Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II Review

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Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II

Pearl Izumi sponsors many excellent athletes and teams in several sports.  Their product lines are diverse and cutting edge.  If you have ever watched any bike race (and if you’re reading this, I’ll assume you have), the one name that will jump out at you is BMC sponsored athlete, T.J. VanGarderen.  He has been wearing the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II for the past year to aid in testing and development. A small side note of rather large proportion is that he won the 2014 Tour of California, and the USA Pro Cycling Tour challenge right here in Colorado in these shoes. That gives me a glimmer of hope as I take to the same roads, climbs, and mountain towns which he and the Pro Peleton riders traversed.

Great power transfer with the foot conforming upper, and stiff carbon sole.

First Thoughts on the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II is a top level shoe for the company, and addresses many important features to deliver a solid performance in a very lightweight shoe.  Hot spots have been an issue for cyclists, and I know I’ve had my problems with that for various reasons. The shoe could be to too small, too narrow, or when exerting force my foot and toes don’t have adequate room to splay (for lack of a better term). The practically seamless upper provides for a clean look and eliminates any areas of friction that can cause rubbing and aforementioned hot spots.  The Bi-directional closure system is a fantastic way to cinch up uniformly. It has a low profile that spreads the closure system out over the entire front of the foot. I’m sure the weight or aero conscious rider will point out the fact that there are no excess bulky buckles and straps to slow you down. I look at it from a comfort issue first and foremost, and am excited to take these Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II’s out for a test in my backyard playground: Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leadr II upper with one single strap and Boa Closure System

Upper

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II features a revolutionary 1:1 Adaptive Fit system. Basically, it conforms to the unique features, bumps, and width of your specific foot. I tell you that when I first started wearing these they were a little stiff, but with time I’ve come to notice a very comfortable and specific shaping to my foot. No hotspot experiences yet with my longest ride being a 64 miler. As the shoe is slowly but surely conforming to my foot, I feel good about those hotspots being a thing of the past.  Having done some pretty intense 30-40 milers, I feel confident and surefooted so to speak. I don’t have the luxury of a power meter, and I measure my riding progress and ability to keep up with the young fast guns who are always fighting over every bump to claim a KOM.  As it is early in the season, I feel pretty good about the transfer of power and wattage being put into the pedals thus far.

Air vent in the sole.

The upper has been marketed as a sort of ‘second skin’. It is ultra-thin at less than 1mm, but is constructed out of a strong material that won’t stretch. The PowerWeb conforms to your foot, but keeps it solidly in place for a very efficient transfer of power. I will take anything I can get to be able to complete that final strong push for that oh so important KOM.  It is built with power web technology which is a very thin textile mesh with thermal plastic film. The upper has several specifically designated vents, and provides good airflow. Most of testing has been in colder temperatures, but an amazing late Winter has brought plenty of 60’s and 70’s. The really hot weather is yet to come, but I feel confident that the wind cooling effect will do its thing to keep my feet dry and comfortable.  With several months of testing in the bag, I feel as if I am still in the “breaking in” period, so time will tell.

Carbon Sole Octane Grade

Sole

The sole of the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II is the hidden gem in all of this. With its 100% carbon fiber power plate it makes for a light and strong connection point to the cleat and pedal to create an opportunity for maximum power. It’s an octane grade 1:1 power plate with unidirectional carbon for feather-light stiffness. Concave shaping creates for a very low stack height of 6.5 mm, even more plate stiffness, and anatomic foot support. They have also added a little more cleat range to allow for our wide range of feet positions. And lastly, small direct vents near the front of the sole aid in additional airflow to keep your feet cool.

The Boa Closure System

Boa Closure System

Boa is a patented Closure System that is truly reinventing how shoes close and perform. In the case of these cycling shoes, the Boa Bi-directional Closure system delivers a semi-custom fit by tightening uniquely to your foot with a uniform cinching system How it works. Boa is a proprietary closure system of steel Lace, nylon guides, and a mechanical reel.  All designed and created to address a long list of deficiencies in traditional closures. And in my world for all intents and purposes, we will call those traditional closures: laces, buckles, and ratchets that have all probably graced our cycling shoes. What Boa strives to do is create a perfect fit with the simple turn of a knob without any stretch, additional weight, and hassles. Quick adjustments to this system are also quite easy, and its gotten a favorable durability review. I don’t have years or even multiple months of testing on these Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II to give my 2 cents there, but it is has performed quite admirably up to this point. One cool thing that I have noticed is without those excess straps and buckles, I am able to slide on my shoe covers much easier. Boas is simple to use. Push down and turn clockwise to tighten.  Pull up and lift your foot out and you are out.

