DAVE WATSON had long been a well-respected competitive mountain biker in North Vancouver, B.C., having won the Canada Cup in 2001 and national titles in 1999 and 2000. But to cement his legacy in the freewheeling world, Watson had to travel thousands of miles from the epicenter of freeride mountain biking.
During the eighth stage of the 2003 Tour de France, the 28-year-old Watson pulled off a spectacular 30-foot guerrilla jump over the course just as a pack of riders swept below him. The gap jump, off a cliff in the Alpe d'Huez, turned Watson into a freeriding legend. More important, it upped the cool factor of Watson's freeride clothing company, Sombrio.
While Watson continues to pull off riding stunts, he is also pushing the sport in a new direction as a fashion maven. Says Watson, "What you wear to your ride and what you wear when you're just hanging out is a big part of the lifestyle of the sport. We just want to keep growing and be a part of the riding flavor."
As Carlsbad, Calif., is to skateboarders and Kauai, Hawaii, is to surfers, North Vancouver is to freeriders. The relatively new subculture within mountain biking got its start in the North Shore, a mountainside region across the water from downtown Vancouver. In less than a decade the hiking mecca of the North Shore has also become a world-class playground for freeriders to test their knobby tires over sketchy-looking wooden ladders, skinny logs and teeter-totters on singletrack trails.
In this corner of the world, hard-core bikers wouldn't be caught dead wearing Lycra shorts. "When Australian mountain bikers come here, they lose their mind. They can't believe how big off-road cycling is. They can't believe kids here go to school wearing their bike clothes," says Gabe Fox, marketing manager of Cove Bikes in North Vancouver.
Frustrated by bike companies producing motocross-inspired jerseys and those hideous Lycra shorts, Watson capitalized on the opportunity to create trendy and technically efficient clothes for the rapidly evolving freeride movement. In 1998 he and fellow rider Andrew Shandro started Sombrio with $1,500 from Shandro and $13,700 Watson made from selling his 1969 Mini Cooper S. The company set up shop along the shores of North Vancouver's Georgia Strait, where Sombrio's five employees design colorful ultrawicking shorts and mesh-paneled jerseys and hoodies and test the products in the backyard.
Sombrio has banked its success on word of mouth and the exposure of its nine sponsored athletes, which include Watson and Shandro, a two-time World Cup downhill champion. In 2003 the privately held company had nearly half a million dollars in sales, mostly in western Canada. Next year Sombrio plans to move into the U.S. market. Says Fox, "Without a doubt, Sombrio's one of the most dominant brands. When we get new Tshirts and baseball caps for the Christmas season, theirs is the first pile to go." --Yi-Wyn Yen