Pearl Izumi PRO 3×1 Winter Jacket

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It makes sense to post this on the coldest day of the year here in New England.

In certain latitudes, if you mean to ride through the winter, you need to put some time into clothing strategy. One approach is simply to wear more stuff. Long sleeve baselayer, wool jersey, windproof jacket. Sometimes two jerseys. Sometimes with a vest. Two pairs of gloves. Etc. Etc. This can be an effective, if scatter shot, strategy that almost always means you are wearing or carrying more clothing than you actually need. It also takes a lot of laundry cycles to maintain.

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. 3×1 takes a different tack, an integrated garment that is very serious about riding in very cold weather. It combines a top-of-the-line windproof soft-shell with a snap-in quilted Primaloft mid-layer and balaclava. When it arrived at my home, I took about half-an-hour to pick through it, understand its various connections, evaluate its fabrics and to appreciate the amount of design that went into its creation. I slipped it on in front of the mirror and was impressed. Immediately, I could tell it would be the single warmest thing I had every worn on the bike, and I was anxious (and a little fearful) to test it in some difficult conditions.

Over time, I wore all three components, both together and on their own, in a variety of cold weather riding conditions to get a sense for each piece, as well as the whole. It is important to note that this is not a commuter piece. It’s designed for long rides in tough conditions, and I found that it served that purpose well.

My first ride was winter warm, 39F degrees, so I donned just the outer soft-shell with a long sleeve base layer, and it was impressively warm, all on its own, too warm, in fact, for my relatively short commute. I should mention, at this point, that I run pretty warm, probably 10F degrees warmer than the average rider, so warmth is almost never my problem, heat transfer is.

Heat transfer is actually the whole ballgame for winter riding apparel in my estimation. If simply staying warm were the challenge, there are any number of thin, light, insulated jackets that would do the job. The problem with those garments is that, though they hold warmth extremely well, they don’t dissipate it when it becomes too much. The great challenge for any winter riding gear is to build and store the right amount of heat without becoming a mobile steam bath.

My second ride in the PI 3×1 was at 32F, and again I used only the outer shell. Over the same short distance, I was still too warm, and I began to think that I was going to have to pan the whole jacket as poor at its job, but in reality, I only needed to find the right conditions to make the 3×1 shine.

11131010_021_4The next day the mercury settled in at a more wintry 23F, and I donned the complete system to test its mettle in what I imagined was its more natural climate. If you can push out from the driveway on a day like that and not feel a whiff of cold, you are wearing a formidable garment. The balaclava is nice in that it is designed to come up over your nose, but the way the nose section is cut allows it to nestle securely on your chin as well. There are vents at the ears, so you still get enough sound from your surroundings to keep from being flattened by approaching trucks. I warmed quickly, was briefly too warm, and then settled in at a comfortable temperature for the rest of my trip.

The 3×1 doesn’t transfer heat quickly. It doesn’t just cool down with a zipper adjustment or a loosening of vents, but it does settle to a nice, comfortable temp over time. This is probably the right strategy for riding in more extreme temperatures, when you don’t want to worry about dumping too much heat too quickly and going hypothermic.

In succeeding rides I had the opportunity to test the shell in a frosty rain/snow mix, and found that I stayed warm and dry in a way that made what is perhaps my least favorite weather, fairly comfortable. I can’t tell you the point at which the shell no longer tolerates moisture and leaks, because I didn’t find it.

It’s windproofness is also excellent. 27F with a 20mph wind? No problem. Even in that scenario familiar to anyone who rides in these conditions, whipping down a hill with the wind in your face, the bridge of your nose stinging from the cold, the jacket and balaclava insulated me completely from suffering.

Initially, I had a hard time envisioning the market for this product. Minneapolis, Green Bay, Alaska? But over time I could see that the ability to mix and match the three pieces, on top of being able to use the whole system for the worst winter days, make it an exceptional value (at $375 MSRP), to anyone who rides through a real winter.

The fit is true to size and what I’d call race cut, slim, longer in back, long in the arms, meant to be stretched out over a top tube. I am normally a solid medium, but was able to squeeze into a small. If you are on the small side of medium, I would consider sizing down to maintain close body fit.

The sleeves are articulated. It has a nice single rear pocket that is subdivided internally to keep your stuff organize as well as two easy-access chest pockets for phone and/or small foods.

What I return to, over and over, when I talk about this jacket, is its seriousness. I have owned jackets and liners and mid-layers and balaclavas and ear warmers and any number of winter accessories all of which was meant to be cobbled together to achieve some level of winter riding comfort. I have not, in my time on the bike, ever encountered as integrated and thoughtful a winter riding piece as this. If you want to do long miles while the rest of the world is having their winter off-season, the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. 3×1 is a worthy piece of equipement, the difference between cobbling it together and dialing it in.

 

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8 comments

  1. Peter lin

    I own pearl izumi pro softshell jacket and elite softshell jacket. Paired with Amfib tights, riding in 15-25F temperature around central MA isn’t bad. I used to love both jackets until I got Castelli espresso jacket, which fits better than PI.

    I still consider PI a good value, but I have to admit Castelli fit is better.

  2. DJ

    What about tights in those conditions? I live in the pacific northwest and this year in really cold wet rides I’ve been happy using the softshell Arc’teryx pants I use for snowshoeing. I would rather be in something that is more “race fit” though. Does anyone have a suggestion of something a little warmer than the amfib?

  3. Robot

    @Tom – Aggressive cut, and slow heat transfer. Unless your commute is on a road bike and longer than 15 miles…in that case it’s a good commuter piece.

  4. Rod

    Thanks for doing this. I own a second-hand, older style Assos Fugujack. It serves me well now at about -22 C here in Ottawa, with a few reinforcements such as a thick merino jersey and a windproof baselayer.

    It would be great to have a review comparison between winter jackets. I like the idea of the Castelli reflecting barrier, but have no idea how it would work when it’s effing freezing for real.

  5. vengavelo

    @DJ, consider Gore Windstopper bib tights (can’t recall model name) or if it’s really cold, Craft Storm pants. I’ve worn the Crafts at -5° F with nothing but summer bib shorts underneath and been perfectly comfortable. Some of the best winter kit ever.


  6. Author
    Robot

    @DJ & Vengavelo – I also have been wearing the Craft Storm pants this season and like them quite a lot, an excellent value.

    @Rod – Would love to sample and review more winter jackets. Harsh conditions leave me ALWAYS questioning my clothing strategies.

  7. Brent

    Picked up a Vermarc Tech Jacket this fall and its fantastic. I ride in Madison, WI, and it has performed perfectly in the cold and wind.

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