There really is only one way to determine the standard of cycling kit – it needs to be worn day in, day out, and in all conditions. You only really know how comfortable a chamois is once you’ve spent hours in the saddle and have begun to creep into your most irritable state, while you tend to realise that your jersey is short on storage when you’ve completely reached its limits with punctured inner tubes, gels and bars.
Naturally, professional bike racers, who practically live in their kit, are often the best qualified to really perfect the design of an outfit.
Take Velocio’s Head of Sales, Olivia Dillon. She won the Rás na mBan in Ireland three times, and was the only rider to win the event on more than one occasion. It’s known as one of the most gruelling races on the calendar, with the weather often being windy, wet and wild. Spanning six days, the event is a true test of endurance. It puts riders, and their kit, through their paces. So, when a rider of Dillon’s experience makes the bold statement that Velocio creates the best bib shorts on the market, despite her natural bias, we can’t help feeling there’s some merit to the claim.
“We're always trying to make the ride more enjoyable and make the experience simplified. Newer riders – you want them in a quality product that will bring them back again,” she explains. “So they're not going to go home and say their bum hurts because they're in the wrong chamois. It's really about the comfort and enjoying the experience of riding.”
When it comes to bringing new riders into the sport, the burgeoning growth of women’s cycling is perhaps the most important focus.
For women, in a traditionally male-dominated sport, comfortable kit used to be hard to come by. It’s only recently that cycling apparel brands have begun producing women’s specific ranges, after years of expecting female cyclists to settle for smaller sizes of men’s collections. Velocio was certainly in the vanguard of this trend.
“We came out with our women's collection first, and we added men after. We saw at the time that it was definitely an underserved market. And it was absolutely ridiculous, really, that brands were not focusing on it.
“It seemed to be that we were too hard of a problem to solve, which isn't the case at all. It was certainly needed at the time and the right move,” Dillon explains.
Brad Sheehan, Velocio’s CEO, shared Dillon’s view of a hole in the market at the time, recognising the lack of offerings for the female peloton. He explains that the brand started with 20 styles for women, an unprecedented range for a start-up company.
“Over the last number of years we’ve levelled that out so we have an equal offering for both men and women. It's very much the same product, even similar colour palettes and so forth,” he says, “but it’s got a completely different fit and completely different functionality and features, depending on what's required for men or women.”
Of course, the requirements for men’s and women’s kit hugely varies. Velocio’s Fly-Free bibs are the perfect example, with technologies that allow female cyclists to have a natural break without having to take off layers of jerseys before eventually removing their bib shorts or tights.
“All you have to do is literally bend over and pull them down, pee, pull them back up and you're back on your bike,” Dillon explains. “When I see women at a porta potty or on the side of the road, and they're taking their jersey or their helmet off it's hard for me not to stop and say: 'Hey, guys! There is a better way here, we figured this out a while ago!'”
The innovation of a product like the Fly-Free bibs doesn’t come without extensive testing, however, and years of development. Sheehan, as kit designer, had clear ambitions, but there were eight prototypes of the shorts before he eventually found the winning combination. With help from his wife and feedback from Velocio-SRAM (a professional female team at the time), further development led to the eventual removal of the zip (the fly) until the Fly-Free bibs were formed. A game-changing garment for many female cyclists.
Striving for a better future
Velocio's innovative garments are one thing, but their design process is also an unconventional operation. “All of our stuff is made from the ground up, it's all original patterning,” Dillon explains. “We source our own fabrics, our manufacturers are very involved with them. Every product has a function and there's a reason why we make it.”
Much of the cycling apparel seen today is made by only a small number of manufacturers who provide a white label product which can be customised by each brand accordingly, when they add their own logo. Sheehan explains that Velocio took the harder path, but felt it was important to create something that was different and unique.
Sustainability has always been front and centre when it comes to defining Velocio’s place in the market. The brand has committed to manufacturing partners that wish to contribute to a greener future. “Each year, we use more and more recycled fabrics, or bio-based fabrics that are essentially biodegradable. We started pretty early on with some recycled and natural fibre,” Sheehan explains. “Within the first year we used biodegradable packaging, to try and reduce our impact there.”
Sheehan explains that Velocio tries to tackle the issue of sustainability from a variety of perspectives. Starting with product development, they use mills that recover ocean waste which can be repurposed into pellets which are spun into yarn. Their primary manufacturing partner also uses 80% renewable energy and has a sustainability focus. “Working with partners that are on the same wavelength makes a huge difference,” he says.
Sustainability is at the forefront of Velocio's ethos, and influences the suppliers and manufacturers the brand works with
In addition to reducing their impact in the manufacturing processes, Sheehan aims to shift the paradigm from fast fashion, encouraging consumers to not repurchase kit every year. “We focus pretty heavily on durability and quality and longevity in the product that we make through design, but also through brand communication and culture,” he says.
Using simplified aesthetics and core products with unique prints that are timeless rather than trendy, Velocio hopes their customers will be able to use their kit for many years after purchasing.
“If you look at our collection over the years, what's noticeable is that the latest Velocio collection could work with what you bought back in 2017. It’s a continuation of the classic style but a more refined look, so the colour palettes still work. It's not a fad, or just the latest trends,” explains Dillon.
With part of the brand focus shifting to gravel racing, Velocio and its ambassadors are spending more time out in the wilderness, experiencing the beauty of the natural environment first-hand – that’s made a unique impression on the team.
Along with a handful of cycling brands, Velocio has joined the “1% for The Planet'' initiative. That means 1% of profits each year are donated to environmental causes. Recently, Dillon and other Velocio staff members even participated in their own zero emissions, self-sufficient gravel adventure from Girona to the coastal area of Pals – an area which is threatened by climate change with rising sea levels. They scoured 6km of beach and picked up as much plastic as possible – hoping to shine a light on the benefits of less packaging and waste.
In reality, Velocio’s aims as a brand transcend cycling apparel. “We are really trying to make people consider what they're buying and why they're buying it,” Sheehan says. “We’re trying to push the idea that fewer, better things are going to be better for everyone.
“We make cycling apparel which isn’t something you necessarily need, but if we can create high quality products that improve people’s experiences, sustainability might become part of their decision making process when they go and buy a new jacket or when they buy a new dishwasher. In that way, I hope we can be a bigger influence on a lot of people.”