deniz merdano cam pearl izumi 11
Head-to-Toe Review

Pearl Izumi Clothing, Shoes and Protection

Words Cam McRae
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Oct 19, 2022
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I've been wearing Pearl Izumi stuff almost as long as I've been riding mountain bikes. I'm not much of an old timer in that context though because the company was founded in 1950. In my early days, PI stuff was a pricier than the competition but the quality and durability justified the outlay. These days there isn't as much of a premium on Pearl gear but the quality and durability have remained steady. In certain categories PI crushes it. Back when I was clipping in, PI consistently made my favourite shoes in terms of fit, construction, performance and durability. I've also consistently been impressed with their gloves, for attention to detail, fit and durability. I wouldn't however, call outerwear their strength and the same can be said for flat pedal shoes and padding for the sort of riding we do.

Pearl Izumi was owned by Shimano North America from 2008 until May of this year when it was sold to United Sports brands. The original Japanese brand wasn't sold to Shimano however and it continues to operate in Japan for the domestic market only.

This time around I wanted to try some PI riding pants, flat shoes, knees, gloves, and shoes topped off with a jersey and a light jacket.

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Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX shoes are perfect for jazzercizing.

X-Alp Launch Mid WRX Flat Shoes 150 USD/250 CAD

These shoes seemed to tick all my boxes; they appeared sturdy and provided ankle protection, there are boa closures for quick deployment, and they promised a sticky sole. When I tried them on, they fit great but a little small, as I have come to expect from PI, and they felt a little stiff to me. I don't mind a more rigid sole while using flat pedals, but I was worried about the rocker toward the front of the shoe. For me a good flat shoe doesn't have much rocker but if it does, it's flexible enough that when you stomp on the pedal it releases and flattens giving you full grip.

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These are solidly made shoes that fit very well.

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I'm a fan of Boa closures for rides that are local, but I don't think I'd trust them on a big Chilcotin adventure. The velcro provides a layer of redundancy however.

Once on the trail it became clear that, at least to start out, the rocker was here to stay and my fears were confirmed. I'm a two-position guy with my flat pedals and I climb with the ball of my foot over the pedal spindle and then slide my foot forward when the fun begins. In my pedalling position, I wasn't able to dig into the pedal pins on the front and rear of the pedal simultaneously and I found my foot slipping around as I climbed. This was particularly tricky in rocky technical situations but it wasn't great while I was simply spinning either. There was no confident bite helping me put the power down but this wasn't related to the rubber compound.

Once it was time to descend, I found the grip adequate but the Goodyear sole would not be mistaken for 5:10. I'd call the grip medium and while the grip was much better than it was in pedalling position, I still slipped my pedal a few times as I was getting used to the bite and I didn't have the confidence I was after. For some riders I'm sure the level of grip would be ideal; the range of personal preference is broad indeed when it comes to flat pedals and shoes.

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The Goodyear-branded sole provides descent grip, but those who yearn for a truly gummy sole will be disappointed.

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These shoes were undone by what seems to be a fatal flaw, but one that might be resolved with a long break in process.

When I examined the shoes, it seemed that the upper was part of the problem. The last was constructed in a manner that made it pull back on the front of the shoe at above your toes, preventing it from flexing down when weight is applied. I tried to accelerate the break-in process by tucking the toes of the shoes into the top of my workbench drawer and then weighting the shoes with a vice and a U-lock to bend them down. I left them that way over night but they weren't noticeably better afterwards.

pearl izumi shoe stretching

My attempt to accelerate the break in process by stretching both the sole and the upper of these shoes wasn't adequately successful to improve pedalling grip.

If you are a flat pedal rider, you know that grip is sacred. Not everyone needs gobs of sticky rubber in the Fiveten vein, and I include myself in that group, but a rider's individual bare minimum is not negotiable. Without the rocker problem I think I could live with these pedals in less gnarly situations but as it stands I sacrifice too much in terms of climbing grip for these to be viable for me. And I should emphasize; that doesn't necessarily mean they won't work for you.

