Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pearl Izumi Balaclava - Warm and Good Looking

Balaclava is such a strange word. I must admit that I had no idea what it was when I first came across it. I thought that what I was looking for was a "facemask." You know, like one of those itchy facemasks you wore as a kid that held in your moisture-rich breath until it was soaked through. I wasn't looking for that experience again, but I was looking for something to keep my face and head warm while riding in frigid temperatures.

See, I'm going bald and the temperature I perceive it to be outside has dropped significantly since I have less hair to keep the warmth in. So, when it's cold I must have a hat on or I get instant brain freeze. Combined with my desire to go biking while it's still cold out, I needed something to maintain body temperature and stay comfortable.

Enter the Pearl Izumi Balaclava. This isn't the facemask you're used to. It is a microsensor fabric that feels like a second skin. It's lightweight, stretchable and doesn't have any itchiness or fabric-related side-effects.

The day I received mine from Performance Bicycle via Amazon it was too snowy and icy out to ride my bike. I don't have spikes in my tires (more on that in a future post) or a Pugsley like Up In Alaska (full disclosure: I don't fully know what a Pugsley is anyhow!). I just can't ride on ice and snow. Fortunately for me there was a fresh dusting of snow and a driveway to be cleared, and the temperature was below 20 so I decided to test my new balaclava.

I'm excited to announce that it worked great. I, admittedly, had doubts that the thin fabric would work to keep me warm with no hat. But it did. It was great. My head felt warm. My cheeks, nose, ears all were comfortable for the 1/2 hour I spent shoveling. I can only imagine that under more strenuous activity that I would remain warm indefinitely.

The moisture wicking is great with the PI balaclava. Breathing didn't create a surplus of moisture on the fabric and though I sweat a bit around my neck the microsensor fabric wicked it away quickly enough that it was not noticeable. It didn't leave me with a wet feeling.

The fabric is really thin. It's light, stretches, has seams but they aren't uncomfortable. It's thin enough that it fits great under a helmet with no modification of the straps or pads. That's important for those of us who are lazy and don't want to make helmet modifications between seasons.

I did wonder when putting it on if my "five o'clock shadow" would wind up, over time, degrading the fabric enough that it would break down. If it does I'll certainly report it. Until then, however, there doesn't appear to be any problem with a little stubble. The microsensor fabric slides right over it and doesn't get stuck.

The balaclava is versatile enough that it can stretch below the nose or above it. This is handy as it's not always comfortable to breathe through fabric. During my first and second ventures I tried it both ways. Above the nose and below and both were equally comfortable. It felt less constricted to have the fabric below the nose, but it was warmer to leave my nose covered and didn't present any breathing difficulty.

The other consideration for below/above is when wearing with glasses. Wearing the balaclava above the nose does cause a gap between the skin and fabric that might cause moisture-rich air to fog up glasses. I'll test that out when I have opportunity.

To close, the Pearl Izumi microsensor balaclava is a great addition to my mountain biking hobby. It'll provide me the opportunity to ride at low temperatures so I don't go crazy inside all the time. I'll have more opportunity to use it in action this spring and I'll update if necessary.

View the Pearl Izumi balaclava options on Amazon or the manufacturer.

1 comment:

Yale D. Funk said...

Outstanding article...Thanks!