Although Specialized has sold clothing for years, it hasn't been quite on par with the company's bikes, helmets and shoes in the minds of many riders. Two years ago the California company began to overhaul the clothing program, recruiting specialists like Peter Curran from Pearl Izumi, creating an in-house prototype lab and diversifying where the product was made. The spring 2013 road line represents the first wave of the new product, and a few changes are obvious.
The most notable improvements are the two new chamois pads, the slippery fabrics Curran calls 'wet', and the styling. The company is also making a push with UV protection pieces, including thin, white arm and leg covers as well as instituting a minimum 30 UPF rating on all clothing.
The new road jerseys feature 'wet' fabrics that feel slick to the touch, like a skinsuit
Specialized divides its clothing into two categories: the race-cut SL line is minimalist in approach while the 'endurance' RBX line has slightly thicker materials and a roomier cut. Pricing ranges from $150 jerseys and $175 bibs in the top-end SL and RBX pro models down to $60 sport jerseys and $50 sport shorts. (UK pricing was not immediately available but will be added here as soon as we receive it.)
Check out the photo gallery for dozens of examples of the top-end garments plus views of the prototype lab.
As with Specialized bikes, Curran said the clothing designs are experience based, with the SL targeted like a Tarmac or a Venge for the race-minded weekend warrior and the RBX line created with the Roubaix rider in mind. Besides his experience at Pearl Izumi, Curran spent years as a designer for the snowboard companies Rome and Burton before coming on board with Specialized as product manager for apparel.
"With the collaborative environment at Specialized, as a product designer you can feed off of that and work with the bike teams and equipment teams," Curran said. "As with the bikes, we made the RBX clothing for going out all day, with big cargo pockets, a sweatproof center pocket, wrapper pockets on the side for your GUs, and a slightly more generous cut."
The new RBX Pro jersey is semi-form fit around the mid-section
Curran and his 8-person team also revamped the Body Geometry chamois, which previously had a number of mounds and valleys. Now the RBX and SL chamois pads are much visually simpler, with the padding differences turned toward the saddle instead of the rider.
The RBX chamois has gel pads underneath the sit bones. The SL pad is thinner, and concentrates its padding in a narrower section of the sit bones with the assumption that the rider will be rotated forward in a race-like position.
Specialized recently created an in-house clothing workshop, where designs go from concept to CAD drawing to sewn piece in a matter of days, sometimes even hours.
An in-house prototyping lab allows for quick concept-to-testing turnaround
Apparel technical developer Anna Asnis described how much the clothing department has changed in the five years she has been at Specialized.
"When I came here, I couldn’t even make a mock-up," Asnis said. "We didn't have the software to make patterns. So I started making them by hand. I found out that nothing was consistent with the factories, and the factory pattern maker never rode a bike."
Even once the design situation was improved, Specialized was still dependent on factories to produce samples in the prototype phase.
"With the old way, we would do one design here, then ship it off to the factory, and wait for them to send it back," she said, adding that each iteration of a design, no matter how slight, required this long process. "We’d spend so much time fixing the fit, that we didn’t’ really get to look at how the design looked. With Spring 13 we defined the fit here. Everything going forward starts in our lab first."
The RBX (shown) and SL chamois were designed for sit-bone padding without impeding blood flow
Now Asnis and Curran can create a sample and give it to testers to ride at lunch, then come back and make alterations in the afternoon.
"[Pro rider] Matt Hunter came in and liked the jersey we had given him, but wanted to try it in wool," Curran said. "It took us two hours to make it and we handed it to him before he left that afternoon."
After the designs are dialed in, production runs are made by factories in California, Mexico and Asia.
In fit, both the SL and RBX lines feature longish but snug short sleeves with a slick, form-fit material over the shoulders and a thin mesh under the arm. The bib short legs are also a bit longer, in keeping with current trends.
The SL Pro bib shorts
The RBX line comes in Pro, Comp and Sport levels for men, and Comp and Sport for women
The SL line comes in Pro and Expert levels for men and women.
While these designations follow the bikes' tiered diversions, it's worth noting that there is no S-Works clothing... yet.