By the time the Firstgear brand got snapped up by Tucker Rocky in 2005, it had fallen far from its peak position as the end-all apparel choice for the long-haul riding crowd.
Languishing under the distributorship of Fairchild Sports, the brand was in need of a drastic makeover, and this was precisely what Tucker Rocky had in mind when it finally took possession of Firstgear in September of that year.
The distributor systematically began rebuilding the brand and in 2007 launched its TPG (Technical Protective Gear) apparel as the storied brand’s showcase line. While Firstgear’s bread and butter is the Kilimanjaro, Katmandu and Jaunt styles, TPG would be the brand’s flagship riding gear.
Now, Tucker Rocky has injected an extra bit of pizzazz into the TPG jacket line by replacing the standard Knox armor with d3o, a new-to-the-U.S.-powersports-industry armor that’s more flexible, less bulky and more high-tech than anything currently on the market.
“TPG is top-of-the-line. This is the heritage piece. This is why the d3o armor was added to the line,” says Mark Salvatore, Firstgear brand manager. “Everything that’s gone on with the brand in total has been extremely small steps of evolution. What’s so exciting about d3o is it’s the first revolutionary step I’ve seen in the apparel side of this business since I’ve been involved.”
Already used extensively by professional skiers and in other snowsports, d3o armor is a strange bit of protection. Thin and malleable, the material is comprised of what’s known as “intelligent molecules” that move freely under normal conditions — hence its softness and pliability — but lock together stiffly in an impact and absorb the energy of the blow.
I got to see it tested firsthand last year when two d3o reps from the United Kingdom-based company stopped by the office for a visit. In its raw form, it squishes like Silly Putty, but it can be molded into various shaped pads.
One of the reps ominously pulled out a small shovel and set it on the table. Pointing out that she had d3o pads in the knees of her pants, she demonstrated how pliable they were and then, without a word, picked up the shovel and whacked herself in the knee. I saw no grimace, but heard quite a thunk when the shovel connected. The rep explained that the material absorbed the blow. She then smacked the raw, puttyish piece with a mallet and one could almost see the rubbery stuff tense up on impact. Impressive stuff.
Tucker Rocky and Firstgear first started exploring using the new armor back in 2006, but couldn’t incorporate it into its apparel because the material had not yet been given CE approval — a European certification standard that rates impact performance.
Since then, the company has configured the material into what it calls type 1 components that are thin and flexible and almost disappear into the garment, and into CE components that are shaped to conform with elbows, knees and other body parts.
By using d3o in the TPG Rainier, Monarch and Teton jackets, Salvatore says he can offer something that no other manufacturer in the U.S. market can do in terms of protection, and it allows him to highlight the other technical features of the jacket.
Apparel specialist and Firstgear frontman Mark Kincart concurs with Salvatore, saying that the goal all along has been to re-establish Firstgear as premier technical riding gear, and the addition of d3o armor will help this effort.
— Dennis Johnson
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews December 2009 issue.