Gear Shed

First Look: Pearl Izumi X-Project

At last, a shoe that pedals like a cycling cleat but walks like a hiker

The X-Project 2.0     Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Gulley

Nearly two years have passed since Pearl Izumi showed off this crossover riding shoe at Interbike. When it debuted, the company insisted it was the first true synthesis of a sole stiff enough for pedaling and the flex needed for hiking.

Pearl has long had a crossover line of cycling shoes sold under various X-Alp model names that looked a lot like trail runners. But while they were great for walking, the midsoles never provided enough stiffness for all-day riding. The X-Project promised to bridge that gap between those softer shoes and the stiff race models with their fully rigid carbon midsoles and slick plastic outsoles.

Pearl had wearable samples of the X-Project on hand at that trade show, and the early prototype indeed felt good. But apparently the company ran into difficulties mass producing the design. As promised release dates came and went, we started to assume the X-Project was just vaporware.

But full production samples have arrived, and the shoes are now on sale. We’re happy to say they were worth the wait.

The X-Project has a tuned carbon plate in the sole that swells and tapers based on its position underfoot. It varies in thickness (with a max of 4mm), and is layered with TPU. The goal was to create a shoe that’s rigid enough for pedaling, but also flexible enough in the right spots for walking comfort.

Turns out that’s not so easy to build. The entire sole is injection molded around the carbon plate in three stages, rather than simply laid together like most shoes. The convoluted process results in a durable hard plastic sole with carbon stiffness and rubber tips all molded into one piece.

In addition to the rugged sole, there’s a shock-absorbing EVA heel bumper and a substantial foot bed that has three interchangeable arch wedges for customizing the fit. So the X-Project is as rigid as an ordinary bike shoe thanks to the injected carbon sole, but it also feels plusher. It isn’t as squishy as, say, a running shoe, but it is comparable to a stiff approach shoe or low-top hiker.

We’ve worn the X-Project for a couple months now, and we’re impressed. It pedals just fine and never tires out our feet like the old, flexible X-Alp did. But it also hikes relatively well, and the hard plastic sole still looks almost new despite a good beating.

It’s worth noting that ever since Shimano took over production of Pearl Izumi footwear a couple of years ago, quality control and durability have drastically improved. Until we have six months in the X-Project, we’ll hold off on calling it long-lasting, but so far it seems to be very tough.

The shoes come in five models. The unisex X-Project 1.0 ($280) is the lightest of the bunch with welded seams and an airy mesh construction. There are also gender-specific models of both the X-Project 2.0 ($210)—which has a heavy duty, scuff-resistant upper and would make a great cross racer—and the X-Project 3.0 ($160), with a glass- rather than carbon-composite sole and a more basic mesh upper.

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