Feature: Clive Forth
Having seen the likes of Steve Peat and Justin Leov rocking a number 7 logo throughout the year I was intrigued as to what I would find from what was rumoured to be an exciting new brand born out of an established and highly competent team of individuals.
As I strolled through the grand halls at the enormous Eurobike show just a couple of weeks ago I came across the sleek black minimalist stand to be greeted by friendly and familiar faces Matt Yeo from Decade Europe and Tavish Capewell, product designer at Royal Racing. These guys are two of the team behind 7IDP – Intelligent Design Protection – which is a new mountain bike protective kit company formed by the same core group behind Royal Racing.
There was a great buzz on the stand and the guys were eager to show off their hard work, so I took some time to chat to two of the main men over a coffee.
Beverages in hand Matt kicked off by telling me that the founding members and key players behind Royal Racing had come together and formed the new company just 18 months ago, along with a couple of silent partners Royal’s co-founders Nick Bayliss and Steve Peat called upon Matt Yeo, Martin Lloyd-Evans and Tavish Capewell to complete the line up, thus creating 7IDP.
At this point Tav joined in the conversation, speaking with such passion you could tell he had sunk his heart and soul (as well as his elbows and knees) into these pads, a rider’s perspective (and frustrations that many of us share) came to light as we sipped cappuccino.
Clive Forth: So what was the main inspiration and why did you want to get into the world of protection?
Tavish Capewell: We’d been discussing the subject while out riding for some while, me and the guys all shared similar frustrations with the fit and feel of what was on offer to the general public. The main problem being the fastenings and the lack of breathability. I had also noted that fewer and fewer riders were wearing protection, we were also aware that there are many products in the market that do not meet CE EN 1621 standards for safety and this is something that concerns us.
CF: Yes I can relate to the fit issues, my wide pads offer the coverage but are too hot and heavy for the climbs, I can’t even squeeze them into my pack so I often end up on back-country rides without padding.
Tav: Exactly, where I live near Whistler in Canada we see this all the time, there is also the major issue of fabric and hard shell pad combos gripping and moving on the leg when you do hit the deck. The majority of hard pads are held on by velcro straps and these act like a tourniquet cutting off blood flow, they can also move around as the tension is uneven around the leg and it’s something that used to annoy me.
CF: The elbow pad is always an issue for me, under the regulations in many Euro events you need to wear these and no matter which ones I’ve used they just end up as forearm guards in the first few kms.
Tav: The movement in the arms like the movement of the knee and calf present similar challenges, we have designed our systems in such a way that this slippage is eliminated. The riders have been doing extensive testing and feeding back information to us, both myself and Nick have been hitting the trails too, we want to get the best fit and form we can. The result of all the hard work is that we have produced lightweight, breathable armour that surpasses CE testing. Let me show you the range and talk you through it.
We started to discuss the anorak intricacies of design as Tav grinned form ear to ear and headed to the flagship knee armour.
Tav: Here we have the Tactic knee guard, we have used the Boa Closure system to secure the pad, this eliminates the use of Velcro, allowing for even adjustment along and around the pad. Velcro has its place but is a pain when it comes to getting that even tension; as the muscle moves the elastic just stretches so the pad tends to move and the padded area is not really being held in place. Velcro also has a tendency to wreck things in the wash.
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CF: I hear you on that one, my wife gets so fed up with Velcro wrecking clothes in the wash and my skinny legs make it hard to get the right fit with elastic and Velcro, I always seem to run out of adjustment with a medium pad and a small pad is too restrictive.
Tav: Fitment and adjustability have obviously been a large factor with the pads, the Boa system allows you to make micro adjustments on the fly, unlike Velcro where you have to completely undo the strap. Here if the legs or arms “pump up” or you have over-tightened the pad then you can simply press the button and slacken the pad off slightly. The Boa system doesn’t just provide an enhanced level of adjustability and even tension it means we can make the pad more slim-line, giving the rider greater clearance around the top tube. The narrow profile also helps keep the pad weight down.
CF: So looking on the back of the pad I can see that the Boa cable ties into this section of rubber above the calf, I take it this offers a bit of stretch?
Tav: Yes exactly, the plastic cable in the system also has a level of stretch and this combined with the cross support above the calf helps keeps the pad in place.
CF: So how have you overcome the knee chaffing on the inside of the pad if you have a tighter fitting pad?
Tav: On the inside of the hard pad we have a floating knee cap section, this moves with the knee. On the mid-range pads we have incorporated a stretch section of neoprene to do the same job, this helps to keep the price down.
