High-Price, High-Performance MTB Shoes

Top-end mountain biking shoes are light, stiff, great fitting, and built to endure multiple seasons of abuse on the trail. Throughout the summer I took turns mashing with two high-end, “race ready” models, the S-Works Evo MTB and Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. MTB II

Both impressed. In fact, I had to wrack my brain to come up with even the slightest performance-related criticisms. The only real issue with these puppies is barrier to entry — the Pearl Izumi pair runs for $270 msrp and the Specialized Evos will set you back a staggering $370.

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Pearl Izumi P.R.O. MTB II

What do you get for shoes that cost more than some complete bikes? Basically, these are the same shoes the pros ride. As such, they’re state-of-the-art, including full carbon soles, bomber construction, and exceptional performance fit.

They won’t make you ride faster. Well, maybe a bit, but a few less 12oz. curls and a few more miles are probably a safer bet. The main advantages to a shoe like the S-Works Evo or the P.R.O. MTB is their light weight and ability to crush for miles and miles over any kind of terrain.

Both of these shoes weighed in at about 370 grams apiece on our scale (the Pearl was 390 grams) for a Euro size 43. Both are a good 100 or more grams lighter than more manageably-priced mtb shoes. Weight does matter, especially for long endurance rides and races.

Side by side, the weight difference between these two pairs is essentially a wash. On the bike they’re exceptionally light, letting you clip in and spin with more ease as the miles roll by.

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Side by side: Pearl Izumi P.R.O. MTB II (left) and Specialized S-Works Evo

Like many cyclists, I prefer a snug fit to maximize energy transfer and control. Both the Pearl and the Specialized lock my feet in but are still comfortable. I’d give a slight edge to the Specialized, with its upper providing a slipper-like fit with supple feel.

Contours on the Specialized footbed kept my oft-achy pigs feeling good even on long rides. In the same size, the toebox of the Pearl Izumi shoe was a bit more cramped for my foot shape.

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A closer look at the Specialized S-Works Evo

In my tests, there were subtle differences with fit and feel on the ride but overall, the Specialized and Pearl performed comparably. A bigger difference is how you strap these shoes on your feet. Pearl Izumi offers a buckle closure and a pair of Velcro straps. It’s a fine setup, but the Specialized system can’t be beat. Its Evo shoes feature a pair of Boa dials that ratchet tiny steel cables tight for optimal fit.

The Boa system is the real deal. They tighten fast, precisely, and they stay solid for miles and miles. A bonus: Boa allows you to easily tighten or loosen a shoe mid-ride with exact precision in an instant.

We’ve used Boa for years. It costs a premium, but may be worth the price for serious riders. We’ve had another pair of Boa-equipped Specialized MTB shoes on a long-term test here for over four years. The Boa dials still function almost like new after thousands of miles of abuse on trails.

In the end, both of the reviewed shoes here are great picks. We’re still having trouble stomaching the price tags, however, and we’d encourage some serious web searching for deals. (You can find the Pearl shoes, for example, for at least $100 less than their msrp.)

On a hard ride, these top-end shoes offer fit and performance that is on-point. If your budget can bear it and you have some quality time in the saddle in store over the next few years neither model will disappoint.

—Patrick Murphy is an assistant editor at GearJunkie.

Posted by corgimas - 10/19/2012 11:20 AM

nice..but the real question is where do you put your cleat? on the ball of the foot? or more to the middle???
Been looking at those alps….nice

Posted by jpea - 10/19/2012 01:01 PM

I can’t speak for where Pat put his cleat, but I ride the X-Alp from Pearl and they’re super versatile. PI makes some great shoes…

Posted by Pat-GJ - 10/19/2012 01:14 PM

Hey Corgimas,

Cleat position can be moved back and forth by an inch or so, but as with all clipless shoes they position the cleat pretty much under the ball of the foot.

Plenty of cleat positioning resources online, too:
http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/04/power-to-the-pedal-cleat-position/

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