Found: Better Women’s Bike Layers
A shortage of functional, design-forward mountain bike apparel led one disgruntled rider to launch Buttermilk, a tiny startup dedicated to core female cyclists
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Judging from her brand-new line of impeccably-designed women’s mountain bike duds, you’d expect Katy Hover-Smoot to be a badass cyclist. But you’d be wrong.
“I’m actually a pretty average rider,” she says. Her real genius is backcountry skiing, though when the drought of winter 2011/12 left the Sierras snowless, the Lake Tahoe resident took to two wheels out of desperation. That flirtation sparked a love of mountain biking that not even her crappy rig could dispel. She soon upgraded the 1996 hardtail Stumpjumper she’d borrowed from her ex-boyfriend. But finding great bike shorts proved more difficult.
“I wear a size six, but I always had to size up to a large to get shorts that fit over my big biker-skier quads,” says Hover-Smoot. That threw the fit off everywhere else—like the waist, which was typically too big for her. “And the fabrics [in women’s mountain bike apparel] always seem like an afterthought, just generic synthetics that feel crinkly and awful,” she says.
So she vowed to create something truly outstanding. “The mountain bike scene has gotten so much better for women over the past two years,” says Hover-Smoot, “But there’s still lots of room for innovation. There aren’t many industry players that are speaking to women in a voice that they can hear or understand.”
After polling her Tahoe riding posse, studying runway trends, and drawing on her visual arts background (she earned a PhD in art history from U.C. Berkeley), Hover-Smoot launched Buttermilk on August 10. Named for a celebrated biking-climbing-backcountry-skiing zone in the eastern Sierra, Buttermilk currently has four styles. The line's currently sold direct through the Buttermilk website, though Hover-Smoot also distributes it via a 1962 Shasta compact trailer that she drives to races, trailheads, and bike events. “It’s a pop-up retail solution to support our main e-commerce channel,” she says.
As for the gear, there's the Whitney Short ($129), which includes a leg opening that’s wide enough for muscles made bulky by biking and skiing, and a conical waistband that eliminates the problematic gap experienced by many small-bellied athletes. The lightweight Schoeller fabric not only has a nice hand, it’s also durable without feeling overly thick or heavy. “I wanted something that you could actually wear while climbing up a mountain in 90-degree heat,” says Hover-Smoot.
Also made of silky Schoeller fabric, the Chammy ($79) features Italian-made padding and a conspicuously high waist that covers a rider’s back when she’s bent forward on the bike. It looks (and feels) like something Victoria’s Secret might have made—if Victoria’s obsession was singletrack. Two shirts—the Kiah Tee ($69) and the Solstice Snap Raglan ($109), both made of a merino-nylon blend—complete the line.
“It’s really hard as a small brand,” Hover-Smoot says. Materials and production cost more when they’re negotiated in small quantities, and tiny companies get brushed aside when factories get big orders from huge players. But Buttermilk has plans to expand. It’ll launch a small line of women’s skiing base layers this fall, and 2017 could see a greater range of mountain bike shorts to suit a broader range of bodies and inseam preferences. “I want a short that doesn’t discriminate,” she says.
Plus, Four Other Brands Making Bike Apparel for Women, by Women
When Ashely Rankin introduced her wildly-patterned bike shorts in 2012, she debuted 12 pieces. Now, Shredly offers five categories and 54 items, which have become a cult favorite among riders throughout Colorado (where Shredly is headquartered).
Senior Manager for Apparel Monica Lindstrom designed everything in POC’s new Fondo road bike line launching this fall, and Product Manager Amanda Dahllof collaborates on POC’s women’s mountain bike line (including the new Resistance Mid Shorts, $110).
Dakine Designer Brittany Crook masterminds the women’s mountain-biking line.
A German brand that’s starting to make inroads into U.S. markets, Maloja employs a team of six women to design the hippie-chic ladies’ collection.