If you ride an Alma, an Oiz, an Occam or a Rallon, you’ll be able to hear a fine tune as you pedal, around a bend or up an impossibly steep climb. It’s a tune composed by a jazz ensemble conducted by Xabi Narbaiza, MTB Product Manager at Orbea.
We don’t need Xabi to talk about the bikes he makes for us to believe in them. He could be talking about a piece of furniture, the bread he got this morning or his little girl’s toys for us to realize that this lanky body possesses eyes with microscopic precision and a mind obsessed with detail. This is what you can see behind the cables or the geometry angles of Orbea’s range of mountain bikes, or embodied in the Grouchy Smurf that comes to the surface when care or at- tention aren’t up to the desired level in a project.
Despite being in his mid-thirties (he was born in Eibar in 1979), he’s been with Orbea for a while -12 years – cultivating his passion and love of bikes. If you ask him about this, he’ll reply, ‘It has it all, especially in MTB: sport, nature, friendship, travel, mechanics, engineering, adre- naline, technical difficulty, physical challenge…’ And the list should probably go on and on. As the French psychologist Théodule-Armand Ribot put it, ‘Passion is a long-term emotion.’
However, passion is something you both enjoy and suffer. In 12 years, Xabi has learned a lot, being in constant evolution and spending ‘a few nights not sleeping a wink.’ When you ask him about the raving reviews the latest Rallon got, he dodges the question and says, ‘It’d be a mistake to get too confident and rest on our laurels. We’d be breaking away from the way we’ve done things so far, even from the way we are.’ Then he adds that the credits aren’t just for him: ‘It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the result of teamwork.’ Perhaps one of Xabi’s main achie- vements at Orbea is to create an environment where communication and work flow naturally between the members of the MTB development team.
Mikel, Beñat and Aitor are the backbone of a team that cuts across the Orbea organizational chart. Together with their ‘spiritual leader’ – as Aitor calls Xabi –, they ride trails and test bikes on Fridays after work. Without making a carica- ture of themselves, they still admit that they’re ‘a little freaky’: ‘We sleep with a bike suspension under the pillow’.
Now and again, Xabi and his boys highlight the importance of having bike users in the team: ‘First-person experience helps us speak the same language, understand the challenges, grasp opportunities and achieve our goals. It helps us comprehend the importance of even menial tasks; to learn why customers need this piece to be properly assembled or that graphic design to fit the frame. I think all this is easier if you’re involved,’ Xabi explains. However, far from relying on this alone, they listen to external users as a key – ‘sacred’, they’d say – part of their development processes: ‘The passion, energy and heart of our users are like fuel to us. They make us feel we owe them; they spend entire afternoons with us, and we feel we must live up to their expectations.’
Narbaiza is so passionate about his job that the word ‘workaholic‘ crosses your mind, but he dismisses the association: ‘You have to strike balance yourself. Now there’s the idea that you have to unwind at some point. I have goals to meet, but I don’t feel a lot of pressure. My life is well-balanced in terms of likes and obligations, both personally and professionally. Sometimes you have to get away from it all and see things from a different perspective, though,’ he admits. But, away from it all, is still never far from his passion.