Pearl Izumi won’t be changing their Octane SL II MTB shoe for 2012, and that’s a good thing. For one, it’s allowed BikeRadar to get in a full year of wearing them while still providing the opportunity to write a relevant review. And two, the shoe itself really doesn’t need updating for the upcoming year.
Overall, the Octane SL II MTB is an outstanding race-oriented mountain bike shoe. For more casual riders, the performance found in their stiffness and ultra-light weight may not be worth the trade-off in off-the-bike comfort, but for those looking to make every pedal stroke count, the Octanes will be tough to beat.
The Octane uses a very light, concave-shaped carbon “Power Plate” sole that provides a level of stiffness expected from high-end road shoes - not very surprising considering Pearl Izumi shares the Octane technology with both road and mountain designs. Power transfer is as direct and efficient as it gets in a mountain bike shoe, and the reduced rotational weight is in an elite class if not alone at the top. The only downside in the stiffness is that a bit of foot soreness set in after a little over 3 hours during races, as well as into 4+ hour rides. It wasn’t terrible by any means, and generally seemed like a very reasonable trade for the performance gained, but it may not be the most comfortable choice for all-day riders or endurance racers.
Traction from the rubberized sole is reasonable in most conditions, especially for how stiff the Octane is, and two toe spikes are an option for softer conditions. But overall, these aren’t the best shoes for longer and/or regular portages, especially through rock gardens where the exposed carbon sole sections offer no traction at all. The carbon sole itself is a “a little thicker than our Octane road sole” according to Pearl Izumi designer Tony Torrance, who explained that the added material helps durability.
Pearl Izumi’s one-piece uppers with laser-cut ventilation and velcro straps held their shape impressively well through every creek crossing, mud bath, snow storm and torrential downpour that was thrown at them. And only on a few water-soaked occasions would it feel necessary to tighten the velcro down a bit more from initial pre-ride fit. The material itself has a plastic feel to it on the outside, which cleans very easily yet breathes relatively well with the help of dozens of small vent holes.
The comfortable yet boxy fit relies more on the pliability in the uppers’ material than padding, and offers enough adjustability to sway a bit from the Octane’s relatively neutral width thanks to ample length on the three velcro closures. The P.R.O. heel cup is nicely padded and externally reinforced with a carbon band which holds the heel in place quite well while pedaling. Walking up steep inclines does cause a little heel slip, mostly because of the lack of flex in the super-stiff sole.
Other than the heel cup, the only other padded area on the Octane is found in the tongue. Anatomically cut to allow plenty of front ankle clearance, and very pliable, the tongue was a pleasure to pedal in for a rider who often has issues with shoe tongues digging into to his ankles.
Durability was very impressive over an entire year of riding through all sorts of conditions, especially for such a lightweight shoe. The rubberized toe could wrap around the outer edge a little more, but chances are the Octanes will last quite a bit longer under riders who don’t make a habit of scraping their feet through rock gardens on a regular basis. Short of the wear spots on the outer toe box and cosmetic abrasions on the exposed carbon soles, the Octanes were otherwise almost as good as new after their ride-filled year.
Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. insole is lightweight and offers a reasonable amount of arch support and comfort. After a month, they were upgraded to Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. Insole System($40) that allowed a more customized fit with their adjustable arch support and cant under the foot’s ball.