Spring time means trails are drying, build season is in full swing, and we can finally stop confabulating about fat bikes. Spring also means it’s time to update your look, replace those old trusty rags with something fresh or, if you’re like me, a new ride season is like the first day of school… despite your perfectly functional and intact apparel, you just gotta have a new outfit!
For 2015, Pearl Izumi is flexing its mountain bike muscles with a new full lineup of tops and bottoms covering everyone from freeriders to trail slayers. For this threads review, I chose the stylings of Pearl Izumi’s all-mountain Elevate Short and Big Air Jersey for a month’s worth of ripping, whipping, slashing, crashing, soiling, and unbridled frolicking.
Mountain bike apparel should be comfortable, hold up in the conditions it was designed for (for a reasonable amount of time), have a few cool features, and above all, make you look like you know what’s up. There’s always a few compromises among these criteria so read on as I try to tease out the good and not so good of Pearl Izumi’s Elevate/Big Air combo.
The Elevate is a shell (no liner or chamois), allowing you to customize your personal padding. I find this easier to manage on and off the bike, but this is largely an individual preference.
At least 13 separate panels were used in the Elevate’s construction, which translated to a comfortable and well-articulated fit across the spectrum of movements during the ride. Three of those panels (one below waist and one on inner aspect of each thigh, pictured below in black) are of a thinner, stretchier blend, providing additional compliance where it’s needed.
Anterior to the stretch panel on the inner thigh is a strip of exposed mesh that seems like a “cool” idea, but it’s usually the first to snag. The lower panel wraps around the leg and is lined inside by a gentler fabric–presumably to prevent chaffing from repetitive sliding on the thigh during pedaling. I found this lining to also properly weight the lower leg, keeping movement in check.
While the generous 15″ inseam (size medium) certainly didn’t take the form of shants, I found them slightly longer than I prefer–a concern that is all but left in the dust when hauling mail in the knee pad-friendly leg openings.
Pearl Izumi Elevate Short - Women's
$49.98 The Clymb AD
Big Air Jersey
Up top, Pearl Izumi uses a lightweight 100% polyester moisture wicking fabric in the Big Air jersey. I found myself between 40 and 60 degrees for most of my rides in the Big Air and I can assure you, anything below 70 and you’ll want another layer or something else altogether. The Big Air is a summer slayer and really showed its wicked wicking and cooling capabilities when I did catch an 80 degree F day on the hill. Its open mesh almost felt like it was drawing air in, evenly distributing the breeze about my torso.
I donned the Elevate/Big Air combo for a total of 5 rides, 50 miles, and 8 hours. Even so, one month’s time doesn’t adequately predict long-term durability so, for that, let’s talk materials, stitching, and overall construction.
Pearl Izumi uses a compliant 4-way stretch ripstop nylon (95%) / spandex (5%) combo for the main body, which roughly equates to a third of the stretch found in typical roadie Lycra blends. Remember those 13 panels? It would seem the trade-off to a well-articulated fit is more seams that inherently make a piece more vulnerable to breakdown… until you turn the Elevate inside out, revealing an array of serge, triple, and double-stitching seemingly in the right place.
Pearl Izumi applies a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment I found it only moderately effective during a particularly wet Northwest ride. I don’t give these DWR treatments much credibility anyway, since they loose their effectiveness over time through normal use and washing.
All zippers are sealed, sturdy, and 3 of the 4 tuck under some form of tab when closed.
Big Air Jersey
The stitching here is sturdy, as each panel is brought together by a serge. My only concern would be that open mesh tends to snag and tear more easily than, say, a cotton/poly blend or heavier mesh… but it hasn’t torn yet, and has held up rather well–even after going down a couple times.
In regards to bells and whistles for any athletic apparel, there’s a fine line between too little and too much. Maximum adjustability, breathability, durability, and compartments come at the cost of weight, comfort, and more stuff to break.
Let’s talk pockets. As a backpack man myself, I have little need for more than a couple pockets, which I only use for temporary stashing, but I suppose a good all-around short would be designed with enough storage for a quick thrash without a bag. The Elevate comes with two front zippered, a center back, and no cargo pockets. Personally, I see no use for pockets that do not close and much prefer zippers over Velcro.
What surprised me most was the utility of the center back “security” pocket, which managed to swallow a flat repair kit, multitool, two tire levers, car keys, and a granola bar. Granted you’re not able (at least gracefully) to access this compartment on the fly, but with some creative arrangement using the front pockets, one could easily ditch the pack for an hour or two ride. Even when loaded, the extra junk in the trunk distributed evenly and was barely noticeable.
Adjustable waistbands are practically standard on most AM/trail shorts, but where I find the advantage, used in the Elevate, is the elastic-to-Velcro waistband located on the inside protecting it from wear and tear.
Big Air Jersey
I’m not much of a long sleeves guy so I took to hiking the Big Air’s sleeves up–which was effortless. They stayed in place thanks to the elastic band (yellow trim), which also lines the V-neck. Sewn to the inside waistline of the Big Air is a nifty little cloth to clean your shades, obviating the need to wad up a lens pouch in your pockets.
Elevate Short: Pros and Cons
Pros: The Elevate is a durable, adjustable, and comfortable shell, with enough storage compartments to get you by without a pack, enough length to cover up your pasty whites and drape your knee guards, and reinforced stitching to safeguard against potential weak points.
Cons: Although a well of a compartment, the back center pocket is not accessible on the fly, which may defeat the purpose for some. Exposed mesh is always a concern, but location on the inner aspect of the leg may be enough to protect from a snag. It does not come with an integrated liner or chamois, but this is not as much a con as it is something to note.
The men’s Elevate Short comes in 3 colors: black (reviewed), belgian block (white), and rifle (green), sizes S-XXL (medium reviewed).
Big Air Jersey: Pros and Cons
Pros: The Big Air is a lightweight, highly-breathable, long sleeve that I predict will keep you cool but still covered in the hottest conditions. Don’t forget the lens cleaner!
Cons: While this jersey will cool you, it is not for cool weather. The body is an open mesh, but it’s still a rather tight mesh so snagging may not be that big of a concern.
The men’s Big Air Jersey comes in 2 colors: black/white trim and russet brown (maroon/orange with yellow trim, reviewed), sizes S-XXL (medium reviewed).
Thanks to Pearl Izumi for providing the Elevate Short and the Big Air Jersey for review.