12-inch inseam; BOA dial for waistband adjustment; sewn-in chamois liner
Two zippered side pockets; laser-perforated vents for cooling; long enough to cover knee-pads
Chamois liner is non-removable; no hand pockets; tailored fit might not work for many body types
Whether it’s bib shorts, cool-weather jackets, or even just arm warmers, I have learned that I can always expect high quality from Pearl Izumi. The Women’s Elevate Short didn’t disappoint in that regard: The mountain bike shorts are crafted from super high-caliber 4-way stretch Cordura material and have thoughtful features like zippered side pockets. Yet they had a few quirks that I couldn’t get past, mainly the non-removable chamois liner (more on how I finally removed it later) and a funky fit.
Fit and finish
These shorts have a 12″ inseam, but they fit long. Like, mid-knee cap long. This is a really nice feature if you like to wear knee-pads when you ride because it doesn’t leave any flesh exposed. However, there’s a rub: The shorts have a really tapered fit, which, for me at least, made the knee pad feature a moot point. Pearl Izumi calls the fit “tailored,” but I’m not sure who it was tailored for.
While the waist/hips/bum of my normal size small fit nicely, by the time the shorts hit my knee, they were significantly more snug. This effect became especially pronounced as they stretched with use and the top half of the shorts became baggier while the bottom half around the knees stayed the same. I would say that maybe I should have sized down to avoid the ballooning effect as the shorts stretched with use, but then the knee openings would have been even tighter.
Despite my fit issues, the finish of these shorts is supreme. Pearl really nailed it with the 4-way stretch Cordura fabric; it’s both durable and stretchy enough to allow all of the moves that mountain biking requires. When splashing through river crossings, the PI Dry technology kept me dry — water simply beaded off the surface. The ‘Phantom’ color is a nice muted black that goes with anything.
The Elevate Short has a few features that I loved and a few that I didn’t. Let’s start with the love.
Zippered pockets! On both legs! With a design that shifts contents to the back of the legs for pedaling comfort! Do the exclamation marks make it clear that I am very happy with this feature? As someone who likes to stop frequently on the trail to take photos, being able to stash my phone securely in a pocket and not have it bounce up and down on my leg while I’m pedaling is a huge plus. These pockets really do have you forgetting that whatever you’ve put in them is there. The shorts don’t have any traditional hand pockets, which I think I have decided is not a big deal.
What is a big deal however?
A non-removable chamois liner. I was a little WTF when I saw this feature because A) I don’t like wearing a chamois when I mountain bike and B) even if I did, I would find this very annoying. Before I ended up cutting the little tabs at the waist that attached the liner (a fact I am loathe to admit), I wore the shorts as-is.
It was really annoying. I mean, imagine if your very tight, tiny underwear was sewn to the waistband of your jeans. It makes both getting into and out of the shorts challenging, especially if you are sweaty and trying to pee on the side of the trail. It’s too bad that Pearl decided to do this, even if it were in an effort to keep the shell laying smoothly over the liner. Both the shell and the liner worked beautifully when I detached them from one another. Furthermore, the liner, Pearl’s women’s 1:1 ELITE Escape Chamois, is very nice.
The other most notable feature of the Elevate Short is the BOA dial for waistband adjustments. It sits squarely in the middle of the waistband, at the back, and amazingly did not bother me at all. I wore the shorts with both a fanny pack and a backpack, neither of which jammed the BOA into my back.
Now, whether the BOA is an innovation that I can’t live without. . .jury’s out. As it does with your shoes, the dial can make micro-adjustments that other waist-cinching systems can’t, and actually, since the shorts stretched so much, I did appreciate this. However, I also have shorts with velcro straps and hook-and-webbing adjustment systems, and those work fine, as well. They also don’t look quite as futuristic, which might just be the simple truth of why I’m not sold on it.
Although the fit and the chamois bugged me, these shorts really do perform well on the trail. The pockets, the bomber material, the length, and the laser-perforated vents for cooling — everything worked really well while on the bike. The shorts can take a beating, but they’re also stretchy and breathable, features that’s don’t always play well together. Even the BOA kinda won me over in the end. I just don’t think they fit me perfectly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fit you.