After several hours of pedaling in an enduro competition, anywhere from a couple of hours up to a maximum of five, with several timed segments that usually account for around 30’ to an hour, in the end, it’s a matter of seconds that determine the podium positions. It’s a question of 5”, 15” or half a minute, at most.
It’s no wonder that in this context, absolutely everything is measured to squeeze out another second from the clock. We’re not just talking about something as basic as the tires or their pressure, rather any aspect that lets us scratch out even one more second from the clock.
Choosing the wrong line can cost us a few seconds and a flat tire can ruin any chance you might have in the competition. Just the same, the wrong choice of gear can mean that your head is not 100% focused on flowing through the timed sections. So even though it could seem like a insignificant matter to many, we’d be losing a few seconds that, in the end, can mean the difference of making it onto the podium or not, or climbing to the top position. In many rounds of the Enduro World Series (EWS), the difference between first and second place has been 5”.
This is why competing with the best gear, the best clothing and/or the best protection on the market goes beyond mere sponsorship or a marketing action, like many may think. The issue is letting elite athletes focus simply and exclusively on being as fast as possible. It’s so simple, yet so complex.
To figure out what clothing is the best or most suitable, in this case for enduro competition, for the Orbea Enduro Team, the most practical way to go about it is to focus on exactly what the riders expect from enduro gear, which is also exactly what most of us everyday cyclists are also looking for: protection, comfort and confidence.
We came across a name, a recognized, exclusive brand like POC, which is also last year’s brand of the year, according to the Bicycle Brand Contest. But on top of all that, it has certain features that set it apart from the rest.
When we’re talking about making the difference, it’s not about brand image; it’s the difference between a fall you walk away from and another one that results in an injury. The margin is so small that every detail counts. Even more so at the elite level of enduro competition.
Of course, safety is the main priority of all protective gear. There’s little more to be said about this, beyond the oft-repeated “No amount of protection is ever too much.” In the end, it’s a matter of being as fast as humanly possible on the timed segments, with the consequent danger that this entails.
The organization of the Enduro World Series (EWS), the top enduro competition in the world, in which the team competes and that next year will form part of the UCI structure, sets the rules regarding the protection of the riders, but with certain idiosyncrasies.
The rules vary among each of the series held (one of the unique characteristics of the EWS), for example, a full face helmet is mandatory in all of them. But then the rules vary. At Whistler, for example, where the rules are the most lax of any of the rounds, only a full face helmet is mandatory. But in Olargues (France) and La Thuile (Italy), it is mandatory the full face helmet, knee pads, a back protector and long finger gloves. Any failure to comply with this means disqualification.
As far as protection goes, as expected, POC has a lot to say about it. The brand works with some of the top specialists in spinal cord injuries to develop its back protection, also working with one of the leading best brain trauma specialists they could find (The POC Lab experts play an active role in supporting the ideas which go into their safety products).
Additionally, POC regularly receives helmets and equipment, returned from pro athletes and teams, and study at their facilities to see if they performed as they should and how things can constantly be improved. It’s these details we mentioned above that make all the difference when it comes to the moment of truth.
An example of what we are talking about is the VPD (Visco-Elastic Polymer Dough) material. It offers great comfort thanks to the elasticity with which it adapts to the shape of the body, but then hardens when it receives a sudden impact.
POC offers three versions of this material, two of which are used by the Orbea Enduro Team riders, depending on whether they are training or competing: a more protective versions, VPD 2.0 and VPD system in terms of protection for race day and a lighter, more ventilated (VPD Air) version for training or for less complex segments.
Another detail that makes POC unique are the technical fabrics Cordura and Vectran that they use in many of the garments worn by the Orbea Enduro Team. Garments such as their long-sleeved jerseys and shorts. These fabrics stand out for their high resistance to abrasion and tearing and are included in the sleeves and pant legs to provide greater protection in the event of a fall.
Cordura and Vectran are just two examples. They also include the Aramid fabric in their helmets, which stands out for its resistance to all kinds of abuse. They include resistant fabric for XC apparel too, in addition to other innovations. In the end, these are the details that make the difference in the event of a fall.
Like we said above, gear that you forget you're wearing is gear that lets you stay 100% concentrated on the next rock, the next curve, the following root… and that is ultimately the fraction of a second that you’ll end up gaining.
These are, as you would expect, the two fundamental pillars of enduro gear and the balance or relationship between the two is the key. Because a rigid knee pad is going to offer the greatest possible protection, but after three hours of pedaling on a mountain in Slovenia, they end up irritating you to the point that you take them off or loosen the Velcro. This is paramount, since the way the gear fits is decisive to ensure that it is 100% functional in case it is needed.
Conversely, a flexible knee pad will be very comfortable when pedaling, but in an impact on rocky ground like at Olargues, the third round of the EWS, it would leave your knees exposed to injury. POC relies on VPD to maintain this balance.
In this sense, in terms of comfort, the Swedes have concocted numerous details appreciated by team riders. Details such as precut shapes on shorts and knee pads that provide greater comfort when pedaling. One feature though is even more
special: Function as a set.
POC designs its products with the idea that they will be used together: – the Resistance Pro DH jersey that the team riders usually wear in races is designed to be worn with the Spine VPD 2.0 DH jacket. The helmets are designed to fit perfectly with the goggles, and the shorts and knee pads are also intended to be worn together, so that together they provide a perfect fit in any situation.
Speaking about comfort, it is also important to look at the varied situations riders have to face, not just those particular to the race terrain but also weather conditions. Wearing gear that is not breathable in a hot climate is uncomfortable and like we said, discomfort is synonymous with losing time at a competitive level like the EWS.
Riders must wear clothing that is technologically advanced enough to adapt to temperature changes that riders experience. Without the righ technology, riding at elevations of 2,000 meters and at sea level, the same gear can be a source of discomfort that will translate into a loss of time. Underscoring the importance of using the right fabrics for each situation or having a vast collection of gear to match the circumstances (the riders on the Orbea Enduro Team have a wardrobe of nearly twenty types of garments).
This aspect is the most unknown to most of the public and ultimately emanates from the bicycle itself or the components we use on it. This is one aspect that is not objective or even tangible, but it is just as crucial in top-level competition. We’ve all experienced how concentration is tremendously important in all aspects when we are on the bike.
Competing with material that inspires confidence means competing with your energy focused on performance, and in this case, on beating the best time on the timed segments. We can make a simple comparison to road competition: there they measure right down to the last watt, in elite enduro competition, the intent is to shave away every last second.