It’s always exciting to hear a brand has developed a new product, but hearing that product is the “fastest in the world – bar none" that’s a whole new ball game. Naturally, we didn’t refuse an opportunity to give Endura’s record winning Encapsulator suit a go!
We joined Endura to celebrate their 25 years of production and take a walk through a timeline of products, from the humble beginnings of that 1st pair of bib-shorts to the cutting edge technology of a world-class suit.
It might sound like a catchy marketing gimmick but “Renegade Progress" is an ethos Endura have fast adopted as an internal benchmark to challenge themselves or anyone in the team; where Progress describes the aim and eventual endpoint, and Renegade, the approach. There is no better demonstration of this ethos than the D2Z Encapsulator suit and it’ associated succession of UCI Hour Records, the first in May 2015 with Alex Dowsett at the prototype stage and then with Bridie O’Donnell to follow.
Prompted by their dedication to Renegade Progress and the improvements to the men’s range since working with Movistar, Endura signed with women’s team Cervelo Bigla. “When we went to Cervelo Bigla we had numerous complaints; that’s half the reason we signed up with them" Jim McFarlan, CEO and MD of Endura admits. “Unless you know that everyone is 100% happy you have to assume they are not" and whilst none of the short-comings they fed back on were severe, the information provided was invaluable".
“As soon as you have it [D2Z Encapsulator suit] on, you already feel more aero and … flowing." - Lotta Lepistö, Cervelo Bigla
Endura had an honest expectation that by making themselves vulnerable they would rapidly improve the quality of the women’s range. And they did. “If you punch yourself in the face you are going to go a lot softer than if you were to ask someone else to punch you ... They (Cervelo Bigla) smiled then punched us but they still punched us and we made rapid improvements to the products." Jim laughs.
Bragging rights are high for producing the “fastest" product, but this achievement is often only met within specific conditions. Readers, I give you the “high-speed carrot", a suit that is fantastically optimised at the standard 50kph, a speed most of us would struggle to obtain. So Endura have produced three separate unisex garments that are optimised for different speeds and positions;
The record-breaking D2Z Encapsulated Suit is Endura’s flagship halo product and “the fastest skin suit in the world bar none". Very aggressively cut, the suit looks extremely small on the hanger but stretches to fit. In line with the aggressive cut, the shoulders are narrow and the full-length sleeves are forward facing. The race number slots into an inner pocket, made using a mesh fabric which is air permeable in accordance with UCI regulation and enhances the smooth airflow across the back for aerodynamic benefit.
The D2Z Road suit is designed for a slightly more upright position, less on skis of a TT bike and more for the bars of a road bike, and so intended for a different speed range. Designed for sportive riders who are looking for speed but still want an element of comfort, this all in one jersey and bibs combined boasts exactly that.
The three pockets on the rear make it more practical for sportive cycling but with an air impermeable ‘spoiler’ across the top of the pockets to maintain the aerodynamics. The D2Z Road suit is the slightly more popular little brother to the D2Z Encapsulated suit but still offers potential savings of 7 watts at an ‘achievable’ speed of 32kph.
Last but not least, the Drag2Zero clothing collection is completed with a separate two-piece version. Optimised for the same position and speed range, the bibs and jersey offer the same innovative technology as the D2Z Road suit, to include the multi-fabric panelling the 3 rear aerodynamically designed pockets.
But it doesn’t stop there! Complementing the entire Drag2Zero clothing collection, the Endura Aeroswitch helmet has been designed for the brief; make “fastest helmet in the world"
Using a honeycomb structure that is developed specifically to absorb energy allowed Endura to manipulate the shape of the helmet and consequently reduce its size. Used first in aircraft impact areas, this Koroyd material is better at absorbing energy than the EPS foam that has traditionally been used. The novel square tail shape reduces mobility issues that are typically associated with long tail helmets whilst the high cut at the front offers greater visibility. But it’s the “clip off tail" that got us all excited; here you can turn your super aero TT helmet into a light weight aero road helmet with one easy click.
So what makes a fast skinsuit faster?
Surface Silicone Topography (SST) is the answer; this patent protected ground-breaking technology uses strategically positioned 3D silicone chevrons to positively affect the airflow around the body within a realistic speed range and drastically reduce the drag caused by air resistance.
Considering the ‘components’ that make up any cyclist, the rider creates the greatest surface area and can contribute up to 80% of overall aerodynamic drag, so clothing is important. The key area is on the parts of the body where we are unable to keep the flow attached. Textured surfaces can trick the flow into staying attached by roughing the edge to pull some of the energy lost back into it which effectively creates a similar drag to that you could expect from a more slender object.
Surprisingly, there is a small window in which the drag can be reduced by a whopping 50% even within realistic speed ranges. Here strategic placement is essential; the placement, height and texture of the silicone material have to be exact. Easy right? Hmmm, think again. “Liquid silicone is difficult to manage, gooey and badly behaved" so trials were slow, expensive and unfortunately resulted in inaccuracy or inconsistency but Endura got there eventually and in doing so have opened up a whole world of possibility.
Off the peg
Of course when it comes to offering a garment as personal as a skin suit, off the peg so to speak, there are limitations to achieving the perfect fit Jim admits, but starting with an expectation that someone buying that product will be reasonably lean, especially for the TT suit, there is enough flex in the material to fit a reasonable range of body sizes. “They weren’t always like that I have to say … we tried to do it with the wovens and there wasn’t enough accommodation" so Endura sacrificed a fraction of aero performance for real world values. Referring back to that High speed carrot, there are no aero gains if you can’t get into the suit in the first place and so “better something that works 95% total performance that you can access than 100% that you can’t get anywhere close to."
The element of risk taking is really clear with Endura. “It’s more shameful to not do it on the basis you might not immediately succeed. Showing the pluck to have a go should be something to be proud of" Jim asserts.
Without risk progress is impossible, here you will only ever position yourself alongside (or behind) the competition. It’s right that not all risks will result in success of course, but when they do, you might just have the fastest skinsuit in the world in your hands. The question here therefore is, what next?