Picture the plight of poor Pearl Izumi when it comes to marketing their X-Project shoes. These are race level, high-tech, top performing shoes. Pearl has figured out that even on a race shoe the entire sole of the shoe does not have to be so stiff that they make you walk like a penguin. X Projects soles are stiff in the center where it counts but they flex around the edges. It may not sound like a big deal, but it works well in practice. They are flex free when pedaling, but when you walk in them you look like a proper upright primate.
Pearl have chosen to position X Projects as a high performance shoes that are comfortable when you have to push the bike. But what racer chooses a product based on how much it helps them walk?
I tried these on and my first response was “these would be great for commuting and touring!” I wore these on my recent bike tour and they were so comfortable that I opted not to pack street shoes or sandals. Make no mistake, real casual shoes would have been more comfortable, but they were not worth the weight and space when a shoe like this was an option. I was repeatedly amazed at how versatile these were.
I was skeptical about the “BOA” adjuster dials even though they have been used on bike shoes for a long time now. They are usually reserved for high-end shoes and I have never tried them. They reel in and loosen a nylon string to adjust the shoe in lieu of laces, buckles, straps, etc. My feet swell as a ride, which is normal, so I need to adjust the fit of my shoes on long rides. Playing around with the BOAs at the store made them seem a bit gimmicky: change for change’s sake.
But on the trail the genius of the BOAs became clear. Compared to my existing buckle/velcro combo shoes, these could be adjusted much more easily while riding, and in smaller, more precise increments. My adjustment technique on my old shoes was sometimes to completely loosen them until I could stop and fine tune them later because it was just not possible to get a good adjustment while riding.
Having 2 BOA adjusters is not overkill as I originally thought. The upper BOA adjusts the back of the shoe around to the heel cup. The lower one works as a toe box adjustment. And I like adjusting them independently as I ride. They don’t look like they would work that way being so close together and sharing the nylon string, but they do. Pearl opted not to make both BOAs tighten “righty tighty” style. The left BOAs are reverse threaded. So you have to think to rotate them outward to tighten them, and inward to loosen them. Or whatever works for you.
The shoes come with adjustable insoles. They are removable and have pockets where you can slide in shims of different thicknesses. There is one pocket under the arch and one under the ball of your foot (Pearl calls it the varus). They are “set and forget”, but if you wanted to make huge adjustments on long rides you could carry a shim or two with you. They are very small and make a big difference.
Proper Fit Is A Big Deal
I also thought the shims were gimmicks at first. These shoes were replacing my older pair of X Projects and I never used the shims on them. But the reason for that is that my old X Projects were too small for me. I made do by stretching them (see my separate blog on that), replacing the insoles with something thinner, and keeping them at the loosest setting most of the time. I had no idea how good the shoes actually were because they did not fit right. My new PROs are a whole size bigger (44 vs 43) than my previous X Projects and now all the adjustments make sense. The moral of the story is make sure your shoes fit right or you may not getting the full benefit from them even if they seem to fit OK. The adjustable insoles are such a great feature I think they could used on other kinds of athletic shoes. They would even be good for professionals who stand all day and change shoes to fight fatigue. It is a common trick. You could rearrange shims, have more options and not have to carry another pair of shoes or even insoles.
I feel like a good review should have some constructive criticism. If I had to nit pick, I would say these shoes are a little heavy for a race shoe. Pearl quotes 373g for them, but mine weighed in at 438g each. Maybe they absorbed a lot of dirt. They are heavier than my old X-Project 2.0 shoes that weigh 384g one size smaller. That weight may make them more durable, but it is too soon to say. To keep it in perspective, they are not a heavy shoe: they are on the heavy side for the way they are marketed. And they are pretty darned pricey at $350 list, but so are all shoes in this category. I hope the flexy sole and adjustable insole trickle down to more affordable models. Pearl offers an Elite model at $75 less that swaps out the lower BOA for a velcro strap that is farther forward on the shoe.
Alas, I have never seen Pearl market X-Projects as anything but high performance shoes. Pearl wants to keep their top of the line shoes positioned as fast, serious gear. Which they are. But between you and me, their unique features make them just as good or better for everyday riding.