by Stan Purdum
In the market for some new bicycle shorts or bibs? Pearl iZUMi’s lineup for 2021 is good place to start, especially since they have a good reputation among cyclists and offer a range of models at several price points.
The number of different shorts and bibs Pearl iZUMi (PI) offers does mean, however, that it’s helpful when reading the descriptions of the individual models to know what certain terms mean. Here are a few worth knowing:
- Panels. The individual sections of the shorts. It used to be that the more panels shorts had, the better they were contoured to fit properly when you’re sitting on a bike seat in riding position. To some degree, that’s still true, but with today’s stretch fabrics, you can get a good fit with fewer panels, which means fewer seams to potentially irritate your skin.
- Welded seams. An alternative way of attaching together the panels that comprise a pair of shorts. By avoiding stitched seams, the shorts are smoother, offering fewer skin irritation points. Welding uses heat and pressure to fuse one panel to the next.
- Merrow stitch. Sometimes known as overlock sewing or overlocking, this is the process of wrapping thread around fabric, yielding an efficient and uniform stitch.
- Transfer fabric. PI uses this term to describe a capability of the spandex blends it uses in its road shorts and bibs. It refers the moisture wicking or “breathability” characteristics of the fabric, in that it transfers your sweat away from your body to the outer surface of the material where it can evaporate and help you cool.
- Laser cut. A method of cutting out components the shorts that result not only in extreme accuracy and clean cuts, but also sealed fabric edges that prevent fraying without using a turned and stitched hem. Thus, for example, laser cut bib straps have no extra thickness on the edges to irritate your skin when wearing them during vigorous riding.
- Raw edge. Another term for a laser-cut hem.
- Chamois designations. PI uses the names SELECT, ELITE and PRO differentiate the chamois in its various shorts and bibs. While you may want to read these as “good, better, best,” Rob Pickels, a physiologist who leads Advanced Development as well as Chamois Design at PI says that the chamois are “designed and spec’d differently to achieve different experiences for the rider.” He indicates that the size and shape between the three are relatively the same with some slight variations due to construction methods. The pads do get thinner, however, as we move from PRO to SELECT. (PRO 15mm / ELITE 12mm / SELECT 10mm) and that “ultimately the difference comes down to increasing support and breathability as we move up from SELECT, to ELITE and then to PRO.
- SELECT a single density of foam that is medium-high density / support.
- ELITE uses a single, high-density of foam that is perforated for increased breathability.
- PRO utilizes the densest foam, which goes through a special process to open up the structure within the foam to allow the most airflow / breathability. PRO also uses multiple densities of foam for a progress effect.
The shorts and bibs listed here are all from PI’s men’s line. For comparable women’s models, see the PI website.
By the way, PI refers to each model as a “short,” which brings to mind a garment with only one leg. I understand “shorts” to be a dual noun; neither singular nor plural (although it takes plural agreement). I’ll leave PI’s form of the word in the model names and their direct quotes but will use “shorts” in my subsequent references.
Pearl Izumi PRO Cycling Shorts
Around $175 at many retailers
PI calls these their “best men’s road short” and says they are crafted “with long ride comfort at the top of the list.” The shorts have PI’s top-of-the line PRO Escape 1:1 chamois with floating top sheet design and are constructed using seven panels from an Italian PRO transfer fabric, to create shorts that you will likely prefer for your longest rides. Laser cut hems with a silicone gripper create a smooth transition from shorts to skin. The shorts have reflective elements for low-light visibility, a 10.5-inch inseam (on the medium size) and are available in two colors.
Pearl Izumi Expedition Cycling Shorts
Around $100 at most retailers
The Expedition Short features low-profile cargo pockets on the thighs for easy access to smartphones and snacks and another horizontal rear pocket also capable of holding a phone. Has the ELITE Escape 1:1 chamois that PI describes as “plush and breathable.” Features a wide waistband to eliminate pinching and chafing. Has reflective elements for low-light visibility, a 10.5-inch inseam (size M) and comes in your choice of two colors.
Pearl Izumi Attack Cycling Shorts
Around $80 at most retailers
The transfer fabric in the Attack Short is made with recycled nylon and uses the material’s natural stretch to reduce seams and increase comfort. Includes the SELECT Escape 1:1 chamois. Like other shorts in PI’s line up, the Attack model has reflective elements for low-light visibility. The medium size has a 10.5-inch inseam. These shorts are available in sizes up to XXXL.
Pearl Izumi Interval Shorts
Around $130 at most retailers
Made from more muscle hugging Lycra® than anything else in PI’s line, these shorts provide lots of compression. Yet because the lightweight fabric provides reflective sun protection, they help you stay cool. Made from seven panels with laser cut hems. Equipped with the ELITE Escape 1:1 chamois with floating top-sheet design to reduce friction. Has a 10-inch inseam, reflective elements and is available in two colors.
Pearl Izumi Escape Quest Shorts
Around $50 at most retailers
These are the “best shorts you’ll find at this price,” says PI. The have a six-panel anatomical design, turned hems with a silicon coating (PI calls it a silicon “print”) to hold the shorts comfortably in position. They employ the SELECT Escape 1:1 chamois. Has reflective elements for low-light visibility, a 9.5-inch inseam (in the medium size) and is available in 2 colors.
