As I gravitate to riding flat pedals more and more often, I’m always on the lookout for great flat shoes. Pearl Izumi has always made my favorite clipless shoes for trail and enduro riding, so I was excited when they announced a dedicated flat pedal shoe for all-mountain use. At first glance, The X-Alp Launch looks to be part deck shoe, part walking shoe; but with this shoe, Pearl specifically sought to bring all-mountain performance, including grip, fit, durability, and hike-a-bikability to a flat shoe for aggressive trail riders. Here’s a first-hand look at the form, fit, and function of Pearl’s flat.
X-Alp Launch FORM
The form of the X-Alp Launch is well-described by Pearl’s list of features for the shoe:
- Bonded Seamless Upper delivers lightweight, durable riding performance
- Reinforced toe cap for added protection
- Traditional lace closure for a precise fit and all day comfort
- EVA midsole for excellent shock absorption for hard landings
- Vibram® dual density zonal outsole compounds deliver the perfect blend of exceptional grip, traction and durability
- Open, chevron shaped lugs with Vibram® Megagrip compound in toe and heel areas provide long-lasting traction in all conditions
- Smooth, siped rubber outsole design with Vibram® MegaGrip compound in pedal zone offers instant pedal pin engagement
Beyond Pearl’s marketing description and technical specs, the form of the shoe is rather unassuming to the casual glance. The X-Alp Launch just doesn’t look like a rad all-mountain shoe. This is actually kind of nice if you want to go straight from the trail to town, where your shoes won’t look out of place.
All this form comes at a surprisingly low weight. Pearl lists the weight at 340 grams/shoe, and my size tips the scale at about 400 grams apiece. But even at a full 400 grams, the Launch runs a good 150 or more grams lighter than other shoes aimed at this use case.
X-Alp Launch Fit
Pearl Izumi shoes tend to have a rather neutral fit with good adaptability to a broad range of foot types, and the X-Alp Launch is no different. I found the Launch to be a bit on the narrow side, but I have a wider-than-average foot. The Launch is a standard lace shoe with no straps or fancy closure system. This is actually a benefit for getting these shoes to conform to the shape of your foot. In addition to being a little on the wide side, I have an exceptionally high instep, and the Launch handled this well simply by lacing the bottom eyelets tightly and the upper eyelets with a little slack.
In the end, the Euro size 46 was a perfect compliment to my American size 12 foot, but in the beginning, the shoe was super stiff and required a significant break-in period. This was a surprise for such a casual-looking shoe, but everything from the sole to the upper resists flex and made for a few less-than-comfortable early outings. But after a few rides, the shoe conformed nicely and made for a truly “you forget you’re even wearing them” experience. That stiff construction is actually essential to making this a durable shoe that should last through countless epic rides over the long haul.
Here’s the real meat of the review: how does the X-Alp Launch fulfill its intended purpose? Pearl Izumi describes the Launch as:
“The first flat pedal shoe designed to handle the abuse of all-mountain riding to give you the confidence, control, and comfort you need for all-day riding.”
Addressing each element in turn, I find the Launch to be mostly successful, at least for my style of aggressive all-mountain riding.
Given the way I abuse, rip, shred, tear, and just plain break down shoes, the Launch appears to be holding up exceptionally well, especially for such a lightweight shoe. Anybody who’s been riding for a long time knows that shedding weight in mountain bike gear comes with a tradeoff in durability–but not so here. Pearl seems to have found some magic that makes for a wonderfully lightweight shoe that can still be thrashed about.
Confidence and Control
This is where I found the Launch to be a little wanting relative to the best of breed in flat pedal all mountain shoes. The “Megagrip” of the sole at the pedal position just didn’t seem that… mega. Since my riding style is more bull-in-a-china-shop than finesse, I appreciate the spongiest grip I can get. When bombing at high speeds down rocky pitches or airing out drops where every obstacle threatens to separate foot from pedal, the level of sole grip on the pegs is what provides confidence and control. The same applies to extended technical rock gardens with no break between maneuvers. The grip of the Launch is certainly enough to keep a solid, attentive rider in contact, but a momentary lapse while wearing the Launch can cause a brief but noticeable slide, making for a less confident ride.
The Launch does deliver fully when it comes time to dismount intentionally and shoulder the rig for hike-a-bikes. The soles grip rock nicely and make for a secure out-of-saddle experience, even up steep grades.
After the aforementioned break-in period, the Launch shoes were indeed a comfortable riding companion. The good fit and light weight make the Launch a particularly good choice for high mileage rides. That comfort is also welcome when the hike-a-bike comes, and even when it’s time to park the rig and walk to the brewpub after the ride.
Just because the review period for the X-Alp Launch has ended doesn’t mean they will sit on the shelf. However, I probably won’t be reaching for them when Pearl wants me to. I have other shoes that will be my first choice for the all-day, all-mountain rides. But when I’m looking to cover massive mileage over moderately technical terrain, the Launch is the clear choice. For me, the Launch is the perfect shoe for trail riding, though probably not for more aggressive rides.
I won’t even have to change at the trailhead, as I’m perfectly happy donning the Launch in the house and wearing them driving to the trailhead, as well as keeping them on for that after-ride beverage. If you’re a rider with moderate technical aspirations and you’re in the mood for a flat pedal shoe, make sure to include the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch in your shoe search.
Thanks to Pearl Izumi for providing the X-Alp Launch for review.