Over the last four years I’ve been watching one of my favorite apparel manufacturers guide itself to a resurgence. Back in the 1990s, Pearl was the it cycling apparel manufacturer to buy if you weren’t going with custom team kit. They were the first apparel manufacturer I encountered that started selecting materials for their wicking properties and they were the first to make a synthetic chamois that didn’t give me saddle sores.
Somewhere in the early 2000s they fell off my radar. That happened for a couple of reasons. First, the availability of lines like Castelli and Assos improved. Second, Pearl expanded into running and some other sports and seemed to lose focus on cycling; they stopped being the leader they had been.
I’ve reviewed some Pearl Izumi pieces over the last few years, but the spring/summer 2019 collection is the one that will cement their return to the top. Across the line I can say that the quality is impeccable, the designs smart and the value unimpeachable.
PRO Bib Short
Bib shorts are the little yellow bird in the deep hole in the ground. A great pair of bibs can be a stand-in for a brand’s identity. That also means if a company can’t nail it’s own flagship bib, then what are they really up to? The PRO Bib Short has been in Pearl’s lineup for some time. If I were to criticize previous iterations of the product, I’d say there were times when they overthought them. This bib is straightforward, yet fresh.
After a couple of decades of chasing the more panels yields a better fit, Pearl and others are moving in the other direction and will use the natural stretch of the fabric strategically to provide support in one direction and stretch for freedom of movement in another. This PRO Bib has just seven panels, but the fit is form-hugging without constricting. I’ve encountered bibs that only fit because they are too tight not to cling to every square centimeter of skin they come in contact with.
We ride in an era where nearly the only way to run into a bad chamois requires you to shop on a budget best reserved for a road-trip stop at 7-Eleven. And while good chamois are as plentiful as power meters in a master’s crit, they still aren’t all the same. Pearl’s PRO Escape 1:1® Chamois is a cut above; it’s top sheet floats above the pad itself to reduce chafing and is cut from its Transfer fabric to wick moisture away and keep you dry. If I’m going to get into trouble, it will be on those events where I’m on the bike for more than six hours and for whatever reason the pad stops keeping me dry and I end up with chimp chafe. Not my fave. I’ve worn these bibs on two different six-plus-hour days and escaped with nary a centimeter of swollen, red skin.
Independent of any discussion of the reduced number of panels in the PRO Bib is Pearl’s commitment to reducing seams. And no, panels and seams are not synonymous. Pear eliminated sewn-on trim at the leg grippers and on the bib straps as well as anywhere else they could use a laser-cut fabric in place of trim. That results in a garment that is lighter and can hold less moisture, as well as have fewer places where it could chafe you.
Now, let’s talk about the color: navy blue. Sure, Pearl still offers basic black, but isn’t it high time someone dreamt up a color that can be worn with most any jersey and brings a splash of color to your appearance. Pearl offers these in four colors, so in addition to the navy and black there is a navy with paisley print and a black/charcoal stripe. The basic black is the least attractive of the bunch. The navy looks great, adds visibility because it is an actual color and manages to maintain a classic look.
Silicone leg grippers manage that balance between not grippy enough to keep the leg in place and too grippy to get the short pulled all the way up. Your tan line will not blur if you wear these consistently. They come in six sizes: XS to XXL. Everyone has their $200 bib (as these are), and most are worth the money. I submit that the PRO Bib Short is worth at least $250 and some companies would price these at $300, given just how good they are.
Summer is here, like it or not. Pearl Izumi’s bread and butter for years was making garments that wicked well and dried faster than everyone else’s. I’ve tried a number of summer-weight jerseys in the last year and most of them don’t make it far because they end up being so light in weight that I begin to see degradation in the fabric after only a couple of uses. I managed to kill one in a single mountain bike ride with the help of a hydration pack.
The Mesh Jersey is unusual among jerseys I’ve been wearing for a couple of reasons. First is the fact that it is a summer weight jersey that I’ve worn a couple dozen times without it showing any wear. Second is that it doesn’t look see-through the way some do. I don’t want to wear a jersey that forces me to put sunscreen on the whole of my torso before a midday ride. Third, and this is a big deal, is the fit and stretch of the jersey.
I like a form-fit jersey. That is, I like a jersey that follows the contours of my body and doesn’t hang loose. That said, this feature can be overdone. If there’s too much Lycra, it will end up being too clingy and can make even a lean cyclist look out of shape. This jersey subscribes to Pearl Izumi’s race fit. Pearl is the only company I’m aware of to offer five different fits in jerseys: race, form, semi-form, relaxed and loose. The distinction between their race-cut jerseys and their form-fit ones is that a race cut will engage the garment’s stretch as you put it on. Form fit doesn’t need the stretch until you move; it should feel tailored.
The Mesh Jersey is cut largely from Pearl Izumi’s In-R-Cool® fabric, which is breathable enough to dry on a longer descent (we’re talking five minutes, not from the top of the Col du Tourmalet). The Mesh Jersey has a remarkable degree of stretch and yet when I load up the pockets it doesn’t sag. The sleeves employ Pearl’s PRO Aero fabric which features a textured finish to disrupt airflow and create a boundary layer over the arms to speed the passage of air and make the rider quicker. The sleeves are cut long enough to cover the whole of the bicep, which may mess with a tan line here or there. The sleeve fabric is laser-cut to minimize extra material. The The jersey, unlike some summer-weight creations I’ve seen, has a collar to prevent sunburned collarbones; it’s a short collar, to be sure, but it’s enough to prevent a neckline burn.
The three pockets are sizable and thanks to the stretch, I can fit all the food I’ll need for a six-hour ride in the pockets. The jersey comes in six sizes: XS to XXL.
One remarkable feature of this jersey is the zipper. That it has a full zip is no big deal. It’s the way the zipper locks that will get people’s attention. With the pull turned down, the zipper locks and will not pull open at all. Flipped up the zipper will open and because the zipper has so little resistance I wondered if someone had sprayed it with chain lube. With the pull flipped up, all I have to do is give a little tub at the collar and the jersey will open. A gripper in the back helps to keep the jersey in place as you pull on it.
The jersey is available in three different prints that go long on understated style and short on the PI brand identity. The paisley design on the jersey seen here was drawn by hand by one of Pearl’s designers and then scanned for use on garments. It’s one of the most refreshing looks I’ve seen since Giro’s New Road line launched.
Like the PRO Bib Short, Pearl Izumi could easily charge more for the Mesh Jersey than its price of $135 and be justified.
Final thought: I can’t recall the last time I ran across anything with a surplus of style, function and value.