The Specialized “Big Easy” group ride starts with a leisurely 9-mile jaunt up Page Mill Road. It’s Saturday morning and we’re here to celebrate the launch of their new apparel line. Everyone is decked out in blingy new kit. In the parking lot before we roll out there are hugs and high-fives and a shared supply of Mike Sinyard’s favorite ride snack: Honey soaked Udi's gluten free cinnamon-raisin toast with crunchy peanut butter and more honey on top (walnuts and raisins optional). Then we ride.
There’s nothing particularly special about Page Mill – by Bay Area standards it isn’t really that beautiful or even particularly steep. It gains about 2400 feet over 8.5 miles, with an average grade of around 4.5%. The Strava leaderboard reveals that Ryan Sherlock holds the current KOM (33:25) and scurried up the grade back in December at a brisk 15.3 mph.
Unfortunately, no matter how relatively tame or mundane Page Mill may actually be, it’s still 9 miles long and even the Specialized Hammerhead Attack Boys at the pointy end of this lark admit that it makes for a pretty humbling warm-up. By the top, I had that old familiar feeling: I hate everything. I hate everyone. This sport is dumb.
Ina Yoko Teutenberg (oh hey, German National Champion) finds me when we regroup at the top, sees the dying in my eyes and agrees with my unspoken assessment: “That was fucking hell, huh?”
I look around me: in addition to a grip of fast male journalists, Ned Overend is here and a whole passel of little whippet Specialized employees. These kids can’t help themselves. They get after it. Always. And even when they think they’re not getting after it, they’re still getting after it. That’s what the famous Specialized lunch ride is all about after all. A few minor crashes later (Alpine Road is slick), and I realize that not only are they very fit, very fast and incredibly intense, they’re also absolutely unrelenting.
Which might be why their new apparel line kicks so much ass.
Two years ago, they scrapped everything and started over. The idea was to re-invent their apparel from the ground up. Throw out old patterns, old concepts, old standbys and go back to the drawing board. In the land of technologically elevated bikes, the apparel team set out to design technologically elevated kit that could live up.
The resulting apparel is tailored for different kinds of riders, just as Specialized bicycles are (SL for competition, RBX for endurance). The experience-specific designs take into consideration the different riding styles, speeds, and aesthetic preferences of road bike enthusiasts from the watt-obsessed crit shark to the Sunday slow-roller.
Besides new patterns, new trims, re-engineered fits, all-new Body Geometry Chamois, advanced fabrics and a slew of rider-specific details, every piece is also approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation to have at least a UPF 30 sun protection rating.
Though the line was intended to launch last year, company leaders still weren’t happy with where they were: instead of going to market with something they didn’t believe in 100%, they waited so they could get it right. Really right.
On the Friday before the Big Easy group ride, we gather at Specialized HQ to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Technical Developer Anna Asnis discusses strategy, design and patterning while Prototype Developer Natalya Dias demonstrates the construction process. Dressed in black leather leggings, wildly-high stiletto boots and a long black sweater, Dias radiates style. Sitting down at the Juki MO6700 serger, she demonstrates impressive skill that makes sewing tiny pieces of curved spandex together look easy. (Like everyone on the apparel team, Dias does not just create awesome garments, she also rides – her bike is leaning against the wall next to an industrial sewing machine.)
Having cutting-edge technology and such a high level of raw talent in-house allows Specialized to turn prototypes from completed CAD design files in as little as 4 hours. Someone can come in and gives feedback in the morning and by the time the lunch ride rolls out, they have a new pair of bibs to test. That kind of agility has allowed Specialized to tweak, tweak, tweak and tweak some more. The result is kit that fits better, looks sharper and feels more comfortable than anything they’ve produced before. It’s a true step change: and they’re definitely stepping in the right direction.
It will take a thousand or so miles until I can really weigh-in on how this apparel holds up, but first impressions are important and this gear makes a good one: even in the midst of an overly dramatic existential crisis on Page Mill Road. Look for a more extensive review on individual pieces in an upcoming print issue of peloton.
The new Spring ’13 line will be available for purchase online at Specialized.com as early as February 4th and may already be hanging in a store near you.