BicyclingHub.com sent three staff members to scour the Vegas showroom floor and meet with manufacturers so that we might bring our customers the latest and greatest in the bicycling industry, with live updates via Facebook and Twitter. At the top of our list of booths to visit were our friends and neighbors at Showers Pass. A brand that's been long recognized and sought after by cycling enthusiasts and long-distance riders as offering some of the best-fitting, best-ventilated and most breathable outerwear on the market, elite road riders and racers have recently discovered the Portland, Oregon-based company and asked them to adapt products to meet their specific needs.
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"Those riders are out training for hours in the weather," notes Ed Dalton, Co-President/Principal at Showers Pass. "Our Elite 2.0 & Double Century jackets fit a fairly wide range of cyclists and their needs; [but] those products don't perfectly fit an elite road rider that wants a trimmer, more contoured fit." When approached with the request, "Can you build something for us?," Showers Pass entered the elite road market this past spring; two new jackets making their debut this fall, the Elite Pro and the Pro Tech ST, were engineered with the elite road rider in mind.
Just another day at the office: Showers Pass Co-President Ed Dalton field-testing gear during Cycle Oregon.
According to Dalton, the Elite Pro uses a proprietary lightweight, waterproof and breathable fabric named ELITE fabric (™) which, in conjunction with built-in core venting zips, a rear vent panel across the shoulder blades and adjustableVelcro cuffs, helps to ensure maximum ventilation while keeping the cyclist dry--minus the cold and clammy feeling riders often experience once they begin to overheat in attire with minimal or no ventilation. Most notably, weighing in at an incredibly-light 244 grams, the Elite Pro can be folded and stowed in a jersey pocket once the sun emerges from the clouds--a versatility fans of the Elite 2.0 can now enjoy for the first time. "It's the lightest-weight, three-layer fabric we have ever seen with the performance level this fabric has," Dalton remarks. "We wanted to make a product super high-performance, super light-weight, and super packable--that's what we did with the Elite Pro."
Also making its (re) introduction to the public is the Pro Tech ST. Evolved from their Pro Tech jacket, a clear transparent waterproof stretch membrane shell designed to keep riders dry (while still ensuring team kits and/or race numbers can still be seen by officials), Showers Pass tweaked the design to improve both fit and performance. "The piece fit a wide range [of cyclists], from the elite road rider to the enthusiast to the recreationalist who wanted an emergency rain piece--but it wasn't as appropriate in terms of fit for that elite rider," Dalton explains. New and improved features include a sleek and trimmed fit, similar to the Elite Pro; a lengthened back to increase protection from road spray; a large back vent re-engineered so even when down in the drops, it stays open to help regulate body temperature; a two-way front zipper; and, with each seam now seam-taped (hence the name Pro Tech ST), the chances of water being driven in are drastically reduced.
But if you think Showers Pass caters to only the upper echelons of the race circuit, think again. With a market that includes racers, commuters, messengers, two-wheeled travelers and a general cycling population passionate about the bike, Dalton chalks up their success in their ability to appeal to such a diverse audience by offering products specifically created for said users.
Long-distance touring cyclist and randonneurs especially have embraced the Elite 2.0 jacket as the centerpiece of their functional cycling attire. According to Dalton, "They actually call that 'The Pass' jacket. 'Have you got your Pass jacket? . That is really the piece that has become the 'Best in Class' for us. Commuters gravitate to three main pieces: The Elite 2.0 for men and women, the Touring jacket, and the new Club Pro for men and women. As both the Club Pro and Touring jackets offer a wide range of use, on and off the bike, they appeal to a broad range of customers and consistently rank in the top-sellers category. Another top seller, for long-distance riders and commuters alike? The Convertible Rain Pants for men and women.
"The ultimate [product] tests are in the field and on the bike": good thing both BicyclingHub.com and Showers Pass are based in Portland, Oregon, the ultimate proving ground for cycling apparel in a wide range of weather conditions.