X-Alp Launch Mid WRX Flat Shoes


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#notaninja

Elevate Long Sleeve Jersey 65 USD/90 CAD

This is a nice piece. It's not too hot, despite the long sleeves, it fits well and feels great against the dermis. The colour might be a bit much for me but at least it's not boring. It also comes in black which is great for ninjas but crappy for photos. The material is 100% recycled (92% polyester and 7% spandex) but it's not clear if this is post-consumer or simply made from scraps from the factory in Vietnam.

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I might have taken a wee tumble here. Luckily my fall was broken by a loam cushion.

I appreciated the bonded neck and the fit of the raglan sleeves. It's a nice jersey with a bit of a PI premium price tag.

Elevate Long Sleeve Jersey


Men's Zephrr® Barrier Jacket 100 USD/150 CAD

This is a bare bones jacket with one pocket where road bikers like them; in the middle of your back. I think it's fair to say this was made for roadies actually (maybe XC?) and then slid into the MTB collection. Still, it's nicely cut and makes a good windbreaker. Pearl says it has "a measure of rain protection" which maybe means it qualifies for Andrew Major's "emotional support jacket" moniker. I haven't been rained on while wearing it yet, because it hasn't rained in North Van for months, but it's not what I'd pack when I know the weather is coming in heavy.

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The jacket was totally unnecessary when we shot these photos.

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Just one pocket. Not useful at all if you wear a bum bag. Useful if you ride gravel or road perhaps.

It unfortunately doesn't stuff into it's own pocket, or rather it does but the zipper isn't double-sided (an inexplicable omission IMHO) making it tricky to unpack if you do manage to close it that wa. The cuffs are elastic and there is a draw string for the waist that I never used, but this is otherwise a fairly simple jacket. For roadies. Mostly. But not bad for us either.

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Wait, where are the pockets?

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The cut is quite elaborate, and adorned with unobrtusive wee reflect-o patches.

For some reason this jacket is priced as though the US dollar is worth 1.50 CAD right now, but it's only about 1.37. Maybe it's going that way but it seems a little steep for a windbreaker that is unlikely to be much more than temporarily water resistant. It also makes it very expensive per pocket. In case it's not obvious, in this age of trying not to carry a pack, I'm a big fan of usable pocketses (for rings or whatever). One pocket will never be enough to rule them all.

Men's Zephrr® Barrier Jacket


Pearl Izumi Elevate Knee Guard 125 USD/180 CAD

I'm a fussy SOB about some stuff and not so fussy about others. With kneepads I'm as fussy King Charles when his breakfast is late. I like a relatively low-pro kneepad that provides wrap around protection, including above and below your knees and to either side. I also want to be able to pedal in them for a long ride without having to reach down and pull them up or down. Most importantly though, they need to stay up without any yanking, readjusting or fiddling required.

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These are good looking patella protectors with a long gaiter. Protection comes from D3O polymer dough that stiffens on impact.

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One strap below the knee is designed to prevent the Pearl Izumi Elevate pads from sliding down.

I've worn several pads that meet these criteria lately; POCs Joint VPD Air, (unfortunately I lost my pair) Shred's Enduro Pads, and Fox D3O knees (which I'll be reviewing) all fit the bill nicely. What they have in common is a pre-molded knee-cup, which extends well above the knee, and does most of the work required to keep your pads in place. This means any straps are only there for insurance and don't need to be reefed tight. This may not be the case for everyone but for me, no distinct knee cup? No sale. For others with burlier legs, this may not be required, but if you are lean of leg like me, you may know what I'm talking about.

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These were comfortable enough even when pedalling. Unfortunately on my legs they constantly felt like they were falling down.

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Venting at the back keeps them cool and prevents chafing.

These pads have a streamlined D3O polymer dough main pad that extends slightly above the knee and then part way down your shin, but not enough to call it an actual shin guard. There are two small pads on either side of the main pad, one above the knee and one below. These also seem to be made of polymer dough but they provide limited coverage, There isn't another layer of padding that reaches further above your knee.

The entire package lives in a comfortable gaiter with generous mesh inserts on the rear and a a single velcro strap below the knee. There are silicone grippers in both the upper and lower cuffs.