Escape Quest Splice Short
Around $50 at most retailers
Find them at Pearl Izumi
The Men’s Quest Splice Short is the same as the Escape Quest Short, but with color splice on the thighs. Available only in black with a screaming yellow splice, which adds to your visibility on the road.
Pearl Izumi Elite Tri Shorts
Around $90 at most retailers
Designed to be performance garb with cooling technology, these shorts are constructed from fabric with “improved compression and aerodynamics,” says PI, to provide “superior cooling and reflective sun protection.” To help the garment maintain its original compression level, it is assembled using the Merrow stitch method. The shorts have a stretch draw cord for comfort and fit and use a quick-dry chamois. There’s one easy-access envelope back pocket, and an 8-inch inseam (in the medium size). Comes only in black.
Pearl Izumi Select Pursuit Tri Short
Around $65 at most retailers
Intended to be worn for both training and racing for all levels of triathletes, the SELECT Pursuit Tri Short is made from a fabric that provides good compression and moisture transfer. These shorts, including the chamois, are made to dry fast, an important feature during triathlons. Has a stretch draw cord for comfort and fit, an easy access envelope pocket, reflective elements, and, on the medium size, and 8.5-inch inseam. Two colors available, one of which has a pin stripe.
Pearl Izumi Pro Air Bib Short
Around $275 at most retailers
Pearl Izumi (PI) describes this bib as its “lightest, highest performance short” and says its stretch weave provides “superior compression, support and moisture transportation.” Because it has welded and taped construction, there are no stitched seams to irritate your skin. The laser-cut fabric offers a clean finish, resulting in the lightest bib short in PI’s line. The PRO Escape 1:1 chamois features a floating top sheet design to deliver what PI says is “unmatched comfort.” The inseam length on the size medium is 10.5 inches.
Pearl Izumi Expedition Bib Short
Around $125 at most retailers
These bibs have low-profile cargo pockets on the thighs and lower back for access to smartphones and snacks. The centered rear pocket at the base of the laser-cut straps is big enough to carry a shell jacket. The ELITE Escape 1:1 chamois has a floating top sheet design to reduce friction for all day comfort. A silicone coating (PI calls it a “silicone print”) holds the cuffs in place and provides a smooth transition from the shorts to skin. Available in black or “forest” (a dark brown).
Pearl Izumi Pro Bib Short
Around $210 at most retailers
The PRO Bib Short has the same PRO Escape 1:1 chamois found in the PRO Air Bib Short, but these bibs are crafted with seven engineered panels from a high-quality fabric to minimize seaming for a comfortable contour to your body. Laser cut leg openings have silicone grippers for a seamless transition to skin, and the laser cut bib straps offer what PI describes as “a barely there, yet supportive fit.” The bibs have reflective elements for low-light visibility, and are available in four colors. The medium size has 10.5-inch inseam length.
Pearl Izumi Attack Bib Short
Around $100 at most retailers
Made to be a more affordable bib, these shorts are constructed from fabric with recycled nylon yarns. PI says it “used the material’s natural stretch to reduce seams and increase comfort while simultaneously creating a stellar fit.” Reduced paneling and seams, plus raw-edge bib straps, enhance comfort. Includes PI’s SELECT Escape 1:1 chamois and has reflective elements for low-light visibility. Two colors available.
Pearl Izumi Interval Graphic Bib Short
Around $150 at most retailers
This bib is distinguished from the others in this roundup by being PI’s most compressive bib short, a feature made possible by using a fabric with high spandex content for muscle-hugging compression. These form-fitting bibs come with PI’s ELITE Escape 1:1 Chamois, have a 10-inch inseam and reflective elements for low-light visibility. Two colors available.
Pearl Izumi Interval Cargo Bib Short
Riding in hotter temperatures outdoors or on a trainer indoors are the conditions for which the Interval Cargo bibs were designed. Open mesh side panels allow for greater breathability, while a printed leg gripper keeps the hem in place. The “cargo” part of the name refers to two pockets on the thighs and two more in the bib, just above the waist so you can keep snacks and your phone near at hand. The ELITE Escape chamois with floating top-sheet design reduces friction and increases in-the-saddle comfort. Has raw-edge upper straps and comes only in black.
Pearl Izumi Escape Quest Bib Short
Around $70 at most retailers
PI touts these bibs as “The best bib shorts you’ll find at this price,” apparently meaning these are their entry level bibs. Made with six-panel anatomic design, these shorts have the SELECT Escape 1:1 chamois for chafe-free comfort and reflective elements for low-light visibility. Turned hems with silicon prints hold the shorts in position. The medium size of these bibs has 9.5-inch inseam. Available in two colors.
Pearl iZUMi also has a line of trail shorts, which we are not including in this roundup, but because some road riders don’t feel comfortable in Lycra, we mention one pair. For addition trail shorts, see PI’s website.
Pearl Izumi Canyon Short
Around $85 at most retailers
Made of lightweight two-way stretch transfer woven fabric, these shorts offer the features usually wanted for off-road riding, while not looking out of place around town. Two open hand pockets, a zippered cargo pocket, and a rear security pocket store what you need on and off the bike. A premium liner short with the SELECT Escape 1:1 chamois as well as seamless crotch construction adds in-the-saddle comfort. A button waistband that rises high in the rear as well as internal elastic hook-and-loop adjustments hold the shorts in place. A durable water-repellent finish sheds trail spray and helps keeps these shorts looking good even after the ride. Has a 12-inch inseam.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.