Pearl Izumi added the X-Alp Launch to its men's and women's lines this year, aimed squarely at the 'enduro' crowd. Not necessarily the enduro racer, mind you–although the X-Alp is competition-worthy. This shoe is more for the common rider, those who crave anything from quick pre- or post-work loops to all-day sufferfests and perhaps the occasional race.
For the price, the X-Alp offers quality features, several of which are often found on more expensive shoes, such as a BOA closure, a composite shank for stiffness and power transfer and a carbon outsole covered in lugged rubber. Although the rubber doesn't carry the brand name of Vibram or Stealth, which can be found on competitors like the Giro Terradura or Five Ten Kestrel, respectively, the X-Alp served up impressive traction on hike-a-bike sections, and they cost about $20 less than those models. On one ride, I pushed up a steep, half-mile trail marked by large boulders and loose moon dust and never slipped, tripped or lost my grip on the ground. When hiking, the X-Alp truly excelled, but the sole still felt plenty stiff and supportive while pedaling.
The durability of the rubber is also noteworthy–after two solid months of abuse, the lugs are still fully intact on both soles. The fit is snug–I normally wear a 39.5 but had to size up to a 40 in this shoe–and the last feels slightly narrow. If you have a wider foot, the men's last might be a better fit (the women's version comes in sizes 36-43, while men's run 39-47). Breathability could be better–on hot days it tended to feel like my feet were trapped in a sauna. But other strengths, like the beefed-up toe box to protect against rock strikes and the mid-sole foam formula Pearl borrowed from its running shoe development to add comfort, outweigh my nitpicks.
The aesthetic of the shoe may not be for everyone, but for those who place function above fashion, the X-Alp wins at what's most important.