When Showers Pass co-owner Kyle Ranson ponders future mountain-bike apparel, his visions come in the form of layers that are suitable for an all-day exploration of the narrow singletrack and farm roads that wind through tiny villages in the Scottish Highlands and end at the pub.
Ranson, who grew up in England, is chipping away at Showers Pass' reputation as a "stodgy commuter brand" by developing pieces like this Bamboo-Merino Henley, a warm mid-layer sewn with two of nature's best fibers.
The inspiration for the Henley came after Ranson and the rest of the Portland, Oregon-based Showers Pass staff fielded repeated calls from customers asking what to wear under the cycling jackets for which the brand is best known.
"We've always recommended wool or wool-blend base layers because manmade materials are not good combined with manmade on top. It's a manmade sandwich and it creates horrible bacteria," Ranson said.
Problem was, Showers Pass didn't make anything that fit its own recommendation. So they developed a seamless, wool-blend compression base layer that is body mapped to fit the contours of a jacket. For the next piece, Ranson wanted a mid-layer that could be worn solo or with a base layer and that didn't necessarily need to mesh with a jacket. His first material choice for the Henley was wool, with the caveat that it somehow avoid direct contact with the skin since some riders find the itchiness of wool irritating.
"The trick was getting the fiber mixed right-this is where the bamboo came in," he said. "We came across this new knit process that uses a bamboo fiber and a merino fiber. The bamboo ends up on one face and the wool on the other face."
The cool feel and softness of the bamboo touches the skin, while the wool adds warmth. With bamboo's moisture-wicking capabilities and merino's anti-stink properties, Ranson had found the perfect blend.
I was pretty excited to test the Henley since wool has been my go-to jersey material choice for the past couple of years-it's comfortable on warm or cool days and it doesn't smell like you just got off a summer-long tour with The Dead after a ride like some polyester jerseys. The only downside is the inevitable pilling over time.
My first impression of the Henley was that it is heavier than other 100-percent wool jerseys I've worn recently, and much softer. On one of my test rides, I wore it under an ultra-light shell on a chilly morning in the mountains and the combination felt just about perfect in the sunny, 50-degree weather (yes, that's chilly to a Southern Californian). I had packed the jacket by the time I'd cruised down to the trailhead and didn't regret my decision to forgo a light base layer under the Henley once on the three-hour ride. It kept me warm, but not too stuffy on the few steep climbs when I broke a sweat. For added warmth, the thumb loops allow you to stretch the fabric over your knuckles to provide a second layer underneath the gloves.
Details: Showers Pass Women’s Bamboo-Merino LS Henley
Colors: Plum (pictured) and Charcoal. Also comes in Men’s sizing in Navy and Charcoal.
Sizes: Small to XL. True to size and form-fitting.
More info: showerspass.com
The Henley is not mountain-bike specific, so you won't find any stash pockets for a phone or music player, and there's no added ventilation so it really works best on cold days when you want to keep heat trapped close to the body. It's form-fitting, which means there's much less breeze flowing through the jersey than what you will experience with a more-traditional looser fitting jersey. But, there's a nice natural stretch to the fabric and it never feels too tight when you're maneuvering on the bike.
I haven't washed the Henley enough to truly measure the durability of the fabric, but so far, it's held up well and has remained pill-free. From what I’ve seen so far, the quality is worthy of the $95 pricetag, which is very competitive with other wool jerseys on the market.
After a few weeks testing the Henley, I found that I had started reaching for it as an everyday shirt to layer with a vest or sweater, instead of choosing it solely for the bike.
Turns out, this is exactly what Ranson had in mind-he wanted the Henley to be just as comfortable off the bike as on.
"It's the kind of piece you can wear to ride singletrack, you're setting off in the morning with a mid-layer jacket, stopping somewhere nice for lunch. Sitting down at the pub having lunch, sitting there relaxed with grime on your hair, buttons undone enjoying your beer. That's the image I see with the piece. I dream about that kind of trip now because I'm home with two kids under 2 lounging around in my bamboo Henley."
This is just the beginning of a new direction for Showers Pass. Look for an expanded offering of mountain bike apparel next year that blurs the line between performance and lifestyle.