Many of us by now have learned the importance of a quality bikepacking shoe. The same can be said about the importance of breaking in your bikepacking shoes before a big trip, or even just a long day in the saddle. After enduring a lengthy conditioning period with my last shoe, the Five Ten Kestrel, it would be impossible to have a more painful break-in experience with another shoe. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch shoes were an instant pleasure to wear. My experience started off fantastic, but as I worked the shoe basically to death, my opinions changed. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch is a pretty simple shoe. There is a Boa closure system installed on the middle of the tongue, and one single velcro double-back strap towards the toe of the shoe. The tread pattern is solid, and they are relatively stiff and lightweight. Check out this first look video for a better understanding. Before you read on, I should mention that I asked a lot from this shoe. Aside from a handful of rides, the X-Alp Launch has been my exclusive shoe this year from mid-March through mid-August. In that time I’ve ridden the Arizona Trail, Comstock Epic, Colorado Trail, a handful of other bikepacking trips and day rides. I would say I pedaled around 3,500 miles in these shoes.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-04265 I also wanted to talk about sizing. I am roughly a US size 11.5/12 depending on the brand. I fell in an awkward position with the European sizes for Pearl Izumi. I first purchased a 45.5, which should equate to a US 11.2 or 11.5 depending on where you look. That size was a bit too small for me, so I returned and purchased an EU 46 / US 12. Because of this, the shoe was slightly bigger than I would normally use, but with swelling, it ended up being a pretty darn good fit. I also threw the stock insoles out in favor of my size F Superfeet. I would recommend that for every cyclist whether you plan on walking in this shoe or not. I could write a whole article on that, so I’ll save that for another time.

Features

Boa: Every shoe has a standout feature or features that define the product. For the X-Alp Launch II’s the feature would be the Boa closure. After changing from a rachet system to the Boa in the 2nd edition, Pearl Izumi took a leap of faith, and one that did not turn out all that well. The location where the spindle is placed is causing significant rub on the top two nylon loops that hold the Boa cable in place.  Both of the top loops on each shoe have either ripped or are showing significant signs of wear.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0013 Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0018 This failure changed the way the shoes fit because they no longer tighten down like they should, causing my foot to swim in the shoe while walking and coasting. This affected my confidence during hike-a-bike sections as well.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0010 It was a shame because I really liked the placement of the Boa. It was out of the way on top of the tongue, super easy to adjust on the fly, and really allowed me to loosen up the shoe while off the bike which made for a slipper-like camp shoe. I also found that the Boa cable and ratchet loosened up better than ones I had used in the past. I am not sure if they refined the ratchet design or what, but I liked the little effort it took to loosen and remove the shoe. Tread: The tread pattern is another standout trait, and something that bikepackers tend to mull over more than other features. The pattern was great, with a well spread medium depth tread. A big improvement over the current X-Alp Enduros, and other standard cycling shoes. One thing that could be improved is the the depth of the tread. The treads are worn and rounded out after 5 months, but again, these shoes have seen a lot of use. The tread edges also showed more signs of wear and break down than the body of the tread itself. The edges are obviously more susceptible to the elements, but the amount of wear was a bit concerning.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0006 Toe Box: One other major feature that I look at when purchasing shoes is the toe box. I look for two things; A stiff toe for when I hit branches, logs, or rocks while I’m pedaling or hiking. I have had black and blue toes from cycling for years now, and if I can avoid stubbing my toe I will. The toe piece was nice and stiff when I first started using the X-Alp Launch shoes, and since then only softened up slightly. The other thing I’m looking for is a wide toe box as my feet are wide and irregular. The X-Alp Launch has a solid size toe box, which keeps my bunionette happy and feet pain free for the most part. The front end of this shoe is spot on for me although a little beat up.   Heel: Surprisingly the heel area has remained intact after the top Boa loops broke, which allowed my heal to move a bit more freely. The heel area itself is stiff and nicely padded, much more so than the actual body of the shoe. While this may hold water more, it’s nice to have some comfort and extra protection towards the back end of the shoe. The break in period for the heel area was very minimal. I remember having some minor rubbing during the first few times I wore them, but I can’t recall that being a major issue. The heel cup holds in you heel, so long as the Boa closure is snug.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0012 Tongue: The tongue design was built around the Boa, and while the Boa feature could be refined, the tongue worked great. It would stay in position for the most part, allowing for a consistent fit for every ride. At the very least the tongue would shift as far as the Boa/side of the shoe would allow. It also is packed with a thick piece of foam padding, which proved to be beneficial against rocks, trees, or when you happen to drop something on your foot.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0007 Body: The body of the shoe held up great. There is no significant wear and the seams have been durable. The shoe certainly does not drain water as much as the light weight X-Alp Enduros, or even my older pair of Specialized Rimes, but they were much better than the FiveTen Kestrels. I hardly had an issue with this, and if I got them wet in the morning from a river crossing, they would be dry by the afternoon.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-0028 Extras: A small but noticeable Izumi reflection patch on the back of the shoe gave me more confidence when I was riding on roads with cars. Oh, and bike shoes always act as a fantastic head rest/pillow paired with a soft layer for trail-side snoozes.Pearl Izumi X Alp Launch-04772 The overall performance of this shoe was great. They complimented my style of riding well. However, I certainly felt the stiffness break down over time in the shoe. Besides the cable loops and the tread I’m happy with how well they have held up and performed considering the use I put them through. I was initially hoping I could get a year out of the shoe, especially after my first impressions, but there is no way these shoes could endure another big trip. If they can fix that Boa loop issue, this shoe would be near the top of my list for all around bikepacking use.

