Most mountain-bike shoes cannot masquerade as hiking boots or trail shoes. But Pearl Izumi set out to do just that when it launched its X-Alp series several years ago. The hybrid shoe has a sole that’s stiff enough for pedaling, compatible with cleats for clipping into pedals, and yet they are “hikable” with a treaded sole and a midsole that provides a slight roll to eliminate the stiff clomp that comes when walking in shoes made only for the bike.
The latest X-Alp, the Seek IV WRX model, costs $130 and includes a few upgrades from past do-all mountain bike shoes made by Pearl Izumi. I wore the WRX for a few weeks of training as well as during two major adventure races in 2011, the Gold Rush Mother Lode and the Checkpoint Tracker National Championships. Overall, I could not have been happier with the shoes’ off-the-bike performance.
There’s a stiff nylon plate in the midsole for power transfer to pedals. Your clip-in pedal cleat hides between carbon-rubber treads, which give great traction for pushing a bike up a slope. The heel area has a dose of softer foam, offering some padding and allowing for easier “braking” when going fast downhill on the run.
The shoes weigh 13.5 ounces in men’s size 9. This is heavy-ish for a pure biking shoe, though an average weight for a trail shoe, or quite light if compared to a boot. To be sure, my dedicated shoes for running or biking are lighter and overall do a better job at their tasks. My normal trail runners, for example, are much more flexible and weigh at least 3 or 4 ounces less, so the WRX did not feel as fast when running.
But these shoes are built rugged. And they lean more toward the shoe/boot trail footwear realm as opposed to running-specific shoes. For water protection, Pearl Izumi uses a treatment called Ion Mask. It’s kind of a GORETEX-lite, meaning the Ion Mask stuff is not 100% waterproof (only very water resistant) but I think they breathe better than GORE-based shoes I own.
In my races, riding in the rain and across countless shallow creeks my feet stayed warm and dry. But pushing my bike through slush the WRX did take on water. I was surprised, though, that as I biked along the breathable Ion Mask seemed to allow my feet to dry out partially, which is something that never happens in GORETEX shoes.
Overall, these hybrids are the most versatile mountain bike shoes I have ever tested. They are not as fast as trail runners, nor as light and stiff as my high-end bike shoes. But for pushing a mountain bike up a slope, trekking a couple miles, or for hike-a-bike terrain (on and off the bike a lot) the Pearl Izumi shoes were as comfortable and stout as needed. No normal bike shoe could come close to that.
—Jason Magness is a contributing editor at GearJunkie.com and a founding member of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers. Follow the team as they race around the planet this year on our team micro-site.