A few weeks back I got an invitation from W.L. Gore & Associates, makers of Gore-Tex, Gore Bike Wear, and Gore Ride-On Cables (among many, many other things), to come visit them in suburban Philadelphia and learn about their products. Although I’ve owned a few Gore products over the years, I didn’t know the whole story so I decided to take them up on their offer last week. If you’re a geek like me you’ll be fascinated to learn how Gore-Tex is made and why it works so well.
How Gore-Tex is made (skip this if you hated science class)
Fluorspar photo by Jonathan Zander (wikipedia)
The Gore-Tex membrane is actually created from something called Polytetrafluoroethylene or as it’s know in the biz, PTFE. PTFE is synthesized from fluorspar (a mineral) and other chemical ingredients to form a white powder which is then polymerized to form a plasticy material. The Gore company figured out that if you expand PTFE you basically get a membrane with advantageous properties like those of Gore-Tex. This expanded PTFE is known as ePTFE and in its basic form it’s very similar to the teflon tape used for sealing pipe threads.
Gore has found a way to use ePTFE in everything from cycling apparel to coatings on derailleur cables to even artificial human arteries. At its core Gore is a technology company and they’re always finding innovative ways to use this stuff. It also helps that many of the employees are outdoor nuts like us 🙂
What Gore-Tex does
Gore-Tex basically does two things that you’ll appreciate when riding in the rain: it’s waterproof and it’s breathable. The pores inside a Gore-Tex membrane are approximately 700 times smaller than a drop of water yet 20,000 times larger than a vapor molecule which keeps water out but allows body vapor caused by sweat to be released. If you’ve ever worn a cheap plastic poncho on a bike ride you know how quickly you get sweaty and drenched from the inside which sorta defeats the purpose of rain gear in the first place.
Gore-Tex glove demo showing how a wet hand will eventually dry out, even under water
Beyond the Gore-Tex membrane itself (which is laminated inside fabric so you can’t usually see it), the key to keeping you dry on a wet ride is a coating called DWR. DWR is applied to the outside of a garment to allow water to bead up when it hits. Through normal outdoor use DWR may degrade over time but it’s simple to “re-activate” it – just wash and toss it into a warm dryer! A Gore-Tex jacket with degraded DWR may feel wet (and cold) in the rain as the outer fabric gets wetted out but Gore guarantees you’ll stay dry inside.
The Gore Quality Process
One thing I didn’t realize is that Gore doesn’t just sell liners and labels to outdoor gear companies like the North Face, Sidi, and Pearl Izumi – they actually laminate and bond the fabrics in house and perform extensive testing before they’ll put their name on any product (more on the testing process in Part II of this article). In fact Gore guarantees every product with the Gore-Tex label and will replace or repair any defective item. It’s crazy to think that if your Pearl Izumi Barrier GTX MTB shoe springs a leak Gore will replace it (not Pearl Izumi) but that’s how confident Gore is in their technology.
Next week I’ll follow up with Part II of my visit to Gore where I’ll talk about the testing facilities (including the rain room and comfort chamber) and some of the newest Gore technology. In the meantime, check out these reviews of the Gore Countdown jacket, Gore Ride On cables, and the Gore Freeride Shorts & Alp X Jersey.