By Zack Vestal
Pearl Izumi is one of those companies that pushed to have a few 2010 products ready to show in July, for early looks. In Monaco we had a quick look at some clothing and high-end shoes. But now that fall tradeshow season is in full swing, Pearl has the entire line on display, and by the looks of things, Pearl is not resting on past success.
Along with consistently innovative clothing, Pearl is charging ahead with shoe development, and has packed their high-end shoes with features that happily trickle down to mid-priced levels affordable by average riders.
Pearl Izumi shoe options divide neatly into two segments: the Performance line, a shoe collection that’s oriented toward pure cycling, with priorities on stiffness and power transfer; and the X-Alp line, a unique range of shoes that’s engineered for walkability off the bike.
We visited Pearl Izumi headquarters to have a look at each, and down the road, we’ll try to get some in for test and review.
Pearl Izumi’s Performance shoes
Pearl’s high performance shoes get a complete facelift for 2010.
For starters, the shoe uppers got attention. “We really tried to pattern and design the shoes to fit like a second skin,” said product manager Tony Torrance. “We shortened up the toe or the “vamp” of the shoe quite a bit, and made the patterning so the tongue and the toe cap are the same piece. And we wrapped the upper over the top,” he continued.
“What that gives us is the ability to fit a wide range of foot widths,” he explained. For example, the straps can be loosened to accommodate lower foot volume without the material bunching up and wrinkling.
Next, some structural elements got a redesign. Dubbed “1:1,” a number of new and revised technologies are incorporated into both the road and mountain shoes in the cycling-specific category.
Most fundamental to any shoe is its sole, and Pearl tackled their sole shape in an effort to improve stiffness and comfort. Called “1:1 Power Plate,” the new sole has a concave shape from stem to stern. The design serves several purposes. For one, the foot sits deeper into the sole and is cradled by it, for more support and comfort. Two, the up-curved material at the perimeter of the sole gives it more stiffness while using less material, permitting a thin, 7mm foot to cleat stack height and light weight. Three, the sole curves up significantly in the arch, for better foot support and power transfer.
All the performance shoes get a 1:1 Power Plate sole in one form or another—top-end Octane shoes get 100% unidirectional carbon fiber (a 72 gram sole!) while Pro and Elite level shoes get a carbon blend material, and Select shoes use nylon composite material.
Also getting with the 1:1 moniker is Pearl’s heel cup. Most visible is the external “Power Band” which wraps around the heel counter from the outside. It’s actually asymmetrical, wrapping more deeply on the lateral (outer) edge and then tucking in tighter on the medial (inner) side to match the natural curve of a foot. The inner portion of the heel cup is padded with synthetic leather for a secure but comfortable grip on the heel, and extra nodes of padding actually fill the gap below and behind the anklebones for even more heel hold.
The same philosophy applies to the heel cup Power Band as it does to the Power Plate sole. Top end shoes get carbon fiber, while less costly materials are used on Elite and Select model shoes.
Finally, a new 1:1 Anatomic Closure is applied to the 2010 shoes. Noting that feet have a natural arc to the forefoot, Pearl designers angled the straps 15 degrees toward the rear of the shoe, so they sweep along the shape of the foot, rather than across it. “This strap angle tends to lay on your foot much more naturally,” said Torrence. He added that it’s a patent pending technology.
And in models with a ratchet buckle, placement of the top instep strap can easily be changed to accommodate higher or lower volume feet. A bonus on the ratchet buckle shoes is that the strap hinges away from the shoe for easy entry and exit.
One of the best things about the Pearl shoe line is the way technologies percolate down from the high-end Octane models. “Even when you go to say the entry level Select shoe, the sole plates have the same shape, the last has the same shape, the insole has the same shape, and the straps have the same pattering,” said Torrance. “There’s really a trickle down, and whether you by the high end shoe or a $90 shoe they’re all going to fit the same, and you’ll get the benefits of all the new designs.”
We’re already lusting after the top-end P.R.O. RD II road shoe, and when we get an opportunity, we’re planning a “shoe-out” among an assortment of hot-looking 2010 road shoes.
Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp shoes
The other half of Pearl Izumi’s shoe line is the X-Alp series. The X-Alp project for Pearl began as a direct result of their European office noting how much hiking and running was involved in Trans Alp races, European mountain bike rides, and many cyclo-touring rides. “The guys in our European office did the Trans Alp races and that’s what this was born out of,” said marketing manager Cache Mundy.
The X-Alp line is built on a sole specifically engineered for comfort and performance both on and off the bike. The so-called “Run & Ride Plate” is stiff under the pedal cleat for efficient pedaling power, but a flex groove in the toe allows it to bend for a natural feel while walking. Various materials are used for the soles in different models, but all share the same design.
“We’ve actually got a version that has carbon fiber in it, and it’s the first time we’ve done that,” said Torrance. “These shoes [the X-Alp P.R.O. at the top of the line] are half the weight of our competitors shoes,” he added.
On top of the rigid sole is a compression EVA foam midsole, almost exactly like what might be found in a running shoe. Its purpose is comfort and cushion off the bike. “This was the first time we actually combined knowledge from running shoes and brought it into cycling rather than the other way around,” said Mundy.
Finally, a lugged outsole with a beveled heel provides secure traction and a “normal shoe” feel for walking or hiking.
X-Alp shoes vary through the range in terms of construction and closure of the uppers. The X-Alp P.R.O. is a high-end mountain bike shoe that would be right at home in an adventure race. On the other end of the spectrum, the X-Alp Seek models are almost like hiking or running shoes in that they have lace-up closure on breathable, flexible mesh uppers.
The overarching theme in the X-Alp line is comfort and versatility, shoes that are just as at home on the pedals as they are on the trail or walking around at a café.
Stay tuned for more from Pearl Izumi (and many, many other companies) as Interbike is just around the corner!