The brand new Levitate chamois is one of the better options available on the market. The Pro bib shorts themselves are also comfortable but could benefit from a more complex front panel to enhance the fit.
Excellent Levitate Pro chamois
Comfortable shoulder straps
Super soft fabric
Front panel needs better patterning
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Bib shorts can make or break your time on a bike. The right design helps you feel comfortable and confident whether your ride is an hour or two through town or an epic journey across a country. Not only do you need a chamois that keeps your sit bones from bruising but you need a design that helps move moisture away from your body. Then, when it comes to the fabric and patterns everything has to be just right so that it all fits well, looks good, and there are no errant seams to chafe. Given how complex, and important, all of these design decisions can be, we've put together a list of the best cycling shorts available.
Our list has a ton of great options but one company that hasn't yet made an appearance is Pearl Izumi. For the 2022 model year, Pearl Izumi is making a big play to be one of the best options available for those who want to ride all day. The new Levitate chamois uses a multi-density design that the brand makes some bold claims about. Over the last few months, we've spent time putting those claims to the test, so if you're considering a new bib short, keep reading to see our thoughts on the Pearl Izumi Pro.
Design and aesthetics
Pearl Izumi offers three bibs in the PRO lineup with each catering to a different category of rider. If your riding takes you well off the beaten path then you'll want to take a look at the Expedition PRO short. If you spend more time riding on the hottest days and want the lightest design available then take a look at the PRO air bib short. That leaves these, the PRO bib short, as the all-around option.
What connects all these options is the brand new Levitate PRO chamois design, which represents a big investment for Pearl Izumi and they break down the technology in three different ways. The first thing that they cover is the multi-density nature of the design. What Pearl Izumi asserts as different is a specific density mix that keeps the chamois from completely bottoming out. The idea is similar to what Castelli does with the gel it uses in the Progetto X2 Air seamless chamois. Pearl Izumi has a different take on it though. Instead of using gel, it starts with a higher density foam against the skin and then transitions to a slightly lower density against the saddle. The strategy is an attempt to create a linear range of motion as the chamois compresses.
The next point of differentiation with the Levitate Pro chamois is a central pressure relief channel. This concept is the same idea as a saddle like the Fabric Line-S. There's a break in the highest density foam that runs down the centre of the chamois padding. It actually looks a lot like a saddle in silhouette.
The last set of features that set the Levitate Pro apart are actually two different concepts that work together. The top layer of the pad uses a soft, dense, fabric that's only attached to the two foam layers at the front and the back. Assos uses a similar front and rear only attachment strategy in their bibs but Pearl Izumi puts the attachment points farther in from the edges of the top layer than Assos does.
The other partner feature here is the shaping of the foam layers. There are no hard edges as the foam transitions from one layer to the other. Instead, Pearl Izumi cuts away the foam at an angle to create a smooth transition from one layer to the next. It works in parallel with the upper boundary layer so that against the skin everything is soft and smooth.
Although the update to this year's Pearl Izumi Pro bib short was all about the new chamois design, there is more to what makes a bib short. The rest of the design uses seven panels according to Pearl Izumi but I'd call it eight. The way that breaks down is that each thigh has an outer panel and a panel that wraps around the inside and heads up to the low back. The panel that sits at the low back also makes up the straps that sit across the back. Each of the front straps is a separate piece and the final panel covers the low stomach. Every edge uses a raw, unfinished, cut and the inside of each thigh has silicone grip material printed on it.
The first impression and the lasting impression of the Pearl Izumi Pro bib short is all about the next to skin feel. The fabric in use is the same throughout the whole piece and it is a joy to touch. I've been wearing these multiple times a week for months and even after all that time, and all those wash cycles, it feels incredible to touch the fabric.
What's notable about this fabric is that it's used in the bib straps as well. This is a strategy that I've seen Pearl Izumi use in other bibs of theirs I've spent time in but it still feels unusual to me. The fabric has less structure than the dedicated strap material other brands use but Pearl Izumi counters this by adding structure with a connection between the rear straps at the upper back. It's a strategy that pays off with a barely-there feel but plenty of support. Just make sure you tie it in a loose knot before washing or it can wrap around the agitator.
When it comes to the chamois design the impression of next to skin feel is again the dominant one. The fabric used for the boundary layer is dense, with an almost foam-like feel, and incredibly soft. It feels good even after a long day of riding and the multi-density foam does as promised and keeps your sit-bones from bruising.
If you've spent time in other Pearl Izumi clothes, you'll want to double-check your fit in these. I found it consistent with other brands but Pearl Izumi has a reputation for being a bit looser fit. I would have worn the same size in both situations but if you are more sensitive to a tight fit you'd want to consider sizing up.
These are bibs I wear a lot of the time. They've become my workhorse bibs that I grab day in and day out when I need to put in the hours on weekly training rides. They've handled a lot of wash cycles and they continue to be incredibly comfortable. The bib straps that use the same, comfortable, material as the rest of the design are a definite high point.
The one thing that holds the Pearl Izumi Pro bib shorts back a little is the patterning in the front panel. Getting that part right in any garment - especially a skin-tight performance garment - is a difficult challenge. In this case the design leans towards minimizing panels, and by extension, seams, to control chafing. In that regard it works very well. The chamois is part of that too and all the pieces come together for a very comfortable garment. It's just not the most flattering look when off the bike. More sophisticated patterning could accomplish both design goals and it would make these a better piece overall.
Despite that one negative, the Pearl Izumi Pro bib shorts are worth a look. If you are looking for a bib short that's comfortable against the skin, or if you find the straps used by other companies uncomfortable, those are both great reasons to give the Pro bib shorts a chance. You can also rest assured that the chamois design is one of the best out there.
Tech Specs: Pearl Izumi PRO bib short
- Price: $225.00 / £189.99
- Materials: 46% nylon, 38% polyester, 16% LYCRA® elastane
- Weight: 173g grams in size small
- Size availability: S-XXL
- Colour Options: Dark Ink Hatch Palm, Cacoa Scrib, Dark Ink, Black
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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutiae of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Salsa Warbird, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx