Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II Bike Shoe
- Bi directional closure with a BOA lacing system
- Carbon-fiber injected composite shank
- Low-cut construction
- EVA X-Alp outsole/midsole for off the bike cushioning and comfort and on the bike power transfer
- Carbon rubber lugged outsole for superior traction and durability
- SPD compatible
- Stated weight 350 g (per shoe)
Size Tested: 39
Reviewer: 5’ 5” 120 lbs.
Test Locations: Whitefish, MT; Whistler, BC
Days Tested: 15
Freeride shoe companies have been incorporating more pedal friendly models into their lineup (see Noah’s and Tasha’s reviews on the Five Ten Kestrel), while XC and road riding specialist, Pearl Izumi, has been moving from the opposite direction and is refining its all-mountain shoes. Pearl recently delivered its version of an efficient trail shoe with the X-Alp Launch II.
With some beefed-up features for trail riding, the X-Alp Launch II still offers some of the best features of Pearl Izumi’s road cycling background: it’s lightweight with a stiff sole. But a burlier toe box and lugged outsole make this a more appropriate shoe for everyday trail riding.
The Launch II’s size 39 fits similarly to my other Pearl Izumi shoes. Compared to my Five Ten shoes, I went a size up for the Launch II (from a 38 to a 39). The 39 fit well, so if you fall between sizes maybe err on the larger size. The shoe does seem to be wider than other Pearl Izumi shoes (but this could be partly due to the BOA system instead of traditional laces) and I didn’t notice this space while actually riding.
I had a little bit of movement in the heel when walking in the shoes. But, just like with the extra space in the width of the shoe, on the bike I don’t notice that extra space in the heel or any heel movement.
Features and Construction
The X-Alp Launch II’s carbon fiber injected composite shank keeps the shoe stiff. The shank also distributes pressure from pedalling—and impacts—so your foot doesn’t doesn’t get as beat up. I rarely develop hot spots on my feet while riding, but even on a hot 15-mile ride, I didn’t develop any hot spots with the X Alp Launch IIs thanks to the shank’s pressure distribution. It also helps that the Launch II has EVA shoe foam rubber above the cleat.
The rubber lugged outsole provides good traction for the occasional hike-a-bike, and the shoe foam rubber at the midsole is comfortable for all-day riding.
The X-Alp Launch’s cleat slots are approximately 27 mm long. This seems about average for a MTB shoe, and it enabled me to position the cleats behind the ball of my foot, with the potential to go farther back if I wanted to.
The X-Alp Launch II is my first experience with the BOA lacing system. For those who aren’t familiar with BOA, it’s a plastic dial, which tightens a metal cable “lace” to tighten the shoe. It took me a minute to realize that the left shoe tightens by spinning to the left while the right shoe tightens to the right. Also, to take the shoe off, you pop the knob up, which loosens the laces completely.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this BOA system. Because of my narrow feet, I can’t get the laces to tighten sufficiently around the middle of my foot. Pearl Izumi’s shoes are known for being narrow and my other Pearl Izumi shoes (an earlier version of the X-Alp Enduro) fit my narrow feet better. Then again, the Launch II also has a velcro strap so they’re a little easier to tighten. Maybe if there were 2 BOA systems on the Launch II like on some of Pearl’s other shoes, it would tighten better around the middle of my foot.
However, because of the Launch II’s stiffness, this looseness at the tongue affected me less than I imagined it would. While standing and walking the Launch II felt loose, but while pedalling the shoe was comfortable, transferred my pedal stroke well, and my foot didn’t move around.
Also, the BOA system does have its perks, most notably that you can adjust your shoes quickly, even while you’re riding.
Stiffness and Pedalling
Because of the stiffness in the shank, The X-Alp Launch II is a great shoe for pedalling. Compared to my Five Ten Minnaar — a much softer shoe — there’s a notable improvement in pedalling efficiency. They may not be as stiff as a dedicated XC race shoe, but for everyday trail riding they are very efficient.
The X-Alp Launch II is comfortable while walking, despite its stiffness. The toe box bends well, so although the shank is stiff underfoot, its flexibility in front of the cleat makes it easy to walk up steep hills. The rubber lugs—which go all the way around the outside of the shoe—help with traction in muddy terrain and on wet rocks and roots.
The X-Alp Launch II is one of the most breathable shoes I’ve used. The sides of the shoe are perforated for ventilation, and the material is lightweight, making this my new go-to shoe for hot rides.
I often ride with flats, but I found myself tempted to switch to clips on hot days, just so I could enjoy this light, breathable shoe.
I haven’t had any problems yet with durability with the shoe, or the BOA lacing system, even though the metal “lace” seems quite flimsy. Despite some mud and dust the shoes still look great.
The X-Alp Launch II is a testament to the fact that Pearl Izumi is a company that’s been making pedal-efficient shoes for decades, as well as shoes that perform well in the heat. The Launch II is definitely my first choice for an enduro race or for long trail rides.
The single BOA lacing system mixed with the slightly wider fit could be a dealbreaker for some, just depending on how the shoe fits your feet. I recommend trying on the shoe before you buy it (or at least having the option of returning) just to make sure the BOA laces work with your foot before you commit, but if it works for your foot, the X-Alp Launch II is an efficient option for trail and enduro riding.