The photo above sort of sums up our winter to date. We’ve had a few days with true wintry conditions, but for the most part it’s been warmer than average and increasingly rainy. However, it has been cold enough at points to test out some cold weather gear, and while there was no snow for our Global Fat Bike Day ride, it was chilly enough to don the new Pearl Izumi Launch Thermal jersey and some ridiculous shades, because, why not?
The jersey is just one of a number of new pieces from Pearl Izumi, which show some big improvements…
If you’re going to ride in the cold, one of the most common pieces of gear is usually a pair of warm cycling bib tights. Pearl Izumi continues to tweak their P.R.O. line, and the P.R.O. Pursuit fall into the category of protective outerwear with 3 layer softshell panels that make them wind and waterproof on the knees, thighs, and backside. Places that don’t need as much protection get a lighter weight softshell that still offers some protection from water, but is more breathable. This is the version with the integrated Pursuit 1:1 chamois, though it’s available without it as well. The chamois or not question is a tough one for me – on one hand, the integrated chamois offers a more comfortable fit with less layering, but without the chamois you’ll be wearing another bib short underneath which gives you more options for layering and gives the option of not washing the outer tight every time you use it. Pearl Izumi gives you the option to choose what works best for your needs.
The fit of the tight above looks a little baggy, but that’s because it’s a medium and I should probably be in a small. I seem to struggle with winter tights. Sometimes the small is the right fit, other times it’s so tight I can’t get it on. In this case, the fit seems to run a bit big. However, the fit of the back panel and shoulder straps is very comfortable. The straps are nice and wide without edges which makes them comfy under or over multiple layers. I also like how the legs seem to taper a bit earlier than previous models for less interference with the top of your boots. Pearl Izumi rates these from 28° to 45°f, though 45° might be pushing it for me as too warm (and I even tend to run cold). Sold for $175, they seem like a good value provided they fit well.
Underneath is the current Transfer Short Sleeve Baselayer which uses a new Transfer Dry fabric for faster moisture evaporation. Built with a Speed Sleeve construction for better fit around the shoulders in the riding position, I prefer long sleeve base layers for winter riding, but this could be used as another layer or simply for warmer weather. At $50 it’s pricey, but in line with other base layers.
In my opinion, the best new products from Pearl Izumi are their thermal jerseys, both for road and MTB. The P.R.O. Pursuit Thermal jersey above uses P.R.O. Thermal fabric which is sort of a fleece backed polyester which is incredibly soft to the touch and reminds you of your favorite sweatshirt, but somehow manages to never feel wet and clammy. The road version includes three rear pockets with Softshell Lite fabric for stretchy water protection for the contents, and a full length zipper up front. Also sent to me in a medium, the body fits well, though I find the sleeves a touch on the long side. Sold for $150, the jerseys come in S-XXL and in black or black/red for a bit more visibility.
Stepping up the protection level, the P.R.O. Pursuit Softshell combines the same Thermal fabric with 3 layer softshell panels (everything in black). Technically, the black panel over the rear pockets is Softshell lite, which still offers water protection, but isn’t as thick as the other softshell panels. The jacket is every bit as comfortable as the jersey, but it has a roomier cut for more room to layer underneath. Like all of the pieces shown here there are a number of reflective elements as well as high visibility yellow used on the zipper, seams, and under the arms (which is exposed in riding position). Out back there are three pockets – one large center pocket that is open from the top, and two zippered security pockets on the sides. Dropping the temperature range down to 25°, the P.R.O. Pursuit Softshell is definitely worthy of colder temps, especially with proper layering. Offered in four colors and S-XXL, the jacket runs $200.
If you’re out in the cold, you can’t forget your hands. The new Elite Softshell Gel glove is an interesting addition to the line for those shoulder temperatures where a full winter glove is too much, and a summer glove isn’t warm enough. Built with 100g Primaloft Gold insulation, PI rates these for 35-40°, though I’ve ridden them quite a bit colder, down to 20°f. At that point, I decided that, yeah, I need a warmer glove, but I was impressed with how warm they were with little bulk. They feature a fleece lining, conductive leather on the fingertips for smartphone use, and a synthetic leather palm with gel padding that is thick, but not distracting. I prefer gloves without gel padding at all, but these pads seem to be well placed to prevent that feeling of a bunch of padding bunching under your palms. Always important, they have a nice fleece wipe on the thumb, and a long gauntlet design with a Velcro closure. Also available in Screaming yellow, these sell for $60.
Before companies started offering mountain bike (or fat bike) specific clothing, one of my go-to cold weather pieces was a pair of Pearl Izumi Tokyo running tights. They were good, but since they were never intended for riding, they required some modifications for cycling use – like duct taping the lower legs to keep them from tangling in the chain. I’d like to think the MTB Summit Softshell pant is the evolution of those Tokyo tights for a mountain bike specific use. Built with a hybrid softshell construction, these are quite a bit lighter than other winter riding pants like the recent 45NRTH Naughtvind, which makes them more suitable to temperatures in the 38-45° range. Again, with proper layering I was very comfortable for a long ride in these just below freezing, but they seem like a great option for shoulder seasons when you’re looking for more protection than shorts, but less than full on winter kit.
The side vents on each side of the leg are so well hidden that during the first ride I forgot they were there and was thinking, “these are good, but they could use some vents.” I quickly remembered that they did in fact have vents, that can opened at the top or the bottom thanks to a dual zipper. With a single pocket on the right thigh, the pants take a minimalist approach with no fly, and no waist adjustment, just elastic. This makes them a bit tricky to get into, but the reward is a non-binding fit without any extra hardware. However, due to the tight elastic without any adjustment, I can see these posing some fit issues for some.
Compared to my old Tokyo tights, the good news is that these needed no modification for pedaling, and work great on the bike. The Semi-Form fit is baggy, but not baggy enough to catch on anything or get the leg caught in the chain. These go for $170, and will be replacing the current version which had zippers on the leg openings.
Just like the road side, the MTB equivalent of the Thermal jersey is surprisingly good. Between the fit, the cuffs, the v-neck, and the luxuriously soft Select Thermal fleece fabric, for me this one’s a winner. With a baselayer, I’ve ridden this to 35°, but I’ve also used it as a mid layer on really cold days. The only top I was sent in a small, it’s a good thing since it’s on the roomier side compared to the road kit. Without any pockets, really the only feature is a hidden sunglass wipe under the hem, but the simplicity aids in comfort. And at $75, the price is pretty reasonable.
Finally, a good rain jacket is a staple in any closet for questionable weather. With the right layering it can be an outer shell for freezing temperatures, or your outer layer of defense from the rain. Considering the cost of many high end rain shells, the MTB WRX jacket seems pretty reasonable at $175, and it does a great job at shedding the elements with WxB waterproof fabric. Pearl Izumi decided to not tape the seams due to keep costs down so it’s only called water resistant as a full jacket, but I can say it does a great job at keeping you dry. The fit is designed to accommodate elbow pads in the sleeves and a trail helmet under the hood, which it accomplishes. To keep the hood from blowing off, it has a vent in the back which also serves to keep your head drier through the helmet’s ventilation.
There are also armpit vents that are always open, though in this case I would prefer a more traditional pit zip vent. Because the vent has an overlapping flap to keep water out, the vent doesn’t seem to let much fresh air in and I found myself sweating more during hard efforts. The flip side though is that there are no zippers to fuss with, no chance of the zippers getting caught on the vent lining, and less bulk under your arms to interfere with bag straps or make things uncomfortable. Overall, it’s a pretty well thought out jacket that looks good and doesn’t cost a fortune.