I’ll never forget the first time I slipped on a pair of messenger knickers. It was love at first rotation. I recall thinking, why haven’t I had a pair of these before? Super-comfy – thanks to the lightweight, woven, four-way stretch fabric – I’ve come to realize that messenger knickers are to cycle touring what bridle leather is to Brooks saddles; in other words, “essential.”
And so it was with a healthy dose of excitement that Sheila and I found ourselves cycling east from the coast and directly into the belly of the beast that is Los Angeles, California. We were on our way to visit Swrve, a small but prolific manufacturer of utilitarian cycling-specific clothing located in Glendale. I had always wanted a pair of Swrve knickers but had decided to wait until we visited the shop in person to pick up a pair. Prior to making the trip inland, I’d been wearing a pair of Chrome “Telegraph” knickers that were sewn in Oakland. Since that purchase, however, Chrome has moved production of their knickers to China. This sad fact lent some immediacy to our visit since Swrve is now unique among their peers in that their softshell kickers are still made in the USA. If I wanted a back up pair of knickers this was going to be it.
[***UPDATE*** 06/07/2012 – SWRVE has started having some of their knickers manufactured outside the USA. According to their website, the country of origin of some of their lower priced knickers now show as “Imported”.]
[***UPDATE*** 08/10/2014 – In addition to moving some of its production to sweatshops located in Pakistan, SWRVE has also started exploiting desperate workers and lax environmental standards by having some of its signature apparel produced in China. Their “BLK Label” apparel is, at least for the time being, still being produced in L.A.]
After riding for some thirteen miles (the cycling distance this day was determined by the location of the closest Metro station) and navigating the nuances of a new mass transit system, we successfully hauled our fully-loaded bikes onto the first in a series of trains that would deliver us to within a few miles of Swrve’s “Verdugo Road” location. However, on this day, it was not to be. We ended up spending much longer on the trains and in the bike shop where we had had some things shipped (thanks Golden Saddle Cyclery!) and ended up running out of daylight. Since we were due that night at the Redondo Beach home of a warmshowers.org host, we decided to split our L.A. trip into two days.
So after a delightful evening with our host Leanna and a good night’s sleep, the following morning we once again made our way via train to Swrve’s shop. This day’s traverse of the Metro systems proved much easier given the fact that we were traveling relatively light; only a pannier and handlebar bag apiece to be exact.
A little over two hours later we pulled into Swrve’s current location, a commercial building fronted by a quiet street and within spitting distance of a park and busy main road. Not knowing really what to expect, we stepped through the front door and were greeted by co-founder Matt wielding a paintbrush. It seems that Saturdays at Swrve are for painting trim, and Matt was deep into the task. Wanting to learn more about the operation, we were quickly introduced to other co-founder Muriel who took time out to answer some of our questions and to show off some of their latest wares. They filled us in on their recent move from downtown L.A. and their plans for the new space and elaborated a bit on Swrve’s history. Simmering just under their subdued and laid back personalities was the obvious fact that both founders are passionate about what they are doing. And since we, too, are passionate about what they’re doing, we let them know how much we support their goal of keeping production local.
Finally, it was time to try on some knickers! And try-on I did, opting in the end for a pair of size 34 BLK Label knickers constructed from US-made “Durastretch” material.
Interspersed between various pairs of knickers, we each tried the fit of many fine wool hats, me opting against another purchase because of my large skull and the lack of x-large hats. Sheila successfully fought the urge to accessorize, helped in large part by the fact that Swrve had ceased production of women’s specific clothing. Although Muriel didn’t totally rule out a future revisit, she did point out that for the time being Swrve is focusing on clothing for men.
So, with my new knickers and some decent photos of Swrve’s operation in hand, we bid Matt and Muriel goodbye. Before we left they helped us with directions to a closer Metro stop, which saved us some climbing and got us back on the train just before the sun slipped below the horizon. We had one more stop to make before heading to our host’s home. Since it was my birthday, we’d decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out. In anticipation, we affixed our headlights to our bikes and as we rolled off the Metro, we illuminated our rear flashers before pedaling off into the cool night air.