The Pearl Izumi Elevate shorts have been updated for 2018, and just barely missed out on our Top Pick for Gravity Riders Award. Made from durable material with a quality construction, the Elevate's long inseam and baggy fit make them great for more gravity oriented mountain biking pursuits. The long inseam and wide leg openings play well with knee pads but are less than ideal for extended periods of pedaling; those with an affinity for climbing would be better off looking elsewhere. That said, if you prefer a longer and baggier fit, or spend time riding lifts or doing shuttle laps, then this is an excellent pair of shorts to consider.
Pearl Izumi Elevate Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Long inseam, work well with knee pads, durable water resistant material, quality construction
Cons: Sizing runs big, very baggy, warm
Manufacturer: Pearl Izumi
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Pearl Izumi is one of the biggest brands in cycling clothing, and they have a long history of making some of the industry's best cycling gear. The Elevate shorts were recently updated but still feature the durable material, quality construction, and long and baggy fit of the previous version. We tested the new Elevate shorts for a couple of months this spring on all types of trails and in a variety of weather conditions. Overall, we found them to lack the versatility of some of the other shorts in our test selection, but they are indeed well suited to gravity oriented riding where coverage and protection are a higher priority than pedaling efficiency.
Boasting the longest inseam of all the shorts in our test selection (15 inches), the Elevate shorts are long and hang below the knee. Thought they have a baggy fit, they are tailored in a way that doesn't look especially loose — but they are noticeably roomier when compared to slimmer fitting shorts like the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated or the Club Ride Crush. Our test pair of shorts is a solid light blue color in the front with a Pearl Izumi logo on the outside of the knee on both legs.
The back of the shorts is black, so they have a bit of a color blocking look, but the dark back panels are a good design choice to prevent staining from mud on the seat of the shorts. The shorts aren't especially flashy like the bright colors of the 100% Airmatic, nor do they look moto-inspired like the Troy Lee Ruckus, but they do look like a pair of mountain bike shorts. The Elevate shorts are available in two colorways, the Arctic/Black color we tested and a solid Black as well.
Pearl Izumi has equipped the Elevate shorts with three zippered pockets. Two of these are hand pockets, one on each side at the top of the thigh, that are large enough to hold a cell phone or wallet. Testers found these pockets to be most useful when not riding the bike, as they held their contents in a less than ideal location while pedaling. There is also a third pocket located on the Elevate, centered on the waistband on the lower back. This pocket is rather small and fits some money or maybe a credit card or ID, but testers didn't find it to be all that useful. This back pocket is also not in a great spot if you ride with a fanny pack or a hydration pack that sits low on your back.
There are no belt loops on the Elevate shorts, but like most mountain bike shorts they have an adjustable waist tensioning system. These adjustable straps are located on the inside of the waistband and offer several inches of waist adjustment. This internal location of the adjustment straps works just fine, but they are much less easy to adjust mid-ride than shorts with an externally adjustable system like those found on the Specialized Enduro Pro or the 100% Airmatic. Two beefy metal snaps and a zipper fly round out the closure of the shorts, and there is some silicone grip along the inside of the waistband at the lower back. The Elevate shorts do not offer much in the way of ventilation other than a couple of small mesh panels located down by the knee on both legs.
Pearl Izumi has seemingly designed the Elevate shorts with durability in mind, and the main body of the shorts is constructed of a 4-way stretch ripstop fabric. The stretch of the fabric is readily apparent, as is the toughness of the fabric which feels a little burlier and rougher in hand than that of other shorts in our test selection like the Race Face Trigger or the Dakine Boundary shorts.
The Elevate shorts are also treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to repel water and mud; this was appreciated after muddy rides, as the shorts clean up very easily with no residual staining of the fabric. Quality control at Pearl Izumi seems pretty high, and these shorts were very well finished. The craftsmanship and durable fabric of these shorts show no signs of abuse; they look as new as the day we got them even after hundreds of miles of use.
Featuring the longest inseam of any shorts we tested, the Elevate shorts offer more in the way of leg coverage than the competition. That coverage, coupled with the burly fabric, offers the rider more leg protection from trailside hazards like branches or bushes. In our protection metric, we rated the Troy Lee Ruckus slightly higher due to the even thicker fabric they used, but the Elevate has the most coverage of any shorts we tested. The fit of the Elevate is also optimized to work well with knee pads, with large leg openings that can accommodate even the bulkiest of pads.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
The Elevate shorts did not score well in our pedal friendliness metric, and this is primarily due to the long and baggy fit. The protection enhancing the length of the inseam is a detriment to their pedaling performance as the shorts extend past the knee even when seated and pedaling. The overlap of the knee joint of the shorts inhibits the pedal stroke ever so slightly, and the material rubs on the top of your kneecap with every turn of the cranks. Pearl Izumi has made the seam on the front of the knee more pedal-friendly by using a flat welded seam with no stitching, but it still isn't great for extended periods of pedaling.
The baggy nature of the shorts also gave them more wind resistance than those with a slimmer fit, and the leg holes and material were prone to catching wind. Shorts with slightly shorter inseams, more contoured fits, and softer fabrics, like the Race Face Trigger, proved to be preferred for pedal friendliness. Testers also found the shorts to run big compared to the other brands in our test. They are available in even waist sizes 28-38.
Overall, we found the Elevate shorts to be reasonably comfortable. The stretch fabric and loose fit provide plenty of freedom of movement. Our first comfort related gripe with the Elevate is their lack of ventilation. This lack of ventilation isn't as big of a concern for gravity oriented riders, whom these shorts are best suited for, but if you live anywhere that is hot, or you like to pedal uphill, the heavier fabric and lack of vents on these shorts make them warmer than most.
There are two small mesh panels located down by the knee, one on each side, but testers found these small and poorly placed vents to do little, if anything, to cool down these shorts. If you happen to live in a cooler climate where temps rarely break the 70-degree mark, then these shorts might be more appropriate. There is not a chamois liner included with the Elevate shorts, but we would highly recommend using one to enhance your comfort on the bike.
We found the Elevate shorts to be best suited to gravity oriented riding, where pedaling efficiency is less of a concern that a roomy fit, good coverage, and knee pad compatibility. They will work for any type of riding, but the length, loose fit, and lack of ventilation of these shorts is less ideal for warmer temperatures and extended periods of pedaling.
At a retail price of $100, the Elevate shorts aren't exactly cheap, but they aren't on the high end of the spectrum either. They aren't the most versatile shorts out there, but for the right consumer, we feel the durability and quality construction of these shorts makes them a good value.
They aren't for everyone, but we think the Pearl Izumi Elevate shorts are a great choice for gravity riders who will appreciate the loose fit, durable fabric, leg coverage, and knee pad compatibility they offer. That said, testers found the length to be less pedal friendly for riders who love long rides, and the lack of ventilation to be a little too hot for warmer climates.
— Jeremy Benson