Women's mountain bike clothing has long been problematic for apparel brands. Developing shorts and jersey that nail fit, fashion and function-not to mention durability and value-that appeal to a wide variety of tastes and body types is a daunting task and one few brands have been solely devoted to undertaking.
This is precisely where Wild Rye Apparel hopes to make its mark in the mountain bike world. The new brand launched today with four pieces: a short, a chamois and two primarily wool riding tops, a T and a long-sleeve Henley.
The designs are simple with a subtle hint of femininity, reflective of founder Katy Hover-Smoot's goal to appeal to a broad range of female riders. "It's a challenge. Technically and detail-wise, we are totally what the core rider is looking for, but we'd like to be approachable to skiers who are just crossing over into mountain biking," says Hover-Smoot, a one-time assistant to Specialized founder Mike Sinyard and Lake Tahoe-based part-time art history teacher.
Like many entrepreneurs, Hover-Smoot's idea for Wild Rye surfaced when she experienced a gap in the market firsthand.
"I would always see girls out riding with their boyfriends in Lululemon leggings," she says. As an avid skier and mountain biker with muscular thighs, "I was always sizing up to a large or extra large. I was so frustrated by the fit. It's like, 'I know why you're in leggings.'"
Hover-Smoot teamed up with Sun Valley, Idaho-based Cassie Abel, owner of White Cloud Communication, an action-sports PR and marketing company. Abel initially was going to handle PR duties, but she quickly decided she wanted to be a bigger part of Wild Rye and became an equity partner.
"I really liked the approach Katy was taking,” says Abel, herself a mountain biker and skier. “Using the right fabrics, with a design-focused styling that's more contemporary. You can go from a ride to the bar, or have beers on the deck of the hut in a cute base layer."
This is, of course, not an entirely new concept: Women's-specific shorts-maker Shredly has seen quick success, particularly among women in and near its home state of Colorado, with its fun patterns and bright colors. And larger brands, like Sombrio, Specialized and Yeti, are also committing more resources to women's apparel and the investment shows in the ever-growing choices of well-fitting and comfortable shorts and jerseys now available to female riders. But Abel and Hover-Smoot think the market is ripe for new players, and they believe there are plenty of athletic women out there with disposable income who don't want to look like they're riding in a trash bag.
In developing this first line, Hover-Smoot hired a Los Angeles fashion designer to provide input on the silhouettes, and started shopping for technical fabrics that were lightweight and breathable without restricting movement. She settled on Schoeller fabric for the polka-dotted Whitney short ($130), which has stretchy properties to enable movement on the bike, as well as being water-resistant. The shorts have two front pockets and a side zippered pocket sized to fit an iPhone 6+ and a two-snap and zipper closure, as well as belt loops. With a 10-inch inseam, the shorts hit right at my knee and are designed to be knee-pad compatible. Unlike many women's shorts, the Whitneys don't narrow as they reach the knee, giving them more of a straight-leg look than tapered, which should allow them to fit multiple body types. Schoeller is meant to be breathable, and there are no additional vents on the shorts so some time in the dirt in hot SoCal is in order to see how cool they keep you on toasty days.
The Italian-made chamois (sold separately, for $79, although they are discounted if you bundle them with the shorts) is sewn into a silky, stretchy Schoeller short. The chamois wisely doesn't attach to the shorts, allowing each to move independently. It has an extra-high waist-seriously, the band sits higher than my belly button-preventing the possibility of sagging shorts revealing too much skin to the rider behind you on the trail.
The Solstice Snap Raglan ($109) and Kiah Tee ($69) are both made with 89 percent 17.5-micron Merino wool and 11 percent nylon. My first impression of the Tee is that it is pretty. It could easily be dressed up with a pair of jeans for a mountain-town night out, but the pale pink hue probably won't fare too well on muddy days on the bike.
Hover-Smoot contracted with a Chinese factory for production of this first batch of apparel, but after delays, communication issues during sample development and long lead times, she plans to move manufacturing to San Francisco to simplify. Prices may fluctuate slightly, but Hover-Smoot is committed to keeping the quality-price equation stable as to not deter potential customers.
"I want women to come into mountain biking-it's important for me for more women to get into outdoor sports,” she says. “I want women to be comfortable so they keep doing it."
Wild Rye will sell direct to consumers online and via a traveling trailer with stops planned at trailheads in various western mountain towns this summer and fall.
Editor’s note: Wild Rye Apparel was launched as Buttermilk Apparel, but changed its name due to a trademark conflict.