Mountain biking is still a sport yet to find its 'look'. We've been trying for thirty years but influences from road, BMX and moto have all congealed into the modern style - baggy shorts, baggy jerseys and clompy shoes would be the best guess. A skater you can spot a mile away but go out to the trails on a weekend and there's a real mis-match of kit on display.
The people with perhaps the greatest power to shape the look of mountain bikers are the clothing companies themselves, and the biggest of all is Fox. At their Irvine factory, amid some classic motos, the fabric that will soon become Loic Bruni's World Champs jersey and over 100 employees, the blueprints are being laid for the future mountain biker's aesthetic.
Chris Blum, Fox's mtb category manager, is the man with the plan on all things clothing. He's coming to this sport after a long stint in the outdoors market and knows matching form and function is a uniquely difficult problem for mountain biking.
We sat down to chat technical clothing, fashion influences and the shape of mountain bikers to come.
Where do influences come from for Fox's mountain bike stuff?
From everywhere! We're pretty global and we're also definitely taking things from other sports, other industries and really trying to guide them and influence product for the mountain biker.
I've seen a lot of jackets, I've seen a lot of insulation, I've seen a lot of different uses for backpacks so I'm really trying to bring some of those technologies that the outdoor consumer appreciates to the mountain biker.
"I believe in the next 4-5 years that mountain biking will have its own truly unique aesthetic"
The mountain biker experiences technical product through their mountain bike all the time but I think that they sometimes forget about their apparel and helmet, which can make a really big difference on their ride. It's all about inspiring the best ride ever, your best ride ever definitely comes down to how comfortable it is.
For me, I feel it's really about inspiring the mountain bike community to understand what great technical apparel will do for them and how it will make them a better athlete back on the trail.
Is there a friction between performance and aesthetic?
Yeah, for sure, one of the changes we're making in our future lines is moving away from sublimation (a garment dying process that uses heat). We're finding that in sublimation the heat can melt fibres together and take off some of the properties that we're applying to our garments, so we're starting to use some aesthetic details that are less damaging to the fabrics so that they provide ultimate performance.
There's a huge balance between 'how is this going to look' vs 'how is this going to perform'. If we make a jersey too long it might look really good from a style perspective but it might interfere with your pedal stroke or bunch up on you at the waist, so it's always balancing performance and aesthetic.
How much does the moto side of the business still influence the mountain bike side and vice versa. Because for the past, let's say, 20 years, moto has had a huge influence on mountain biking and I feel that maybe now mountain biking is creating its own personality and getting its own style. Is there still a huge moto influence and is any of that being batted back at all?
We definitely try to share technologies when we can because it benefits both tribes. A great example would be having MIPS in a moto helmet as well as a mountain bike helmet. I feel like moto is almost starting to look to mountain bike a bit and going: "hey, you know, we really like that wicking fabric too and we'd like to pull it into our line too". So I think we do a very good job of inspiring each other and sync up when we can.
Where are you looking for inspiration for aesthetics?
Last August I did a six country tour in eight days where we did the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, shopping retail locations and combing trends to see what's in the market. In addition to that we also pull imagery that we find really exciting and it can come form a running tribe in Japan all the way out to something that Carhartt is doing. It can be from the most high fashion down to the most gritty work wear piece.
In mountain biking you've got to look good to feel good so that high end and that fashion comes in but then you've got have that durability in what works so all those things are really important to us.
It's just this blue-sky of looking everywhere and seeing what inspires you, for example, looking at the auto-industry - are they using a new type of foam in seat cushions that could be applied to guards or helmets? There's so many places to get inspired from and there's always something new.
What does mountain bike clothing look like in five/ten years time. Have we got the main technology and that's not going to change? What sort of things are on the horizon?
I think we are still working to find the proper materials that meet the demands of durability and lightweight but also warmth and cooling. Smart textiles are starting to come out where the weave will open up when the conditions are warm and close when the conditions are cool, so it's endless where textiles are right now, it's an amazing place to be.
I also believe in the next 4-5 years that mountain biking will have its own truly unique mountain bike look that will be not moto and not a road rider but will be very much mountain biker. It doesn't mean that it's just a baggy short and a loose fitting jersey but more of a true aesthetic. Riders will be able to build their Fox kits for a wide range of climates, riding styles, as well as personal aesthetic preferences with silhouettes and performance benefits that work best for their specific needs.
I also believe we're not finished what's possible in terms of fit. I believe there's opportunity to bring in better fits, more customised fits, things that are more personalised to you. Purchasing has changed so dramatically in the last five years, I think we're going to see purchasing changing in the next five years to be more personalised.
To the point where you might get tailored stuff?
Sure, the sky's the limit and we're still really exploring what the possibilities are here at Fox but we see a lot of really exciting things coming for the consumer to give them self identity and self expression. One of the great things about mountain biking is that self expression is key.