Race Face offices and operations: gear for Him and Her
The video ad on Pinkbike was just a few seconds long but it hooked me every time: A rider shredding a trail at Whistler just before Crankworx—slashing a berm, hucking, schralping down a steep rock face, clattering over rocks and roots, before jumping out of the trees and down onto the course, where a 15 foot stunt drop is landed with ease. She removes her fullface and smiles. Yes, she: Race Face international team rider Beth Parsons. Beth is just one of the inspiring riders on Race Face’s women-packed teams.
The bike component and clothing company has long been known for their innovative men’s gear and quality parts. But two years ago, Race Face launched their For Her line of soft goods, designed specifically for women shredders—with R&D done by women and testing by…women.
When Billy and I visited the offices in Vancouver during our “Four Mountains” trip, we found that Race Face isn’t just making off-shoots of men’s gear for the ladies; the line isn’t simply smaller sizes or side-thoughts. Wendy Tewnion, who heads up the research, design and marketing for Race Face’s soft goods, gave us the scoop on how Race Face is placing great emphasis on developing a gear line that encourages the advancement of women’s riding.
Sprung from Rocky Mountain Bikes, Race Face became a boutique component company in 1992, starting with bar ends and stems. Clothing was brought into the mix years ago with the acquisition of Roach apparel. And in 2009, the For Her line made its debut. The DIY collection—all-mountain shorts, gloves and armor (featured above)—recognizes that independent attitude that Race Face has acknowledged with its name. The feedback from women riders has been wonderfully positive, though Wendy says, the line’s nuances are constantly being tweaked for perfection.
Now in the works, too, is an entire women’s DH kit, with shorts, tops and armor. They’ll be designed burlier to withstand the rougher conditions. Also, word’s already gotten out that for the ladies, Race Face is bringing back open-back knee pads—a direct result of listening to riders’ wants.
Wendy scrutinizes over fabrics for their technology and comfort, she says, selecting the best she can find from manufacturers overseas. She designs the styles with a conscious fashion-forward mantra, for which she’s constantly scanning outside industries, such as snowboarding, for inspiration. “I can’t get on the train without being aware of so many outfits around me,” she says. That’s obvious when you sneak-peak the DH shorts pictured below. If they perform as well and with the same comfort as the DIY short I’ve been testing, I’d say her efforts are paying off.
You can’t help but be stoked on the colors. Race Face digs colors—bright colors. This translates to their components, too. Sad to say, but that’s rather innovative for this industry. Maybe the trend will catch on. “Mild and wild,” Wendy says—the colorways will have both. I prefer the latter.
While there, we got the chance to peep Race Face’s warehouse and tour their manufacturing facilities—all within the same discreet building. Though many of their components are now outsourced, a few pieces (stems, cranks, chain rings) are still made right in-house some several floors below the offices. Ian Archibald, Race Face’s Canadian manufacturing manager, showed us around.
Unfortunately, but understandably, most of it is secret HQ imagery, so no pictures. But I’ll try to briefly describe.
Still chugging and clanking away is the original stem-cutter from nearly two decades ago. Ian says Race Face stays nimble in its manufacturing, reacting to what people are buying, by keeping flexible with machines and multi-disciplined employees. The only step in the manufacturing process outsourced is anodyzation. Once anodized, the components return and graphics are lasered on with a computer-controlled detailing machine in a quiet room.
And then, you hear about stress tests, but they always seem to happen in some R&D lab or are just simply conceptual. Race Face has its own torture chamber. We watched components undergo what will become weeks of constant agitation pressure more frequent and forceful than a human can express. Ian says, beyond complying with the international legal regulations, Race Face tests products to their own standards that are even stricter in terms of strength and safety. Don’t fear the carbon, he says. If you can break it, you have other issues.
To close up the tour, we glanced inside the engineers’ office. Bryn Johnson is Race Face’s lead engineer. The room was quiet when we passed by, but there was evidence of great ideas in the works and good things to come to the industry.
Thanks again to Wendy, Julian and Ian for showing us the digs.