If there’s one thing about Pearl Izumi’s top-shelf shoes, the Tri Fly Octane II, it’s that you’ll never, ever miss them – they’re electric green. Now, Pearl Izumi has something of a history with loud color choices, the previous version of the Tri Fly Octanes were a similarly out-there hi-vis orange. But even next to one another, the new shoe stands out. The question, however, is does the Octane II stand out because of the color choice, or in spite of it?
There are few off-the-shelf tri shoes that will tip the scales further than these do, and Pearl Izumi has spent quite some time making sure of that. The upper, called Second Skin, is less than a millimeter thick, and the closure buckle is built into the upper rather than attached to it. Unidirectional carbon fiber has been used for the sole, kept at an incredibly low 6.5mm of stack height with insole. There is a large channel at the top of the foot that has been left open to allow your foot to breathe, and shave a couple grams, while you’re at it. Pearl Izumi claims that they have gotten a size 42 down to 185g, and while we wear a comparatively gargantuan 46.5 (242g), they’re still incredibly light.
The Octane II isn’t just light, though. It’s also got some pretty slick features for triathletes in particular. The drain ports on the bottom of the shoe are perfectly positioned to clear any water that gets in there. From whatever comes with you from the swim to the buckets of sweat on the long course, our feet never felt waterlogged at all. In fact, we’d almost call the drainage ports oversized, at roughly the length of our big toe. But when they work this well, it’s hard to argue with the size. PI says that they double as cooling ducts, too, but we never really noticed them behaving in this fashion. Then again, we also never noticed our feet feeling hot, either.
As one would expect with a top-of-the-line shoe, the shoe has the best carbon sole that Pearl Izumi offers. The “Octane 1:1 Power Plate” is a unidirectional carbon weave and is shockingly thin for how stiff it is. We own a pair of custom-made road shoes, and fully expected that any off-the-shelf shoe would feel like a flip flop in comparison; the Octane II proved us very, very wrong. These shoes just don’t flex, no matter what you’re doing. Battling it out to the brake point for a corner? No flex. Standing out of the saddle to make it up a causeway? No flex. If you can manage to get these shoes to give, then you should probably challenge Starky to beat him to T2. For us mere mortals, they’re more than we could ever need in that department. What’s more, they’re also ultra low in stack height. At just 6.5mm, your feet will be plenty close to the pedal spindle, and all that power will go where it’s supposed to: into making you fast.
Getting into and out of these shoes is fairly easy, thanks to the fairly large instep strap closure. At the very top of the strap, just above the big PI logo, is a notch. That notch holds the buckle, and thus the shoe’s opening, plenty wide enough for you to shove your entire foot into without any trouble. Yank down, and the buckle frees itself from the notch, slap the strap against the Velcro on the upper, and you’re all done. This is especially useful for those of us who can successfully execute the flying mount, but the rest of us still benefit from a large opening, as well. The last thing you need in T1 is to try to mash your foot into an opening just big enough for your ankle, fighting with your shoes while the seconds tick by. No matter what kind of racer you are, the Octane IIs will make sure that doesn’t happen.
The only thing we don’t love about these shoes is the fact that none of the cleats are replaceable. To save weight, Pearl chose to mold the cleats into the carbon sole, which means that when you finally wear them down, you’ve got to buy a new pair. This isn’t too big of an issue, as most of the time if you’ve worn your cleats down that badly you probably ought to replace the shoe anyway. Although we can think of a few races that have some rather lengthy runs in and out, and would rather see the option to buy parts instead of shoes. If you race those kinds of races regularly, just keep that in mind, but don’t let it deter you from buying what are otherwise fantastic shoes.
When the biggest thing we can find to nitpick is the fact that shoes wear out, it is possible we’re reaching a bit. The truth is that the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Octane II is a stellar bit of kit for any triathlete. If you’re looking for a shoe that can handle everything you can possibly dish out, these have every right to make your short list. Plus, they come in Aerogeeks colors, and who doesn’t love that? At $350, they aren’t cheap, but neither are their competitors. In fact, for a top-level shoe, they’re a downright bargain compared to the S-Works Trivent ($400) and the Bont Sub-8 ($399). Fast, priced fairly, and packed with features: we can’t ask for anything more than that.