The shoe runs in a two different colors and will cost you $160.00. Head to their website for more info or to purchase.

10 Comments

  1. Very helpful review, Neil; thanks! Sounds like I should wait another season until they get the Boa “dialed”.
    I noticed you have your cleats all the way back. How does the length of the cleat slots compare to other shoes; would you move them back farther if you could?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Joe, I do that for my achilles, less moving muscles and tendons hopefully leads to less irritation. I would say the cleat slot is plenty big enough both length and width. The Cleat was pushed back all the way, so I don’t think it could go back any farther.

    • Scott Damman

      Moving the cleat back has been underutilized by most riders. Like Neil mentioned, less stress on the achilles / lower calf. On top of this, this puts the top of the pedal stroke (11am – 2pm) more into a “triple extension” position. This means you get the benefit of power transfer from the glut to quad to ankle (pedal). Just watch a lot of roadies who over extend the ankle when they are at the bottom on a stroke, guess where all of that stress is going…?

  2. Did you hike the ditch in these shoes? Thanks!

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      yes, they worked great for the hike. My feet were extremely swollen at that point, and the shoe still fit well.

  3. Bobby Sorensen

    The idea of a loop eyelet is a good one, lays flat, can attach in two different spots to widen the pressure and creates less of a weak point in the leather. The biggest issue I have is loops wearing out long before the rest of the shoe. I don’t know if shoe manufacturers have looked at spectra or kevlar webbing for this purpose or not; those two materials have a much longer life, even with the friction of cabling, than any other webbing material would have.

  4. Neil do you run your cleats, substantially behind the ball of your foot? Looks like your cleats are bottomed out as low as you could them. Or is that because the shoe was big? If so please share why?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Hey Boatman,

      Yes, I have them all the way back on purpose. It reduces the movement in my Achilles, and it has been proven to not reduces any power. If you have them pushed up on the shoe you will noticed your achilles and foot as a whole moves a lot more, lest movement=less irritation in the long run.

  5. Scott Damman

    Spot-on review for me, toe box size means something (have used the crowed Sidi). I have been riding an Enduro IV (46), great shoe, roomy, economical, but a bit heavy. I tore one of the ratchet straps on a branch so need to replace. Can’t find a IV in a 46 anywhere, regardless I like the protection of the v5 fastener so will give these a try.

  6. you mention you went with a size 46 but in the photo of the inside of the tongue it says 46.5. could this be the reason you felt they were loose or is the pic of a different shoe? im trying to decide what size to order myself… thanks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *