Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III is a refreshing shoe in a category that is largely redundant in design and approach. The tongue mounted closure system with two Boa dials was surprisingly effective and comfortable, providing ease of entry and exit, while the construction methods that wrap portions of the upper around the carbon sole reducing distance between the pedal and the foot (reducing energy loss). Weighing in at 240 grams for size 44.5 shoe (8.5 ounces size 10.5 U.S.), this was one of the heavier shoes we rode in a category of feather-weight booties, something the weight conscious may want to consider. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III checks every box for us, and is a great money saver if you can tolerate the extra weight.
One of the aspects of the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III testers enjoyed the most was how thin the sole is, it puts your foot is closer to the axle of the pedal (low stack height). This leads to increased wattage and reduces wasted energy largely because there is less material to compress and fewer things to move. You may be concerned about losing stiffness, however Pearl’s 1:1 Integrated Power Plate provides a stiffness rating of 13 on the company’s own scale, which is among the stiffest shoes we tested. Strangely considering the lack of materials in the sole, the weight loss doesn’t materialize with the shoe coming in a full 30 grams (just over an ounce) heavier (per shoe) than the lightest shoes we tested.
Observations on the shoe under load are of extreme stiffness, and low fitting comfort. The platform is perfectly wide under a medium foot.
The very snug (get your Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III sized up a half size according to Pearl, we can confirm this) and low cut nature, the shoe fits tight. The Second Skin Upper is thin (.9 mm is the thinnest on the market according to Pearl), and due to the closure system the upper of the shoe pulls comfortably around the forefoot nicely. The Power Web, a non-stretch material that is integral to the upper and married to the sole isn’t apparent in the shoe, and we appreciated how well the foot was anchored to the sole . There are no discernible seams in the footwear aside from the typical seam between the heel cup and front of the shoe. The heel cup is made up of softer materials coupled with an external plastic skeleton and anchors the heel nicely.
The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III features a Zonal Bi-directional Closure with two IP1 micro-adjustable Boas per shoe. These dials work both forward and backwards, providing excellent modulation on the fly. You can also pull the Boa for quick release. The mounting on the tongue of the shoe has the excellent advantage of allowing the foot to quick release and also to truly anchor the foot inside the shoe. Getting in and out of the Pearl shoe is the easiest we tested, which was greatly appreciated after a long ride when tussling with footwear is an annoyance.
The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III upper, which is quite thin and largely mesh, appears durable and substantial enough to endure the rigors of road riding. The stitching looks clean and quality, the glue lines excellent. The extensive mesh upper should reduce scuffing.
The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III has an upper that is perforated with mesh throughout the sides and the majority of the front. The back and tongue of the P.R.O. Leader III are solid material, and I would have preferred some mesh on the tongue, which may be impossible given the placement of the Boas. Drainage is achieved through two drains at the forefoot. This shoe has the best overall air movement of any shoe we tested thanks to the extensive use of mesh in the upper.
At a price close to $300, there is real value to the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III. It matches the other shoes we reviewed in this gear roundup in terms of stiffness and comfort, yet accomplishes this at a lower price. If air movement and ease of access into and out of the shoe are important, or budget is critical, the P.R.O. Leader III should be a consideration.
Seth Portner has been riding and racing mountain bikes since the late 1990s, specializing in XC, marathon and ultra-marathon events. He also enjoys regular multi-day road tours, and is an accomplished ultrarunner and XC skier. Seth, his wife and their daughter all split their time between Lyons and Winter Park.