit easier.
Photo: Zach Wick

Traction and Walkability


The 3/4-length composite sole shank that provides a sturdy pedaling platform stops just forward of the cleat mount plate and allows enough flex in the toe box to make the Launch reasonable for long off-bike excursions. While testing, we did a fair amount of riding, hiking, and re-riding trail sections, and we found that these shoes make walking feel as natural as the best trail shoes out there. The flex in the forefoot combined with the toe box's slight rocker allows for a natural gait that doesn't fatigue your calves as much as the board-like, hard-soled XC shoes.


Paired with the shoe's walkable design is a Vibram ECOSTEP outsole that sticks to the ground admirably in dry, dusty conditions. The rubber of the small, chevron-shaped lugs is soft enough to conform to most surfaces and keep you firmly planted despite the large, minimally-textured patch around the cleat box. On wet days these shoes aren't quite as confidence-inspiring when hiking up steep, slick terrain, but with a little bit of extra care about our foot placement, we managed to get through. Unless you're frequently riding in slick, muddy conditions this shouldn't be a concern.

Despite their casual styling, they are light and stiff enough to get...
Despite their casual styling, they are light and stiff enough to get you up the climbs.
Photo: Zach Wick

Weight


For a fairly beefy trail shoe that inspires full confidence on the descents, the X-Alp Launch is deceivingly light. We were pleasantly surprised when our size 45 test pair tipped the scales at just 436 grams per shoe. It is one of the lightest gravity-oriented shoes we tested and not far off some of the dedicated cross country shoes.


Typically weight is a less important metric for trail shoes like the X-Alp Launch, but this model's low weight, impressive pedaling performance, and protective construction make it a legitimate option for enduro and downhill racers. When you're racing the clock, weight savings help save energy, and more energy means faster times.

The Boa dial protrudes a bit from the upper and can get dinged up...
The Boa dial protrudes a bit from the upper and can get dinged up. Luckily Boa guarantees their system for the life of the shoe.
Photo: Zach Wick

Durability


Like any good trail shoe, the Launch has a robust construction, and it held up well to the punishment we dished out during field testing. The upper is made from recycled Cordura fabric that doesn't scuff or snag easily, and the reinforced toe box feels almost like a light-duty steel toe. Over the course of testing, we did our fair share of rock kicking—mostly accidentally—and saw no signs of separation between the upper and the sole. Additionally, the sole is thick enough that we weren't worried about it being punctured by a wayward stick or sharp rock.

Along with the durable construction, the Launch's upper should be relatively hassle-free to keep clean over the long haul if you're worried about maintaining the clean and casual styling. After a couple of wet rides, we were able to wipe them clean fairly easily using a damp rag.

Any good mountain bike ride involves a touch of hiking, and these...
Any good mountain bike ride involves a touch of hiking, and these shoes are certainly up to the task.
Photo: Zach Wick

Value


The Launch is very competitively priced considering what it has to offer. The other top gravity-oriented shoes we tested both retail for a chunk of change more than the Launch and the performance gains are minimal. Considering that the Launch is one of the lightest all-mountain shoes of the bunch while offering comparable pedaling performance and comfort, we think it's a great value. Riders looking for a daily driver for trail and enduro rides that won't weigh them down on the climbs won't find many better options.

Conclusion


We were impressed with the X-Alp Launch's performance in our field test. Over the course of hundreds of miles and countless hours with these shoes on our feet, we didn't find much not to like. While they didn't blow us away in any single category, they consistently performed alongside the best shoes in the test in many of our metrics. For that reason, we think they're a great option for anyone looking for a versatile everyday trail shoe.

Even though testing is finished we would gladly keep these things...
Even though testing is finished we would gladly keep these things around for a few more months.
Photo: Zach Wick

Other Versions and Accessories


Pearl Izumi has a wide range of models in its X-Alp line. The X-Alp Elevate and X-Alp Summit both feature heavy-duty Vibram outsoles for backcountry adventure riding, and the Launch is also available in a mid-top configuration for more protection.

Zach Wick