Much of the focus of cycling shoe design centers on stiffness and comfort, but Pearl Izumi has taken a different tack with the X-Project P.R.O. shoes: They’re actually designed to flex. But don’t panic, because they’re also designed to be super-stiff.
The idea is to make the carbon sole stiff to transfer as much pedaling power as possible, while simultaneously allowing the toe to flex for comfortable walking. The carbon essentially ends underneath the ball of the foot, and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) takes over from there, all the way through the front of the shoe. That allows the flex while walking. Pearl Izumi says testing revealed that extending the stiff carbon sole through the toe offered no additional power transfer benefits, but it sure did make walking hard.
And the system works incredibly well. The X-Projects are easy to walk in, especially on steep, rocky trail sections. However, you won’t want to go for an extended hike in them — they’re still riding shoes, after all.
Two Boa dials provide closure and snugness in incremental clicks. They’re positioned on the top of the foot rather than the side, which helps protect the dials from incidental collisions with rocks and other trail obstacles. Releasing the tension on the system requires nothing more than an upward pull on the dials. It’s quick and easy.
Like other Pearl Izumi shoes, the dial that adjusts the forefoot is not directly over the toe box. This meant I couldn’t snug up the front of the shoe as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, the upper seems more supple than others I’ve tried from Pearl, which helped cinch down the forefoot. Ideally, the Boa would be positioned closer to the front for more effective tightening.
The lightweight upper is comprised of a TPU skin over a single layer mesh and synthetic leather lining bonded together. It’s super-thin — 1.1 millimeters, according to Pearl Izumi. The three materials each have a different job: the synthetic leather provides structure, the mesh offers breathability, and the TPU skin prevents excess stretch. The only seam is behind the heel of the shoe, which eliminates pressure points and potential failure points, according to Pearl Izumi. I found the upper to conform well to my foot and there were no pressure points or stiff sections.
If you’re after a flashy look, the shoes are offered in a blaze orange color, though my test shoes were a far more subdued black. They look like a cross between XC shoes and more aggressive trail/enduro shoes, and aesthetically, it’s a great balance.
The X-Project Pros have become my go-to trail shoes. But if you want them as your everyday dirt kicks, be ready to pay for the privilege: they’ll run you $350. Fortunately, after several months of use and abuse, I can report these shoes seem durable enough to last me several seasons. If you’re after a high-end, durable, walkable shoe that’s comfortable out of the box, the X-Project Pros tick all the boxes.