Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: lightweight men's bike jerseys do battle

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: subtle style meets light and airy comfort in this road cycling jersey face-off

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey
(Image credit: Freewheel UK)

Pearl Izumi Pro Air versus Shimano Evolve Jersey is a hotly contested battle between two exceptionally comfortable and lightweight cycling jerseys that have been designed with both speed and longer rides in mind. 

Both of these excellent cycling jerseys have been thoroughly designed and tested to offer a lightweight, breathable and anatomically fitting experience for the rider, which in plain terms means you slip through the air like a greased eel on your fancy road bike.

Let's face it, most road cycling jerseys follow a similar blueprint, namely in the tight fit, zip at the front and three cargo pockets at the rear and these two big dawgs are no different. 

In essence, it comes down to the small details that make the big differences - the fabric chosen, cut of the jersey and little additional extras, such as waterproof pockets, silicone grippers and reflective elements.

Guess what? Both the Pearl Izumi Pro Air and the Shimano Evolve pack plenty of these minor details, so let's get stuck in.

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: price and availability

In the UK you can purchase both the Pearl Izumi Pro Air and the Shimano Evolve Jersey from Freewheel UK for £199 and £149.99 respectively. 

American customers can also purchase Pearl Izumi kit direct from their site, where it retails at $200. Multiple sites in the US also sell the Shimano Evolve jersey, with prices ranging from $110 to $150.

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: materials and fit

Both jerseys are cut to fit snugly against the skin, as they both look and feel extremely racy straight out of the packet. Shimano's Evolve jersey is arguably the tightest here, but that's because it features certain panels that have been specially designed to promote the perfect cycling posture when on the bike.

In short, the rear panel has enough stretch so that it doesn't become overly tight when you are tucked up in full aero mode, while the arms similarly move freely as you change positions on the bar. That said, it is tight on the arms, and caused a red line on my biceps. Maybe I need to stop working out?

Pearl Izumi's Pro Air Jersey is fantastically lightweight and basically feels like riding naked (or at least shirtless). Although similar to the Shimano in terms of its snugness, it actually feels slightly less cloying thanks to the fact it is so light.

Fabric-wise, the Pearl Izumi offering is arguably the most technical, featuring Italian knit and ultra-lightweight French-made stretch woven Pro Transfer fabric with something called "In-Rcool". We're not 100 per cent sold on that but it is very cool and very light.

The Shimano model, on the other hand, takes a dual-layer approach, with the fairly traditional stretch fabric on the outer and a built-in fast-wicking base layer that draws sweat away and helps keep things cool.

As a result, both are pretty useless in the depths of winter, where you will basically freeze your nipples clean off. Pair it with a jacket or gilet, and you might be ok, but these are most definitely for summer use.

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey

(Image credit: Freewheel UK)

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: features and style

I'm personally not sold on the Shimano Pro Air in green, which is actually more like an eye-popping turquoise, but that's simply personal taste. However, it does come in a much more fetching charcoal.

The Pearl Izumi jersey can be found in various colour-ways, but Freewheel only stocks it in a muted navy with contrast neon yellow zip. These subtle hues look good when on the bike and compliment an array of bib shorts without making you look like a mismatched noob.

Pearl Izumi also offers three deep and secure pockets on the rear, one of which has an additional zipped security pocket for keeping cards, cash and anything else you don't want to fly away.

The neon piping and BioViz reflective elements extend to the rear, which adds an additional element of visibility when riding in poor light. Similarly, the hem has a powerful silicone grip gripper that does a brilliant job of holding things in place when fully tucked up.

Above all else, it uses an innovative construction method, which means all of the panels are bonded, rather than stitched, so it feels fantastically soft against the skin. More akin to wearing a race suit than a jersey. 

Shimano's gripper isn't as patterned nor as aggressive as its Pearl Izumi rival, but I had no trouble with it riding up when out on faster sprints. Although the rear pockets do lack a zipped section, which is a shame.

Also, Shimano's cooling vents are in very specific places, such as the chest, armpits and shoulders, meaning the body stays warmer on those cooler mornings. I found myself not having to don a gilet when out in the Shimano Evolve, whereas I did with the Pearl Izumi Pro Air. 

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey

(Image credit: Freewheel UK)

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: performance

Both the Pearl Izumi Pro Air and Shimano Evolve are expensive items, with around £50 separating the two. The additional money commanded by the Pearl Izumi jersey goes towards the bonded panels and trick fabrics, which do feel great against the skin.

The materials also feels more natural and are generally lighter against the skin, but Shimano's attention to fit and form is second to none. It's tight in all the right places and doesn't move about when changing positions on the bike.

The gripper on the Pearl Izumi jersey is slightly more aggressive and even fully-loaded rear pockets don't bounce around, plus the addition of the zipped area only adds an extra dollop of peace of mind when carrying cash, cards and other important items.

Both jerseys feel massively expensive and start straying into Rapha, Assos and the higher end of the Castelli range territory, but then both do pack similar pro features. After testing both, I felt the Pearl Izumi Pro Air generally performed better and offered the greatest overall fit. It felt cool, comfortable and nicely aero, although I did have to don a gilet on a few colder occasions.

Shimano offers a sort of built-in base layer with its jersey, which helped keep things warmer and I found I remained fairly comfortable throughout a ride, even when the wind picked up. But then the pockets on this jersey are quite small and it doesn't offer an easy access zipped section.

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey

(Image credit: Freewheel UK)

Pearl Izumi Pro Air vs Shimano Evolve Jersey: verdict

Although very similar in approach, the two jerseys fit and feel quite different when stacked up against each other. Is it worth spending the extra on the Pearl Izumi Pro Air? In short, yes. The fabrics feels great and the fit is largely excellent, but the money is frankly ridiculous.

Shimano feels like a better price point, but do you really want to spend that kind of dosh on a Shimano-branded product when you could be seen in Rapha, Le Col or Castelli? It's a tough one, but Pearl Izumi does a much better job of feeling like a proper premium player.

Leon Poultney
Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. If he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing.