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On test: Pearl Izumi Gavia PRO jacket and Gavia Plus tights, February 2, 2009
Protection against winter's worst
Pearl Izumi is one of the longest running names in cycling apparel and Cyclingnews technical editor James Huang pits some of its top-end kit against a Colorado winter.
Pearl Izumi made its name in cycling back in the 1990s through its use of highly technical fabrics and the trend continues more than a decade later. Generous use of AmFIB wind- and waterproof laminates in its newest Gavia PRO jacket and Gavia Plus tight provide excellent barriers against cold and moisture but a few fundamental flaws keep them from occupying higher rungs on our ladder.
Unlike many jackets currently on the market that use wind- and water-resistant materials up front but more breathable panels out back, the Gavia PRO jacket opts for maximum protection by using AmFIB Ultra throughout the entire garment along with a full DWR (durable water-repellent) coating.
Even with just a short-sleeved and lightweight wool base layer underneath, we found the Gavia PRO pleasantly toasty on road rides at 35° F - at least when the sun was shining on our sample's black hue - and the fuzzy brushed interior is comfortable on bare skin. The semi-form fit cut leaves enough room for a long-sleeved jersey when necessary, too, and the full-length wind flap behind the front zipper and adjustable closures on the wrist also do a good job of sealing out drafts.
Surprisingly, the ample warmth doesn't come with a penalty of weight, bulk or breathability, either. Its 355g weight isn't too far off from some shells we've tested and the material is impressively thin and stretchy. Though the AmFIB Ultra fabric seems to evacuate excess heat and moisture fairly well, we would still prefer to see some optional venting as hard workouts can overwhelm the jacket's capabilities.
We're perplexed by the Gavia PRO's cut, though, as it fits noticeably better standing upright than on the bike - not good for a cycling-specific garment. The lower hem is a bit too high up front, strangely loose fitting on the body and there are no grippers to help keep it in place. The internal elastic around the rear is a nice thought but the opening has far too much girth for it to be useful. Moreover, the neck opening is also a bit too broad and low.
On a road bike in particular, the front of the body sags significantly (though this is somewhat expected given the stated 'semi form fit') and there is a lot of excess material bunched up around the front of the waist. There is little risk of cold air coming up from the bottom of the loose hem as long as you're moving forward but add in a stiff crosswind or swirling winter breeze and it's a different story. We also can't help but wonder if the jacket's good breathability marks are due more to the open bottom than the high-tech AmFIB material.
Making matters worse are the two zippered rear pockets. Their side-access orientation makes it easier to get at your stuff in theory but it also increases the likelihood of losing your gear on the road if you're not careful to zip them up - which is all that much harder given the fact that the hem doesn't want to stay put when you tug on the zipper. On the upside, the pockets are disappointingly small so at least you won't lose that much stuff anyway…
The tights offer a similarly hardy barrier against the elements though Pearl Izumi has to use a wider range of AmFIB variants - and a lot more seam - to do so given the more complex fit requirements. Unlike the Gavia PRO jacket, though, Pearl Izumi only uses the fuzzy MicroSensor-Thermal liner from the back of the knees upward and only the front and back of the upper section and inner half of the thighs are given the DWR treatment.
Even so, the Gavia Plus tights are still admirably warm in just-above-freezing temperatures and are a good match with the Gavia PRO jacket though its tighter fit obviously precludes the use of any additional insulation beneath if it's much colder. The DWR treatment protects well against road spray from the rear wheel but its curious omission on the lower legs - which are especially prone to spray from the front wheel deflected off of the down tube - means that it doesn't take long for that region to get soaked.
To be fair, that region is still protected with AmFIB laminate but if Pearl Izumi truly intends for the Gavia Plus to be a 'cold and wet' garment and not just a 'cold' one, some surface water repellency down below would be good to have.
Unfortunately, the Gavia Plus tights also suffer from some basic pattern oversights and fit better standing upright than on a bike (is this stuff designed for cycling or running?). The waist is cut far too high - even in the rear - and the height is maintained all the way around to the front where there is at least 50mm of excess material. Not only does this create some uncomfortable bunching throughout the midsection but it also makes the tights prone to slippage especially since the chamois-free configuration also requires you to wear a pair of slippery shorts beneath.
Sure, there is a drawcord on hand but unless you're planning on cinching it tight around your liver - instead of the bony protrusions above your pelvis where it actually has some purchase - expect to tug up on these things a few times during your ride and best of luck to you if you plan on using these off-road where the inevitably saggy crotch will invariably snag on the saddle.
Gripper elastic is limited solely to the zippered ankles though the openings aren't tight enough to actually grip on to anything. The fit around the knees is also a bit looser than we would prefer but we can forgive the issue in this case as stretch laminate materials are notoriously difficult to use in that area and we have yet to see anyone totally nail it.
Just to make sure we weren't crazy, we also tried on a smaller sample as we fell right in between two sizes. The girth was markedly reduced as expected and the fit around the knees improved but the limited-stretch AmFIB fabric then felt almost too tight on our 1.73m, 70kg (5' 9", 155lb) tester's build. However, the waistband was still nearly the same height, the ankles were still looser than they should be and oddly enough, the length didn't change much at all.
Could be better
All in all, the Pearl Izumi Gavia PRO jacket and Gavia Plus tights provide very good protection against the weather but a number of disappointing issues on each overshadow what would otherwise be quality garments. The jacket will serve casual riders well overall - especially those in wetter climates - but even recreational riders will likely be disappointed with the fit of the tights. Never mind the fact that neither garments' near-US$200 price tags are likely to appeal to that decidedly budget-minded audience. Racer-types will probably want to pass altogether though the bib version of the Gavia Plus tights might work ok.
Basic fit issues are more common - and sometimes expected - from newcomers on the scene who don't have the benefit of experience or for far less expensive pieces but wholly unforgiveable from someone with as rich a history and as deep a level of experience as Pearl Izumi. Come on guys, we expect better.
Pearl Izumi Gavia PRO jacket
Pearl Izumi Gavia Plus tight
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Marty Caivano