Specialized aims to be taken seriously in apparel arena

Mtbr interview with Big Red S design team head Peter Curran

Apparel Company Spotlight Winter Guide
In collaboration with snowsports apparel maker 686, Specialized this year released a small line of high end fat bike kit, including these bibs complete with SWAT pockets in the rear.

In collaboration with snowsports apparel maker 686, Specialized this year released a small line of high end fat bike kit, including these bibs complete with SWAT pockets in the rear.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. We are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers, lights and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.

Specialized marketing manager Chris Riekert pulls no punches when summing up the state of the company’s apparel initiative. “For us, being taken seriously in apparel has been an uphill battle,” concedes Riekert. “Even when we have better product, we are often overlooked by the media and consumers because we are not an apparel brand.”

Fair point. On Mtbr and sister site RoadBikeReview, coverage of Specialized is overwhelmingly slanted to bikes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those posts are often among the most popular on the sites. And love or hate them, most will concede that Specialized makes some great two wheeled machines.

So what about their apparel? Truth is, we haven’t spent a ton of time in it. But in our limited experience wearing the Big Red S label (some of which you can read about in our round-up of Ultimate Arctic Weather Apparel coming soon), that experience has been wholly positive. And there is certainly no lack of it. This year’s Specialized catalog includes everything from ultra-high-end fat bike-specific kit to wind cheating road racer skin suits to the new RBX line, which is geared toward more casual outings.

To find out more, Mtbr interviewed Peter Curran, head of Specialized’s apparel design team, who among other things was responsible for the development of the company’s popular SWAT-equipped mountain bike clothing.

After noticing that many fat bike riders dressed in ski or snowboard clothing, Specialized decided to make an apparel line that was more sport specific.

After noticing that many fat bike riders dressed in ski or snowboard clothing, Specialized decided to make an apparel line that was more sport specific.

Mtbr: In a nutshell what is your day to day with Specialized?
Peter Curran: I lead the apparel team, including all clothing and gloves. Before that I was with Pearl Izumi, and before that with Burton Snowboards for a long time.

Mtbr: Why do you think it’s been an uphill battle to get the word out on what you’re producing?
PC: We make everything for the rider, but we’re obviously known for bikes and then we’re also really strong in some equipment categories such as tires. My team’s job is to get the same notoriety for apparel and we’ve had some big wins, the road skin suit, SWAT for mountain bike. But people still have certain impression when they think Specialized, and that is what we are trying to change. We tell a lot of stories coming out of this building and we have a lot of talented people in this building. We also have an entire sewing lab, pattern engineer, and seamstress so we can build prototypes and patterns in house. That’s a big change from the past. Now we can go from design to rideable prototype in 24 hours. It’s not just send your idea overseas and see what you get.

Mtbr: So sell us on Specialized apparel. What makes it enticing to the consumer?
PC: I think one very important thing we have going for us is that at Specialized we are surrounded by bikes and are at the forefront of what riders are doing on bikes. We see the way riding is changing. It’s important to be at a place that isn’t dedicated to one thing. Take SWAT. That would not have happened on its own. But our mountain bike people were seeing what riders were doing to stow gear, which in turn influenced our ideas and designs. Other companies may not get that insight because all they do is apparel.

Continue to page 2 for more of our interview with Specialized’s Peter Curran »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • Ryan says:

    $950 for spesh pants/jacket OR around $300 for some XC ski gear that does the same job and a cool $650 left over.

  • MTBRider says:

    This is a joke right?!

    If Specialized wants to be taken seriously, they should make actual clothes that actually work!! I had a pair of Specialized pants that ripped in a week. Specialized does not compare to Pearl izumi or other counter-parts.

  • Fritzman says:

    I recently picked up the jacket & bib set (about 50% off from US MSRP) and it works damn well. Better than the high end XC or DH ski gear I’ve used – which lacked the many small cycling-friendly details that the 686 kit offers.

    CONS
    – the jacket and bibs material is nowhere near as warm as I expected. You WILL need good layers to make this work from -15 to -25C.
    – jacket hood isn’t large enough to comfortably fit over a helmet. You can get it on most of the way to cover your neck and ears, but movement will be restrictive and the front 20% of the helmet is still exposed to precipitation. Also, the hood is too large/clumsy to fit under the helmet. It’s pretty much useless unless you ride w/o a helmet.

    PROS
    – The jacket and bibs material is nowhere near as warm as I expected – this will open up a lot more seasons of riding (ie: late fall and early spring).
    – The bibs work awesome. SUPER comfortable, flexible, and awesome stow-pockets. Love how the ankle cuffs are tapered and have an inner elastic to stop the snow.
    – The jacket with side zippers to access rear stow pockets is very convenient. Tonnes of zippered vents. Breathing vents built into the collar is cool. Lots of inner pockets for devices etc…
    – The material is extremely breathable, very little use of the vents is actually required.
    – Despite it’s rain proof rating, the material doesn’t look like a garbage bag. It’s a low luster, somewhat stretchy, quality looking fabric.

    A product like this is worthwhile for someone who will put in many hours of winter/spring/fall riding – in all kinds of nasty weather. If you’re a fair weather, near-freezing mark, fatbiker who rides only 15-20 times a winter, maybe look for more budget friendly options.

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