Scott Sagud shares his motorcycle adventure experience in Vietnam and the influence of real-world product testing on the design process of FirstGear® products.
The following appears in the 2019 FirstGear® catalog and was written by Design Director Scott Sagud.
When considering what seemed appropriate for FirstGear® moving forward, there were many potential avenues to be explored. Would the products be best suited for touring? Or perhaps better for off-road adventures? The history of the brand suggests that leather outerwear may be a viable plan to reinvigorate the brand. It was a clean slate, so to speak. So, the MAG apparel design team sat down to identify our guard rails.
We collectively believe the range of apparel and accessories offered from FirstGear should pay homage to the history of the brand, while focusing first on the items that will inevitably create the foundation. First and foremost, we needed to consider what our customer NEEDS while he or she is on the bike. This simple exercise of deduction inherently created a workspace where ‘clutter’ and ‘novelty’ could fall by the wayside, without impacting the product offering or brand message.
Through the ideation process, it became apparent these foundational items, new for 2019.5, should encompass all aspects of long-distance, multi-day, heavy use, multi-climate riding scenarios. The garments should be stripped down to details that are simple but essential in the aforementioned set of scenarios. This would be the future of FirstGear®. Versatile performance at a great value.
The stage had been set. We knew what we wanted but how did we know our intuition was right for our customer? We could have trusted our instincts and hoped our partner factory had the same intention for the new products as we did. The rest of the industry operates this way, right? Our voices resounded ‘NO,’ unequivocally. These garments needed testing. It was necessary to know our assumptions were correct by means of brutally thrashing the daylights out of each piece. So that is what we did.
“These garments needed testing. It was necessary to know our assumptions were correct by means of brutally thrashing the daylights out of each piece. So that is what we did.”
I wanted to select a location that would provide a spectrum of less-than-ideal climates, on-road conditions, off-road conditions, traffic scenarios, etc. We ultimately decided on Vietnam. After a bit of research regarding tours available, we decided on exploring Saigon first, then flying north to Hanoi for a adventure moto tour. A week later, we packed our bags with the new prototypes and boarded our plane for the 14-hour flight east.
In what seemed like a strange time warp, we finally arrived. After waking up from a late-night hotel check-in we were greeted by our Guide who would lead us through our jaunt and helped to describe the journey ahead. Barely awake, I nodded my head to every disclosure and safety briefing he presented and quite honestly can’t remember one. In retrospect that may have been a good thing to pay attention to. We let him know we were there to test new gear, so don’t be shy with the paths chosen. He chuckled to himself and said, ‘There is one path – we’ll see what you think of it.’
Fast-forward a few hours later after we signed our life away, bikes packed up and first time wrapping ourselves in the new gear. The initial look and feel was great. The materials felt incredibly durable yet comfortable. All the details seemed to be in the right place. That’s when it started raining. We left the guide’s home base and set out into the city. It’s worth mentioning, the vehicle of choice on the mean streets of Vietnam are 4-stroke Honda mopeds. We were mounted upon late 90s XR 450s. Needless to say, we stood out. Weaving through mobs of traffic in increasingly consistent rain was actually quite fun. It was exactly what we were looking for. An adventure. Tire to tire with the moped in front and behind you like fish in a constantly flowing river of smoke and grit. I made sure to zip up all the vents in the jacket and the Z-liner worked just as intended, keeping me dry. As the traffic gave way to buses transporting bamboo scaffolding to neighboring cities, the highway speeds clicked up. The rain seemed to roll off the treated 600D jacket and over-pant with ease and we made our way straight toward the mountains on the horizon.
After about an hour and a half of riding, we arrived in the countryside. The one lane paved highway was flanked with small wooden structures offering provisions and wares. We took a pit stop to revive ourselves with a bit of Vietnamese coffee. I took the opportunity to take a few photos of the water-resistant bags we had brought to test, at this point very wet and covered in mud and dirt from the road. The insides stayed remarkably dry. We spoke with the locals through our guide and came to learn quickly that we were about to embark on the two-day long off-road section of the trip.
“The village quickly gave way to massive ferns and vegetation as lush as I have ever seen. We were undoubtedly not in Kansas anymore.”
We left as quickly as we arrived at the coffee shop and headed north through the village. The village quickly gave way to massive ferns and vegetation as lush as I have ever seen. We were undoubtedly not in Kansas anymore. Suddenly the road gave way to slick clay mud as we continued our ascent into the Vietnamese mountains. The persistent rain made the surfaces slick and challenging but the garments moved without limitation when dealing with the ever-unexpected bump, slide and jump along the dirt farmer’s trail.
It’s difficult to put into words what your senses experience in new situations like these. It really is what adventures are all about. Around each corner there was another expansive vantage point of spired mountain ranges that plummeted hundreds of feet to the sea below. Every view presented an awe that made schlepping a 120lb gear bag 7,746 miles across the world worth it. Dripping wet, covered in clay mud from periodic spills and smiling ear to ear.
We eventually made it to our first night’s stay in the rural mountainside six hours outside of Hanoi. We opted for the home stay experience. This is where you have the opportunity to enjoy a meal and a roof over your head, provided by a family that lives in the village. We got out of our gear to notice the exterior was very wet and the interior remained very dry. The gear had seemed to pass the inclement weather test. We showered up, got warm and were served a delicious Vietnamese meal in the middle of nowhere.
“I look forward to the future of this brand and hope that in some capacity this recount of our experience evokes a fire within to get up, get your FirstGear on, and go make some memories on some road, somewhere.”
The next morning, we awoke to the sound of roosters and laid all of the gear out. I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite dry in the almost 90% humidity. I checked for potential issues or design decisions that could be improved. Our guide and my travel buddy Adam checked for snakes and spiders. We all agreed the zippers needed major improvement, both on the outerwear and bags. A better system for keeping moisture out of external pockets was also considered. Due to the lack of dexterity in gloves, we decided a longer piece of webbing needed to be attached to the zipper pulls to adjust vents while on the bike. I had remembered getting soaked on my left shoulder because of the inability to adjust the vent while moving down the highway in the rain. The Velcro on the out- seam of the overpants needed to be reconsidered as well as it did not provide enough circumference for an Enduro style boot. The good thing was nothing ripped. All the seams stayed together on every crash and the garments were holding up well.
Back on the bikes and back into the hills. Today was significantly warmer and less rainy. It provided an opportunity to open up the vents and see how the jackets and pants functioned more as impact shells and less as water barriers. The road swooped through rural mountain village to next rural mountain village. Every scene as beautiful as the last. We took a pit stop around 11 after riding off-road for another four hours and our guide let us know the end of the slick, orange clay accompanied by slick gravel and shale would soon be coming to an end. My body thanked him. We rode for another six hours on paved mountain roads back toward the main highway that brought us there. As the clouds began to give way, I was overwhelmed by the series of events that had brought me to this place. Aside from feeling quite content about the designs we had produced for the reintroduction of such an iconic brand, I couldn’t help but feel so fortunate to have this experience. To literally realize your dreams of standing up on your bike, riding sweeping mountain roads through Vietnam is really something.
I look forward to the future of this brand and hope that in some capacity this recount of our experience evokes a fire within to get up, get your FirstGear® on, and go make some memories on some road, somewhere.
– Scott Sagud, Design Director
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2019 FirstGear® Catalog
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