Former World Cup rider enters clothing industry
June 23, 2012
Steamboat Springs — For Karen Tremaine, singlespeed mountain bike racing is the product of an evolution.
She spent more than a decade at the top of the mountain biking world, competing in World Cups and National Championships, reveling in the glory and dealing with the pressure that comes along with those starts.
Singlespeed is what she did next, a way to satisfy her passion for riding while relieving that pressure.
Now, Tremaine said she's on the verge of yet another evolution in the sport, even as she continues to ride to success in singlespeed races.
Cycling has taken her across the country and around the world. She spent months in Europe competing in big races, and she's even heading to South Africa in a few months for a prestigious singlespeed event. Now, the sport she so loves is taking her a different direction: into the clothing industry, thanks to the company she's trying to build with her husband, Clint Ball.
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Tremaine's never struggled to stand out among Steamboat Springs' vast array of talented riders, however, and it's not just her speed, her easy laugh or always-say-hello attitude that set her apart.
At any Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series event, Tremaine is the only one in a skirt or a dress.
If her read on the market is accurate, that could change in the coming years, and she could be joined by a wave of women riders.
"It started as something in the back of my mind, and it was there for a number of years," Tremaine said. "Female cyclists, we go in every season to try to find some new cycling apparel, and for me, it's always been a bit boring. I really want to have more feminine things out there."
Tremaine said she's seen changes throughout the years from truly bland jerseys to ones filled with flowers or other designs. There even are a few cycling dresses and skirts out there, things she's frequently worn to races in the past.
She sees plenty of room in the market, however.
"We want to have dresses and fun, really alternative things to wear," she said. "In a mountain town like Steamboat, we like to go ride our bikes up on Emerald, then go to Sunpie's and have a beer and feel comfortable.
"There are some smaller companies out there that do a little bit of that. We want to take it to another level."
Learning the ropes
By "another level," Tremaine means style and function meeting for a balance that makes perfect sense to her.
Describing exactly what she had in mind to potential manufacturers hasn't been easy.
Tremaine moved to Steamboat about nine years ago after the Yampa Valley town won her over, first during her competitive days and later with the bountiful snow reports that always caught her eye as she was looking to move from a small Canadian town.
She dipped her toe back in competitive waters with the city's Town Challenge series, at first in search of friends. Eventually, she met Ball, who then lived in Denver, through mutual friends. The pair have been kindred, singlespeed spirits ever since, marrying last summer as they raced in the singlespeed division of the two-person Trans Rockies mountain bike stage race in Canada.
It was about a year ago her thoughts on cycling clothing went from "someday" to "how about now."
The time since has led the couple down avenues they never expected.
They sent off design sketches to pattern makers, but the slow, expensive and constant process of alterations eventually forced their hand, and Ball, who engineered and worked on hot rod automobiles in another life, put a salvaged sewing machine to use.
"I looked at the sewing machine as another tool and figured out how to use it," he said. "I'm getting better."
Playing off the dogma that cycling clothing must be tight jerseys and shorts, they easily settled on the name "Cogma" for their new effort.
Few steps since have been as easy.
Still a small-time operation, they decided they weren't ready to ship their manufacturing to Asia, where much of the industry resides. They then struggled to find answers in the United States' dispirited clothing industry.
They struggled to find the style and type of fabric they wanted, and when they did, it was hard to find it in the small quantities their young company required. They've looked for inspiration from other local entrepreneurs and clothing companies, really anywhere they could find it.
"We started going to the library to rent all the seasons of 'Project Runway,'" Tremaine said.
"It's really interesting to see how they go from nothing, then they get some crazy challenge, and they make it really fast," Ball said. "Our first dress took me a week to sew. I didn't really even know how to thread the sewing machine."
They continued to move forward with Tremaine sketching out her ideas. She envisioned fashionable tops that'd be comfortable after a day of riding and skirts that wouldn't get caught on the back of a bicycle seat.
Ball, meanwhile, refined his sewing, consulting the Internet and reading the machine's manual to figure it out.
"He's not my seamstress," Tremaine said with a laugh. "I have to call him my seamster."
Cogma now is large enough to fill the kitchen table in the couple's trails-adjacent home. There are a series of completed dresses and tops that Tremaine tests out whenever possible. They plan to work on a line of men's clothes at some point, as well.
There was a hope to have a booth ready for the Interbike conference in Las Vegas later this year, thought that's looking more like a game-time decision.
That's only part of a busy summer for the couple. They're returning to the Trans Rockies race in late July, and Tremaine won free airfare to September's Singlespeed World Championships in South Africa by virtue of winning the Whiskey 50 race in Arizona earlier this season.
That should be a lot of fun, she said, but racing is hardly where her focus currently lies. Once again, she's not relinquishing but evolving her love for cycling.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com