Among the variety of mountain bike shoes on the market, there’s a pair just for your needs. Some are stiff, narrow and racy and others are casual, flexy and comfortable. With the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II, you’re getting something in-between. I like to describe them as a pair of trail runners with SPD-compatibility.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II Features
- Carbon-injected composite shank for power transfer
- Bi-directional BOA closure system
- Low cut construction, like a pair of trail runners
- EVA X-Alp outsole lugs and midsole for traction and comfort
- Carbon rubber outsole
- Compatible with SPD or flat pedals
- Weight: 415 grams (each, size 44.5)
- MSRP: $160
Part trail runner, part bike shoe
For those mountain bikers who are reluctant to shoehorn themselves into a pair of stiff race shoes, Pearl Izumi has an alternative. The X-Alp Launch II’s are essentially a trail runner with SPD-compatibility and because of that, they are in a unique position among all the other shoe choices on the market. Most often, bike shoes like the X-Alp look more like a clunky pair of hiking shoes, but these bear more of a resemble the Pearl Izumi N2 than something like The North Face Fastpack. In the end, I think that is a great thing and really makes the X-Alp’s worthwhile.
The fit of the X-Alp Launch II is about what I’d expect as the 44.5’s were great for my size 10 feet. As I’ve broken them in, the lining has compressed just slightly and I’m now maxing out the tightness of the BOA dial with a pair of typical lightweight cycling socks. Thicker socks or taller arches will likely find a few more clicks in the dial before maxing out.
As with all my shoes featuring the BOA lacing system, I love these. The dial is easily-ratched both tighter and looser and popped open for quick entry/exit. Just make sure your kids don’t dial them the wrong direction or you’ll end up monkeying with it for a few minutes at the trailhead (that may or may not have happened). Just like the Specialized Audax or the Bontrager Velocis, the BOA IP1 dial makes for mirror-image inward-tightening dials on each foot. It is seriously intuitive and natural for on-bike adjustments.
I’ve spent the bulk of the summer trying to find the perfect fit in these shoes. I think the biggest miss here is the lack of a metatarsal button on the insole. That little bump really goes a long way to encourage blood flow to the forefoot and toes. Additionally, while this composite sole is carbon-injected, don’t be fooled — it is flexy compared to the stiff race soles I’m used to.
On the flip side, that flex makes for comfortable and natural walking, which is one of the key features of this shoe. I’m seriously impressed with just how well these walk, hike and even run. They feel lightweight and the lugs deliver excellent grip on mixed terrain both uphill and down. If you’re an enduro rider or simply want a pair of MTB shoes that can hike as well as they ride, these are great. And, I can even walk into my house on our hardwood floors to grab the water bottle and gels I forgot without any worry whatsoever because my Eggbeater cleats are safely tucked below the treads.
The uppers do breathe pretty well, but will get a little toasty when riding in the heat of the day. And, the single Velcro closure does allow the forefoot to be cinched down, if needed. I never tightened that strap — just left it in a neutral position and used the BOA dial to ensure the proper fit.
On long rides, I longed for my race shoes as the reduced power transfer is noticeable, but again, the tradeoff is acceptable for a casual riding shoe in my book. And, I really dig the Lime Punch/Black color as hey stand out with just the right amount of pop.
- BOA lacing system is bombtastic (as usual)
- Outsole lugs allow for excellent traction
- Feels almost like a trail runner, but are stiff enough for all-around use
- Durable uppers show no wear
- Walk on hardwood floors without worry
- Lugs don’t interfere with pedals/cleats at all
- Soles are noticeably flexy compared to race shoes
- Can get toasty
- Lack of a metatarsal button and flexy sole left me wanting more comfort
The Bottom Line: Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II
Toeing the line between race shoe and trail runner, the X-Alp Launch II’s deliver quite a capable MTB shoe that many riders will appreciate. Clipping out and walking on the trail or to the pub will feel natural and smooth — not something you’ll want to do in a pair of stiff race shoes.
Buy Now: Available on Amazon.com
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II's do a great job of walking the line between MTB shoes and trail runners in a way I've not experienced before. Yeah, the soles lack the stiffness of true race shoes, but the walkability is so good that I'm willing to live with a little flexy-ness under load.