Beneath even the simplest design lies layers of complexity. Indeed, it is a testament to the designer if, in the eyes of the user, the finished product appears the work of a moment.
What could be easier for Endura than to make an overshoe for trail riders using flat pedals, with an extensive range for road riders and mountain bikers on clipless pedals already offered?
Brand Manager Ian Young and Product Developer Matt Innes tell a different story; a tale begun with their own riding experiences and reinforced by requests from Endura’s in-house trail addicts, who reported a wider shift among mountain bikers to flat pedals.
They will point to research among styles as varied as galoshes for formal shoes and even diving shoes, and highlight the challenge of balancing countless competing demands, from reducing pedal interference to preventing the toe from lifting when walking with the bike and pushing uphill.
Their talk is of the commitment to a moulded sole, and the significant investment demanded even to manufacture the tooling needed to manufacture the product. And they will warn of the necessity of keeping in mind at all times the end user.
The MT500 Plus Overshoe is not intended for detail-obsessed roadies, who relish careful pre-ride preparation almost as much as the ride, but for trail hounds used to simply pulling on trainer-style shoes and letting the adrenaline flow.
All things considered, the only simplicity to be found in the MT500 Plus Overshoe is in the finished product. Its evolution might serve as a microcosm for the blend of skill, experience, fastidiousness and determination to get things right that characterises all Endura products.
For Innes, it represents the first brief to land in his in-box (and a challenge as complex as the second, the seemingly more sophisticated MT500 Helmet with Koroyd insert). For Young, it is further evidence of the advantages of a joined up approach to product development; one that places the demand for best-in-class products from an uncompromising sales force on the desk of bright young things like Innes.
As brand manager, tracking emerging trends is one of Young’s key responsibilities. He is aided by the countless riders at Endura’s headquarters that make up part of the wider team (those whose bikes are to be found in all corners of the vast facility at Livingston), but also by his own riding.
“Many of the more experienced DH riders will always have ridden flat pedals, for the confidence that comes from getting your feet out and down when you need to, and that was why I was using them with a longer travel bike. On sketchy, steep stuff, as the terrain gets more extreme, flat pedals definitely give you more confidence.”
He had also noted a separate trend: a rise in the popularity of mountain bike coaching, and a preference among coaches for taking riders back to basics to instil good technique. Flat pedals have gone hand-in-hand with this development. Clipless pedals can be a short cut to mastering basic skills like bunny hops, and do little to encourage more subtle skills like shifting body weight for better cornering.
Young smiles when I ask if he was surprised by the scale of development required to create an effective overshoe for trainer-style riding shoes. Did he anticipate the complexity behind such a seemingly simple product, or did it take him by surprise?
“It was well anticipated!” he says, laughing. “I’d been telling one of our country managers that with the levels of compromise involved, I wasn’t sure if it was possible. I’d like to say we weren’t aware of the complexity, but that wasn’t the case.”
It’s within the ken of the brand manager to see all links in the product development chain. The rider experiences a challenge; in this case, protecting expensive shoes from mud and grime. The sales force identifies a commercial opportunity arising from the challenge. The brand manager however must foresee the challenge of fit, sizing, manufacture, usage, and the place any new product will occupy in the existing range.
For an overshoe, it was necessary also for Young to consider products that Endura does not make, namely the shoes that the new product is intended to protect. Five Ten was quickly identified as the market leader, but it was important not to exclude other leading brands, if the MT500 Plus Overshoe was to have the broadest appeal. And even within Five Ten’s range, as Young is quick to point out, there are several different shapes and styles.