Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II 2018 Mountain Bike Review

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II 2018

Reviews / Shoes

Pearl Izumi 155,299

At A Glance

More commonly found on the road bike scene than in MTB, Pearl Izumi have long been manufacturing high quality kit for both the light and dark side of cycling since way back in 1950.

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The X-Alp Launch II is the company’s answer to the Trail and Enduro sectors of the sport and is touted as a stiff, lightweight and versatile shoe designed for all day riding comfort, as well as all-out competition.

Weight wise the X-Alp Launch II is a winner, coming in at a surprisingly light 380g for a pair of size EU 43, which belies their rugged nature and gives a nod to the race-ready pedigree of Pearl Izumi’s heritage.

The racing look of Pearl Izumi’s current line of MTB footwear is shown least in the X-Alp Launch II, yet it still carries the DNA of a light and fast ethos in its design. Doing away with untidy laces the shoe opts for a bi-directional closure dial, the BOA system which has been used in high-end snowboard boots for many years. This pulls the shoe’s upper across the foot for a ‘semi-custom fit’ - think Puma Disc, if you’re old enough.

A single Velcro strap can be found at the front of each shoe to aid a good fit around the well protected toe box. Race heritage is found again in the carbon fibre-injected shank, which offers a good level of stiffness, even in a boat-like EU 48.

At the business end of the shoes the carbon rubber-lugged sole unit offers a very solid platform and plenty of promise for off the bike traction and longevity. Though with compatibility options for cleats, it doesn’t present the soft, grippy rubber that flat pedal riders might crave.

Build quality is excellent and feels very high-end, the one-piece synthetic uppers presenting a neat design with laser cut vents around the toe box and perfectly parallel stitching keeping it all locked together. These are not a silly price either for a shoe that looks and feels like they will last many seasons.

On The Trail

With a name like X-Alp Launch II expectations are that these shoes will stand up to big mountain days on a wide variety of terrain. Thanks to their well protected toe box, high quality materials and excellent construction, resilience to impacts and general wear and tear is high. A week’s riding over shards of volcanic rock revealed a few nicks and abrasions to the soles and uppers, but certainly nothing to worry about. Fending off rock strikes is a forte of this shoe!

It’s difficult to talk about mountain biking footwear without mentioning grip. MTB shoes must decide where they’re going to sit on the grip vs. longevity spectrum and the rubber here is geared towards the latter. The carbon lugged outsole does, however, provide acres of grip on wet, muddy ground and gets by on wet, slabby rock surfaces, yet sits firmly in the durability camp. When run with flat pedals the grip was average and certainly not terrible, but this is not a shoe that will win over any flat pedal riders purely on grip alone. For riders running SPDs they’re a winner though.

The BOA closure system is a neat idea that speeds up the on/off process and presents a neat, clean shoe that doesn’t absorb moisture or collect sludge in the winter time as a traditional lace-up would. A clockwise twist of the dial tightens the uppers across the foot with a reassuringly balanced fit and pulling the dial up releases the laces for a quick exit. It's a proven system that has been used in footwear across an increasing number of sports and industries over the years (and can be found in helmets now too!).

Overall comfort on and off the bike is very good indeed with no issues from pains or pressure points after several weeks’ worth of riding, often spending up to five hours in the saddle on rough ground. Power transfer through the very stiff sole is superb and means your feet remain a trustworthy contact point, rather than a point of failure.

Although not sold specifically as a winter shoe the X-Alp Launch II stands up to a great deal of abuse from wind and rain, the one piece uppers shedding plenty of water and the three small forward vents doing well to keep out the worst of the deluge. Waterproof they certainly are not, yet it’s reassuring to know that they can be thrown on and ridden in all but the grimmest of grim conditions.

Overall

Boasting high strength, resilience to weather and terrain, and with low weight and impeccable build quality the X-Alp Launch II is a shoe that thrives in big mountain environments. Flat pedal riders might wish to look towards a traditionally softer-soled, slicker tread-patterned shoe, but for riders using SPDs or Crank Brothers cleats it’s hard to find a shoe that does the job better.

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By James Swann
Originally from Sheffield, James lives and works in the mountain bike mecca that is the Lake District and has been falling off bikes since he was six. In between working on bike events, riding bikes, racing bikes and writing about bikes he enjoys talking about bikes with anyone who will listen. He really likes bikes.

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