A good gravel cycling shoe needs attributes of both road and mountain shoes and the the Pearl iZUMi X-Alp gravel shoe does a solid job, especially for the price point. This shoe is equally at home on gravel, mild XC trails or all-day adventures. A little brother to the, no longer made, X-Project line of MTB shoes, the X-Alp is another shoe in their lineup that offers excellent walkability and pedaling stiffness.
Key features include: a 1-piece synthetic leather upper with added perforations, a single L6 BOA closure and a reinforced toe bumper. A short EVA heel insert offers additional benefits as well.
Pearl iZUMi X-Alp Uppers
Pearl iZUMi cut the upper from a 1-piece synthetic leather with added perforations to let feet breathe, and these vents work hands down. On a 40 or 45 degree day you can feel the wind flowing through these vents which can be a little rough, but come summer we are going to be running around singing “Summer” like Olaf.
The synthetic upper material is very soft and pliable right out of the box and requires no break in period. It has held up over several months on gravel, the road and even single track. The shoes has the feel of a nice high quality, worn in leather loafer.
On or off the bike, the X-Alp was not a let down in the fit department. One BOA dial controls tension for the entire shoe. For some, this will hinder getting the toe box just right, but overall we were pretty happy with it. The toe box offers up plenty of room for your toes to roam free, which is nice for long days on the bike. Despite the simple single-BOA closure configuration, the X-Alp Gravel also secures evenly across the top of your foot with no pressure points to speak of. You can read more on the BOA below.
A reinforced toe bumper is added for durability and extra toe protection; this is great and helps with random stones and any extended or uphill hikes. It also keeps the toes from getting beat up on the white model.
Another key feature is the heel area. It offers ample padding and holds well enough without any irritation or any uncomfortable stitching. It also is not overwhelmingly bulky either. A short EVA insert is also added to the heel and is designed to provide vibration dampening and reduce fatigue on longer rides over rough roads.
Pearl iZUMI L6 BOA System
The BOA cable routing on the X-Alp shoes seemed pretty straight forward. Crank forward to tighten and pull straight out to loosen. Simple. Now let’s go ride. Well, depending on how you prefer your shoes to fit this could be an issue. The BOA did not snug up the shoe evenly, the further down on your foot, the less snug. Kind of reminded me of a kid tying their boots, they crank down the top near the knot and leave it at that.
With a wide foot this would not be an issue, with an average width foot I was good, but with a narrow foot it could be a problem. You might actually have to snug up the BOA cables manually. Much like tying a hiking boot, start at the bottom and work your way up.
X-Alp Sole and Lugs
Pearl iZUMi is asking a lot out of their Step Nylon composite sole. It is designed to deliver uncompromising pedaling performance and confidence when not clipped into the pedals. It’s almost like a woman looking for a guy that cooks and cleans!
Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Gravel soles attempt to take the best characteristics of mountain bike shoes and tailor them to the needs of gravel riders. We discussed above that parts of the upper mimicked a road shoe, well that is all over now. The sole features a nylon composite material which is designed to flex more than a typical road or mountain bike shoe and features lugs similar to a mountain bike shoe.
Pros and Cons of the Pearl iZUMi X-Alp
Great shoes for the price point
Easy to walk in
Comfortable for long days on the bike
Fits true to size
Toe box has a little extra room
Vents should be great on warm days
Few color choices
Vents are cold on 40 degree days
Narrow feet might want a double BOA system
Pearl iZUMi X-Alp gravel shoe retails for $150.00 and is available at pearlizumi.com, competitivecyclist.com or REI.com.