CF: Superb, I think I’ve only ever seen that on one other knee guard. The outer section here is nicely stitched in, what is this hard pad section made from?
Tav: This is a resin section made to our specification: the edge of the kneecap area is lined with a PP rubber in a polygon pattern to allow for movement and breathability. We spoke with various professors regarding the “intelligent” soft padding systems and they advised us that for this application there is no significant advantage over a standard high quality PP. The hard shell interior is lined with the polygon PP and finished in soft fabric.
CF: Some of the readers out there may be familiar with the Boa Cable Lock system from high-end snowboard boots and road cycling shoes. In those environments high impact from hard objects is less of an issue, how has the round dial on the Boa Cable Lock system stood up to impacts in testing?
Tav: It’s been a big factor for us when designing the pads, all our products meet and surpass the CE testing criteria, the Boa lock is very robust and has stood up really well in testing. The guys on the Trek World Racing Team as well as Steve [Peat] have been using the pads this year and we have had no issues. The cable lock dial is located at 45º on the inside of the leg; here it’s away from snagging on shorts and out of harms way from crash impact.
CF: Will you be carrying spares and how hard is it to swap the cables and dials?
Tav: Yes of course, the guys at Boa will also have videos up showing you how to swap out the parts and it’s a real easy job. The less competent individual can always send them back to us and we will happily do the job for them.
CF: A little easier than rebuilding a Reverb! So what’s next in the line up here?
Tav: This is the knee/shin combo, unlike the knee pad we have an open back system, if we find there is a demand for an open back knee guard then that is something we will look at in the future. The knee/shin combo is obviously a longer pad and the open back design allows the rider to put the pad on more easily. We have used the same Boa system to secure the pad and these additional clips hold the lower section in place, these are the same clips they use in the medical industry for braces and so on. We have some additional Velcro straps at the base – it does have its place but we have kept it to a minimum.
CF: I can see you have a similar system and design going on here with the elbow guard, what sort of price is this high-end Tactic gear coming in at?
Tav: We want the product to be up there with the industry leaders Dianese, the Tactic knee/shin combo will be around the £190 mark, knee only about £170 and elbow guards are going to be in the region of £120. It’s a little more expensive but we have sourced and developed technologies to our own spec rather than using off-the-shelf materials. One of the problems manufacturers face in this sector is suppliers not wanting to custom make fabrics, like the neoprene for example, we asked for a certain thickness perforated with 5 mm holes to allow breathability and the suppliers said it could not be done, we had lots of issues and pressured them loads to do a production run to our specifications and eventually they cracked and made it. The results are great, it’s shaved a load of weight and keeps the pads breathable.
CF: You have incorporated anti bacterial technologies into the fabrics?
Tav: Absolutely, all our pads are machine washable and made using anti bacterial products.
Tav continued to tell me about the mid-price pads and how they have made subtle changes using stretch panels and minimal split Velcro where necessary to help keep the price point down, the mid range Control pads come in around £100-£130 for the knee guard and £80-£100 for the elbow guard, they also produce ankle guards and they estimate them to cost £100-£125 for the pair. All pricing is to be confirmed by the UK distributor Decade.
Also in the range they have been developing top body armour, the high-end stuff has been developed to work with the Atlas neck brace and the guys inform me they will work with the leading neck brace manufacturers. Costs are estimated around the £150 mark for the upper armour and slightly cheaper for the soft armour.
Tav showed me a more basic knee guard that is in development, the lighter design and interchangeable pad section will enable a rider to custom tune it to the terrain, a hard insert can be used if your hitting up the rocky stuff and various thickness and density foams can be swapped out for the more forgiving terrain, this pad will definitely appeal to cross country and enduro riders who want something light.
In the background they are also working on women’s specific top armour and separate back plates. I have a lot of admiration for the guys who started the company just 18 months ago, they certainly must have had some sleepless nights in the lead up to Eurobike, grafting away into the night to perfect the product and have these samples ready for the show.
Final tweaks to the design and rider testing will now follow before production starts proper and they estimate the products will be in the shops next spring.
With a combined experience spanning over a century you can expect to see big things from the magnificent 7Seven in years to come.
Follow the guys on twitter to keep up with the latest developments and watch this space for more info in the months ahead.
Prices not mentioned in text:
Top soft armour Transition Compression vest – long sleeve £140
Transition Compression vest – short sleeve £110
Top hard armour Control range – £160
Covert knee £70
Covert elbow £60
Prices may be subject to change.
Clive Forth. www.mtbskills.co.uk – Transition Bikes.
Follow Clive on twitter – twitter.com/cliveforth