Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II Reviewed

Words Jon Harris
Photos Kaz Yamamura
Date Mar 2, 2016

This review could be very quick. The Pearl Izumi X-Alps Launch II are awesome. These are the best shoes I’ve had the pleasure to put my feet in for some time. In fact I’m struggling to recall a pair of shoes that I have liked more. A shorter name would be nice just for the sake of this review so from now on I’ll use my pet name for them, Launch IIs.

The Launch IIs have been designed for mountain biking as I know it. The kind where you are out on the bike for 3+ hours and the miles could have a plethora of adventures along the way. The kind of ride that might find you scaling an hour plus climb, choosing your own adventure with your bike across your shoulders, trying to find a ribbon of singletrack on a map and then reaping the rewards with a descent that tests your arm and leg strength.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

A wet day at Galbraith Mountain. Since I got these shoes I have put them through everything conditions-wise.

That’s not to say that the Launch IIs are not adept at hot laps on your favourite rowdy rips but the true test of a shoe is your ability to wear them all day without wanting to toss them in the nearest ravine and wrap your feet in skunk cabbage for the rest of the ride (which I hear is a good remedy for callouses*).

(*I made this up).

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Muddy and damp after another winter ride. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II are a good all-around shoe option for those that never know what type of ride they are going to get into.

So what’s the deal with these shoes and what makes them so special? To start with I’m a big fan of the fit. In the past I have been a little critical of the fit of Pearl Izumi shoes. They tend to be on the slim side and typically I have gone up a size to get a shoe that fits my wider feet. The Launch IIs seem to be built a little different with a roomier toe box than usual.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

Once upon a time they were not so muddy…

Snugging things up around your foot is a micro-adjustable BOA reel that draws in the wire across the top of the foot. This bi-directional closure gathers the upper equally from both sides for an even feel across the foot. This avoids any hot spots or areas where you feel uneven support from the shoe’s closure. That is backed up with a Velcro strap over the forefoot to snug things up. The heel cup fits well with a nicely padded cuff and I had little heel lift or slop when clipped in or when hiking through the brush.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

The replaceable BOA reel sits on top of the foot which I think is the best spot for it, being better protected from damage from rocks etc.

The toe box has good protection to ward off stray rocks that may ping off of your front wheel. It’s a feature that I like and has been an issue with other shoes as I tend to cut my turns pretty tight at times and bash my pinky toe on rocks, roots, stumps etc. That combined with a chunkier sole gives the shoes a really nice substantial feel. Not overly clumpy and heavy, just enough to feel like you can go stomp across a scree slope without worrying about tearing your shoes up.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

The X-Alp Launch II strikes a balance between low-profile comfort and protection.

The sole is a revelation to me. The ¾ length shank means that the area in front of the cleat bed is very free to flex and it seems that PI have focused on making it so flexible that stomping back up a trail for Kaz to take “one more” is actually not a big deal. The carbon shank means that when you are pushing down on the shoe and cranking out some watts you get that responsive XC-slipper style stiffness, transmitting your intentions to the pedals.

The sole also seems to have a nice amount of give and isolation between the cleat and your foot. On my hardtail on long rides, I have experienced hot spots in other shoes where the cleat sits under the forefoot. That’s something I haven’t experienced with the Launch IIs and they share that feature with Specialized 2FO.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

The lugs may be small but there are a lot of them. They find good grip when trudging around, and the flexible area in front of the cleat means it is easy to dig the toes into the dirt when clambering up a trail.

Grip wise the Launch IIs have a trail-runner like sole with a lot of little lugs set along their full length, even in the mid-foot area. That translates into good grip in the dirt and surprisingly, on wet rocks too. The flex at the front of the sole also contributes when hiking uphill; allowing you to dig the toe in without feeling like the heel is going to lift out of the shoe.

Given that I received these shoes in the depths of winter, life has not been easy for them. They immediately got covered in muck and dragged through the worst that the Pacific Northwest can throw at them this time of year. I’ve hosed them down a bunch of times and they clean up well and don’t seem to be suffering wear wise. In fact, after a quick clean up they look pretty spiffy. The stealthy black finish may help with that but the finish of the uppers gives a strong sense of quality.

Pearl_Izumi_X-Alp_Launch_II_NSMB_KazYamamura

The PI X-Alp Launch IIs taking a well-earned rest after a hard winter on my feet.

I’ve been wearing them pretty exclusively with waterproof socks, though there have been a few rides where I got away with just a wool sock, so ventilation hasn’t really been on my mind. I recently managed to ride them in some hotter climes and I didn’t even think about them. So I guess that the ventilation on a hot day will be just dandy.

That’s the best thing with these shoes for me. After the first ride, I haven’t really thought about them much.  After a wet pedal, these shoes are stuffed with newspaper and set in a cozy spot next to my furnace so they dry in time for the next ride. The closest shoe that I’ve worn to this is the Specialized 2FO and where the PI X-Alp Launch II beats that shoe is the sole and the grip that it affords off the bike.

The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch IIs retail for $160USD/$188CAD and will be available on Pearl Izumi’s website and your local dealer soon. For those in Canada you can pick them up at MEC.


Do you let your riding shoes into your bed?

 

 

 

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Comments

andrewbikeguide
0
AndrewR  - July 11, 2016, 10:38 p.m.

