Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite review

MTB shoes stiff enough for racing, comfy enough for all-day epics

Shoes
Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

Pearl Izumi’s X-Project Elite shoes offer a blend of on-bike efficiency and off-bike confidence thanks to a clever outsole design.

What is it

Pearl Izumi‘s X-Project Elite mountain bike shoes deliver exceptional comfort and walkability without sacrificing power transfer. A grippy outsole provides surefooted confidence and a BOA/Velcro closure ensures excellent foot retention.

Pros
  • Great power transfer
  • Superb walkability thanks to grippy outsole and flexible forefoot
  • Modular insole provides custom feel without the cost
Cons
  • Tall stack height compared to many competitors


Mtbr’s Take

We want it all. We want our tires to be supple but puncture-proof. We want our suspension to work flawlessly and require less maintenance. The same goes for shoes. We want them to transmit every last ounce of our effort to the pedals but still be comfortable and surefooted when walking.

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

The sole of the X-Project Elite is where the magic happens. The carbon fiber insert transmits power well, while a flexible toe and grippy lugs provide off-bike dexterity and confidence.

Pearl Izumi’s X-Project Elite mountain bike shoes are able to provide both, with little to no downside. To do so, Pearl Izumi created a carbon fiber sole that can flex while walking but remains stiff under pedaling forces. In particular, the toe of the shoe can curve just like a non-cycling shoe. Rubber lugs along the shoe provide excellent grip off the bike, and an EVA foam heel insert helps absorb impacts off the bike. For better traction in muddy conditions (think cyclocross) toe spikes can be installed.

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

For cyclocross or increased traction in muddy conditions, toe spikes can be added to these Pearl Izumi shoes.

Fit on the X-Project Elite is neither super narrow nor is too wide. The toe box is ample and only crowded my toes with extra thick socks. The heel cup is fairly tight but not uncomfortably so. Sizing on Pearl Izumi shoes, at least for the X-Project Elite, runs small. I went up a half size to attain a fit similar to Shimano and Bontrager.

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

BOA’s IP1 dial is tucked away on the center of the X-Project Elite’s tongue, keeping it out of harm’s way.

While I rarely adjusted the front Velcro strap on each shoe, I appreciated the ability to cinch down on my low volume foot provided by the BOA IP1 dial. With 1mm adjustment increments, the IP1 dial has performed well for me through a variety of conditions and situations. Mounted on the tongue of the shoe, the placement on the BOA keeps it away from harm on rugged trails. It also helps maintain a slim overall size for the X-Project Elites.

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

The insole on the X-Project Elites has a small metatarsal bump that helps spread and relax the toes.

Beyond the walkable, stiff sole, Pearl Izumi also increases value on the X-Project via a clever modular insole. With adjustable arch support and forefoot varus (canting or wedging), it is easy to dial in a custom-like feel. I also like the insole’s metatarsal pad, which helps spread toes apart.

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

The modular insole allows riders to choose between three arch support as well as three varus options via a pair of insert for each positions (the third option is to leave out the inserts).

At the risk of gushing over the X-Project Elites, I even like the low-key black and gray color combo reviewed here. If you fly a little flashier, Peal Izumi also offers the X-Project Elites in a brighter black and lime punch colorway.

While there is a lot to love about these shoes, I do have one complaint. These suckers have a much taller stack height compared to the mountain bike shoes I normally wear. It was so noticeable that I had to raise my saddle to feel at home pedaling. Perhaps the walkable/stiff sole requires more vertical space to achieve its Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde capabilities. Thankfully, most riders wear a single pair of shoes and stick with it. Just note that you should re-evaluate your seat height after any shoe purchase, especially if you’ve changed brands or models.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $275


More Info: www.pearlizumi.com


About the author: Nick Legan

Nick Legan is happiest with some grease under his nails and a long dirt climb ahead. As a former WorldTour team mechanic, Legan plied his trade at all the Grand Tours, Spring Classics, World Championships and even the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In recent years, gravel and ultra-distance racing has a firm grip on Legan’s attention, but his love of mountain biking and long road rides hasn’t diminished. Originally a Hoosier, Legan settled in Boulder, Colorado, 14 years ago after finishing his time at Indiana University studying French and journalism. He served as the technical editor at VeloNews for two years and now contributes to Adventure Cyclist, Mtbr and RoadBikeReview. To follow along on Legan’s cycling adventures, find him on Instagram at @nlegan and be sure to check out his new book Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking.


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