Enduro baggies, XC lycra, gravel shorts, merino baselayers, merino boxers, waterproof jackets, windproof gilets…the list of possible ride kit is pretty endless. How much of it do you need? How much is just nice to have? And is ‘nice to have’ actually a need when you’re really heading into a world of potential discomfort and endurance?
When 7mesh started designing its kit, back in 2013, the company tried to think of two different categories for its kit. The first category is rides up to seven hours, when you could look out the window, see what weather lay ahead, dress accordingly, and then get home and get warmed up. The second category is ‘seven day kit’, which is made for bigger and longer adventures with more uncertainty. This makes a lot of sense – if you know what’s ahead you can gamble a little bit on outright weather proofing in favour of perhaps lightweight fabrics, but if you’re heading further afield and a proper waterproof could make the difference between hypothermia or not, then grams are less relevant.
Tyler and Ian, both former Arc’teryx workers, (Arc’teryx makes very very good outdoor kit, especially for climbing and mountaineering) took this idea and worked up their first designs in time to bring them to market in 2015. Focusing on ‘adventure, beauty and camaraderie’ – the things these riders like about cycling – they didn’t focus on race fit gear. In addition, with the seven hour/seven day idea, they didn’t look to design too specifically for one riding niche over another. Instead, items of clothing would have crossover between disciplines, with a focus on function.
Ian makes his own prototypes – choosing the fabrics he thinks will work, cutting the patterns, and trying them out – until he gets something he thinks will work. Consequently, devising women’s wear doesn’t come quite so naturally (he’s a pretty big guy, Ian, so it’s not like he could wear the women’s kit!), but 7mesh has sought to create a few good items for women, rather than introducing a full range just for the sake of it.
Talking to Tyler – and especially Ian – you get the feeling that nothing is done just for the sake of it. Every fabric, right down to the winding of the yarn, is chosen for its specific properties. I suspect that what Ian doesn’t know about how to make fabric stretch, breathe, or repeal water isn’t worth knowing (or is a state secret known only to NASA).
I sew a little, and found Ian’s description of the different ways to get stretch – or not – into a fabric, and the effect on its other properties, totally fascinating. Did you know that Lycra actually holds water and that’s why it feels cold to the touch? Nope, neither did I. But if you want to have gear that’s comfortable in the wet, you probably don’t want it to have too much Lycra in it. How to get stretch then? Well, you could have a knit, like a wooly jumper, which will stretch in lots of different directions…but then if you’re wearing a jersey with pockets, you don’t want it to sag when you use the pockets, so how to get it to stretch round your pie-baby, but not down your butt? And how do you get something to be super lightweight, and even water repellant, but not see through? These are the kinds of questions Ian will ask and answer as he goes about making a new product.
The approach to patterns is also very functional – Ian reckons if you see a pair of bib shorts on a mannequin at a trade show and they’re all lovely and smooth, then they’re probably a bit rubbish. Standing upright, he explains, you should get wrinkles, because you need there to be enough range of movement once you’re bent over in a ride position and moving your legs to pedal to allow pinch and tight-spot free movement. Take a closer look at some of his jacket designs and, between the super smooth and minimal seams, you’ll spot unusual shoulder darts, designed to accommodate the leaning forward that we do on a bike.
These aren’t just clothes for keeping for best – 7mesh takes its name from its home of Squamish, and derives from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh word that means ‘Squamish’ in the written language devised to help preserve the little spoken local tongue. As such, they are used to riding in all weathers, including lots of rain, and even that warm summer rain that us Brits are convinced only we know about. Consequently, you’ll probably find that the 7mesh range is nicely practical, and some thought has been given to riding in wet weather day after day. If you’ve ever worn through the stitches holding your chamois to your shorts, you’ll appreciate the little details like the fact the the chamois is sewn into the interfacing in what 7mesh calls a ‘Clean Finish’, so there are no stitches on the outer fabric to get worn away. 7mesh even claims to have a pair of waterproof shorts that are truly waterproof and don’t just grind away to dampness after a couple of rides (this is something we’re very keen to test).
Listening to Tyler and Ian talk about the products, I find myself less inclined to squawk ‘How much?!’ and more inclined to go rooting about the finer detail of cheaper garments to check their yarn content, their seaming techniques, and their dart positioning. Yes, there will always be a place for use and abuse pieces, but if you’re like me and tend to grind through your stuff rather than shred it in an ill advised body/rock/ground/tree interface, then you may well appreciate the finer points of detail that have gone into the 7mesh range.
To experience first hand Ian talking about the brand and all that is exciting about fabric, check out this video. Honestly, if you’re the kind of person that likes to geek out over bike tech, then you should watch it – there’s as much thought goes into the clothes on your body as the components on your bike.
Travel and accommodation for this trip were provided by Crank Tank Impact Sun Valley Media Event.