Always gotta go #2 right before a ride or race? Pearl Izumi’s got your number

Drop tails for all, please!

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Quick show of hands: how many of you have frantically yanked off jerseys and jackets in a gnarly bathroom or porta-potty in a desperate attempt to, uh, shed some weight right before a big ride or race? 

So-called drop tails on bib shorts have become a lot more popular in recent years on women’s bib shorts because of how they let you go to the bathroom without peeling off all of your other layers. Thanks to a variety of clever strap arrangements, you can just pop a squat, peel the back of your shorts down below your butt, and go about your business. 

But now, Pearl Izumi has brought the drop-tail to men’s shorts with the introduction of its new Expedition Pro bibs, which feature a similarly novel strap arrangement that allows you to drop trow without having to pull off any upper layers to undo the straps. The drop tail design is also featured on the new Expedition Pro Grodeo Suit — basically a pseudo-skinsuit — and as is seemingly required for gravel-centric clothing, both feature a bunch of extra pockets, particularly on the legs. 

Pearl Izumi is debuting the Levitate line of chamois across 12 new shorts for the coming season.

While that new drop-tail feature might garner the most obvious attention, Pearl Izumi has also been hard at work on the inside, with a new Levitate chamois design incorporated across a comprehensively redesigned range of shorts for men and women.

“Like built-in suspension”

The top-end Levitate Pro pad — used on all the new Pro-level shorts — incorporates a number of interesting features, such as a particularly wide top sheet to help reduce friction (especially when you’re on the nose of the saddle), a higher foam density in the top layer to distribute pressure over a larger area, and a smaller and slightly lower-density foam insert underneath the upper layer of foam that Pearl Izumi claims to behave like a bit of built-in suspension.

The feature call-outs sound a little over the top. However, what’s arguably most important is the higher foam density.

Although the upper sheet of the chamois is stitched to the body of the short all around the perimeter, that Suspension Core lower insert is only attached at the front and rear, “so that the two layers can move independently.” The edges of the upper sheet are cut with a knife instead of a laser to minimize any heat-related roughness, and there’s also a channel built into the top of the pad for additional soft-tissue pressure relief.

According to Pearl Izumi, the idea with Levitate wasn’t to just add more padding. Instead, the use of higher-density foams supposedly provides more effective padding since it doesn’t fully compress right away like common low-density foams, all without adding awkward-feeling bulkiness. 

The top sheets offer very ample coverage in general, but certainly as compared to Pearl Izumi’s previous pads.

This Levitate concept is offered in three different pad models. 

The Levitate Pro gets all the bells and whistles, including an extra-stretchy top sheet, the most contoured shape, the highest foam densities, that Suspension Core insert, and lots of perforations in the foam to boost breathability. The base-level Levitate pad looks similar, but has with a flatter and less-stretchy top sheet, and no additional Suspension Core insert. Both pads get that fancy knife-cut outer edge and relief channel down the middle, and Pearl Izumi has specific Levitate chamois models for men’s and women’s shorts.

The base-level Levitate chamois makes do with a less-stretchy top sheet and omits the additional layer of foam, but retains some of the other features.

Prices for the new Levitate-equipped shorts range from US$55-285, topping out with a new Pro Air Bib Short that’s specifically designed for use in hot weather. The fancy Expedition Pro Grodeo Suit retails for US$300. Pricing in other currencies is to be confirmed. Sizes for most of the men’s shorts run from S-XXL, and XS-XXL for the women’s shorts. Base-model Quest shorts add an additional XXXL size for both.

First impressions

Pearl Izumi sent me a sample of the Pro Bib Short and the Expedition Pro Bib Short several weeks before sending any supporting information, so it was interesting trying to figure out what made these any different from previous attempts. 

Pearl Izumi may not make a big deal of how thick this thing is, but make no mistake: it’s markedly fat. However, it doesn’t come across nearly as bulky as you’d expect in terms of either how it feels on your body or what it’s like in the saddle.

Thicker chamois can sometimes be akin to a poorly-fitted diaper, all chunky and awkward. But the Levitate Pro is surprisingly good at conforming to your anatomy. It may be thick, but there are no weird crinkles or folds, and the whole thing just stays put where it should once you’ve got everything settled.

In the saddle, I can’t say if that denser two-layer foam provides the suspension effect that Pearl Izumi claims, but it does sort of feel like there’s a little more isolation between the saddle and your butt — almost like you’ve switched saddle models. Whereas lower-density foams in many other chamois have always struck me as more show than go, whatever Pearl Izumi is using in the Levitate Pro seems more effective.

The so-called “Expedition” models feature extra pockets on the legs and lower back. Because obviously, riding gravel means carrying more stuff. And by the way, neither of the riders pictured here are me.

Either way, chafing hasn’t been an issue at all (though I should point out that it’s currently winter here in Colorado and I haven’t done any rides longer than 2 1/2 hours). 

The fit of the short bodies was spot-on for my medium frame: not too tight, not at all sloppy, and just-right on the leg length (at least for me). Bonus points for the clean-cut leg edges and well thought-out gripper design that stays put without creating the dreaded sausage leg, too. The stitch-free straps are also pleasantly stretchy and should accommodate a wide range of torso lengths, and I’ve noted a bunch of areas where Pearl Izumi has taken the time to add extra stitching reinforcement, which bodes well for long-term durability.

And the drop-tail thing? Well, I haven’t done any events or big group rides in the past few weeks, but suffice to say I’ve done my best to test that feature properly. It works.

It’s obviously far too early for me to draw any real long-term conclusions here, but so far, so good. Fingers crossed for an early spring so I can really get outside with these things.

More information can be found at www.pearlizumi.com.

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