Tested: Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch
The X-Alp Launch is a lightweight, breezy and comfortable SPD-compatible shoe that is ideal for riders looking to spend a lot of time on their bike…or even carrying it.
Surprisingly, it was designed with input from Brian Lopes. Whereas one would tend to expect such a shoe to be built with an unforgivingly stiff sole for optimum power delivery, the sole on the X-Alp Launch is mercifully forgiving. It features, according to the blurb, "a dual density EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) outsole and midsole with a firmer second-density EVA between the pedal and foot for off the bike cushioning and comfort and on the bike power transfer." What this means is that it feels much more like a tough trail-running shoe, with far more compliance and cushioning in the footbed than most MTB SPD-compatible shoes.
I was doubtful that the shoe would provide enough support for power deliver as I could bend and twist the whole shoe in my hands. However, I was pleasantly surprised. While it might not transfer power to the pedals as well as most stiff, carbon-soled shoes, it wasn't a huge hinderance. Besides I'd decided that I wanted a comfortable shoe for big summer epics and evening joyrides. Sure, if I was racing I would be tempted to get a far stiffer shoe, but for it's intended purposes the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch provided a sublimely comfy and leisurely experience.
Another criteria was that I wanted a shoe with a proper grippy sole for climbing up rocks, across rivers and hike-a-biking. The big rubber lugs on the X-Alp Launch are soft enough to smear onto surfaces, providing adequate traction and yet durable enough that they didn't peel off or wear down after a full summer of stepping foot in them.
The fit of the shoe, for me (everyone is different so try before you buy), was excellent. They are cut low, with enough padding in the right places, but minimal fabric in others to allow feet to breathe easy. The buckle and dual velcro straps follow the anatomical shape of the foot, which went a long way to reducing pressure and hot spots.
Many mountain bikers might trend towards stiff-soled racing shoes to get some performance gain, but the gains that can be had from having a pair of riding shoes that you enjoy putting on, and that are so comfortable that you forget that you are wearing them, is also worth considering. If you aren't on the front row of a race, occasionally have to carry or push your bike through rough terrain and aren't into the whole foot-binding thing, then the X-Alp Launch is a good option. Of all the products I tested this summer, this one surprised me the most.