Skin In The Game
It’s easy to become consumed with romantic notions when you think of how clothing is made, but this isn’t reality TV or a Helvetica-defaced design blog. Design is a reality devoid of stereotypes and preconceptions. It’s the clothing business, after all, and we’re talking about the fastest skinsuit ever made. So take off the rose-colored glasses and get a front row seat for how something of the S-Works Evade Skinsuit’s caliber actually comes to life.
It all starts with a question: How can we better serve the rider’s needs, especially when that need is to go faster? It’s a simple question with an answer that can take years to arrive at. And in the case of the S-Works Evade skinsuit, it would take three years of concept, design, testing, and repeat. Repeat again, and again, and then some more. But before this cycle of birth can even begin, the skinsuit had to find its legs on a computer by the window, past the security door, on the second floor of a sizeable building in Morgan Hill, California. And while the tag might befittingly declare, “Designed in California,” it would be apropos if this was proceeded with “by” and the names of the hands that molded it to form, like Anna, McKenzie, and Peter. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Now the foundation of any article of clothing is called a pattern. Imagine your favorite pair of jeans segmented into an eight-piece jigsaw puzzle. Each of the pieces comprises the total pattern, with each serving as the basis for the precise shape and measurement of how the textiles will be cut for the finished product. Now, multiply this figure by three or four, and you can begin to grasp the complexity of developing the pattern for a skinsuit. And to continue the puzzle simile, every one of these pieces has to be cut precisely in order for the puzzle to come together as intended. In the clothing business, pattern making is one of the most time consuming and difficult aspects of producing a garment, and many clothing producers will opt to outsource this responsibility, with a broadly worded vision, to a manufacturer. Obviously, this production strategy wasn’t in harmony with the vision of our skinsuit. Instead, we’re equipped to perform the entire process in-house in Morgan Hill.
IT ALL STARTS WITH A QUESTION: HOW CAN WE BETTER SERVE THE RIDER’S NEEDS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THAT NEED IS TO GO FASTER?
If you are familiar with engineering or industrial design, you’re probably familiar with a computermodeling program called CAD (computer-aided design). Essentially, CAD allows designers to precisely plot points of a design to create an exact digital model. For pattern design, we possess similar software that allows our designers to digitally create garment patterns with an unbelievable degree of specificity. This tool is critical, as it accelerates the speed of adjustments throughout the trial and error of the production process. It also allowed us to better accommodate and design for the natural degrees of stretch in the various fabrics that compromise the skinsuit. Which leads us to an important point in the design: fabric testing and selection.
Before a prototype can be constructed, or even before the digital pattern can be completed, prospective fabrics had to be tested in our Win Tunnel in order to make sure that we could hit our lofty aerodynamic goals. This is where we find ourselves at a distinct advantage over any other cycling apparel designer in the world: we have our own cycling-specific wind tunnel just a short walk down the street. Normally, if a skinsuit is even tunnel-tested at all, design houses have to book a limited, precious amount of time at a tunnel that’s far removed from their own facilities. They’ll block out a short, expensive chunk to hurriedly test working prototypes, and then return home to the drawing board with what they learned to make adjustments. And without getting too into the weeds on the cost of production cycles, most companies only possess the resources to repeat this process a couple of times, if at all. Where the Evade’s advantage lies is that we’re able to integrate tunnel testing into the design process, as we have the unique ability to utilize the facility whenever we want. So you could almost say that the skinsuit was designed in the Win Tunnel, or as we say, it’s Win Tunnel Engineered.
To demonstrate the importance of this, we tested hundreds of potential fabrics on cylinders in the tunnel in order to determine their aerodynamic potential. And once potential materials were selected, they were incorporated into the computer modeling. This is vital, as fabric will have a different denier (linear mass density of fiber) and fiber orientation, and thus, different degrees of stretch. So when creating the pattern, we’re capable of placing and shaping materials in a predictable way that enhances both aerodynamics and overall fit. Fast-forward a few months of this back-and-forth, and the digital pattern is ready to become a prototype.