Pearl Izumi Elevate Knee Guard


Pearl Izumi Elevate Gloves 34 USD/50 CAD

I'm a fan of no-nonsense gloves. I don't want velcro if I can avoid it, I like a thin but durable palm, and fit is of primary importance. Usually generous stretch contributes to a snug fit without any bunching. All that is present here in the comfortable Clarino "leather"-palmed Elevate gloves from Pearl Izumi.

The backing material is a mix of materials that feels identical to spandex and there is a generous booger wipe on each thumb.

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Booger containment is an essential component of any mountain bike glove.

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Clarino is a Japanese made synthetic leather that is difficult to distinguish from the real thing. I'm not sure how they get away with calling it leather though when no beasts were sacrificed for their manufacture.

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I do like a little padding on my knuckles and fingers if it doesn't sacrifice fit but these are so comfortable I'm willing to risk my digits.

Pearl Izumi Launch Trail Pant 150 USD/200 CAD

These are non nonsense pants suitable for shoulder or winter season (depending on where you live) that offer some water resistance but are by no means water proof. The styling is decidedly norm core and the two zippered pockets are a generous size and well-placed. The material has a pleasing stretch that preserves mobility and improves comfort. The narrow cuffs keep the crap out but don't have any closure meaning removing them requires the same peel a full wetsuit might require.

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I'm not normally a jersey tucker, but this gives you a better look at the cut of the Pearl Izumi Launch Pants.

These pants don't do anything special but they fit very well, stay in place admirably, and provide a layer of protection against the elements. They aren't great on hot days however and weren't designed to be either.

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Pants in action. One thing I appreciate about pant legs is the way they keep your pads from moving in the event of a crash. They also keep you a little cleaner and provide a level of protection for your lower legs.

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Zippered slash pockets position your stash(es) away from the front of your leg and into a more stable location at the side.

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Stretchy enough to get your Zumba on.

If I was to write a wish list, I'd ask for a least one more precious pocket, preferably two, and closures at the cuffs so they would go on and off more easily. Otherwise they lack nothing and are very nice to wear.

Features (as noted by Pearl Izumi)

  • Lightweight 4-way stretch Cordura® nylon fabric with PI Dry® water-shedding technology
  • PI Dry® technology for permanent water-shedding performance
  • Two zippered Trail Access side pockets shift contents to back of leg for pedaling comfort
  • External hook-and-loop waist adjustments provide a secure, sag-free fit with less bulk
  • Add a chamois liner of your choice to complete the package
  • Shipped rolled to reduce plastic packaging; wash to remove wrinkling

Pearl Izumi Launch Trail Pant

A complete rundown on Pearl Izumi gear

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae

Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)

Weight - 170lbs/77kg

Inseam - 34"/86cm

Ape Index - 0.986

Age - 56

Trail I've been stoked on lately - Boogieman

Bar Width - 760mm

Preferred Reach - 485-500mm (longer with 27.5 wheels than 29)

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Comments

mrbrett
mrbrett
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+8 cheapondirt kcy4130 Andrew Major Cam McRae Timer Velocipedestrian Pete Roggeman BarryW

Jazzercise and Zumba action photos are pretty key to understand how I might look in these products.

Reply

jt
JT
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Cam McRae

Re: The Elevate knee pads. I have the previous generation and have the same bunching up at the top. I'm not thin o' leg but built more like a sprinter. I attribute it to the length of material above the pad. Having that extension seems like a good idea until they start creeping down. Maybe they're intended to be used in conjunction with shammies? In any case, the important bits are the pads stay in place, they're still comfy enough to pedal in, and they've saved my knees from bad contusions twice so far.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman

I have the previous generation as well, and they are my goldilocks perfect knee pad; light and breathable but with enough meat in that slab of D30 to actually offer some protection. But I almost always wear a chamois, so the extra length up top is nice in that it tucks up under the elastic of the chamois leg gripper and stays pretty stable.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I know Andrew likes the previous version as well. I wish I'd tried them to be able to compare but I suspect my knee cap requirement, combined with my long and lean legs, may have disqualified them for me as well.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

The chamois tuck for this style of pad is pretty critical, otherwise you need to do the work to find ones that fit for your leg shape and size - even then over time the elastic can weaken, giving you less margin. If you wear a chamois, run the top of the pad under it, provided it's long enough, and benefit from added positional security. If you don't wear a chamois, thin legs or wide ones can all have challenger and you may want a top strap to help.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Cam McRae

A wind break style ESJ needs to be able to stuff into itself and become its own K-way.

