Pearl Izumi PRO Leader III shoes – review

Snug but comfortable top-level shoes with innovative construction and stiff sole

The PRO Leader III shoes from Pearl Izumi offer pro-level performance, with a foot-hugging profile, very low stack height and  impressively stiff carbon sole.

American brand Pearl Izumi create kit for every level of cyclist, and their PRO Leader IIIs are, as the name suggests, at the very top echelon of their footwear offering. You’ll see them on the feet of BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen, a two-time top five finisher at the Tour de France.

The PRO Leader IIIs are Pearl Izumi’s new top-end shoes

Pearl Izumi have strayed from the norm in the construction of the PRO Leader III, scrapping the lasting board which is a staple in a shoe. Instead, the PRO Leader III’s carbon sole is effectively used as the lasting board, so the upper is wrapped around the bottom of the sole, and the bottom of the shoe is wrapped in a layer of polyurethane to make for a neat finish. The advantage isn’t a drop in weight, with a size 43 shoe coming in on par at 235g, but a reduction in stack height by 1.5mm to 5mm.

The upper, meanwhile, is a seamless design, which acts as a second skin. It has two obvious layers: a full mesh inner layer and an outer webbed layer to act as reinforcement. The result is an upper which, due to its flexibility, moulds around your foot and helps with ventilation. It makes for a surprisingly comfortable experience – I half expected them to feel super-harsh as a result of the lack of padding – but if they fit properly then it’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

Fit is personal, of course, and you also have to pay attention to sizing. Pearl Izumi themselves claim the shoe fits more tightly than their usual offerings, and I’d have to agree with that assessment. Taking into account general sizing variations between brands, I’d recommend you go half a size up from your true size: For example, I usually fit an EU46-46.5 snugly, and the test kicks I had came in a 46 – and were marginally too tight if I were to go out and buy a set myself.

That said, the flexibility of the upper allows some stretch and give. It’s welcome flexibility too, and offsets the stiffness of the sole – a full carbon affair with a maximum stiffness index of 13, admittedly on Pearl Izumi’s own scale. Either way, it’s a stiff, pro-level sole.

Instead of using a traditional lasting board, the upper is wrapped around the bottom of the carbon sole, which is then wrapped in plastic to give this neat finish

The result is a shoe that transfers power superbly – whether maxing out during a sprint or spinning away up a climb. The low stack height means you feel very closely attached to the pedals – more so than I can remember experiencing with any shoe I’ve ridden in– and the heel features a solid and snug exterior to retain your foot securely.

Fastening comes via two BOA dials on the top of the shoe, which offer some customisation in the fit. Adjusting on the move is a little more fiddly than with shoes with a side-mounted BOA, simply because you have to reach further over.

The mesh upper provides excellent cooling

However, functionality is as good as you’d expect, with two-way adjustability in each of the dials for fine tuning. The front-mounted BOAs also make fitting toe and shoes covers a bit tricky, too – but shoes like this aren’t really intended for the depths of winter.

An added benefit to the PRO Leader IIIs are the supplied insoles, which help negate any pronation bias the user may suffer with. I have a relatively neutral foot shape, which means the machined contour of the internal carbon base and perforated insole was suitable for me, but it’ll be a comfort to potential buyers worried about the shape of the solid sole that three insole options are provided in the box.

Available colourways include a sleek black with white trim, and the bright red and flouro yellow on test. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it grew on me and now they’re one of my favourite looking shoes that I’ve used – even if they don’t match any of my other kit.


Overall, the PRO Leader IIIs are a super-stiff, lightweight, cool and snug-fitting shoe for those looking for low weight and top power transfer.


  • Super-stiff carbon sole
  • Breathable and flexible upper
  • Dual-BOA IP1 dials
  • Very low stack height
  • Provided with three insole options


  • Snug fit; go a half size up if you’re worried or try before you buy
  • Ventilation means they’re best suited to warm conditions
  • Top end performance means top end price


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