Pushing for power

Performance of the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II

It’s February, and we did get a good bit of winter here along the Front Range of Colorado. The climate in Denver is super sweet.  Sure, it snows and gets cold, but the sunshine breaks out, clears the roads, and being able to bank some winter base miles is always a bonus.  Thick socks, and shoe covers were definitely in order and even then my feet got cold. I don’t consider that a true test of this shoe, but I got to wear them for a few rides to wear them in a bit. The rest of the time, I jumped on my trainer (see the Blackburn review HERE), and busted out a few good sweat sessions.  Again, not ideal but what you gonna do?  I did put a fan in front of me to simulate some airflow to see if these vents actually work as advertised. My feet stayed a consistent temperature, so I would call that a success.  The great thing is that I have now really been able to ’dial’ in the fit and feel. They were a bit stiff at first for lack of a better term. With use, the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II have retained some of that stiffness, but have started to mold to my feet ever so slightly for a comfortable fit.

Full of anticipation: The calm before the storm so to speak – Photo credit: Reid Neureiter

Finally, the second week of March brings some downright awesome temperatures: Sunny and into the 60’s.  Still pretty chilly in the mornings, but the opportunity to go out in the afternoon a few times was a pure delight. You’ve got to love a flexible work schedule.  Anyway, finally a chance to give these Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II a chance to ‘breathe’ and flex its muscles.  In Denver, a very popular quick West of town ride is going up Lookout Mountain outside of Golden.  First I have to cruise by the not so nice smelling Coors Brewery (although the free tour is totally worth it, and you do get to test more than just Coors, as Blue Moon, and Killian’s are also owned by them).  Anyway, there is an unofficial start, ‘The Pillars’, and finish line which is the sign and entrance to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave site (Also a worthy visit when not trying to crush the KOM on this climb).  It’s about 5 miles or so with a fairly steady uphill gradient throughout although there are a few switchbacks which will test your stamina about 2/3 of the way up. If you can crack a sub 30 minute time, you’d be doing pretty good.  Keep in mind though, and don’t quote me on this, but Tommy Daniels (Tommy D) may have the record at around 16 minutes.

Suffering as the pack is strung out – photo credit: Reid Neureiter

Sorry about that tangent. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II rocked it. I could literally feel the power transfer through my soles onto my pedals. The trick with this climb is to get into a gear that will test you, and try to stay there throughout (except for those switchbacks). I actually went down one gear to make me work for my time, test these puppies, and see about setting a PR.  Even though it’s early in the season, I was able to knock almost a minute off my best time – 27:22 is now the new record thanks in part to my new kicks. Super sweet. I have been getting lots of comments on my weekly group rides. Have these shoes made me a better rider? That remains to be seen, but I am loving the feel, fit, and look of these Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II.

Technical Features and Features

  • 1mm thin (yet durable) Second Skin fabric upper
  • Matte UD carbon sole is a scant 7mm thick
  • Dial BOA closure on the tongue
  • Three hole road cleat compatible
  • Mesh vented upper and direct vented sole
  • TPU web upper to secure the foot
  • 462 grams/pair (Size 41)

Jockey-ing for position for that final push and climb out of the park. That is unfortunate because the view is quite nice – Photo Credit: Reid Neureiter

Final Thoughts on the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II

If you want the best, the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II certainly ranks up there.  The shoe is is lightweight, has great power transfer, and sports all the latest and greatest technologies to provide you with the edge needed to claim that KOM, town line sprint, or strongly compete in your local criteriums.  Tested and designed by some of the best elite cyclists on the Pro circuit, this shoe does not disappoint the average cycling enthusiast, and has become my go-to shoe for my weekly group rides, weekend mountain pass climbing adventures, and even a few triathlons. The conforming upper fits snug and comfortable, the carbon sole provides great power, and the Boa closure system makes it real easy to pop in and go. MSRP: $ 270 For more information and purchase please visit:  www.pearlizumi.com

I just can’t stop staring at my Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader II – Photo Credit: Reid Neureiter

Niels Oomkes: I am a multi-sport endurance athlete, and love to get out into the great outdoors to push the body to its limit. Most of my weekend expeditions, adventures, trips, or vacations are planned around running, biking, snowshoeing, camping, or anything else that will allow me to enjoy nature's exquisite beauty.
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