@disqus_Wj3zMzUHDV:disqus you mention that you typically size up in Pearl Izumi shoes but do not confirm whether you ordered your normal/ usual size with this model. For a quick compare of sizing (I notice Pearl Izumi seem to have a completely different size spread anyway) what size do you wear in a Five Ten Freerider or a Shimano M200 shoe please compared to the Launch II. Thanks in advance.

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ghostroc
0
GhostRoc  - March 3, 2016, 11:55 p.m.

How do they compare with the Pearl Izumi X-Project 1.0? They're on the top of my wishlist, and you helped put them there! 🙂

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jonathan-harris
0
Jonathan Harris  - March 5, 2016, 6:25 a.m.

Both good options that I own. The x-project offers less protection in the toe box and uppers, they are a little lighter though. For riding where I might be hiking up a lot or the terrain is rocky I'd go for the launch II. The x-project is more like a traditional xc shoe when clumping around.

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DemonMike
0
mike  - March 3, 2016, 5:12 p.m.

decent looking shoe and price , wish they had good old laces

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oliver-burke
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Oliver Burke  - March 3, 2016, 11:42 a.m.

How do these compare with the specialized 2fo cliplites? Trying to decide between these and thre Shimano M200s

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 12:08 p.m.

So I have the lace versions of the 2FO and they are pretty similar in fit although the lace verses BOA thing is an obvious difference (and the cliplites take care of that). For me the grip is better with the PI shoes, the 2FO sole isn't awesome for getting purchase on a muddy slope.
I've owned older Shimano shoes but not tried the new M200's. Pete has a pair I think. My only issue is that side mounted ratchet. I've damaged and had to replace them on both my shimano and specialized shoes that had it positioned there. I prefer the fit with a BOA system too.

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oliver-burke
0
Oliver Burke  - March 3, 2016, 12:22 p.m.

Hey thats great. The reason im looking for some new shoes is ineed that ive just torn off the ratchet on the side. Does the single BOA give a nice even closure as i know a single boa on shoes like the five ten kestrel didnt.

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 12:58 p.m.

The way this one is laced yes it does. The 'lace' is criss-crossed down the foot to just above the Velcro strap and pulls from both sides.

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brumos
0
Brumos  - March 3, 2016, 2:39 p.m.

You do know that you can get replacement ratchet parts from shimano. I had to replace mine, $20 cdn for a pair. Cheaper than buying new shoes.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - March 3, 2016, 8:26 p.m.

I've never torn a buckle or a ratchet. I either need to start sliding sideways harder into things or you guys have slutty ankles.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - March 3, 2016, 8:27 p.m.

I'm a big fan of the M200s. Review here:

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 9:16 p.m.

Agreed and I have done that but when you have an hour of riding left to go and your ratchet is f-ed it is a bit of a pain.

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oliver-burke
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Oliver Burke  - March 4, 2016, 12:05 a.m.

Cheers. Their specilaized shoes and i have had them for ages. They smell so bad they are starting to ride themselves ! Time for a change

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qduffy
0
qduffy  - March 4, 2016, 2:24 p.m.

I have the M200s too. They're just a bit narrow for my right foot but a heat gun and a broom handle helped a bit. I looked for the PI shoes but seems like they're basically sold out at MEC. I haven't torn a buckle off the M200 but one of them was badly bent recently, which caught me by surprise.

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Wooden-Shorts
0
Matt Funk  - March 3, 2016, 8:40 a.m.

From the pic of the bottom of the shoe it looks like you've got the cleat as far back as it can go. Did you find that you were able to get the cleat in the position that you wanted?

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 8:47 a.m.

Yep I did. They aren't quite slammed to the back of the slots but they are not far off.

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - March 3, 2016, 7:29 a.m.

way to bury the lead jon

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 9:23 a.m.

I didn't feel like beating around the bush. Little point.

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colin
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colin  - March 3, 2016, 7:09 a.m.

i have the previous x-alp launch and they've done me very well for the last few years. these look a little less meshy which might be good as that is the part that is tearing a little right now. i didn't like them with my regular xt pedals as i felt the soles wrap around them too much, but i like with my xt trails and m647s. these new ones look really good.

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 8:49 a.m.

I'm running XT Trails too and these soles sit nicely onto the platform either side of the pedal. Easy to get into the pedal and seemingly no slop once there.

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morgan-taylor
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Morgan Taylor  - March 3, 2016, 6:41 a.m.

One must assume you ended up sleeping on the couch after creating that last photo? Also, I like the skunk cabbage idea.

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - March 3, 2016, 8:48 a.m.

Hotel room bed… not my sheets. 🙂

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - March 3, 2016, 8:56 a.m.

I sure didn't think your new wife would have allowed that.

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Brocklanders
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yahs  - March 3, 2016, 11:15 a.m.

Who carries these?

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funnyjokes
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funnyjokes  - April 4, 2018, 12:56 a.m.

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rvoi
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rvoi  - March 3, 2016, 2:07 p.m.

But now he has to explain why he was sneaking off to a hotel room for time alone with the new shoes. I am going to have check these shoes out. They can't be that good… can they?

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - March 3, 2016, 3 p.m.

that's the best canadian exchange rate i've seen in a while

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - March 3, 2016, 8:24 p.m.

Well, Jon's had his share of shoes over the years, and at an accelerated rate over the last two since he's been writing for us. If he likes 'em that much, it's safe to say they don't suck. I haven't owned any PI shoes but from seeing them up close, they look well finished and solidly made.

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