While not having a large running line up, Pearl Izumi is definitely making a bid to become more popular in the running community. We here at AGR have been big fans of all the Pearl Izumi gear we have tested thus far; from what we’ve seen, it’s all been quality product, whether it’s shoes, shorts, t-shirts, or tri-gear. This is why it really wasn’t surprising that when Pearl decided to do a major overhaul of the Streak II for this year, it lived up to our expectations of Pearl as a brand.
Granted, we had the women’s model a lot sooner than the men’s, so some of this review will focus on issues raised there, while others will be a completely new assessment. To begin with, I completely agree that if you’re looking to make a foray into the world of minimalist footwear, the Streak II is a great place to start. The updated design is excellently balanced for a forefoot strike, and has just enough cushion to put it squarely between an all out minimalist shoe and a neutral cushioned shoe. In the women’s review, the description of having sore shins brought thoughts of my first run in a minimalist shoe; if you aren’t fully used to running with a stride that’s compatible with minimalist footwear, you’ll have a few aches and pains.
Speaking of aches and pains, I couldn’t agree more with the description of the sockliner. I get blisters just thinking about running without socks, and so it wasn’t a real treat to run in these without socks, much less with wet feet. I did so because even though it isn’t advertised as such, the Streak II is a great option for a Triathlete – the evidence is in the outsole, shown below.
Note the holes in the outsole – these actually go all the way through into shoe itself, and allow for drainage of water after a short swim. I know all you triathletes out there are saying “hey, the biking comes after the swim.” But how many dip and dash events do I have to attend to know that this problem (wet feet in a dry running shoe) occurs all the time? Needless to say, it helps to shed excess moisture out of the shoe, and actually works really well. I did, however, develop instant blisters from running with wet feet. I honestly believe this is due to the fact that I don’t make a habit of running without socks – for those of you who do, I believe this sockliner is fairly comfortable.
Where Pearl cut most of the weight (and newly designed for this year’s model) is in the outsole itself. Perforations not withstanding, the outsole is lighter, better balanced, and more durable than last year’s model. It’s got outsole grade EVA as opposed to a traditional rubber tread, topped by Pearl’s patented energy foam system. This is supposed to return energy to the runner in order to create a more lively feel – while it certainly feels fast, I believe this is more a function of a minimalist shoe than anything special we can contribute to Pearl. To clarify – I like it because it feels similar to other minimalist models I’ve tested, and as a bonus, doesn’t seem to break down as fast.
What I like most about the shoe, though, is the upper seen in the above photo. It’s a seamless, single piece of mesh fabric that wraps around the foot. The heel cup is secure, and doesn’t have issues with slippage that lower heeled shoes can get on long distance runs. A disclaimer – this was where I got blisters from attempting a run sockless, so it may be a source of friction – but with socks, it felt great, and highly responsive. I can’t say that it felt great when heel-striking, however; I thought the shoe just felt imbalanced when running that way. The midfoot provides a very secure wrap; I do believe, though, that the claim that the laces anatomically conform to your foot during a run is a bit farfetched. Overall, it was comfortable, secure, and I liked it.
The bottom line is that while feeling like a barefoot shoe, the Pearl Izumi Streak II provides enough cushion and protection to keep you going for the long haul. What sets it apart from other cushioned shoes is that heavily cushioned shoes tend to slow you down; Pearl strikes the perfect balance. From a runner just beginning to change form all the way to a barefoot enthusiast looking for just a bit more cushion, the Streak II is sure to be a good fit for all. Learn more about the Pearl system at www.pearlizumi.com.