Over the last five seasons I've had terrible luck with mountain bike shoes. On the road I've worn the same pair of Northwave Aerlites, and in that time I've tried no fewer than 10 different pairs of mountain bike shoes from various manufacturers.
Earlier this spring I picked up a pair of Pearl Izumi Octane SL II mtb shoes and have worn them for every mountain bike adventure since. My first impressions were positive: the shoe was light, the sole was appreciably stiff and the fit was good on my slightly narrower than average foot. Overall that the shoe seemed well constructed with its new school materials and laser cut seamless uppers.
Pearl takes a different approach to building shoes- they're generally more glove-like and shapely than other companies. They're also relatively new to the cycling shoe game having started about ten years ago, and I remember that their early offerings looked like a neoprene water shoe with a mountain bike sole. Anecdotal reviews of those early models were that in spite of some cool features the fit was very odd and durability was questionable.
Since then Shimano bought Pearl and along the way their shoes have steadily improved. As a result the quality and construction are evident and the fit is consistent with other brands.
So they look cool, but how do they fit and how do they wear? I wear a size 44.5 in pretty much every shoe and these are no different. The 45 I tried was way too big, and the 44 would likely be too small. The velcro straps do a surprising job of cradling the foot and really allow for a wide range of adjustability. The adjustability is a two edged sword, so to really get a sense of the right size I would suggest fully loosening and then individually tightening the straps when trying on different sizes.
The shoes feel square through the toe box and allow for plenty of wiggle room for the toes but are still snug enough around the ball of the foot that my foot doesn't slide around. The insole of the shoe has a unique curvature both front-to-back (as shown below) and also side-to-side. The front-to-back curve is fairly common, but the lateral curve under the ball of the foot allows the the foot to be more centered over the cleat pocket and theoretically provides a broader contact area to distribute pedaling forces. The soles were stiff enough that I never got any hot spots and while I wasn't really aware of the insole when I wore these shoes I definitely noticed how flat my other cycling shoes felt by comparison. And I should mention that I noticed it enough to consider getting the road going Octane SL III.
The unique construction of the uppers has held up remarkably well with the only signs of wear being some rub marks from my driveside chainstay on the carbon heel counter. The instep is also molded from carbon.
This summer has been hotter than average, and even in the heat the small laser cut vents seem to do their job. I'd say these are comparable to other mountain shoes I've had in the breathability department- no better and no worse.
After the hellacious Whiteface hike-a-bike section in the Wilmington Whiteface 100 the exposed carbon soles are pretty well scuffed but still structurally sound.
During that stretch I definitely scraped, dinged and gouged the uppers as well, and remarkably they are none the worse for wear.
The last key point with these shoes is the three strap velcro closure...meaning that there are no buckles. Pearl's literature states that this is primarily so save weight, but after having trouble with buckles on other mountain bike shoes I think that there are performance benefits as well. I have had buckles break in crashes and be twisted badly enough to end my ride. I've also had them pop open when my foot brushes up against some passing trail debris. Downhillers and Super D racers don't usually have ratchets on their shoes, and I think that's partly why.
All in these are great shoes. They offer a great fit with a stiff sole and a low overall weight. They've held up great so far, and I like them enough I got myself a second pair. The only thing I'd like to see on future models is a grippier cat's tonque fabric on the inside of the heel cup, but otherwise these shoes are awesome and look to be in service for a long time.
For more information visit pearl izumi's website.