Surely you can't have the efficiency and light weight of a full-on mountain bike race shoe but with the security and walkability of a more casual model? Pearl Izumi's new X Project 1.0 aims to combine those quality and, for the most part, delivers.
- Pros: Very good pedaling efficiency combined with excellent off-bike agility, exceptionally well ventilated
- Cons: Heavier than advertised, upper offers minimal support
Our first ride of the X Project 1.0 shoes came at last year's Interbike Outdoor Demo, in Bootleg Canyon's minefield of razor-sharp rocks. There, one of our testers headed off into the hills for a rigorous test ride in Pearl Izumi's ambitious new shoes and came back with good first impressions. As promised, pedaling efficiency felt good, they were nimble on foot, and they were also comfortable.
Another tester, however, ambled about the dusty and rocky venue in the shoes for more than four hours – not exactly a recommended activity for what's supposed to be raceworthy XC footwear. Nevertheless, even there they were remarkably reasonable, with surefooted traction, a hint of cushioning in the heel, and a good fit. Six months on, our opinion of the innovative X Project 1.0 hasn't changed much.
"The intent was to create a shoe that does everything well," said Pearl Izumi product manager Tony Torrance. "It needed to be as efficient as any carbon XC race shoe but work as well off the bike. It's a shoe that will change what people think a performance MTB shoe should be: lightweight, totally efficient, and walkable."
Generous rubber gives great traction on hard and soft surfaces
Pedaling stiffness is indeed very good thanks to a full-length carbon fiber plate. It tapers drastically in width ahead of the cleat pocket and at the heel, though, and combines with a clever multilayer carbon-and-thermoplastic polyurethane construction (imagine sheets of plywood with gummy bears in between) to lend far more flexibility where it matters than one would expect from a carbon soled shoe.
That said, the X Project 1.0 still can't match a full-on race shoe for bending stiffness and its flat shape doesn't lend tremendous torsional rigidity. However, we've found the former to be mostly insignificant during testing (the X Project is still better than plastic-soled shoes in that regard) and the latter can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
On the one hand, the twist can feel somewhat distracting when you're pedaling really hard, but on the other it affords more maneuverability on the bike when you're navigating tricky sections of trail without fear of inadvertent pedal release.
Unquestionably, the generous rubber tread provides fantastic grip off the bike. It's no problem at all scrambling around on rocks or loose surfaces, the lugs clear mud well, and optional toe spikes can be fitted if you need more purchase. So far, the lugs have proven reasonably durable with moderate amounts of visible wear after half a year of regular, hard use in unusually abusive conditions.
Pearl Izumi has built the X Project 1.0 with an extremely lightweight upper, which consists of heaps of open mesh thermally bonded in between select regions of more solid materials to provide a little more structure. Light armoring is added around the toe box for protection.
Fit is very good, with the ratcheting main buckle, dual hook-and-loop forefoot straps, and deep heel cup working together to provide a secure hold, even on hike-a-bike sections such as the notorious stone staircase in the Walker Ranch trail area overlooking Boulder, Colorado.
Not surprisingly, ventilation is superb and we had no issues with heat buildup even on the most severe summer test days. In fact, we were reaching for swatches of Tyvek any time the thermometer dipped below 10°C (50°F). Ironically, that airy construction occasionally has us complaining that it's letting in too much dust and sand in ultra-dry conditions.
As impressive as the X Project 1.0s are, however, we still wish for a little more refinement. The meshy uppers may be light and airy but they're also somewhat prone to stretch. Plus, they lack the foot-hugging stability of a traditional upper's more substantial construction (riders preferring more structure might want to look at the second-tier 2.0 model).
Regular use on abusive Colorado rocks have worn down the lugs but they're holding up reasonably well
Similarly, we still find Pearl Izumi's three-position adjustable ratcheting main strap anchor a little clunky, with its anatomically incorrect flat shape and protruding hard edges that can scar crank arms if your pedal stroke is even remotely duckfooted.
All that rubber also makes the X Project 1.0 a little heavier than a top-shelf, full-bore race shoe, but not nearly by as much as you'd think. Actual weight on a pair of size 43 shoes is 756g with insoles and cleat plugs – an impressive figure though it's significantly heavier than the 640g claim.
The most frustrating thing, though, is that you still can't buy them a year after they were first shown. "As you know, we've definitely had some production delays," said Torrance. "The manufacturing process for the bottoms is like nothing in the industry and thus has taken much more time than we'd ever expected to make mass production ready. We're working hard to get some shoes in the market. You should see some in retail before the end of the year and all models should be available January 2014."