Founded in 1997, a tiny company was born partially out of frustration as the owners couldn't find the level of performance outerwear they wanted for cycling. Dalton notes, "In my mind specifically, there was great mountaineering gear and alpine gear; for us, there wasn't that level of performance outerwear created for cyclists. And cyclists deal with as much weather and wind as any of those other activities." He vividly recalls a 2004 bicycle trip through Hell's Canyon on the popular Cycle Oregon event where a close brush with hypothermia led to an epiphany that changed the trajectory of his professional career. "I was wearing cycling clothing that wasn't suitable--it didn't protect me. It was wet, windy, and cold. More than wet--it was raining and COLD, and the temperature dropped over the mountain pass. Cycle Oregon set up camp fires and people stood by them not for a half hour, but for HOURS trying to get warm. And then they had to get on their bikes and ride down the pass. That's when I realized the gear that was available for cyclists didn't perform nearly as well as it needed it. And that was when I decided we were going to set the bar."
Three months later, in December 2004, Dalton met the founder of Showers Pass at the Cyclocross Nationals race at Portland International Raceway and a new partnership was forged. Originally a tiny online retailer which sold only to individual consumers, the company saved from bankruptcy, was remodeled as a wholesale business to bring the line directly to dealers, growing from one to seven full-time staff (plus outside help as needed). Relocating to the notoriously rainy climate of Portland, Oregon, in six years Showers Pass has expanded product range, broadened their customer base, and vastly improved their products--and show no signs of slowing down.
What Does the Future Hold?
"I think the lifestyle cycling clothing category is one that is really important," Dalton remarks. "A lot of people want to commute on their bikes and not necessarily look like they're bike commuters when they walk into the office. Pieces like the Portland jacket, Hybrid jacket and zip-off convertible pants make cycling more accessible. We think that category of outerwear encourages and helps to get more people on bikes.
"When I commute by bike to work (as often as I can) I go over the Hawthorne Bridge [into downtown Portland] and a lot of people are wearing everyday clothing. But in wearing those, and getting caught in the weather, they're kind of screwed. I want them to wear regular street clothes that perform like high-performance cycling wear. Some mornings I'll ride my road bike in, with full-on Lycra; other mornings I'll wear just my Portland jacket and my regular clothes. I want to see more of that; folks can walk in the office and they're good to go, minus a whole complete change of clothes."
Field Testing and Feedback(left): BicyclingHub.com Customer Service Rep and Cycling Clothing Expert Melissa Cate gives the the new Showers Pass Elite Pro Jacket a close inspection at Interbike 2010.
With both BicyclingHub.com and Showers Pass headquartered in the Platinum-Level Bicycle Friendly Community of Portland, Oregon, it's a rare day that goes by we don't see a cyclist wearing one of the Showers Pass products we sell. As the first Internet retailer to sell Showers Pass jackets and rain gear directly to consumers, since 2005 BicyclingHub.com has sold upwards of 1,500 Showers Pass products and can authoritatively speak on behalf of the brand's quality, durability, and loyal fan base. Most importantly, our endorsement comes from the fact our staff rides in and vigorously tests the products that we sell--a standard Showers Pass upholds as well. "For us, [Portland] is the perfect proving ground for our product. It would be a challenge for us if we were….based in Southern California. Lab tests are great, but the ultimate tests are in the field and on the bike, with your messenger bag, crumpling it up, doing things to your gear that you shouldn't be doing, and seeing how it works."
And what does Showers Pass do with all the feedback they receive? "We use it all to help better engineer our clothing," Dalton responds. Showers Pass stands out from our competitors by our attention to every detail; the fact that we're riders and we USE our products; and we listen to our customers. Because that's the ultimate test."
Make certain fall and winter doesn't rain on your parade: order your Showers Pass cycling-specific attire today with BicyclingHub.com and remind your friends, "There's no such thing as bad weather--only bad clothing."