It’s rare for a cycling product to be genuinely revolutionary. Or even just significantly better than anything else on the market. Gore-Tex’s Shakedry material is one of a few recent instances, with Gore’s range of Shakedry jackets being among the earliest beneficiaries of its class-leading qualities.
Gore is the most famous apparel brand that people don’t think they’ve heard of. You’ve heard of Gore-Tex though? Everyone’s heard of Gore-Tex. Well, Gore is the sport-specific arm of W. L. Gore & Associates, makers of famously high-tech fabrics that serve in everything from spacesuits to your granddad’s aortic stent.
More famous among cyclists for its fabrics than its house brand, Gore-Tex materials are a selling point across top-end kit from many of cycling’s most recognisable clothing makers. However, getting hold of its parent company’s materials first means Gore has recently enjoyed a rapid increase in its profile. The reason; being the first to produce jackets using W. L. Gore & Associates’ incredible Shakedry fabric.
Gore’s history in the peloton began in 1985. It came with the brand’s first foray into pro cycling when team Superconfex (later Rabobank) wore its Giro jacket at the Tour de France. While plenty of jackets of the era were waterproof, this jacket was way ahead of its time in terms of breathability, the ability to let water vapour out in the other direction.
If you’ve never googled Gore-Tex, it’s worth a trip down the rabbit hole. The material, its full name being expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, was discovered by Richard Gore half by mistake. He pulled on a heated rod of PTFE, and to his surprise, an altogether new material stretched out in front of him.
The miraculous part of the ePTFE material he stumbled upon is that it’s riddled with pores, each around twenty thousand times smaller than a water droplet. When formed into a fabric, this means water is locked out, but air and water vapour can travel freely through in the opposite direction. Applied to a jacket for cyclists, the result was less sweaty riders, along with an end to being boiled one moment and frozen the next.
While Gore-Tex’s ePTFE material has been winning fans since 1969, the latest Shakedry jackets are the first to use it in a very specific way. Until recently, the shell of a waterproof cycling jacket has typically had three layers. These consist of an outer layer, an ePTFE membrane in the middle, and a final lining next to the skin. The outermost of these layers requires some form of coating to allow it to shed water. Without this, it would wet out, becoming not only soggy and cold but also blocking the tiny vents in the ePTFE material that allow moisture to escape away from the wearer. However, over time, this water repellent surface will eventually degrade, leading to a drop off in performance.
Turning things inside out
Gore’s new Shakedry material does away with this outer layer. Not only does this result in a lighter product, but also a more breathable one. At the same time, the fabric’s water-shedding properties are inherent to the ePTFE membrane and so never diminish.
With only two layers, Shakedry jackets are also incredibly light. Turning once bulky items into something you can squeeze into half of a back pocket, they’re especially packable. Class-leading in terms of breathability, they’re also comfortable to leave on all day. And when they do get wet, you can literally shake the water beads off them, hence the Shakedry name.
Genuinely magical when you first try one, downsides to the material include the fact that you can’t use it while wearing a backpack, along with its relatively high cost.
First released exclusively on Gore’s products, Shakedry has since been licensed to other brands, including Rapha and Castelli. Initially a relatively rigid fabric, Shakedry is also now available with a degree of stretch, allowing clothing makers to tailor jackets better complementing the material’s technical properties.
Still unequalled by anything else on the market, the development of Shakedry is likely to ensure that Gore-Tex remains a byword for performance while having been the first to bring it to market won’t have hurt Gore’s profile either. If you get the opportunity, give it a try, it's very clever stuff.