Every once in a while a new product comes along where you simply say "are you kidding me?"
Pearl Izumi's new MP3/Bluetooth-enabled cycling bib short is just such a product. Yes, folks, we're talking about an MP3 player built into a pair of cycling shorts. And when I say built-in, I mean the control buttons are literally sewn into the fabric.
Of course, there are those naysayers that will argue it's dangerous and crazy to ride with music blasting into a pair of headphones. And the last thing you want in a tight paceline or group ride is some nimrod listening to music, totally oblivious to what's happening around him.
But, hey, it's 2006 and downloading and mixing music tracks is as easy as mixing a powdered sports drink. Whether it's an iPod or standard MP3 player, many of us are finding these small and nimble music players to be a must-have training partner.
As one who's been listening to podcasts as I ride to work, I can attest that if you keep the volume low enough and listen to conversation (I listen to technology and sports podcasts) there is enough interruption because of natural pauses in human conversation -- it's really not too different than riding sans music.
One of the issues I have with my iPod is getting the tightness on my armband just right. If it's too tight, I feel like I'm losing circulation in my arm. And, if it's too loose, it'll slide down toward my elbow. Plus, I have to slide some of the earphone cord inside the strap so that there's not a ton of cord flapping around in the wind or near my face.
Pearl's MP3 shorts definitely put the convenience in having the player mounted in a small pocket behind your back. Cool thing is the head phones then clip into a separate headphone mount that keeps the cord neatly packed under your jersey so the headphone cord slips out behind your neck.
To turn the player on--you guessed it--just press a button on your shorts. The same button will also pause and stop, depending on how long you press the button. A two-second press and the unit shuts off. There are also buttons for skipping back or forward to a song, as well as plus or minus volume controls.
The convenience of these large short panel buttons allows me to pause, change songs or adjust the volume on the fly. There's even a lock function, in the event you're stretching or accidentally touching your quads (where the buttons are placed) that keeps the buttons from accidentally triggering. There's also a random play mode so you don't have to listen to the same stuff in the same order, over and over.
Uploading MP3 files is as easy as connecting the player to a USB port on your computer and copying the files to your Pearl Izumi player. Essentially, the compact player is 512 mb hard drive. You could just as easily carry any computer files or images back and forth to work if you so wanted. Of course, you'd need to leave yourself enough room for music.
The Pearl Izumi player is not ideal for longer podcasts because it won't allow you to fast-forward or rewind within each podcast. So, let's say you have a 45-minute podcast and your ride ends at 31 minutes. You couldn't come back and listen to the last 14 minutes on your next ride. Therefore I recommend this unit for either music or short podcasts (under 10 minutes).
Bluetooth Phone Integration
On the positive front, cell phone geeks will love the integrated Bluetooth function. Yes, you can take any Bluetooth-enabled phone and sync it with the player and receive and place phone calls from your shorts. There's a microphone built in to the front bibs so that you can simply talk -- hands free -- while you ride. And when you're listening to music, a press of the receive call button pauses the music while the call comes through. No more fumbling through your jersey pocket while trying to find your phone to answer a call.
Of course, to place calls, your Bluetooth phone will need the voice-activated calling feature. Check with your phone manufacturer to ensure this is the case.
Bottom line is, if you're looking for a way-cool, cutting-edge product, these shorts are it. I'm sure there will be some refinements in future versions -- such as a fast-forward and rewind feature -- and a way to use the player without the shorts. For now, the only way to listen to the player is if it's plugged into the shorts.
Davis Phinney Foundation Auction
Okay, here's the tough part. Getting a pair of these unique shorts won't be that easy. Pearl Izumi's MP3/Bluetooth shorts have been manufactured in a very limited run of just 100 and just two pair are being auctioned as a fundraiser to support the Davis Phinney Foundation (DPF). Bids start at the suggested retail of $500. Yes, these babies aren't cheap but your money will go to a great cause.
For those unfamiliar, DPF works to understand, prevent and effectively treat Parkinson's disease through collaborative medical research. Based in Denver, the foundation was established in 2004 by cycling legend Davis Phinney, who was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease at the age of 40. The objective is to develop new cure-like treatment options to halt disease progression and extend a patients quality of life. DPF believes their collective scientific contribution will help find a cure to this debilitating disease.