Now that we’re in the seasonal weather, it’s nice to start a ride with a light ESJ and then be able to take it off, strap it around the waist and carry on.

Reply

DadStillRides
DadStillRides
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cam McRae

Appreciate the no bs, honest reviews here. I think those x alps are some of the nicest looking mtb shoes on the market and have been curious about them for a while. Bummer to hear they are grip challenged.

Any comment on length of the pants? Seems like most bike specific pants are laughably short for tall folks like myself.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 DadStillRides

Cam can also comment here but I can help a bit - he's 6' tall with really long legs (I think his inseam is 35") so that may help you make a determination based on the photos. 

I like a longer pant cuff for cold or wet weather pants that fit around the ankle for rain run off, but don't mind if they're a little shorter for lightweight pants not intended for winter use.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 DadStillRides

The length is great. Nice and long to keep crap out. Even for me wearing a size medium. Not stylishly short like ilabb.

Reply

colinblevins@gmail.com
colinblevins@gmail.com
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I think PI lists the inseam at 33". I'm 6'3 and these are the only riding pants that have ever been long enough. Tall folks rejoice!

Reply

TristanC
TristanC
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I started wearing a pair of X-Alp Launch non-Mid (wow, that's a lot of descriptors) two weeks ago. Mostly road & gravel riding so far with some clowning around on forest & farm roads. Coming from 5.10 Trailcrosses, there was definitely less grip but they are much stiffer, which is what I wanted. It took a week or so to adjust to the lesser grip, but I either don't notice anymore or I've adjusted to it.

These are my first pair of Boa-equipped shoes, and I'm still on the fence too. It's slick, and you can tighten them while you're riding, but it seems a little fragile.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I’m quite sure the problem I have with the rocker in the forefoot would be less apparent in the low cut version since it seems the rocker issue appears mostly related to the upper preventing the toe from dipping down. It’s also possible I’d find the grip adequate - at least in the dry - after some more use. Glad they are working out for you!

Reply

snowsnake
Duncan Wright
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I unfortunately had those BOA fears confirmed on day 3 of riding the Elevates. Flipped a pedal trying to figure out a tech climb and it just snapped the cable in half.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

That’s some bad luck!

I bought a pair of crankbrothers mallet shoes with Boa this spring. Smashed the living crap out of the right shoe on my first ride. Scuffed up the Boa knob something fierce but otherwise it took the hit like a champ. 

My winter shoes are also Boa and I’ll have a hard time going back to laces. They’ve been durable and comfy.

Reply

Timer
Timer
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 @canopyclosure

I'd be weary of BOA closures as well. On a recent bike trip, one of the riders damaged a BOA closure from a rock strike. He was very lucky that he could put it back together and it kinda worked for the rest of the trip. Otherwise he would have missed out on a lot of great riding.

Reply

TristanC
TristanC
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Worst case, I guess you could duct tape or zip tie the shoe to your foot? I carry a straw with a couple feet of duct tape wrapped around it for stuff like that.

Reply

mrbrett
mrbrett
3 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

The BOA people offer a lifetime warranty. I was previously using a pair of S-Works MTB shoes as gravel shoes and eventually (10 years later) wore out the BOA ratchet. Filled out a form on the BOA site, and they sent me a set of replacement parts - no questions asked, no cost. 

Could be worth keeping a spare - if that's the only sticking point.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This is critical for people to know. Boa is easy to replace and the company is quick to help. Laces break as well. If you're out there, carry a spare.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Dare I ask what's going on with your chest?

Heat rash from the zumba? A pine cone stashed for dog throwing? 

Enquiring minds want to know.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

It does look weird. If you’d like to get intimate, I think it’s just chest hair poking through. I’m not sure why it looks like geometrical crop circles. Or maybe I’m wearing an under layer with some pattern? I don’t think so though because it was a warm day.

Reply

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