Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elite Review

Pro Reviews Shoes

Impressions

I weigh 150 lbs, and tested the size 43 shoes, with Shimano SPD pedals, on my Ibis Mojo HD, which has 160mm of front and rear travel. I tend to ride a lot of technical terrain, 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 really 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 fat 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 just fine, I would highly recommend getting a custom orthopedic footbed, such as Pearl Izumi F.I.T. Insole System or one of SOLE products.

I spend an inordinate amount of my time doing hike-a-bike adventures, mostly as an access to gnarly terrain, in which upward mobility is greatly 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 obviously facilitates hiking, walking and front pointing up rocks. They offer a great 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 would be nice 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 usual wear section up by the toes is non-existent, and even with the somewhat soft rubber the tread has shown very 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 bashguard 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 special 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 extremely hot 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 really 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
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About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian has been part of the Mtbr team since 2007, where he has become an integral member of the review and test staff, specializing in technical articles. He likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, extreme skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth and hyperbolic articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on extremely technical singletrack.


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  • MikeG says:

    I agree with your post 100%. It’s a great shoe, been using them for about 4 months now. Great shoe to bike and walk around in. I wear them when I ride and sometimes go shopping at the grocery store afterwards without taking them off. They are a bit heavy as stated above, but that doesn’t bother me too much. The sole could be a tad bit stiffer, but it is stiffer than the previous sole PI used to make without the eva midsole. I can tell there is flex when using my Time Atac Alium pedals versus my Time Control Z platform style pedal. Overall, I am very happy with this shoe and out of the 3 PI shoes I own, this one gets worn about 90% of the time.

  • Tony Z says:

    I’ve been rocking this shoe for most of this year. For a shoe with a rubber lug sole and midsole like this, I dare say it is lightest in class. And when you compare to wider platform shoes like 5.10 etc it is no contest. Great shoe if you are on and off the bike. Here in Laguna, there is a lot of steep terrain and if you want to cover a lot of ground in a couple of hours you are hiking up rocky stuff. But all that aside, if you are just looking for a comfortable clip in shoe, I don’t think it gets more comfortable than these. For racing, I would not touch these shoes but for everything else they are my go to pair.

  • hardmtnbiker says:

    They look very nice and the only thing I would like to see is a mid-top version with ankle protection.

  • bicol_express says:

    exactly what i expected from these shoes. time to get one then. cheers!

  • manitoumtbr says:

    It’s a shame that the pro is being discontinued. I have that version and it is a bit lighter and stiffer, but still offers all the pluses you’ve mentioned. Best combination of pedaling and hiking I’ve tried.

  • Velvet Hammer says:

    I live in the rolling hills of Maryland and I commute to work on my bicycle. I just read your web-article, AWESOME review… I was wondering if you could give me some idea “how stiff” the bottoms of the shoes are. I am currently using Bontrager Race Mountain Shoe (you know the one with three velcro straps) and they are the perfect stiffness for my commute… What I really want to know is are the Pearl shoes as stiff or softer than the Bontragers? Any help with this would be great, Thanks in advance.

  • mg says:

    I want a light stiff shoe where I rarely get off the bike to. Is this a good shoe? Some rides have longer decents, would these shoes be good for that type of riding? Also, some 3-4 hour cross-country.

  • AndesJack says:

    Great reveiw! For how long were you using these shoes?

  • Nurse Ben says:

    I just got my X Alp Elites. I compared them to the the X Alp Seek IV and though the Elite is soft flexing, the Seek is even softer. In contrast to a typical carbon fiber soled riding shoe, the X Alps shoes are closer to running shoes, but then that was the premise of their design, to build a riding shoe that will work well enough with clipless pedals while stil being decent on the hike. The Elite appears to be the stiffest of the X Alp models, the forefoot in front of the cleat plate is like a medium stiff hiking boot, the area rearward of the cleat plate is stiffer simiar to a recreational riding shoe with a nylon plate. I can fold the forefoot into a U with two hands, but the mid foot flexes only a little. I will be using them for hike and muni, so I expect that they’ll work fine. I have been using a pair of Specialized Tahoe, which have a consistent stiffness throughout the sole, which makes them a little uncomfortable for hiking because the toe is too stiff. The Tahoes are stiffer than the Elite, so that appears to be the compromise if I want a softer toe. They appear to be a well made shoe, fit is exceptional out of the box, I wear a 47 in most shoes, I got a 48 and the fit is spot on for hiking with extra room for toe box flexion, nice buckle adjustment feature, lightweight, kinda pricey, but if they work well then who cares.

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