The big, red S up in Morgan Hill, California, has introduced a new clothing line for the spring and summer 2013 season. To be fair, lots of companies have new clothing lines for the coming, but not-yet-here, good weather. So why bother to report on it? Well, as it happens, it’s not new in the “here’s our line for this year” new; it’s new as in wholly new, as in they practically skipped a year’s production while setting up a new prototyping studio in-house. Had this been more of the same, clothing-wise from Specialized, I can’t say I’d have bothered to write about it. It’s not that it was bad clothing previously; it was just unremarkable. If, perhaps, it had been priced like a movie ticket, that would have been a different story.
This new line, I’m impressed to write, is just as thoroughly a Specialized product line as their bicycles and components. In broad strokes on the road side, it’s divided into two sub-categories: SL (performance) and RBX (endurance) to mirror the bikes and saddles. The idea is that the SL is more aggressive in fit and more cutting edge in materials, which makes it aimed more specifically at Tarmac and Venge riders. The RBX line (as in Roubaix) is meant for a less race-oriented rider.
The clothing may be made in China, but thanks to that aforementioned in-house design studio, the entire development process is controlled by Specialized staff. The initial CAD patterns are created by staff, printed out on a plotter in the studio and then used to cut fabric for prototypes. In the case of the SL bibs they made seven prototypes in multiple copies of each of the five sizes offered. Once Apparel Product Manager Peter Curran was satisfied they had the design right, it went overseas for production samples. You’d think this part would be simple enough, but as it happens, virtually no apparel factories specialize in cycling apparel, and that can lead to some comic, if ironic circumstances. From time to time their overseas counterparts would come to the conclusion that the forward-swept shoulders of a race-cut jersey didn’t reflect proper human anatomy, so they would “correct” them, by bringing them back, like those of a dress shirt. Had it not been for samples made in Specialized’s in-house prototyping, they might not have caught the issue.
The SL apparel features a pro-style skin-tight fit for the jersey while the bibs have a longish inseam with a folded fabric cuff and no gripper elastic. The Cytech-made pad which is manufactured to Specialized spec is designed for a rider who rolls his hips forward to flatten his back. The densest foam is also shaped to be matched to the shape of Specialized’s saddle. The SL apparel is available in five sizes, small through XXL.
By contrast, the RBX apparel sports a slightly more relaxed fit in the jersey. It’s not as loose as the untapered “club cut” offered by some companies, though. Compared to the SL jersey it’s also slightly longer and the appearance more subdued for those who’d like to draw as few stares as possible while standing in line for that post-ride coffee. While I haven’t had a chance to ride in the RBX pieces yet, in trying both the bibs and the jersey on, I was impressed with the fit. The difference between the fit of the SL and RBX jerseys was distinct, the way skim milk doesn’t taste like two percent, but it’s not so disparate that you wouldn’t still call it milk.
The RBX bibs feature a different pad, one that’s designed for riders sitting more upright and therefore using denser foam directly beneath the sit bones. Unlike many bibs I’ve encountered that were intended for less avid or experienced riders, the RBX bibs don’t condescend by using inferior materials. Now, these aren’t Assos, but in terms of fit and finish, they appear to be some of the best-made bibs intended for those who sit more upright. Grant Peterson should buy a set.
Both the SL and RBX lines are available in in Pro and Expert levels, while the RBX also comes in an even more affordable Sport level. If the Pro stuff seems a bit spendy, the Expert level good will provide many of the same features and design philosophy, while the Sport line will allow someone on a budget tighter than a rubber glove to get in the game. At $175, the Pro level bib shorts (available in both SL and RBX) are the most expensive items in the entire line; the Sport bibs are only $65 and the shorts are $50.
There’s more to the line than just bibs and jerseys. They offer a complete set of arm, knee and leg warmers, a base layer, multiple wind breakers, vests, gloves and tights. There’s a complete women’s line as well.
Curran said that a significant priority for the line was to make sure that the clothing offered significant sun protection. He noted that the U.S. is notably behind other countries in terms of addressing skin damage caused by exposure to the sun. Not only is the U.S. behind in awareness, it’s behind in products that protect against sun damage. Every product in the line has been given the designation of DeflectUV. Every product has been certified as possessing at least an SPF of 30, though some are rated 50. In addition to all that, they have introduced of sun protection layers—arm and leg covers, gloves and caps.
Given the way Specialized encourages people to ride more and longer, Curran said they’d come to the conclusion that they really had a responsibility to create a product line that considered the ramifications of increased sun exposure.
It’s rare that you see a product line so thoroughly overhauled and while it’s premature to call the new line an unqualified success, I’m impressed, based on my experience in the post to follow.
Action images: Robertson/Velodramatic