Just downstairs from the design team resides our apparel studio. It’s here that the digital becomes tangible. The computer-modeled patterns are printed and cut to scale, and then the team can begin cutting the preselected fabrics to size. From here, the obvious step is to start constructing these pieces by hand into a prototype, and then getting the working skinsuit onto a fit model for observation and further adjustments. Here is where we hold yet another advantage, and it’s not an obvious one. Every day, the mass of Specialized employees converge on the streets of Morgan Hill for our legendary Lunch Ride. So in the morning, a prototype can be assembled and fit, tested on the Lunch Ride, feedback is provided, and by the end of the afternoon, an augmented proto is ready to be tested again. This ensures that we’re able to dial-in the fit of the suit, first and foremost, which amounts to adjustments of sleeve lengths, leg openings, zippers, chamois placement—you name it.
And with a working model that the team and riders are happy with, it’s back to the Win Tunnel for the bulk of the aerodynamic testing. This is where the breakthroughs happen, and it’s where the fulfillment of our initial design dreams occurs. Much like with the Venge ViAS, we deemed no detail of the skinsuit too small when marginal gains were ripe for the taking. This meant manipulating the design based on testing information gathered in the tunnel. So perfecting seam placement for the closest possible fit, strategically positioning Dimplex fabric at the shoulders, welding seams, eliminating bulky cuffs at the arm openings—think of it, and we probably did it in the Win Tunnel.
SO YOU COULD ALMOST SAY THAT THE SKINSUIT WAS DESIGNED IN THE WIN TUNNEL, OR AS WE SAY, IT’S WIN TUNNEL ENGINEERED.
This testing also led to pivotal breakthroughs, many of which had never been done before. Take for example the Evade’s shoulder construction, where you’ll notice the absence of a frontal seam. Typically, this part of a jersey requires the arms to be their own separate pieces, and this equates to more seams and a less precise fit. Our testing suggested that by eliminating this seam altogether, the skinsuit would experience significant aerodynamic gains.
This resulted in our patented design, but more importantly, after years of testing in the Win Tunnel, adjusting the designs digitally and in the studio, and receiving season-after-season of real world feedback from our athletes in the field, we can conclusively say that the S-Works Evade Skinsuit will save the average rider 96 seconds over 40 kilometers.
So like with all great products, there comes a time where they have to grow up and become finished pieces in the factory. However, we found that factories with the ability to meet our exacting standards were far and few between. Typically, the designers will ship off the patterns to the manufacturers, where they’ll create and evaluate the production process. Oddly enough, though, many manufacturers will take certain liberties with the design in order to streamline production with the capability of their facilities. Given the specificity of our design, this complicated production for us, plus the fact that our intentions were to create an 11-size range of the skinsuit. The last bit there is of particular importance, because the large size range, which includes Short, Standard, and Tall variants in every size, ensures that the fit on the rider’s body is exactly how we tested it in the Win Tunnel. The result? Predictable and evenhanded time savings for every rider. And after years of toilsome work, we weren’t about to let a manufacturer take a millisecond away from the rider’s 96 seconds of gains. So, not surprisingly, our pursuit of perfection led us to the Motherland of exquisitely crafted goods—Italy for our R&D. There, we found a partner that was capable of delivering our vision to the world with the utmost in detail accounted for, suit after suit after suit.
It’s a long road to perfection, and sure, it’s not as glamorous as a celebrity panel of judges or a runway show at Fashion Week, but the S-Works Evade Skinsuit embodies everything that we know—passion, motivation, obsessiveness, aerodynamics, and good ol’ fashioned hard work. It represents what happens when talent motivates talent, a team pushing itself harder and harder along each step of the way. More importantly, however, the years of hard work produced the fastest piece of cycling clothing ever made, and this only stands to benefit any rider that’s hellbent on speed. We did our part, and before we know it, we’ll probably be doing it again.