Pearl Izumi's P.R.O. Leader v4 shoes are comfortable and reasonably lightweight shoes with stiff soles and an excellent Boa dial closure system.
Pros: Pretty light, Boa closure, stiff soles
Cons: Some people might want more ventilation
I reviewed the previous version of these shoes a couple of years ago and got on really well with them. Pearl Izumi has kept the best bits of the previous incarnation and made a few well thought-out tweaks.
The upper is made from three-layer composite that's entirely seamless, so there's nothing to cause pressure or irritation as you pedal. The fabric is thin and follows the contours of your feet pretty well, including any irregularities you have going on down there. The upper is more supple than that of some Bont Vaypors I have here, but it's less supple than you get with Giro Empires, for example.
A non-stretch polyurethane framework incorporated into the upper ensures your foot is kept firmly in place, and the underlying mesh areas provide a decent level of breathability, although not as much as you get with some other very meshy shoes out there. Coupled with a two vents towards the front of the sole, this meant I never got particularly sweaty feet during spring testing.
As previously, closure is handled by two Boa IP1 reels but these are now offset slightly towards the outside of your foot rather than being positioned centrally. Why the change? Pearl Izumi says, 'The new 1:1 Zero Distraction Upper Fit mitigates foot discomfort by avoiding the soft tissue running along the top of the foot.'
Pearl Izumi says the new design works better with a variety of different foot shapes. I can't say I had any discomfort from the previous version, but Pearl Izumi now wraps the upper from the inner side more over the top of the foot, which makes sense for heading off any potential for pressure points. I wore a P.R.O. Leader v4 shoe on my left foot and the previous version on my right foot and I must say that the fit feels a little better on the new one design with the pressure distributed more evenly. It's a subtle difference, though.
Boa dials are everywhere these day, and with good reason – they work really well. Turn the dial in one direction and it tightens the lace in 1mm increments, turn it the other way and it does the opposite. You can operate it easily on the fly. If you want to loosen the lace entirely to take your shoe off, you pop the dial upwards. I've been using the P.R.O. Leaders underneath overshoes a lot during spring riding and I've found the Boas easy enough to operate through neoprene too.
Although padding on the tongue has been scaled back a bit it's still well cushioned to prevent any discomfort there, and Pearl Izumi uses an external T-shaped bar that runs from the bottom of the heel to your Achilles area to hold your foot in place. Some people might prefer a narrower, grabbier heel but, along with those Boa dials and the non-stretch upper, it always gave me the feeling that my foot was being held securely and I never experienced any heel lift.
Head inside and you find an insole that you can tune according to your needs. Slots in the arch and the forefoot take differently sized plastic supports/wedges (included) so you can play around until you get the setup that's right for you and your own pedalling dynamics.
A feature of the previous version of the P.R.O. Leader that has been carried over is the unibody construction of the sole. Rather than the upper being attached to a lasting board which is in turn attached to the sole, Pearl Izumi cuts out the middle man and attaches the upper directly to the outside of the carbon sole. An additional piece is then fitted over the top of a lot of the carbon, covering the join.
In this case, that additional piece is electroplated, giving the bottom of these shoes a bit of a disco look. You know when you spill oil in water? It looks a bit like that. Sorry to disappoint you but that electroplating will get scratched over time, despite the presence of a toe bumper and replaceable heel protector. That's inevitable, but it's still a cool little feature.
The point of removing the lasting board is to reduce the stack height (the distance from your foot to the bottom of the shoe) to just 5mm. Your feet are positioned really close to the pedals here.
The soles are stiff, as you'd expect on high-end road shoes, with just the smallest amount of torsional flex occasionally detectable. On the whole, though, I found these pretty much solid.
Pearl Izumi has altered its sizing to be more in line with that of other major brands. I usually take a size 46 but for the P.R.O. Leader version three I sized up to a 47. With v4 I'm back to my usual 46 and the fit feels right.
Pearl Izumi has also altered the shape of the last slightly to provide a little more room at the ball of the foot which will be welcomed by those who need some extra space in that area. If you don't, the lower Boa dial gives you plenty of scope to pull the two sides of the shoe together to take up any slack.
At £275 these are far from cheap but, like it or not, that's how much high-end road shoes cost. We recently reviewed the Fizik Aria R3 shoes at £264.99, for example, and they aren't even the top the top shoes in the range, while Giro's Prolight Techlace shoes are £349.
Overall, there's lots to like here. Some people might want more ventilation or perhaps a snugger fit at the heel, but if you're after performance-minded shoes, these are stiff soled, the now offset closure system works a treat, and I found the uppers to be comfortable while holding my feet firmly in place.
Performance-focused shoes that are comfortable, secure and well-made
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader v4 Unisex
Size tested: Size 46
Tell us what the product is for
These are performance-focused road shoes.
Pearl Izumi says, "Our lightest, stiffest and most breathable shoe, the P.R.O. Leader v4 features groundbreaking technology top to bottom. The high-tech seamless upper minimises pressure points by eliminating all stitching. An asymmetric closure places dual IP-1 Boa reels slightly off-centre to avoid sensitive areas on top of the foot. The sole and upper are joined using a unique unibody construction to deliver a super low 5mm stack height for a powerful pedal stroke. Electroplating provides an unexpected flash of colour to the bottom of this high performance shoe."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Pearl Izumi lists these features:
* Advanced 3-Layer Seamless Composite Upper offers exceptional breathability and eliminates hot spots by adapting to your unique foot shape
* NEW 1:1 Zero Distraction Upper Fit mitigates foot discomfort by avoiding the soft tissue running along the top of the foot
* Unibody construction eliminates traditional lasting board to deliver super low 5mm stack height for maximum pedalling efficiency
* Zonal Bi-directional Closure wraps the foot for a semi-custom fit and secure foot retention
* Double Boa IP1 reels allow 1 mm micro-adjustability and pop up for full release
* 1:1 Integrated Carbon Power Plate delivers feather-light stiffness (stiffness rating of 13)
* 1:1 Insole System allows independent left and right arch and forefoot varus canting adjustability for optimal pedalling mechanics
* Weight: 265 g (size 43)
These don't have the flimsy feel of some rivals. They feel fairly sturdy and, if my experience of the previous generation is anything to go by, they'll last well.
The offset closure does give a slightly more 'wrapped around' feel to the upper than previously.
Pearl Izumi has tweaked the sizing slightly to be more inline with other big brands. I took my usual size and it felt right.
These are a little heavier than the previous model (633g for size 46 compared with 587g for size 47 previously). They aren't featherweight but they are lighter than some more expensive options. They certainly don't feel heavy in use.
I've found them very comfortable, although we all have different foot shapes so try before you buy if possible.
It's a big price tag but you have to expect that if you buy a top-of-the-range option.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
You just give them a wipe over, the same as most shoes. A little grit and dirt can get into the mesh on wet rides, but that's always the case.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They put in a very good performance.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I find them really comfortable and I like the Boa closure system.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
If you buy a top-of-the-range product you have to pay a top-of-the-range price.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? There's a lot of competition out there but I'd certainly consider it.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
The P.R.O. Leader shoes put in a very good performance across the board. They're not cheap but the price is about what you have to expect to pay for high-end shoes. An 8 is a fair representation of what's on offer here.
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 been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.