Pearl Izumi's Unisex Pro Leader III shoes are a lightweight and supple top-of-the-range option with a double Boa closure and super-stiff soles.
Let's start with those soles. As we often say about high-end shoes these days, the soles are pretty much solid with barely any flex or twist as you pedal. Do what you like, you'll elicit virtually no movement from these.
The Pro Leader III features what Pearl Izumi calls its new 1:1 Integrated Power Plate. Instead of the upper being attached to the usual lasting board, which is in turn attached to the sole during manufacture, the upper is attached directly to the outside of the carbon sole and then an additional piece is fitted over the top of most of the carbon (the yellowy-green material in the picture). This removes the need for the lasting board and so reduces the stack height to just 5mm. Your feet really are very close to the pedals here. A toe bumper and heel protector help avoid damage to the sole and keep you upright when walking to and from your bike.
The upper is made from a mesh welded to a non-stretch web. Pearl Izumi boasts that at just 0.9mm thick, this is the thinnest upper on the market. It's certainly very supple, conforming to all the little irregularities of your foot while holding you firmly to the pedal when you're banging out the watts, and breathability is very good. You get two meshed vents in front of the cleat area of the sole too, and I've not suffered with sweaty feet despite some really hot rides this spring.
One other important point about the upper is that it's virtually seamless. Stitching holds the tongue in place but that's yer lot. There's nothing here to rub or gradually irritate your feet over the course of a long day in the saddle.
Two IP1 micro-adjustable Boa reels per shoe take care of closure (the previous version had one Boa and one Velcro strap). If you've not used a Boa system before, it comprises a thin lace that's adjusted via a dial. In my experience, it works brilliantly and altering the tension in either direction, from the saddle, is very simple. The tongue is padded exactly where the lace runs so there's no danger of any discomfort there – far from it – the Pro Leader IIIs hold your feet snug and secure with very even pressure throughout.
The foot opening is padded too, and an external T device that extends from the sole right up the back of the heel cup helps to prevent any unwanted foot movement back there.
The insole is customisable. Unlike some, it's not heat mouldable but you get differently sized inserts that you can add to the arch and the forefoot to provide support and stability where you need it.
Stiff soled, comfortable and weighing just 587g (size 47), these are exceptionally good performance-orientated shoes.
If the red/yellow version doesn't do it for you, they're also available in black/white.
Stiff-soled, breathable, lightweight and comfortable, these are exceptionally good performance-focused shoes
road.cc test report
Make and model: Pearl Izumi Unisex Pro Leader III
Size tested: Size 47, True Red/Lime Punch
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Pearl Izumi says "Our ultimate Pro Tour level shoe is designed to disappear on your foot, but still transfer every last watt of power to your pedals. High performance features include our new 1:1 Integrated Power Plate, which eliminates the traditional lasting board and reduces stack height by 1.5mm. Plus the combination of an ultra thin upper with our unique dual-zone Bi-directional closure system wraps the foot without wrinkling, delivering a secure and comfortable second-skin fit."
These are high-level performance-orientated shoes.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Pearl Izumi lists these features:
*Seamless .9mm Second Skin Upper: the thinnest upper on the market, it adapts comfortably to your unique foot shape to eliminate hot spots and offers superior breathability
*Power Web: a non-stretch web that easily conforms to your foot, but keeps you bolted to the pedal for maximum efficiency under hard efforts
*1:1 Integrated Power Plate: feather-light stiffness (stiffness rating of 13) and close to foot stack height 5mm
*Zonal Bi-directional Closure: delivers a semi-custom fit by gathering equally from both sides for even foot retention, with the precision of two IP1 micro-adjustable Boa reels per shoe
*1:1 insole system gives independent left and right arch and forefoot varus canting height options
They're very well made from materials that perform exceptionally well.
Some race-orientated shoes are pretty delicate to the point that you'd want to use them for competition and nothing else. These are sturdy and the soles are well protected so you'll get plenty of use from them.
I went a size higher than usual. In retrospect, I'm not sure that was the right decision. They're available in sizes 41 to 48. As ever, try before you buy if at all possible.
It's a big price tag – you're buying the top-of-the-range option here – but these shoes deliver.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
It's very easy. Mud and grime can get into the mesh but a quick wipe with a damp cloth gets rid of most of it.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They put in an exceptionally good performance: stiff-soled, breathable, lightweight comfortable... it's all good!
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The sole stiffness and the way the uppers wrap your foot securely and comfortably.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Well, if you buy a top-end product you're always looking at a high price.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The Pro Leader III shoes put in an exceptional performance across the board. The only sticking point is the price but that's about what you have to expect to pay for top-end shoes these days, and that's why they justify a score of 9.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.