Our time with Barber starts in his small office, where he explains that while many of his colleagues deal with “in-line” product that’s partially constrained by the timing of product release cycles, he has the luxury of a more open-ended operating window.
“I get to deal with the long term projects that are beyond the scope of the normal development cycle,” said Barber. “A lot of that time ends up being spent with our pro athletes and pro teams, working on comfort and functionality. Take the BMC guys, who in the early season are spending upwards of 8 hours a day on their bike. They are going to develop sensitivities to things that would only be small irritations to the regular rider. The great thing is that we can take this feedback and incorporate into our in-line product as well.”
To alleviate these sensitivities as much as possible, Barber went to Belgium in November to fit the entire BMC team. The goal was to find out which Pearl stock sizes would work for which riders, and if there were any outliers who would need special attention. All that information was then entered into a database that Barber showed off to RoadBikeReview.
“There are about 25 metrics for each rider,” he said, pointing to fields in a giant spreadsheet displayed on his oversized computer screen. “We also made special notes, say for instance if a particular rider didn’t like grippers on their bib shorts.”
Turns our Hushovd, who has larger than average thighs, doesn’t like grippers, and Swiss rider Steve Morabito, who has an elongated body shape, wont fit into any of the stock size one-piece kits.
“Steve has the circumference of a medium, but the length of an extra large because he has such a long torso,” explained Barber. “So we end up having to make him a custom skinsuit, because if we put him into a medium he wouldn’t be able to stand up and a large would be flapping around too much.”
Fortunately, about 100 feet from Barber’s office is Pearl Izumi’s Speed Shop, an area inside the company’s giant warehouse where one-off product comes to life. Manned by a team of expert sewers and stocked with every imaginable fabric type and thread color known to man, the Speed Shop is ground zero for custom apparel creation, and more importantly, prototype design and testing.
“Whether we’re working with new patterns, or aerodynamics, or pocket placement, or chamois design, or whatever it is, we can make it here,” said Barber. “This area is set up for doing anything from running shorts to speedsuits to tights, jerseys or jackets. We have all the different machines that you would find in a fully operational cycling apparel factory. So when we prototype something here, we know that they can replicate it there. And in a crunch, this facility can crank out 8-12 fully custom pieces in a day.”
That crunch-time capacity was put the full test a few years back when the Slipstream pro cycling team became Garmin right before the start of the Tour de France. That meant a new kit for each rider on the team — pronto. “Every speed suit was sewn here,” recalled global marketing director Geoff Shaffer. “We had 30 days to make the whole batch, and then we had to fly it over to Europe ourselves in checked luggage. Normally we’d have taken at least twice that time.”