From the first ride to visiting the factory
Photography and copy by Katie Jackson
My boyfriend and I met on Tinder. It’s not my ideal “once upon a time.” But that’s okay. I have an even better one: George Hincapie taught me how to ride a road bike. In February 2014, I visited Hotel Domestique to write a story for The Active Times. I’d never been on a road bike before. Skinny tires screamed vanity. And clipping in? That was about as appealing as licking a stop sign post in sub-zero temperatures.
Still, I got on one of Hotel Domestique’s state-of-the-art road bikes one morning, ready to ride with George and his friends. By “ready” I mean I was wearing a pair of yoga pants, tennis shoes (I didn’t graduate to clipping in for at least another year), and a helmet from Walmart. If George cared what I was wearing while riding a bike worth more than my inherited Honda parked in Domestique’s lot, he deserves an Oscar for not showing it.
From the moment I eased my sore bum (I quickly realized yoga pants were no substitute for padded shorts) off of that bike after a 40-mile ride with George, I knew I was hooked. Over the next few years, I’d travel the world—riding everywhere from Iceland’s rugged coast to rural Rwanda (with Team Africa Rising), the jungles of Malaysia, up Tenerife’s 12,000 ft.-tall-volcano and even around the hippodrome in Paris. Fortunately, I picked up a few fashion tips—and Hincapie Sportswear kits—along the way.
I feel like I sport the “H” as much as Lebron is seen in the swoosh. So, when I was in Colombia earlier this year, I wanted to visit the Hincapie Sportswear Factory. George had told me about it, and his family in Colombia, during that first ride. As soon as I landed in Medellin, I reached out to Lindsay (Director of Marketing) at Hincapie Sportswear, and she connected me to Rich Hincapie. Together, they arranged for me to visit the factory—something they definitely didn’t have to do since I wasn’t on assignment or even buying anything. Imagine if Willy Wonka was as generous with his golden tickets …
Anyway, I’ve been a fan of clothes for nearly 30 years. But, I’ve never seen where they come from. For me, touring the Hincapie factory was the most relevant field trip I’ve ever taken. My guide, who works in marketing at Hincapie Sportswear, walked me through the entire process of making a custom cycling kit. Upstairs, I met the graphic designers and printers. Downstairs, I met the cutters, the sewers, and the friendly, yet discerning faces in quality control.
Although everyone in the factory was busy working, the mood was almost celebratory. There was still Valentine’s Day candy being passed out—I made a point to walk by the desks with the overflowing dishes. But the red helium-filled balloons reaching for the rafters by some of the seamstresses’ stations? They were there for International Women’s Day. As Yoda would say, “A sweatshop this is not.”
Okay fine. Technically, the clothing I watched come to life was all designed to sweat in. I even saw some women working on cycling kits for a race in Jackson Hole—not far from where I live. The coolest part, however, was probably getting to compliment the team who worked on the Clip-In with Christian cycling kits I’d gotten months earlier in Aspen while attending Christian Vande Velde’s annual cycling camp at The Little Nell. I pulled out my phone and showed the workers pictures of me wearing the kits they’d created—cycling around the temples in Northern Thailand, climbing up Beartooth Pass outside Yellowstone National Park, and weaving in between taxis while trying to get to Central Park in New York. What started as their ideas and textiles in downtown Medellin was now an integral part of some of this Montanan’s favorite memories.
I doubt George remembers my inaugural foray on a road bike, and the role he, and Hotel Domestique, played. But perhaps, that’s for the better. No one wants to go down in history as the ill-dressed, inexperienced cyclist who thought Strava was a coffee drink you sipped through a straw. What really matters is that I remember. From that first ride to my more recent factory visit, the word “Hincapie” will forever be woven into the fabric of my life. In other words, I’m working toward a happy ending that even Disney himself would envy.