By Matt Kaspryzk. Photos by Matt Kaspryzk and Bill Freeman.
Riding bikes with Brian Lopes in Laguna Beach for a couple days? As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to pack my bags, throw in a pair of the much-anticipated new shoes from Pearl Izumi and I’m reminded why this job can be so much fun.
Pearl Izumi’s ‘X Project’ was born out of the need for a hikable and runable mountain bike shoe befitting Trans-Alps style events where there’s time spent off your bike as well as on. For the last two years Pearl Izumi has been developing the X Project shoe with several-time World Champion Brian Lopes providing input. While in development, Lopes claimed a solid victory in the UCI World Cup’s inaugural XC Eliminator this past April using X Project prototypes.
None of us journalists that showed up were going to be winning World Cups anytime soon, but we at least got to ride some of the same trails those athletes train on. In Laguna Beach we tested both the power transfer while riding and the walkability hiking our bikes on the Aliso and Wood Canyon trails. There’s enough technical climbing and grinds up fire roads to get a sense of the stiffness and efficiency while providing plenty of opportunity to unclip and hike sections that would be a lot more fun riding the other direction.
X Project is mainly about the bottom of the shoe. The soles are Italian-made by chianti-sipping cobblers accustomed to mountaineering. I’m not certain about the chianti, it might be pinot grigio. Actually, I really don’t know what they sip. Anyway, I do know you should be thinking about Ducati and Ferrari technologies when looking at the carbon insert that extends toe to heel. That patent-pending carbon fiber plate is made of both unidirectional and woven carbon layers and set in a translucent colored sole. It’s designed to be stiff under the cleat but with enough lateral and tortional flex to make running and hiking more comfortable.
Pearl Izumi claims that there is no loss in power transfer, and the comfort off the bike is greatly increased because of the flexibility of the sole. The lugs are in molded and semi-hollow for reduced weight. The flex isn’t very drastic. Trying to compress or twist the shoes in your hand only gives a slight hint of the engineering. On the foot they are still stiff and efficient feeling, but certainly more comfortable walking than other carbon soled shoes.
The upper construction is where the differences of price and fit are. The green 1.0 level shoe has a completely bonded construction on top. It’s almost totally void of seams with lots of breathable mesh. There’s EVA foam under the heels of every model to absorb impacts, just like some running shoes.
As you drop in price the weight increases and so does the stitching. There’s less bonded construction and more stitched. The 2.0 and 3.0 versions have women specific sizing and colors.
1.0 and 2.0 versions also come with Pearl Izumi’s 1:1 Insole System with interchangeable varus wedge and arch support for a more custom fit. The new X Project shoes will be available in March along with a revamped mountain bike apparel line from Pearl Izumi.
If you need to get out of the doldrums of winter weather for some trail and beach time, I’d recommend you check out the Aliso Creek Inn. It’s right across the street from the Aliso Beach Park with superb access to the local trails, beaches, golf course and town. The inn is under new management that’s interested in making the facility more cycling friendly. Expect some new bike amenities and remodeled accommodations for 2013.