With the Signature Fly receiving more accolades, awards and converts than any other women's bib short on the market, and with its successor the Fly Free, dropping (literally!) across our entire bib collection in the summer of 2019, we asked long-time Velocio customer and Velocio NE CX racer Erin Faccone to dig into the history of what made these "pee bibs" the solution to an age old problem.
“I remember all the Europeans on the team being a bit freaked out by the idea of having a zipper on their bibs and most were super hesitant to even try it. They thought for sure someone would grab the zipper and pull it down!” - Tayler Wiles
The first production samples shipped off to Velocio-SRAM team camp in December 2014 in the hands of Velocio’s co-founder and designer, Brad Sheehan. Armed with three pairs of prototype bib shorts, Brad stood in front of the top names in women’s cycling to explain a cycling bib short with a zipper. He explained the concept with data: the time savings of the Signature Fly as compared to a traditional bib for a nature break. “It takes two minutes if you’re fast with regular bibs, but only 15-30 seconds if you’re fast with the fly”. He also recalled that the initial reaction from the riders was something along the lines of, “Are you f-cking kidding me?!”
Tayler Wiles was on the team at that time and remembers the introduction.
“I remember doing the first pee break video with teammate Lisa Brennauer where we got off the bikes and hid behind a rock, peeking our heads out every now and then. Seemed a bit strange at the time but I remember being kind of excited by the idea of bibs that allowed you to pee without taking everything off. The team was intrigued, but definitely super hesitant to try it. I think they were a bit afraid of people in the peloton teasing us.”
Cycling is a “sport of rules”: Socks “should” be a certain height. Knees “should” get covered below a certain temperature. Bib shorts outperform non-bib shorts. And while bib shorts really do shine in many ways - the chamois stays put and there’s no forced muffin top from mid-belly elastic waist - it was accepted that these benefits come at the cost of being able to pee. The pattern of unzipping a jersey, a jacket, a vest to unearth your bib straps, the obstacle between you and a bathroom break. Going against customs opens you to criticism. It creates friction.
The Velocio brand launched in January 2014, almost a year before that team camp. The founding partners began in April 2013 with a plan to go to market offering a full women’s line that could outfit a race-ready team. In only eight months. And that the clothing would be high-quality, performance oriented, and also meet the needs of non-professional-racers who want to enjoy the experience of riding bikes. “We were nothing if not ambitious,” Sheehan described. “That, and a touch naive.” An unconventional operation from the start, the founders created custom patterns and fabrics for an initial line of twenty pieces. It was an investment in customization and manufacturing they believed would pay off over time.
At the heart of it was the fly bib short. Solving “the pee problem” was a goal from the start, but the concept took time. The brand’s debut bib short followed a conventional bib design, with a lycra upper and Y-back. It took eight prototypes to get right. Then, in the living room of Brad’s house, they were cut and re-assembled with several fixture options in an attempt to solve the pee problem.
Critical to this effort is Zoe, an elite cyclist, former racer, and wearer of the first-ever Velocio prototype and each prototype since. She tested the first pair of Signature fly bibs while pregnant with her and Brad’s second child. This was the first story Brad told when asked about the history of the bibs.
“Zoe has been the fit model, the tester, the product feedback front line for all women’s products. Every single piece she’s tried on and tested.”
Tried on, pinned, re-worked, and tried on again. The iterating happened by hand; samples pinned and mailed back to Italy each time.
That first year saw more than a dozen paper designs - a few with bra hook closures, one with snaps, and some too wacky to be remembered. The Y-back design of a typical bib lends to the idea of a fixture at the back - the simplest solution - which permits unhooking of the bib straps entirely and removal of the shorts. The problem is that, once unhooked, the straps will not stay secure on the shoulders - they snap forward like a poorly drawn window shade. A halter strap model solves the problem of the straps staying secure while the bib lower is removed but creates pressure on the neck and compromises chamois-security.
Hence, the fly bibs became an engineering problem. How could one make a short that’s flexible enough to pull down without having to undo a fixture on the straps? Ultimately, the inspiration came from an unlikely place: fashion.
The cross-strap back design is common in fashion - prominent on dresses, among other things. And so are zippers. Any woman who’s ever worn a dress is familiar with the experience of operating a zipper behind her back. So, they experimented with these design elements in a bib. Ultimately, the cross-strap design created stability and support in the lower-short, and also offered greater range of motion due to the longer strap (as compared to a straight suspender). It clicked.
“Did the factory look at you like you were nuts?”
“Yes! They do that a lot” - Brad
There are factories that specialize entirely in the production of elastic straps. Velocio tested a half-dozen elastics before settling on the production choice - a narrow-knit elastic designed to stretch to 2.2x initial length with no fabric fatigue. A cross-strap design that requires 75cm of strap length. 165cm of bib-strap-stretch to work with. Those numbers are important.
“It’s enough that you should be able to take the shorts totally off without removing the bib straps if you’re flexible.” - Brad
It took three full prototypes before the Signature fly bibs were production ready. The last prototypes went to team camp.
When launched in early 2015, public reaction to the fly design mirrored the team camp experience. There were extreme reactions to the initial marketing collateral for the design, both positive and negative. The fly proved useful for telling the story of nature break friendly bib shorts.
“It’s really hard to make people understand. They need to see or experience.” - described brand manager, Andrew Gardner. “And we’ve seen countless copycats solving the “age-old problem” of nature breaks with takes on Velocio’s design.”
Recently Velocio updated their bib collection with a reimagined design to provide the same access, but in a zipperless, “FlyFree” method. Sheehan recounts:
“The goal has always been to design the best possible product, so the work started on evolving the Signature Fly as soon as it was released.”
There’s an innate stubbornness to innovation that requires a balance of patience and creative destruction. To find a better way means charting a path through something that hasn't been done before, to reimagine quickly and to innovate on the fly.
Today, Velocio offers a full line of bib shorts and tights, featuring FlyFree. The tag on those bibs reads "No Compromises", as a reminder of their approach to creating a better product.
Follow Erin on Instagram at @efacc