Pearl Izumi's X-Alp Flow is a great option for people who want a shoe that offers all-day on and off-bike performance with really good grip on pinned pedals. While it doesn't offer quite as much cushioning as some rivals, as a practical bit of kit it's an excellent compromise.
I tested Giro's Jacket II flat shoes recently and the overwhelming sensation while wearing them was of cushion-like comfort. The Pearl Izumi's X-Alp Flows tested here are to all intents and purposes aimed at the same market but they're not quite as prodigiously plush. In truth, there was something a little disconcerting about feeling like I was pushing the pedals in my slippers, and while the X-Alp Flows are more than comfy enough, they also feel like they're ready to do a job.
Build is very straightforward with a minimal, almost seamless lightweight synthetic upper with lace closure. At the sole, there's a mixture of rubber tread designs – siped, soft and sticky in the middle for pedalling, deeper treads at the toe and heel for walking – which combine with an EVA midsole for performance. Rounding out the spec is a lace lock to keep anything from flapping about into the drivetrain.
So far, so standard, but the X-Alp Flow does have one slight quirk that initially strikes you upon wearing. The footbed seems to have a smooth raised ridge roughly slap bang in the middle of it. It's far too central to be an arch support, and it feels a little strange when you first slip the shoes on. Within a few seconds, though, you quickly forget about it and it certainly has no negative effects either on or off the bike.
Obviously, the contact between flat shoe and pedal isn't quite as secure feeling as being clipped in, but if you've never tried flat shoes with pinned pedals, you might be surprised at how effective it is. Using fairly modestly pinned metal Wellgo pedals, thanks to the grippy central rubber I didn't suffer any pedal slip, even on damp days.
It's worth bearing in mind that, rather than the rough and tumble of off-roading, I tested these shoes purely with commuting or leisure riding in mind. In these more sedate conditions, grip on pinned pedals is very good. And while this is obviously a cycling shoe test, off-bike traction in most day-to-day situations is better than the Giros. I've happily worn my X-Alp Flows every day, whether I've been riding or not.
In fact, all-round practical performance is where the X-Alp Flows excel. As well as secure contact with the pedals, the EVA midsole offers good stiffness for effective pedalling with useful levels of feel, too.
With vents on the synthetic upper, the X-Alps are sufficiently breathable, although the little holes that facilitate this can become a rain hazard and water will sneak in. It's not too bad, though, and I far prefer this setup with an otherwise impermeable upper than totally non-rainproof breathable material, where you tend to get very, very wet feet rather just a few drops.
For leisure riders and commuters who want a more direct relationship with their pedals, there's the SPD-compatible Fizik Terra Ergolace X2 for £119.99 or Giro's Gauge shoes at £79.99 (review to come). But the most obvious rival product to the X-Alp Flow that I've tested is Giro's Jacket II, mentioned above, which has a very similar build, style, purpose and, at £89.99, identical price.
There's also the £84.99 Giro Rumble VR, which is a similarly styled albeit clip-in shoe for dry days. Shimano's GR5 is a comparable shoe for £80 or there's the GR7 for £99.99. FiveTen also makes all sorts of similar shoes but probably its most similar model – the Freerider shoe – starts at £84.95. This all tells us that the X-Alp Flows are in the right kind of price band.
While I was blown away by the comfort levels of the Giro Jacket IIs when I tested them, I have to say these Pearl Izumi X-Alp Flows seem to offer just slightly better levels of practical performance. Their grip levels are superb and they seem equally capable whether on or off the bike. That said, with such good pedalling feel and usability, these aren't just a jack of all trades – first and foremost, they're great flat cycling shoes.
Great flat shoes with good grip on or off bike, yet also offer very decent pedalling performance
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Pearl Izumi X-Alp Flow shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Officially these are flat mountain bike shoes, but I've been testing them as commuting or leisure cycling shoes. Pearl Izumi says: "A flat pedal shoe built for lightweight performance and long-term durability."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Pearl Izumi lists:
Lightweight upper materials and minimal seams for all-day comfort
Traditional lace closure
Dual density zonal outsole compounds
Open, chevron shaped lugs in toe and heel areas for grip
Smooth, siped rubber in pedal zone offers instant pedal pin engagement
Flat pedal design, not clipless compatible
Well made with no obvious areas of concern. Footbed's a bit weird, but not uncomfortable.
For flat shoes these offer really great pedalling feel, grip and performance, and are impressive off the bike, too.
I've worn mine lots – no issues so far.
Slightly narrow shoe, which I quite like, but check if you have wide feet.
Perfect – sizing seems just right.
Noticeably lighter than some rivals.
Not as super-cosseting as some other flat shoes, but perfectly comfy in their own right.
Bang on the money.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Not washed them, but given them a wipe down – easy peasy.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very good performance for pedalling. Good grip off the bike, too.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
They just felt like they would do the job. That sounds a little vague, I know. But whether I was on the bike or not, I never felt like my shoes were a compromise one way or another.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Maybe the vent holes in the upper, but that's really nit-picking. Essentially, there wasn't much to criticise.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The most obvious rival product to the X-Alp Flow that I've tested is Giro's Jacket II shoe, which has a very similar build, style, purpose and, at £89.99, identical price. Then there are the £84.99 Giro Rumble VRs, which are similar-styled albeit clip-in shoes for dry days. Shimano's GR5 is a comparable shoe for £80 or there's the GR7 for £99.99. FiveTen also makes all sorts of similar shoes but probably its most similar model – the Freerider shoe – starts at £84.95. This all tells us that the X-Alp Flows are in the right kind of price band.
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 overall score
For anybody who is hopping on and off bikes regularly, or commuting without wishing to change shoes for the rest of the day, the X-Alp Flow is a fantastic choice. Whether on foot or in saddle, you don't feel like you're making a huge compromise with footwear. Pedalling performance is great, grip is perfect for daily life, and comfort is more than good enough.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure