Pearl Izumi Elite RD IV ReviewOctober 1, 2015
- Carbon-fiber outsole among stiffest in class
- Boa dial closure is sleek, simple and aero
- Excellent ventilation including underfoot
- Difficult to secure fit around mid-section of foot
- Narrow opening around tongue
- Minimalist construction
The Elite RD IV stands out for stiffness and light weight of a racing-level shoe for powerful solo efforts and climbing efficiency. It rivals many higher end shoes we’ve tested. The only thing lacking in this shoe is the overall snug hold required for stand up sprints to the line.
At this price range, brands often sacrifice the outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber for glass and nylon construction in the outsole. But Pearl Izumi managed to stay in the lower half of the price range for this group ($175 – $250) while still including a uni-directional carbon outsole. The shoe responds to sudden bursts or sustained efforts instantly with no discernable flex, save for the most aggressive hill sprints. The only issue with power transfer in this shoe comes from the closure system – we could not dial down the fit over the center of the foot without pinching, so when jumping out of the saddle we could feel a bit of movement in the foot which cut power slightly, but the lack of confidence in that moment was tough to overcome, even though it never felt like the shoes would slip off.
While many shoes in this category focus equally on comfort and efficiency, the Elite RD IV is clearly more performance focused, which means some of the plushness of the others is missing. The minimalist construction means no padding or soft finish around the front 2/3 of the shoe, only the thin rough synthetic outer with a mesh finish. On longer rides, or for riders more concerned with comfort, this can become an issue, with rough or hot spots possible, although a fully bonded upper helps minimize seams.
The heel however has just enough padding to soften the feel and hold the heel in tight. And the tongue is quite comfortable due to a layer of foam that protects this vital blood-flow area from pinching, although this does limit ventilation in this area. Unfortunately these don’t come with Pearl Izumi’s interchangeable arch system, because the stock insole provides little support.
Pearl Izumi’s new tongue-mounted, centered Boa dial is a beneficial innovation. The bi-directional dial is highly intuitive and ergonomic, due to the central location over the foot, with among the best micro-adjustment available, at the simple turn of the dial either direction. And the cables pull evenly across both sides for symmetrical support. A set-and-forget Velcro toe strap keeps the forefoot secure without need for readjustment between rides.
The only issue we found with this system is a bit of play over the middle of the instep. By eliminating the “tracks” around which the cables would run, Pearl Izumi has saved some weight and clutter, but the integrated loops that replace those are tighter and not as smooth to adjust. We were unable to dial enough pressure over that section without discomfort over the top of the instep near the cuff. And riders with smaller insteps will have even more trouble here. Pearl has addressed this in their top-end MTB shoes by placing a second dial over the center, but this would add weight and cost to the Elite RD IV. But the more-critical heel area remains secure and snug.
Despite its light and well-ventilated structure, the Elite is well constructed with tough, durable material that holds up well to scrapes and scuffs. Pearl Izumi uses smooth, bonded construction throughout. The upper material is quite stiff, which may sacrifice some comfort but holds up well over the miles, and maintains shape and support. The toe bumper is minimal, but it held up during our testing, and the heel lugs are replaceable for longer wear life, which is not common at this price point. Unlike many carbon outsoles, which tend to scratch and chip under normal use, this one stayed clean and looked new after multiple rides and short walks around the house or into the convenience store to fuel up mid-ride, etc. We didn’t test long enough to put the dial under duress, but our repetitive clicking, tightening and loosening yielded no malfunctions. And over years of testing other Boa dials and cables, they’ve proven quite durable – but if the dials do break (our testers have never seen a cable break), replacements are available and not too difficult to install.
Mesh panels are interspersed all around the upper for strong breathability and two holes under the toes in the outsole improve drainage. We’d like to see a more ventilated tongue however, and more mesh in the toe, as these areas can trap a lot of heat.