The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate ($180), which Pearl Izumi bills as the cycling shoe for scouting lines, hike-a-bike’ing and “explosive bursts of power on technical climbs.” I bill it as the cycling shoe that is the result of a cross-pollination between a mountain bike shoe and a lightweight dayhiker. But that’s the high-point. Let me tell you how I really felt about them and if I think Pearl Izumi has a legitimate reason to gush or if they’re engaging in wishful thinking.
What I loved
Stable in hike-a-bike situations. When confronted with a line choice of “Go left, certain injury” or “Go right, hike it and live to ride another day,” I choose the hike option. Like all modern mountain bike shores, the X-Alp Elevates have a recessed cleat for ease of walking off the bike and provides a low stack height to enhance stability (both on and off the bike). Additionally, they have aggressive Vibram Megagrip lugs for traction on terra firma and a soft foam EVA midsole for decent support and cushioning both on and off the bike. I’m testing a pair of road shoes at the moment that do not have the recessed cleat (or tread of any kind) and they’re giving me a frame of reference unlike any I’ve ever experienced in the cycling shoe department. On the occasions that I have to walk I feel like I’m on the verse of twisting an ankle or sliding to my death on wet surfaces. But to be fair and not compare a mountain bike shoe to a road shoe, I’ll compare the X-Alp Elevates to my Specialized MotoDiva’s. Although a few years old, the MotoDiva’s are still a great shoe for mountain biking—but its tread is more for aesthetics than purpose. Anyway, Pearl Izumi called it correctly in this category.
Power transfer and pedaling efficiency. Color me impressed here. I have a pair of Northwave carbon road shoes to thank, as they showed me how “flimsy” my stiff Specialized Motodivas are in comparison. And this is not to say that the Motodivas are in any way an ineffective shoe—I’m saying that X-Alp Elevates have the stiffness of a road shoe due to its carbon composite shank that runs 3/4 of the length. For me this is most noticeable on climbs when I’m up on the pedals and cranking my way to the top. Yet strangely, I don’t feel the flexibility in the toe box unless I’m off the bike and hiking.
Improved breathability. Riding in Minnesota in the summer means temperatures and humidity levels in the high eighties. It’s stifling. It’s the land of sweat-soaked feet and other body parts. Still, I have noticed a substantial improvement in this category with the Alp-X Elevates when compared to my Specialized MotoDiva’s.
Fit. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevates can be adjusted in 1 mm increments via a Boa® IP1 tension dial, Velcro tab and bi-directional closure that wraps my feet in a nice snug hug. Snugness aside, there is enough room in the toe box to wiggle toes without feeling too roomy. I do have one beef on the sizing, which is further delved into a bit later.
What could be better
Sizing is a little wonky. This is not really a negative, per say, because everyone’s feet are different. Still, as much as I have a girl-crush on Pearl Izumi products, I’m obligated to be thorough and objective. I wear a size eight in bike shoe, which happened to be the sample I size I was provided. Yet my big toe hit the toe box and the heel cup is on the wide side giving me too much wiggle room in the heel. To be fair, my feet run on the narrow side. Still, these sizing limitations were correctable. I exchanged the size 8’s for an 8.5 and that fixed the toe jamb issue. But with increased size meant I had to wear a thicker sock. No biggie as the thicker sock helped to mitigate heel movement from the wider heel cup.
In three months of riding with the X-Alp Elevate I have noticed a definite improvement in pedaling efficiency on the bike, especially hills. Its pizza resistance, though, is its better breathability, lighter weight and easy maneuvering off the bike thanks to its stable and aggressive outsole. If it wasn’t for the sizing issue I’d say that Pearl Izumi produced the breed standard in mountain bike shoe here. Still, it won’t kill you to order a half-size up and wear a thicker cycling sock so go for it because…
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevates are a Gear Gals Piece of Recommended Gear.