Pearl Izumi waist shorts: US vs Japan

A good pair of cycling shorts is a road cyclist’s friend when it comes to comfort while riding on a road bike. While there are shorts for all sorts of budgets, it’s one item you can really appreciate spending a bit more on.

Among brands, one of the more popular ones is Japanese firm Pearl Izumi. Having had its start in the 1950s, the clothing brand’s US and European operations were bought out by the American subsidiary of bicycle component juggernaut Shimano in 2008. Curiously though, this doesn’t seem to have affected its Japanese and Asian operations.

Pearl Izumi’s US-market Quest shorts kept me comfortable, even on the 210 km Subic-Masinloc-Subic ride.

After having had a few pairs and generally great experiences with their cycling waist shorts, all of which are from their cheapest Quest lineup sold in the US market, I received word that Pearl Izumi was setting up local distribution within the Philippines late last year. Recruiting a number of popular local bike shops, such as Bike Town Cyclery and The Brick Multisport, they started selling shorts and jerseys.

I noticed that the shorts in particular aren’t exactly the same as the Quest ones I had in my closet. Apparently, Pearl Izumi decided to bring in its Japanese market product lineup here.

There are three tiers of 3D-E waist shorts, so named for the chamois pad they use. The more exotic models boast a Coldblack material which is UV-resistant and supposedly reduces heat. The cheapest are the “Comfort Pants” shorts, taken from the Japanese “Basic Grade” collection. These are analogous to the US-market Quest line – even down to the price. These Japan-made shorts are PhP2500 per pair. While the China-made Quest shorts are a couple hundred pesos cheaper, once you work in the shipping fees, they are priced roughly identical to each other. At least with the Comfort shorts, you won’t have to wait the minimum couple weeks for them to arrive.

Having bought both the Quest and Comfort shorts, I decided to write about their main differences.

US-market Quest shorts on the left, Japan-market Comfort shorts on the right. It’s the Comfort shorts that are locally available.

The most obvious difference between the Quest and Comfort shorts is the stitching. The Comfort shorts have a zigzag pattern, while the Quest shorts sport a more typical flatlock stitching throughout. Being the cheapest US-market model, the Quest shorts are made up of six panels. More expensive models break up the shorts into more panels to improve overall fit. The Comfort shorts are made with eight panels, the added pair going into the inner thigh.

It’s not readily apparent, but the Comfort shorts are actually slightly longer in the leg. You would think the Asian market garment would have the smaller sizing, but no – both these shorts are a size L. Apart from the leg length difference, they fit me exactly the same.

 

Increasingly sophisticated ways of securing the leg openings to the thighs have been deployed on cycling shorts over the years. These are attempts to solve the problems of shorts hiking up cyclists’ legs over time, and the general discomfort and lack of flattery among lady cyclists getting the “sausage legs” look from a too-tight grip on the thigh.

On the Quest shorts, little dots of silicone run through the leg openings and act as grippers. These are very effective, even if you order one size larger by mistake like I did. One of my Quest shorts is a size XL, and it’s only really evident in the slightly longer leg and the higher waist. The former is taken care of by the spandex material and the silicone dots, while the latter is hidden underneath my jersey most times anyway.

By contrast, the Comfort shorts use gripper bands of elastic material around the leg openings, which is about a finger’s width. It seems slightly lower tech, as the fashion has moved towards either using much wider gripper bands, or using no elastic at all. In practice however, the Comfort shorts grippers are judged perfectly. I don’t get the sausage leg look, and it’s not so tight as to constrict my thighs’ blood vessels, but not so loose as to let the spandex hike up my thighs.

Speaking of the material of the shorts, the Quest shorts are 88% nylon and 12% elastane (spandex/Lycra), and feel smoother and simpler, while the Comfort shorts feel a little plusher and more velvety, and made up of a slightly different blend of 80% nylon and 20% polyurethane, of which spandex/elastane is one type. Both claim the material offers sweat wicking properties and UV resistance equivalent to a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50.

The heart of any cycling short is the chamois or pad; indeed, some people say the whole point of the shorts is to properly locate the pad against the anatomy of your groin, perineum and buttocks. Despite the color and origin differences, the pad is roughly identical. The Quest shorts’ “Tour 3D” pad has more pronounced grooves so that, in theory, it can move better with you without bunching up. That said, the Comfort shorts’ “3D-E” pad does just as well.

Location is perfect – you want most of the pad on your sit bones, while offering just enough forward projection to serve as a modesty panel for your groin. Any more than that and it’s useless bulk. Both shorts deliver here – no chafing or hot spots to report. The litmus test of a good chamois is you shouldn’t notice it at all underneath you.

Photo shot with flash to show the reflective logos.

Finally we come to detailing. Both have reflective Pearl Izumi logos but carry them in different places. The Comfort shorts have discreet logos, one on each forward side of the leg. In contrast, the logos on the Quest shorts are twice as large. They’re situated on the forward side of the left leg and on the left waist at the rear. In practice, I would rather have had this logo around the leg area instead – it’s often covered up by the bottom hem of my jersey.

Photo shot with flash to show the reflective logos.

Paying the price for well-made cycling shorts may not sit well with some readers. Personally it means I can keep pedaling without thinking about my comfort, or worse, wincing in pain from chafing or saddle sores. My oldest pair of Quest shorts is two years old, and it’s still going strong after many kilometers. I’m glad to see that Pearl Izumi’s products are much more easily accessible while eliminating the wait of freight and retaining the same price – it could have easily become more expensive with local distribution.

Whether Quest or Comfort, Pearl Izumi’s basic waist shorts are excellent and highly recommended.

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