Exclusive Factory Tour: Pearl Izumi – Louisville, Colorado

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Within the realm of logic and reason, there is a principle known as Occam’s Razor. It states that, “All other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.” Origins of this edict are not definitive, but variations of the concept have been traced as far back as the time of Aristotle around 350 B.C. The concept’s name comes from William of Occam, an English philosopher who lived in the 1300s and was a frequent proponent of efficient reasoning. In subsequent years, Occam’s Razor has been embraced in various forms by the fields of science, philosophy, medicine, religion, law — and the design and manufacture of cycling apparel.

Indeed, Occam’s Razor has become a key axiom in the ongoing revitalization at Pearl Izumi, a sea change that was on full display during RoadBikeReview’s recent daylong tour of the apparel maker’s headquarters, which is situated on the windswept prairie a dozen miles east of Boulder, Colorado.

“There was a time not that long ago when this company had lost site of what its focus should be,” explained design manager Darren Zrubek, who was hired to help right the proverbial ship. “Everything was geared toward taking care of large accounts and getting product to market fast. Pearl Izumi had become an operationally driven company, where the mandate was, on time, on price, get it, ship it. The unfortunate result was a scattered product line, where things just didn’t tie together. Sure we still had some great product, but men’s was different than women’s, tri was different than cycling. It was all over the place and it was confusing to the consumer.”

To get this massive train back on its rails (Pearl Izumi has upwards of 300 styles, resulting in thousands of skus when you account for sizes and colors), Zrubek and the approximately 120 people who make up the Pearl Izumi workforce, have been tasked with returning the company to its roots.

“Pearl Izumi started in 1950 with a father making a synthetic bike racing jersey for his son because he saw a need for something better,” continued Zrubek. “That is who this company is. We were born out of competition, so the brand has already decided who we are. We just needed to embrace our heritage and be proud of it. We make stuff for on the bike, for on the trail, for running. That’s it. The simplest solution is the right solution.”

That simple solution is being combined with two core brand philosophies: one-to-one and ride 365. “One-to-one is the idea of creating anatomic design solutions that synchronize with the body. Ride 365 represents protection from external environments in all conditions,” explained Zrubek. “So we have jerseys that block the sun, and soft shells that keep you warm in cold weather, and new shoe with monofilament that’s light weight and super breathable.”

This simple solution thinking is manifest in other ways as well. Flip through Pearl Izumi’s latest spring/summer cycling apparel catalog, and you’re quickly immersed in “Color Stories,” a fancy way of saying that products within a line that have various functions at various price points are still tied together in easy-to-discern visual ways. For example, there’s a whole line-up of white/grey/cherry tomato-colored apparel. Or if you’re a little more flamboyant, go for the black/electric blue and match your jersey to bib shorts to gloves to shoes.

“The idea is to make sure that the entire design language flows through the line,” explained Jon Knoll, Pearl’s global category manager. “And at the same time make sure there is consistency. If you are a size Large in a P.R.O. level jersey, you should be a large throughout the line. That wasn’t always necessarily the case before.”

Of course this isn’t just a color story. While Knoll acknowledges that major advances in apparel technology will be more prevalent in 2014, he proudly points out features like patented contour-fit sleeve designs, a quick-lock zipper that can be undone with one hand, and fabric that’s specially treated with xylitol, a naturally occurring substance that absorbs body heat while you exercise.

“It’s the same substance that’s in chewing gum,” added Knoll. “It gives you a cooling effect that reduces body temperature by up to 5 degrees.”

Knoll and his colleagues have also been tasked with making sure some of these high-end features are spread throughout the line. “Honestly, it’s easy to make really expensive stuff,” he said. “I can make the best $200 jersey in the world. But to also make a $50 jersey that works well. That’s the real challenge. We have spent a lot of time and effort working in that area because that’s where real volume is. So we push the limits with our P.R.O. line, then let it trickle down.”

Those advanced features are part of the reason Pearl Izumi cycling jerseys will adorn the backs of the 2013 BMC Pro Team, which includes the likes Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen, Thor Hushovd, and reigning world champion Philippe Gilbert. Keeping this group of elite pros happy is the job of Ted Barber, Pearl Izumi’s director of advanced development.

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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • Eric Huber says:

    Same here. I 1st bought a pair of their bibs years ago. They still work just fine. Their shoes are not half bad either.

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