enzed part 7: The Emperor’s Old Shorts
Mike Ferrentino's Love Note to a pair of shorts
by Mike Ferrentino
The first time I met Gary Sullivan was during a previously mentioned trip on assignment to New Zealand back around 2002. He and his partner Glen had settled down in Rotorua a few years prior, fallen in love with the nascent mountain bike scene there, and sensing a total lack of clothing suitable to their physical needs and aesthetic tastes, had started up a clothing company called “N-Zone”. Up until this year I still regularly wore one of their original long sleeve merino wool jerseys with a patch on the sleeve that read “Made in New Zealand from sunshine and grass.” Aside from the initial foray into merino wool, early N-Zone products included Lycra bike gear, an early baggy short with a built in liner, and a uniquely New Zealand-y baggy short named “Dobies.”
“We had no idea what to call them,” Gary recalls, “so we put a piece of paper on the counter and invited people to write down suggestions for a name. And this local guy named Jake, he came up with the name dobies, but I don’t know where he got it from. I thought it sounded pretty good. It’s a bit confusing though, since some customers call them “dobbies” with two Bs, and some call them doobies, with two Os, which they are neither.”
Dobies are a particularly kiwi kind of garment, and embody a divergent way of thinking that has evolved out of necessity at the bottom of the world, where imported goods have to come a long way and may not be suited to the climate of this unique place. This “we can figure something out ourselves” spirit exists in everything from clothes to restored aircraft, and is an ingrained component of the Kiwi psyche. Dobies are, by Gary’s own admission, living out on their own evolutionary limb. They are baggy shorts, with slash pockets and one zippered pocket, an elastic waistband with a drawstring, and are made from a heavy gauge stretch knit fabric. They have a pad sewn into them, but it is minimal in thickness and isn’t compressed into place the same way that pads in full-on tights are, nor is it attached to a liner to attempt to fix it in place. They are loose, but not runaway clown loose. They are form fitting but still relaxed in fit.
N-Zone had to change names to N-Zo, the product line has expanded and shrunk and changed dramatically over the years, but Dobies have existed essentially unchanged in the lineup since they were introduced back in 1999. They are still, to this day, the strongest selling item in the N-Zo range.
Way back when, Gary tried to get me to wear some. At the time, I was still clinging to the notion that I was once a bike racer. And as such, I loathed all baggies. I wore bib shorts, dammit. When it comes to going fast and suffering all day, bibs are the way to go. I still believe that, although I am really slow now. Back then, I would grudgingly pull a pair of soccer shorts or something light over my bibs to try and fit in with the neo-baggy army of conformists who were awkward about being seen amongst the grape smugglers. Naturally, this sucked, as the nylon shorts would creep around all over the place on top of the relative slippery surface of the bibs beneath them. As baggies got better, and I continued to get slower, I eventually caved in and succumbed to a life of kind of uncomfortable baggies with liners, or baggies that fit poorly over bibs and slid halfway down my ass as I pedaled. Wearing modern full weight baggies over top of bibs usually made me feel overheated and awkward. Wearing bibs with liners was generally, and often still is, an exercise in frustration.
So, a few years ago, Gary tried again. He offered me a pair of Dobies, told me if I didn’t like them he would take them back, and sent me off on a ride.
I liked them. They were light, but not “oh shit I feel naked” light. They stayed where they should without needing a whole buttress of Velcro or belt or other waist-strap retention. They were really damn comfortable. But, I reasoned to myself, they probably won’t be that good for all day rides…
That proved to be wrong as well. I bought another pair on my next trip to New Zealand, and another on this trip. I rode for 14 out of the past 28 days, some rides as short as two hours, and a couple as long as eight hours, even did a cross country race, and didn’t wear any shorts other than Dobies the whole time. I am a believer.
Recalling the conceptual need for the Dobies back in the late 1990s, Gary recalls; “Prior to 2000, we had started to separate our liners from our baggies, we had a blank piece of paper idea – let’s start from scratch – of how to make a baggy short that doesn’t need a liner at all, just one garment, and what would that look like? And we had to devise a fabric that would make that work… The stuff we use acts like Lycra, is made of the same components, but is a heavier duty, about a four-ply version – essentially the same components of Lycra, just in a heavier gauge.”
“We thought it would be cool to have something minimal for a pad, lighter than what I was used to in full on bike shorts, light enough that you wouldn’t notice them walking around. It’s not like having a chamois in there – you can’t put a chamois in a baggy short without some sort of compression because it’s like having a badger loose in your trousers. A seamless, antibacterial coated one, but still a badger… So we drew a few pictures, sewed up a pair, and the Dobies are what we ended up with. They were an instant success.”
“If you show them to someone today who’s in the industry, they just seem too different. The industry standard is a very technical and articulated version of a street short – they’ve got flies, they’ve got some sort of waist closure, they’ve got lots of pockets, they’ve got a waistband, zippered vents, and they’ve been designed to run with some sort of liners which usually have some nifty way of attaching them to each other. Which is a bit silly, because there’s no way a pair of elastic underpants is going to hold up a heavy and slipping pair of baggies, and vice versa. If they fit perfectly, you don’t have a problem. But if they don’t fit perfectly…”
As mentioned before, I’m a believer. The gravity set will probably deem them too lightweight, and racers will still swear by their bib shorts and skinsuits. But for the rest of us, for that giant population of trail riders and those of us who want to sling a leg over a bike with no idea how many hours the ride will take, Dobies are different take on how taint meets saddle, and are well worth a look.