The Pearl Izumi women's X-ALP Launch SPD shoe is a skate-style shoe for clipless mountain bike riding. It's relatively light for a trail shoe and looks cool, but ultimately it feels flimsy, sub-par for performance and – on long rides – uncomfortable.
Pearl Izumi produces these modern-looking SPD shoes for both men and women, and it's the ladies version (look, they're pink!) on test here. There's plenty of tech to talk about, too.
There's a composite shank for sole stiffness, a Vibram Megagrip outsole for walking grip, a reinforced toe cap, bonded instead of stitched seams to reduce weight, and an EVA midsole to absorb impacts.
The look is relaxed and unfussy, while the bonded seams create a sleek shoe that fits in well with trail or enduro riding wardrobes. At 666g (without cleats, size 38) they're pretty light too. For reference the similar (albeit sturdier) Ride Concepts Traverse Clipless shoe is a whopping 968g! And talking of cleats, the adjustment is wide both fore and aft, so you should be able to get them as far back (or forward) as you like.
The flat soles work well with larger platform pedals, but the Vibram compound isn't the tackiest I've ever used and the lugs are too shallow for proper grip in the wet.
The nylon-composite shank is stiff enough for efficient pedalling. Pearl Izumi says there's still toe flex, but there's not that much of it. When walking the whole thing feels too stiff, while the mid-sole flexes with a sound like stiff cardboard folding... it's really annoying, and comes with sensations that reverberate through the ball of the foot.
It appears as if, rather than flexing, the sole bends quickly and then straightens near the ball of the foot and the toe joints, causing the noise and vibes.
Sticking to the negative theme, the laces are a little short – it's hard to double knot or confine them to the elastic lace tidy – and the lace tidy itself could do with being stretchier and easier to use.
The overall shaping is good though quite narrow, so if you have flat, wide feet you may struggle with fit. I found them comfy for shorter rides but, after the three hour mark, the uneven pressure on the top of my feet was noticeable. In fact, these shoes left red marks there.
The heel cup isn't very secure, letting your heel lift on the pedal upstroke or while walking, though at least there's no discomfort here. It's just not ideal.
At £110, the Pearl Izumi X-ALP Launch is hard to recommend. Shimano's AM7 is the same price and offers a gripper sole, greater comfort and better lace design. Meanwhile, for £10 less there's the Specialized 2FO women's Cliplite Lace, which offers better foot stability in a stiff package. If a light SPD shoe that looks great in pubs is all you want, then give the X-Alp Launch a go, but if you want more – say comfort, security or walking grip – look elsewhere.
You might also like: