Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elite

by Brian Mullin on September 3, 2011

The shoes are a pretty sweet, and are comfortable, excellent for the hike-a-bike forays, and are bombproof, durable, and they protect the feet. They have a lot of features that have been incorporated into them for incredible on and off the bike performance, and there is a reason Brian Lopes was dominating at Crankworx in them.

X-Alp Elite
The upper is made from a blend of a quick drying and breathable mesh, and a synthetic leather material, for comfort and breathability, and is finished off with a toe scuff or bash guard. It uses their dual-density EVA X-Alp outsole and midsole, which has a firmer section where the pedal will reside, for better off the bike cushioning and comfort and on-the-bike power transfer. The tread or lugs use a grippy carbon rubber for traction and durability, and the heel crash pad uses their Energy Cell technology from their running shoes for maximum cushioning. They use their ratcheting P.R.O. 1:1 Anatomic Buckle Closure system, which offers a natural anatomic shape, so there aren’t any hot spots on the instep, and it has an adjustable buckle mounting plate, and then it is completed with two Velcro straps. They are compatible with most pedal systems (SPD, Look, Crank Brothers, etc.), and are available in White/Black (Green accents) and Silver/Black (Red accents) and whole European sizes only (39-48), and retail for $150.

Impressions
I weigh 150 lbs, and tested the size 43 shoes, with Shimano SPD pedals, on my Ibis Mojo HD, which has 160mm of the front and rear travel. I tend to ride a lot of technical terrains, both up and down, and ride and hike some long distances to get to my favorite spots.

The X-Alp Elite were very comfortable from the get-go and only required a brief break-in period to stretch-out the sole and uppers. They are simple to put on, just pop open the buckle and the middle Velcro strap and your foot easily slides into the shoe. The buckle closure named the ‘P.R.O. 1:1 Anatomic Buckle Closure’ works extremely well, and the large wide section over your instep keeps any binding, hot spots and pressure buildups from happening, and the thickly padded tongue works in great synergy with everything. The closure has a nice lever arm, so you can crank them down if desired, and straps mounting point has three positions (default is the middle), so the fit can be adjusted, for different foot shapes. I altered the position of the mounting point, and it does take some patience and some pliers to perform the activity, but at least it’s robust for long longevity.

I never had the closure ever come loose on me, even with repeated encounters with trees, rocks, and bikes, and the system had high durability and robustness. Depending on whether I was hiking or biking, I would vary the buckle closure tightness, cranking it down while riding, and loosening it up for everything else. The large strap pulls you foot rearward into the heel cup, maximizing stability and hold, without any describable heel lift. I adjusted the middle Velcro strap for additional snugness, but rarely touched the front one after the initial fitting. Although the insole was adequate and works perfect, I would highly recommend getting a custom orthopedic footbed, such as Pearl Izumi F.I.T. Insole System or one of the SOLE products.

I spend an inordinate amount of my time doing hike-a-bike adventures, mostly as access to gnarly terrain, in which upward mobility is significantly compromised or unridable, due to the steepness or the conditions of the environment. On other occasions, you might need to scout obstacles before doing some heinous maneuvers down them, and sometimes the grunt factor to get somewhere just isn’t worth the effort, and the shoes excelled in all these situations. Walking around in the typical carbon-soled and stiff performance shoes on ugly terrain is like wearing a pair of ice skates or glass slippers, they slip and slide around on rocks, and are not in their element for extreme hiking and scouting. The X-Alp Elites, on the other hand, with their flexible, sticky and grippy sole and sturdy uppers are right at home and feel more like a pair of hiking boots. The major flex section of the shoes is from the ball of your foot forward, which facilitates hiking, walking and front pointing up rocks. They offer an excellent compromise between hiking and riding, and although they lose a bit of pedaling power due to a flexible sole, they make up for it in walking and maneuverability (on and off the bike) and foot protection. I do wish they had a slightly stiffer sole to give just a tad more power, as it’d be good on long grinds when energy savings would be beneficial. Unfortunately, Pearl Izumi is dropping their top of the line X-Alp P.R.O, which does offer a carbon plate for better power transfer and efficiency. Another added benefit of the flex pattern is when you are doing dicey moves on the bike in technical terrain, the shoes allow an extra degree of body movement, so you can apply torque in awkward positions.

I am a shoe destroyer, and with all my hiking, trail maintenance, scouting and other activities that I participate in, I terrorize the tread, uppers, bash and toe guards, strap systems, etc. These shoes have performed superbly for durability, and outside of a slight scuff mark on the outside left toe, not much has gone wrong. The tread life has been excellent, and the general wear section up by the toes is non-existent, and even with the somewhat soft rubber, the tread has shown little degradation. The thick sole and tall sidewalls and tread, help greatly with sturdiness and longevity of the bottom section of the shoe, making them near bombproof and very stable. The toe bash guard has also been extremely durable, and offers excellent protection, especially for close encounters with rock and branches. The heel cup counterpart at the rear offer’s protection has no lift and has unique cushioning for comfort when hiking. The uppers themselves are made with some thicker than normal synthetic leather, which increases the durability and protection level. I didn’t feel the SPD pedals underneath my feet, and never had any discomfort from the interaction between the two entities. The tread and flex pattern also means they work great with flat pedals, making them useful for multiple activities.

They can get a bit warm on sweltering days, but they breathe and wick well, so they’re not uncomfortable. They were used in many nasty rain storms, and they’re quick to dry and don’t let your feet get too wet, due to them having only three mesh sections where water would enter, which also mean less dampness when walking around in soaked bushes and grass.

Measured Spec:

  • Weight (size 43) – 829 grams

Bottom Line
The Pearl Izumi ALP-X Elite are an excellent all around shoes and excel in technical terrain, where durability and foot protection is a paramount necessity, and regular hike-a-bike adventures are the norm. The ratcheting buckle closure system has useful features, and the wide instep cover is its highlight, offering minimal hot spots, great support, and it keeps the heel locked down into the rear cup. The sole is durable, with an excellent grip, and a functional tread pattern for superb traction in all conditions. The flex pattern works well, and the toe movement of the sole helps with hiking, although I wish, it had more stiffness rearward from the cleat section for better power transfer to the pedals while riding. The uppers are bombproof and work in synergy with the heel cup and toe guard to offer excellent foot protection, in the most brutal conditions. The shoe has great stability and comfort for hiking and trail scouting, and it’s the ‘go to’ shoe for those epic rides and adventures.

Addendum – It’d be good to see a 3/4 cuff ankle version for enhanced protection!

Strengths

  • Durable
  • Foot protection
  • Comfortable
  • Sticky and grippy tread
  • Hike-a-bike

Weaknesses

  • Heavy
  • Warm on extremely hot days
  • Needs slightly stiffer sole

 

X-Alp Elite Specs:

  • MSRP: $150
  • P.R.O. 1:1 Anatomic Buckle Closure: closure follows the natural anatomic shape of the foot teliminate hot spots and remove pressure from your instep, and an adjustable instep strap with adjustable buckle mounting plate delivers ultimate fit and flexibility (patent pending)
  • Dual density EVA X-Alp outsole/midsole with firmer second density EVA between pedal and foot for off-the-bike cushioning and comfort and on-the-bike power transfer
  • Carbon rubber lugged outsole for superior traction and durability
  • Quick drying, highly breathable mesh/synthetic upper delivers comfort and breathability
  • Low cut construction for a light, fast fit and feel
  • Energy Cell technology in heel crash pad for ultimate cushioning when off the bike
  • Compatible with SPD and all Look pedal systems

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