Pearl Izumi has looked outside of the cycling world for design inspiration for its latest range-topping footwear. And just as with modern running spikes, the upper is completely seam free. Its unique construction consists of a web of non-stretch material welded to an ultra-thin breathable mesh. The result – just 0.9mm thick – is claimed to be the thinnest upper on the market.
This means that the upper conforms to the shape of your foot incredibly well, and with no ridges or seams to create friction these are extremely comfortable. The tongue has plenty of high-density padding to relieve pressure once the closures are tight, and Pearl has also put padding around the top of the heel cup. The back of the heel is on the tall side, but it is well shaped and combines with the cup’s solid reinforcement for a fit that’s secure as well as comfortable. Weighing a mere 546g per pair (size 45/US 11.5) these are also seriously light.
Retention relies on BOA’s micro-adjustable reel closure system and a single Velcro strap, which mirrors the tongue’s anchor point. In a clever piece of design the BOA’s widely spaced anchors help to pull the shoe tight in a uniform manner. Such a thin, lightweight upper could have resulted in bunching on narrower feet when the Velcro is tightened, but by offsetting the strap this simply doesn’t happen.
The uni-directional carbon fibre sole is the latest version of Pearl’s Octane 1:1 power plate design, and it’s both light and stiff. It features two large meshed vents in front of the cleat fitting, and its concave internal shape reduces the distance from your sole to the pedal axle, for greater pedalling efficiency. The cleat area is reinforced to increase stiffness further, which Pearl claims – in combination with the shaped insole – provides greater support and stability.
Our only criticism of this high-quality shoe is that the sole has a moulded-in heel protector and toe bumper. These do succeed in protecting the sole but they mark and scratch easily. At this price we’d have preferred replaceable protectors for extra durability.
The Leader IIs are available in sizes 38-47 (including half sizes), 48 and 49, with a choice of black and white or red and black.