Feeling Out the Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite Gearminded.com

The new, second generation Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite shoes and all of their functional glory.

I’ve had the great fortune to have been riding in these shoes for the last two months and I won’t be riding anything else for the foreseeable future. My new X-project Elite shoes have been on long trail rides, I’ve hiked in them during my rides and even sported them in a pub or two. For all-around trail riding or cyclocross, these dirt shoes have given me what I asked for… and just a bit more.

It’s 6AM on a Saturday morning and I am taking my X-Project shoes out of my riding bag at the trail-head parking lot. There is something soothing about the sound of a BOA clicking into place – it’s pretty much the last step before getting on the saddle and letting the blood circulate, one pedal stroke after the other. This is an important time during my ride, I can often predict what’s going to hurt on my body and what physiological hindrances I might have.

This is why I view good cycling shoes as the unsung hero of a good riding session. Most people pour their money and research into looking for the best bike for their budget. But If you spent half that time looking into a good pair of shoes for riding, you could be rewarded with the comfort level that many never find – for the same reason runners look for the perfect running shoe. I found my comfort zone with the new Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite — here is my take:


  • Completely re-engineered carbon composite sole does what no other can: delivers uncompromising pedaling performance and confident off-the-bike hike-ability
  • Advanced 3-Layer Seamless Composite Upper offers exceptional breathability and eliminates hot spots by adapting to your unique foot shape
  • Bi-directional Closure wraps the foot for a semi-custom fit and secure foot retention
  • BOA IP1 reels allow 1mm micro-adjustability and pop up for full release, BOA dials are directional and twist to tighten in different directions on the left and right shoes
  • Co-molded carbon rubber tips on hollow TPU lugs provide impressive traction on an extremely lightweight bottom unit
  • EVA foam heel absorbs impact for off-bike comfort


I usually wear a 10.5 but had to size down to a 10 (44). I have a medium-height arch and always wear insoles when riding. The X-Project Elite comes with a standard Pearl Izumi insole that I ended up replacing after the second ride with my Specialized Body Geometry footbeds. I have been riding the Specialized footbeds for over five years and they work wonders for my feet. Although, I have in fact heard great things about the Pearl Izumi 1:1 Insole system that come standard on the X-Project Elite (I rarely mix things up with my footbeds).

The shoes fit like a glove on my first ride and I experienced no hot spots. None at all! These shoes took me only three rides at about ten miles each to break-in. After the break-in period, the upper material softened slightly but not too much as to change the volume of the shoe. I ride primarily in Swiftwick socks, which are snug and slide into these shoes easily. I haven’t tested them in thicker wool socks – which I would use on a cooler winter morning ride.


I am a big fan of BOA and have used the system in past with other cycling shoes. The X-Project Elite uses BOA’s IP1 system. This features incremental adjustment when the dial is under tension and a pull-up feature for quick release. The hex shape of the BOA makes it easy to grip with gloves on, and adjusting on the fly. I like how the IP1 offers a mirrored system for easy operation to both directions when tightening or loosening. On longer rides, I found myself adjusting the BOA to accommodate for my feet swelling, which is standard protocol across all outdoor sports.


For years, I have been a big fan of riding with carbon shoes. Carbon soles allow for a more responsive ride and increase pedaling efficiency (it’s a power transfer thing). If you primarily ride cross, you will appreciate having a shoe that is stiff and responsive but also walkable. in fact, The X-Project Elite shoes are stiff enough to notice the efficient power transfer when compared to a non carbon shoe.

From the previous model X-Project shoes, Pearl Izumi re-engineered their carbon composite to create a sole that offers stiffness for maximum power transfer while pedaling while also being flexible when walking (I know, it seems impossible but it works). I paired my shoes with Shimano SPD cleats and found them a little tricky to adjust in the beginning, since the threaded plate was a little stiff to move the cleat. With a little elbow grease and use they have become more forgiving… still have a little work to do here.


The X-Project Elite combines a rigid-carbon sole that stays stiff while pedaling and flexible while walking, without compromising off-the-bike hike-ability and traction. This makes X-Project perfect for all-mountain and cross — we have a few trails in Orange County that require some bike pushing. I have had experiences with carbon soles that are too stiff and difficult to walk in — it just plain sucks. Everything about riding with foot pain is NOT fun. But it doesn’t have to be that way with my new shoes.

The lug pattern on these shoes is placed in the right spots for short, steep hikes. I wouldn’t recommend these shoes for longer hikes or for only doing lift runs all day. They are still a bit stiff for that style of riding.

Pearl Izumi has put in a lot of research and development into the new X-Project Elite — with countless hours of feedback from the riding community. These shoes are a force to be reckoned with and give superior performance for anyone looking for a really good all-mountain or shoe. I can also see myself using these for longer touring rides in the backcountry (this only happens once a year) but they are just as happy on fun, local rides. After two months of riding them consistently, they are holding up well with minor scuffs. There are no apparent signs of wearing on the BOA or Velcro — a good sign! I suspect in about a year I will want to change the BOA system out for a fresh one, but I look forward to many adventures in them.


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