Pearl Izumi PRO Air Shoes review

These ultra-lightweight road shoes are stiff, airy, and ready to go fast, as tested by Riley Missel.

Cycling Weekly Verdict

These shoes are stiff, so breathable, and super comfortable—but also very expensive. If they’re in your budget, the PRO Airs are definitely worth it.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Unbelievably lightweight

  • +

    Supreme breathability

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Single color option (black)

  • -

    Laces offer a customizable fit but offer less mid-ride adjustability than Boas

These shoes are not currently available in the UK. In the US, they come in at $400.

Pearl's new ultra-lightweight road shoes are stiff, airy, and ready to go fast. They're far from cheap, but if you're in the market for a flyweight shoe you can wear day in and day out, look no further.

Construction

Pearl Izumi PRO Air Shoes

The foundation of these featherweight shoes is the ultra-light, mega-stiff carbon sole. Developed in conjunction with the carbon fiber experts at Ruckus Composites, it offers very little flex in order to facilitate an efficient transfer of power from your legs to the pedals. It features three large wire-mesh vents along the length of the sole, as well as low-profile heel and toe pads for traction.

In addition to the venting on the sole, the upper is lined with open mesh areas: three on each side of the laces and one large area over the toe that allows air to pass through the shoe, cooling your feet.

This new design is a claimed 20 percent lighter than the Pro Road V5 sole, previously Pearl Izumi’s lightest shoe. The total weight of a single size 42 shoe adds up to a claimed 150 grams. The laminate-coated mesh upper felt light and airy on my feet; it’s super breathable, and is reinforced to eliminate stretchiness everywhere except areas where a little flex is crucial for comfort.

The PRO Airs have a lace-up closure style, chosen because this is the most lightweight option that still offers a secure, customizable fit - though it does sacrifice the mid-ride reach-down adjustability that comes with velcro or Boa dials.

But you don’t have to worry about getting your laces caught in the chainring: a small but thoughtful elastic strap on the tongue lets you tuck them securely out of the way. The low-profile insole has perforations in the outer toe area to help facilitate airflow, and is removable in case you want to swap it out for one with more arch support. The padded heel cup and lightly padded tongue add comfort.

The ride

Pearl Izumi PRO Air Shoes

The first thing we noticed about the PRO Airs were how breathable they were - we could feel cool air rushing through the shoe the minute we started pedaling..

The downside to that, though, is that when it gets cold, shoe covers will be a non-negotiable, but on a 60 degree day merino socks were enough to keep our toes comfortable.

These ultra-stiff shoes were super comfortable from the first ride. The laces allow you to keep the shoe looser in the toe box and tighter around the arches. What's more, the lace holes are really grippy, thus the laces stay the way you set them at the beginning of the rides the whole time, rather than loosening up or evening out.

The stiff sole offered a lot of stability, especially noticeable on high-speed corners where all the weight is on one foot - instead of feeling the shoe flex around the pedal, the whole sole was one platform, which was confidence-inspiring and also a lot more comfortable.

They had a similar effect when we stood up to pedal out of the saddle: on a nine-mile climb, we alternated between sitting and standing, sometimes at a crawling pace, but never felt like our pedal strokes were floppy or fatigued. The support and comfort is incredible, and at this weight, almost magical.

Value

Pearl Izumi PRO Air Shoes

At $400, the price of the PRO Airs is in line with other brands’ top-end road shoes: The Specialized S-Works 7 and Bontrager XXX are both $400, while Rapha’s Powerweave Pro Team shoe is $355, the Giro Imperial and Shimano’s RC9 are both $425. But if you’re not a bike racer with a big budget, there are plenty of lower-priced shoes with similar stiffnesses, while perhaps not as light (because very few of us are actually counting grams, lbh), that will provide a similar power transfer experience.

Verdict

These shoes are stiff, so breathable, and super comfortable - but also very expensive. If they’re in your budget, the PRO Airs are definitely worth it.

Details

Upper: Mesh laminate

Sole: Carbon fiber

Claimed Weight: 300g (pair, 42)

Color: Dark Ink

Sizes: EU 39 - 49, half sizes available