If you ride off-road and use clipless pedals, Pearl Izumi probably has a shoe for you. Boasting no less than a dozen SPD-compatible models, the Colorado-based company offers kicks to suit everyone from XC racers to Enduro wannabes. And now, with the introduction of the new X-Alp Launch model, flat pedal riders can get in on the action.
Judging by the Launch’s slim profile and understated appearance, you might mistake the X-Alp for another urban or recreational shoe. While the Launch certainly ticks those boxes, Pearl Izumi designed the X-Alp to handle the abuse of all-mountain riding. From the dual-density Vibram® sole to the seamless upper, the Launch delivers the comfort and support you need for all-day riding.
At 393 grams (per-shoe, size 45), the Launches are the lightest flat-pedal shoes I’ve tested. The fit is supportive, but not restrictive. With the laces snugged up, I didn’t detect any heel slip or discomfort across the top of my foot. As with most of the Pearl Izumi shoes I’ve worn, the X-Alp Launch is best suited to riders with average width feet. Pearl Izumi offers the men’s version in sizes 39-49 (half-sizes 40.5-46.5) and the women’s model comes in sizes 36-43 (half sizes 36.5-42.5).
Clipless pedal users sometimes criticize flat pedal shoes as being too flexible. That’s definitely not the case, however, with the X-Alp Launch. These are probably the stiffest (flat) shoes I’ve tried. While the Pearl Izumis may not be as stiff as a bespoke XC (clipless) shoe, they’re noticeably stiffer than many of skate-inspired designs that utilize traditional cupsoles. And despite being stiff enough for efficient pedaling, the Launch is comfortable enough all-day wear (although the bonded, seamless upper doesn’t offer quite as much ventilation as shoes with mesh panels).
Even with all the advances in flat-pedal technology, the right sole is crucial for traction on and off the bike. To keep your feet firmly planted, Pearl Izumi spec’d the Launch with a Vibram® Megagrip dual-density outsole. The toe and heel portions feature deep lugs for traction during hike-a-bikes, while the middle section utilizes shallow grooves for easier foot positioning. And to protect your tootsies from angry rocks and roots, the X-Alp features a reinforced toe cap.
If you’re wondering how the Launch’s minimalist tread pattern can provide enough grip for MTB use, you’re not alone. I had doubts that the siped section would offer the traction I was used to, but my concerns were erased once I found the right pedals. For maximum grip, I found the X-Alp Launch worked best with pedals such as Shimano’s PD-GR500. Unlike some pedals that position the pins along the perimeter of the platform, the GR500 distributes the pins more evenly across the entire surface. With the Shimano pedals I could easily adjust my foot position, while still maintaining the necessary traction for technical terrain. I did notice, however, that I favored a more foot-forward pedaling position with the X-Alps compared to my usual Five Ten Freerider Pro shoes.
With its light weight, seamless upper, and stiff midsole, Pearl Izumi’s initial foray into the dedicated flat pedal space is definitely a strong one. And although Pearl Izumi classifies the X-Alp Launch as an MTB shoe, it’s equally suited to urban and utility use. A few changes I’d like to see are more reflective highlights, the addition of a lace keeper/bungee, and deeper, more pronounced siping on the contact portion of the sole.
Disclosure: Pearl Izumi provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.