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Hands-on Gear Review
Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro Review
Cons: Expensive, minimal foot protection, questionable durability
Bottom line: The X-Project PRO is a top-of-the-line, fully featured, versatile mountain bike shoe by Pearl Izumi.
The X-Project Pro holds the top step in the Pearl Izumi mountain bike shoe range. The winner of our Editors' Choice award in our last review, the Pearl Izumi X-Project PRO returns with some minor updates over the previous model. The relatively lightweight carbon soled shoe is somewhat harder to categorize than other shoes in our test selection, and Pearl Izumi claims it is "perfect for all mountain bikers and cyclocross riders". We find it hard to disagree, assuming you are willing to cough up the cash for the most expensive shoe in our test selection.
The X-Project Pro is packed with features that many riders will love, from the grippy rubber outsole and Boa closures to the stiff and efficient carbon sole that flexes through the toe for improved off-the-bike walkability. While the X-Project Pro does offer impressive performance and features, it still made the podium but gave up the top step to a newcomer in the Outdoor Gear Lab mountain bike shoe test, the Giro Empire VR90. This is not to say the X-Project Pro isn't a fantastic pair because it is, and many riders will be pleased with its outstanding performance and versatility.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
In the 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 primary changes are an "improved" carbon sole, a new cable routing for the Boa closure system, a new seamless upper, and a new lug design. All of these changes were made to improve upon the previous version and led to an increase in both the weight of the shoe and in the price — from $320 to $350. The tricked out shoe has all of the bells and whistles that you would expect from a shoe in this price range: carbon soles, Boa closures, one piece uppers, customizable insoles, grippy rubber outsoles and relatively light weight. We put the new X-Project Pro through the wringer, so read on to see what we thought.
The X-Project Pro is a comfortable shoe, not the most comfortable in our test selection, but impressive nonetheless. The "Advanced 3-Layer Seamless Composite Upper" is quite supple and wraps comfortably and snugly around the foot.
The shoe also comes with two sets of footbeds; a standard footbed as well as a set of fully customizable insoles that have adjustable arch and varus wedge support. The customizable footbeds are the best we've seen and do a great job of fine tuning to your foot's shape and pedaling dynamics.
There is little in the way of padding throughout the shoe except in the tongue and around the upper part of the heel pocket and ankle cuff and EVA wedge under the heel, which is intended to absorb impact while walking. The shoe is tightened around the foot using two Boa dials that are centered on the tongue and cables that crisscross to hug your foot. The Boas are lightweight and look cool, but they take a little getting used to operate. Once you figure them out they make getting your shoes on and off a snap. We did find that we had a hard time finding the sweet spot with the Boas, and it seemed the shoes were always too loose or too tight and we ended up adjusting the dials more often than we would like. The tongue also tended to shift to the lateral side while we were riding, and the material of the uppers makes a fair amount of distracting noise if it rubs on itself. The X-Project Pro has some small mesh panels bonded into the one piece uppers. Unfortunately, when the shoe is tightened on to your foot, the tongue blocks at least 50 percent of them, resulting in a less ventilated shoe than it would appear. The carbon sole on the X-Project allows a significant amount of flex in the toe, making walking in the model quite pleasant. We found, however, that the uppers feel like they are folding on top of your toes and could use some improvement.
The Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro tips the scales at 419g per shoe for our size 44 test pair. While this isn't exactly heavy, it is 81g heavier than the Editors' Choice award winning Giro Empire VR90, and only a few grams lighter than our top pick for enduro racers, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite.
For the price, we would expect the X-Project Pro to be in a similar weight class to that of the Empire VR90, but it's not even close.
Pearl Izumi hit the nail on the head with their carbon composite sole, which provides stiffness and pedaling efficiency on par with our Editors' Choice award winner, the Giro Empire VR90.
In fact, the X-Project Pro and the Giro Empire VR90 were the stiffest shoes in our test selection offering uncompromising power to the pedals. The X-Project Pro's carbon sole is stiff where you need it but features significant flex through the toe to facilitate and improve comfort when walking. Pearl Izumi has found an impressive balance between power transfer and walkability with their sole design.
The X-Project Pro has one of the stiffest soles in our test selection, yet they managed to create it to perform well, even when off the bike. The carbon composite sole provides a solid platform for pedaling while still allowing for quite a bit of flex forward of the cleat mount area in the toe. The outsole consists of "co-molded carbon rubber tips on hollow TPU lugs." The TPU lugs are a hard plastic but topped with around 3mm of tacky rubber which provides excellent traction on virtually all surfaces.
The spacing of the lugs clears mud snow, and other debris easily and also bites well in unusually wet and muddy conditions. The soles accept toe spikes for extreme traction, and a toe spike kit is included with the shoes. While we liked the ease of walking and traction that the X-Projects provide, we didn't like the way the material of the uppers seemed to fold and press into our toes while walking. Minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.
Durability is one place that the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro lost a little ground to its competitors.
The uppers show signs of abrasion and even one small tear from use during our test period. Typically you will remember when a tear in a shoes upper has occurred because it involved significant impact, blunt force or major abrasion, and would probably injure your foot slightly, but we can remember no such incident while testing the X-Project Pro.
There are also several spots around the shoe where abrasion has scraped through the outermost layer of the uppers and even the trim around the ankle cuff. We've also found the matte finish of the uppers and mesh ventilation panels to get especially dusty and are far less easy to clean than smoother materials. It is also worth noting that the Boa dials on our test pair are still working well, the soles remain very well bonded to the uppers of the shoe, although the rubber of the outsole is showing a bit more wear than others in our test.
We found the X-Project Pro to be a versatile shoe that works well for nearly all types of mountain bike riding. Whether you're a hardcore XC racer, a recreational trail rider or even an enduro racer, the X-Project Pro has performance and features that you will appreciate. The X-Project is also stiff enough to double as a road, gravel grinding or cyclocross shoe. Gravity oriented riders may be underwhelmed by the shoe's foot protection, but most riders would be pleased with its power transfer, features and solid off the bike hike-ability.
At a retail price of $350 the X-Project Pro isn't the most expensive mountain bike shoe in the world, but it is the most expensive model in our test selection. While the shoe does have impressive power transfer, excellent traction and walkability, we question the durability of the uppers. These shoes rated similarly to the Giro Terraduro and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, both of which cost roughly half the price, we feel that you may find better value elsewhere. Our Editors' Choice award winning Giro Empire VR90 retails for $50 less, provides equally good power transfer, superior comfort and durability in a package that weighs 81g less per shoe.
Is the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro is a good mountain bike shoe? It is versatile and offers performance and features that most riders would love. Is it worth the $350 price tag? That is up to you, but we believe other shoes offer equally good performance and cost significantly less money.
Other Versions and Accessories
Pearl Izumi also offers the X-Project Elite($275)
— Jeremy Benson
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