Back in November last year, I got the excellent news I had been selected as one of 50ish brand ambassadors for Pearl Izumi UK, aka the ‘Champion’ team.

Well last weekend, we all descended on Madison HQ in Milton Keynes to meet each other and the folks at Madison behind Pearl Izumi in the UK. This induction, was all about the brand (obvs), but was also a great social gathering of people from all over the UK with one thing in common. We love riding bikes.

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Madison HQ – I would LOVE to work here

The applications for the programme were in the hundreds apparently and credit where credit is due, Pearl Izumi have shunned pro series sponsorship and instead brought together a great variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of riding histories, as the brand seeks to grow it’s presence in the UK. Somehow…I made the cut!

With people coming from literally all corners of the UK (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland…Cornwall!), I drove up to Milton Keynes on the Friday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and met with the early crowd in the local ‘burger boutique’ getting to know some people over beer and gourmet cheeseburgers. It was a good start to the weekend and everyone seemed to get on with each other well, helped by the fact a LOT of chat and banter had been flying about on the private FB group for a few months.

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The ‘Wall of fame’

After not a very good night’s sleep, partly due to excitement of the day ahead but also worry of not being able to ride due to a tubeless puncture upon arrival, Saturday morning dawned. We were going to be ‘induced’ at Madison HQ, where some of the top brands are shipped out from such as Shimano, Saracen, Genesis and of course, Pearl Izumi. A bit more mingling over coffee and cake and then we were ushered into the presentation room for the start of a series of talks where we’d find out what the plans were for the brand and where we fit into it.

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My kinda ‘colorway’ on the Saracen. Nice!

Pearl Izumi UK brand manager, Brodie Gardias stepped up first and gave an intro and overview to the brand. Pearl Izumi is a massive brand globally, in fact, it’s the biggest cycling clothing brand of all with Bontrager a distant second . And being owned by Shimano, a company famous for their attention to detail and durability, it was interesting to hear that these values transfer to Pearl Izumi as well – Madison receive barely any warranty claims on Pearl Izumi apparel which is impressive.  A huge amount of research and testing goes in to their clothing and they are hugely excited about their new ‘PI Dry’ water repellent technology coming out this year. Hopefully, we might get a chance to try it out at some point…it’d be perfect for the commute and MTB shorts too.

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Yay… PowerPoint (actually, it was alright)

There was then a brief overview of us and social media with a couple of people being brought up to tell us their story. Fellow Cornish rider, Emma talked about Bikeability cycle training and getting kids out riding in the woods and then Ryan told us how he had beaten cancer and was now doing a challenge to ride 10,000 miles in a year to raise money for cancer charities. It was all very inspirational.

Then came an interesting talk by Tim from Secret Training on nutrition and cycling which was definitely useful for the  racers in the group, and then the moment we’d all been looking forward to – getting our free Pearl Izumi swag!

In the generous goody bag were Champion Team branded bib shorts and XC/road jersey and for the MTBers, a pair of Summit baggy shorts and a pair of X-Alp Launch II shoes…in enduro lime green.  We also were given a generous discount on PI kit from the store for additional purchases and as I’m not really into tight-fitting lycra, I used this to pick up a Big Air jersey which was more in keeping with my ‘trail’ style kit (I will wear the XC stuff in appropriate situations though!).  It’s all top quality kit though and I look forward to seeing if the hype over mankini bib-shorts is true!😕

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After lunch, team kit photos and some minor pre-ride faff were carried out, bikes were piled into the vans and MTB riders into the minibus, for a 10 minute transfer to Woburn Sands for a ride.  I’ve never ridden there before and although there’s not much in the way of height variation, there were some nice little descents with tight berms, and being sandy, the trails were pretty dry and grippy.  Unfortunately the dirt jump bike park was closed due to deforestation, but it looked insane. Not that I would’ve hit them but it would’ve been good to see some locals sending it of the big stuff!

Having only just re-built my bike after a 5 week layoff, this was also ended up being a shakedown ride.  Fortunately the rear tyre held up fine but some quick crank tightening was needed a couple of times and an annoying front rotor squeal appeared, but is now all sorted.

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Woburn Sands – muddier on the right hand side of the trails

So, now I’m on the Pearl Izumi team.  I’m still not quite sure how I managed it…I’d say I’m right on the edge of their marketing audience (as they are aiming towards trail riding, commuting, gravel/CX and road), and other members have blogs and social media accounts that way exceed my humble efforts, but I guess that’s the point.  PI aren’t all about race results and aren’t all about the big numbers as such.  It’s all about people who just ride bikes because they simply love it and the PI Champion team is about showcasing people like us, regardless of our riding backgrounds or motivations. Of course, if we’re wearing Pearl Izumi, then it helps promote the brand at a more local level in the UK.

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Breaking in the new kit straight away  Photo: Mark Stodgell

Pearl Izumi do some genuinely nice trail MTB kit so go and check it out on the Pearl Izumi site…and there’s an end of season sale on too so some bargains to be had 😎

MTBer group shot – spot the odd one out 😉  Photo: Mark Stodgell
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