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Have you ever walked out of a store after a purchase and felt like you got away with something? Like the clerk had only charged you for two apples instead of the six you actually had? That’s pretty much how I feel every time I wear Pearl Izumi’s new Tour lace-up road shoes.
As I’m sure several of the folks who work at Pearl Izumi (past and present) will attest, I’ve had a somewhat contentious relationship with the company. Years ago, one of their clothing designers dismissed as unfair a negative review I’d written about some winter tights, saying that I had a “swimmer’s build” that their clothing wasn’t meant to fit (which apparently means that the medium Castelli kit that fits me just fine is meant more for the pool, not the bike).
Then there was the X-Project cross-country/trail shoe that I picked as one of my favorite products of the year, on account of its clever walkable sole. But then in a more recent road shoe review, I panned the company’s “stubborn commitment to a material that just doesn’t work that well.”
My biggest complaint with Pearl Izumi has had more to do with its lack of consistency: some products were fantastic, but others were woefully inadequate. And to this day, I still have some issues with their sizing. But I don’t have any issues whatsoever with Pearl Izumi’s latest Tour road shoes, which I hope signal a strong future for the long-running cycling apparel and footwear brand.
No frills = no financial heartache
Pearl Izumi isn’t trying to wow anyone with its Tour shoes, instead aiming for a simple formula and solid execution. The one-piece microfiber uppers are entirely seamless aside from a single stitch up the back of the heel cup, the lace-up configuration could hardly be more straightforward, and down below is a bargain-friendly fiber-reinforced nylon sole, instead of the lighter, stiffer, and thinner true carbon fiber composite plates used at higher price points.
The uppers are refreshingly free of unnecessary adornments with minimal and subtle branding throughout, and the company doesn’t assign a bunch of marketing drivel or buzzwords to any various “features”. Instead, it’s more like quiet competence, like how the laces are offset across the top of your foot to alleviate pressure, and the classy stripe pattern to the ventilation-enhancing perforations. Rather than make up some fancy new heel cup device, Pearl Izumi instead just sticks to a conventional internal counter and a nicely thought-out shape.
And while that fiber-reinforced nylon sole is intended primarily to save money, there’s still a proper carbon fiber plate where it matters, right under the cleat area — which, by the way, accepts both two-bolt and three-bolt cleats, depending on your preferences.
Even the insole, while basic, is nicely shaped, and if red laces aren’t your thing, Pearl Izumi includes black ones in the box, too, all for the wallet-friendly price of US$130 / £130 / €130. Pearl Izumi also makes a women’s version called the Sugar, with a specific last and different colors. But sadly, neither the Tour nor the Sugar is available in Australia.
Actual weight for my size 43.5 samples is a respectable 526g per pair.
On the road
My go-to road shoes over the past few years have been a pair of well-used Specialized S-Works Sub6 lace-ups: supple and comfortable, supportive, good-looking, lightweight, very stiff.
If I told you that the Pearl Izumi Tour shoes were every bit as good as those pricey S-Works kicks … well, I’d be lying. But that said, I’ve been shocked by how comparable they are in many respects.
Most important is how similarly to the S-Works the Tour fits. The heel cup isn’t quite as tight, but it’s pleasantly snug and holds on tight. The pliable uppers and lace-up format provide a shrink-wrapped feel, and the roomy forefoot area won’t cut off blood flow to your toes. The Pearl Izumi shoes are a touch roomier through the midsection than Specialized’s more racing-focused S-Works Sub6 shoes, but it’s not something many are likely to find at all objectionable.
Provided you don’t go crazy when pulling the laces, the offset patterning and lightly padded tongue really do do a great job of minimizing pressure across the top of your feet, too, and there’s enough give in the uppers that I didn’t find myself needing to make any adjustments mid-ride, either. Overall, the feel of the uppers is more one of soft and coddling comfort as opposed to structured support. Race shoes these are not, but if you’re primarily after a comfortable and secure fit, and all-day happiness, these will likely fit the bill.
I’ve occasionally had issues with breathability on Pearl Izumi shoes, but the simple perforated microfiber uppers on the Tour model get the job done nicely — or, rather, I’m pretty sure they do. To be honest, these shoes arrived in early January, and although winter in Boulder, Colorado doesn’t resemble the icy planet of Hoth nearly as much as many might think, it hasn’t exactly been roasting here, either.
That said, I’ve always found that shoes that worked well in hot conditions also feel uncomfortably chilly even on moderately cold days, and let’s just say that the shoe covers have seen regular use since I started testing these.
Specialized is one of the best brands out there in terms of arch support, and these Tour shoes aren’t quite a match in that regard. There’s a fair bit of support built into the sole plate itself, and a bit extra coming from the standard insoles. However, riders that need a little extra in that department — myself included — will likely want to turn to something a bit more aggressive. I ended up using a pair of custom-fit Specialized/Retül insoles and couldn’t have been happier, although semi-custom ones from G8 Performance also worked well.
As expected, the hybrid-construction sole doesn’t feel as stout as true carbon fiber units when you’re really pushing hard, but the two-piece sole Pearl Izumi uses on the Tour worked better than I expected. Under more typical tempo-pace outputs, most riders would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. And in fact, some long-distance riders might actually find the modest amount of flex to be more comfortable during longer days. Either way, there’s a generous amount of fore-aft adjustability in the cleat holes, as well as clear markings to help with positioning.
Overall, I found the Tour shoes to be pretty remarkable, especially for the price. But given the option, there are still a few things I’d change here.
For one, the lace keeper is positioned awkwardly in between the eyelets, and doesn’t always sit as neatly as I’d like. And while the outsole is fitted with two big mesh vents, a look inside the shoe reveals that much of that area is obscured by the lasting board.
The two-tone, white-on-white upper finish is also nearly impossible to keep looking clean, especially if you’re as prone to venturing off-tarmac as I am. And I always like to see replaceable heel treads on road cycling shoes, even at more modest price points.
Aside from those minor complaints, though, these definitely get my stamp of approval, and the reasonable price only makes me like them even more.
Nicely done, Pearl Izumi. Now let’s try to keep up this momentum, eh?