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After almost two full seasons of heavy use in the Pacific Northwest, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD remains my favorite all-around mountain bike shoe. Their above-average comfort, stylish appearance, and incredible durability have won me over and keep me coming back for more. Whether it’s casual after-work pedals with friends or backcountry rides deep in the Cascade Mountains, the X-Alp Launch SPD is my go-to pedal pusher.
Right out of the box, I found the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD to be incredibly comfortable. The tongue and heel areas are nicely padded, providing ample cushioning without being unnecessarily bulky. And unlike other mountain bike shoes I’ve tried in the past, like Shimano’s ME7, there are no hot spots or pressure points. Furthermore, the shoe material offers a really nice balance between being relatively soft and supple, while also offering plenty of durability and protection. Overall, the X-Alp Launch SPD stands out as one of the most comfortable pairs of clipless mountain bike shoes I’ve ever used.
When it comes to fit, I find the X-Alp Launch SPD shoes to be spot on. I ordered my standard size of 42 EU (8.5 US men’s), and the fit is great. They’re not overly narrow like some XC slippers, yet they aren’t too wide either, preventing my feet from swimming in them. Taking everything into consideration, I’ve been very happy with the comfort and fit of the Pearl Izumishoes. However, it’s worth noting that, personally, I prefer a relatively snug fit from my shoes.
If you’re looking for an uber stiff cross-country mountain bike shoe that transfers all the power to the pedals, you best continue your search. However, if a great all-arounder is what you seek, then the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD shoes are an excellent choice. Pearl Izumi uses a ¾ composite nylon shank that’s relatively stiff and does a pretty good job of transferring power to the pedals. And when it’s time to walk or hike your bike, the design lets the toe area flex nicely so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking on pieces of 2 x 4 wood (like a carbon-soled shoe does). All in all, Pearl Izumi did a nice job of balancing stiffness, power transfer, and comfort with the X-Alp Launch SPD mountain bike shoe.
Stability and Support
Once again, the X-Alp Launch SPD walks the middle line, this time in the name of stability and support. The combination of a rubber and plastic upper is relatively stiff and adequately cradles my foot while descending demanding trails. However, the mesh toe area and soft tongue allow for plenty of freedom and flexibility, allowing the bike to dance around underneath me with ease (overly stiff shoes often make this impossible). The one downside to a softer shoe, however, is that you can occasionally feel the pedal through the sole when really laying down the power. However, this is mostly true with XC-styled pedals that don’t have any sort of platform and isn’t an issue with my Shimano XT trail pedals. Overall, the Pearl Izumi shoes offer ample support for all but the most demanding hammerfests or extreme downhill runs.
One of my favorite things about the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD shoes is how breathable they are, which makes them a perfect match for summer riding conditions. The mesh lower provides plenty of airflow when you pick up speed and dries very quickly after mandatory creek crossings. Additionally, they aren’t as heavily padded as more DH-oriented shoes like the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA, which adds to their lightweight and cool feel. However, the flip side to their above-average breathability is that my feet get noticeably colder as the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, the X-Alp Launch SPDs are my shoe of choice for about 8 months out of the year. But when winter sets in, I opt for something like Shimano’s MW7, which features a GORE-TEX liner and just enough insulation to keep my feet warm.
While walkability may not be the most important aspect of a mountain bike shoe’s performance, it’s something to consider nonetheless. Whether you need to scope out a feature before dropping in, or walk an especially challenging section of trail, having a walkable sole with quality rubber can make a big difference. At the risk of sounding too repetitive, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD once again finds a nice middle ground. The ¾ shank allows for plenty of toe flex, and the Vibram rubber lugs, although relatively small, provide solid grip on most trail surfaces. While the X-Alp Launch SPD shoes wouldn’t be my first choice for bikepacking adventures with lots of walking, they are more than capable of handling occasional hike-a-bike sections without much hassle.
Durability and Build Quality
Having used loads of mountain bike shoes over the past 15 years, I can confidently say that the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPDs are among the most durable I’ve tested. After almost two seasons of abuse, they look as if they’ve only been on a handful of rides. The outsole has no missing lugs, there isn’t a thread out of place, and the BOA dials haven’t blown up yet (not that I’m expecting them to). The X-Alp Launch SPDs have endured alpine hike-a-bikes over abrasive granite as well as full on DH trails, and they have held up beautifully through it all. I’m actually genuinely amazed at how good they still look. And if that doesn’t inspire confidence, then Pearl Izumi’s lifetime warranty has your back should anything out of the ordinary occur. Overall, I have zero reservations about the durability and build quality of the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPDs.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD Weight
A pair of Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD shoes weigh 1 pound 11.4 ounces on my scale in a size 42 EU (8.5 US men’s), putting them right in line with other trail-oriented models. So, despite their somewhat skater look appearance, they’re actually pretty light and feel as such underfoot. You can certainly go lighter with a carbon-soled cross-country shoe like the Shimano XC7 (1 pound 6 ounces), but you lose protection and security in the process. And going heavier is an option as well–the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA weigh 1 pound 13.3 ounces and provides more protection. However, I think the X-Alp Launch SPDs strike a really nice middle ground and are a great match for most types of riding.
Key Features of the X-Alp Launch SPD
I’ve been racking up the miles on these shoes, so when it was time to check the sole for this long-term review, I was very impressed. Even after more than 1,000 miles and 200,000 feet of climbing and descending, the Vibram outsoles look like they’ve only seen a handful of rides. The lugs are intact and show minimal signs of wear and the cleat channel hardly has a scratch or nick. Perhaps most impressive, however, is that there’s no sole separation anywhere to be seen, which is something I’ve experienced with other mountain bike shoes in the past. Considering the abuse these have seen over the last few seasons, the Vibram outsoles have exceeded my expectations.
No longer new to the mountain bike closure scene, BOA dials offer an easy and convenient way to adjust shoes. Push the dial in and twist it to tighten, and simply pop it out to loosen–it doesn’t get much easier than that. Regarding the X-Alp Launch SPD, I’d give the BOA dial a “B” grade. The single closure does an OK job of tightening down the entire shoe. However, I’d love to see another one lower down, which would allow for more fine tuning of the fit. As it is now, you need to slightly overtighten the dial to get everything nice and snug. My other issue with the closure, and not something I’ve experienced with other BOA-equipped Pearl Izumi models, is that the wire doesn’t feed through the system very smoothly. There’s more friction with the X-Alp Launch SPD BOA system than other mountain bike shoes I’m currently testing.
Issues with the X-Alp Launch SPD
Touched on above, I have no complaints when it comes to the overall build quality of the shoes. At this point, I feel that I’ve already gotten my money’s worth out of them–if they gave up the ghost tomorrow I’d be really happy with how long they’ve lasted. However, I have two issues with the shoes. Firstly, for really aggressive riding, I find the soles to be a little too soft and they don’t quite provide the support I’m looking for. Secondly, the single BOA dial isn’t as smooth as others I’ve used in the past and I wish it would tighten down more evenly on my foot. Again, for about 95% of my rides the shoes are a great match. But during that remaining 5%, I find myself wishing for something more robust and secure, like the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA which has a stiffer sole and a Velcro closure over the instep.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a versatile clipless mountain bike shoe to cover all types of riding styles, it’s hard to beat the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD. They’re comfortable, use premium materials throughout, and have lasted longer than most others I’ve tested this thoroughly. Additionally, I really appreciate the casual styling and the fact that they’re relatively affordable when compared to other models with similar features. Finally, the 60-day fit guarantee and lifetime warranty from Pearl Izumi only increases the value and provides additional peace of mind with your purchase. All things considered, I think that the X-Alp Launch SPDs are one of the best mountain bike shoes available today.
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD and Shimano ME5 are two of my top-rated mountain bike shoes at the moment. Both models are comfortable, reasonably priced, and work well for a variety of riding styles. Although both shoes are phenomenal all-arounders, they achieve that accolade from opposite ends of the spectrum. With its more casual styling, softer sole, and heavier weight, the X-Alp Launch SPD leans towards the downhill side of things. On the other hand, the Shimano ME5 weighs about 5 ounces less per pair, has a more streamlined fit, features a stiffer sole, and feels more suitable for cross-country riding than the Pearl Izumi. I’ll put it like this when trying to decide between the two: if you’re a XC junky looking for a trail shoe, go with the Shimano ME5. However, if you prioritize downhill performance and favor a skater shoe vibe, go with the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD vs Crankbrothers Mallet BOA
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD is a great all-around mountain bike shoe and can hold its own for enduro rides and technical trails. However, for full DH use or enduro racing where I want more support and protection, it’s not my first choice. Enter the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA, which happily provides those traits. The Mallet BOA is slightly stiffer underfoot compared to the X-Alp Launch SPD, and it offers considerably more padding in the heel and toe areas. Furthermore, the combination of Velcro strap and BOA closure found on the Crankbrothers provides a more locked-in feel and offers better support during extremely aggressive riding. For all around use, I reach for the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD, but for shuttle days or when pushing the pace, I opt for the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA shoes.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD vs Shimano ME7
Another option I’ve spent a lot of time using is the Shimano ME7. Positioned at the top of the aggressive Shimano mountain bike shoe lineup, the ME7 offers several noteworthy features that the X-Alp Launch SPD omits. One standout feature is the ME7’s neoprene cuff, which effectively keeps dirt and debris out of the shoe (I wish more companies implemented this!). Additionally, the outsole provides excellent traction during hike-a-bikes, and the stiffer sole enhances power transfer to the pedals. However, the ME7 does have its downsides. I found it to be less comfortable overall, and the neoprene cuff-to-shoe interface cut into my ankles. Furthermore, it comes with a higher price tag, costing about $70 more than the Pearl Izumi. On top of that, I personally prefer the more casual styling of the Pearl Izumi over the moon-boot looks of the Shimano. While both are quality shoes, I prefer the X-Alp Launch SPDs for the reasons listed above.
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Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he’s not just an industry expert; he’s an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik’s hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he's not just an industry expert; he's an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik's hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
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