Right place, right time
Livingston, Scotland. The first Tuesday in June. At Endura’s vast and expanding facility, Movistar’s Tour de France kit is on the day’s ‘to do’ list for the designers and pattern cutters, the guys operating the bulky sublimation machines and the dexterous ladies stitching together the freshly printed panels.
A picture is worth a thousand words. The white board in the sewing room explains why, for everyone in Endura’s headquarters, this is a day like any other. The process (and the fabric) is the same, whether you’re Movistar or West Coast Velo.
High spirits in a low key
Spirits are high in Livingston, but these are Scots, after all, and not given to self-congratulation. Instead, there is an underlying sense of a job well done, whether kitting out Nairo Quintana for his victory at last year’s Giro, or supplying world number one Alejandro Valverde.
Then there are the 57 versions of the skinsuit worn by Alex Dowsett to set the world hour record last month. (If Dowsett fancies a crack at Wiggins’ new mark, Endura are confident they have still more to offer him).
The decor in reception tells a similar story to the sewing room’s work roster. “We are real cycling,” reads the legend, a justifiable claim for a company equally at home on the CalMac Ferry as the Passo dello Stelvio, but the decal matches the wall: white-on-white. You must squint to see it. Low key. Minimum fuss. Very Scottish.
Livingston, twinned with Boyacá
Make that Scottish with a South American following. They are now big in Brazil, and in Venezuela and Colombia. No surprises for guessing the source of their popularity in this last market.
Nairo is a wise head on young shoulders, whose greatest concern is that you take things as seriously as he does, according to Jim McFarlane, Endura’s founder and CEO. It’s a story I’ve heard elsewhere (at Canyon Bikes – see 1 #53). Show the same commitment, and all will be well. The Colombian and his Scottish tailors get along fine.
Brendan Milliken, by day a member of the customer service team, is Endura’s in-house Quintana: the ‘fit’ model for testing prototype designs. He rode the Alpen-Traum – a 252km gran fondo from Germany across the Alps into Italy – in Movistar kit last season. “Anything that goes out to Nairo goes on Brendan first,” McFarlane says, with a smile. “I’m not saying he matches up on Strava. He’s a good cyclist, but not quite that good.”
It’s a further manifestation of the philosophy implicit on the sewing room white board: an inversion of the “if it’s good enough for the pros” mantra that most other brands adhere to, at least in their marketing. At Endura, the motto seems to be, “make it good enough for the paying customer, if you want to satisfy the team”.
Prima donnas and punters
Bags are hastily folded as my camera clicks; names and addresses concealed. The order is for 25 riders. Movistar have yet to make their final selection for the Tour, but Endura must be prepared for any eventuality. They supply a full set for each WorldTour engagement, and miscellaneous items as required between times.
“A lot of these guys have pretty much never paid for any apparel, unlike mere mortals who have to get their wallet out,” says Endura’s product director Pam Barclay, “so a lot of them don’t understand the value of it and actually know less about apparel than the average punter.”
There are prima donnas in the Movistar ranks, she concedes, as well as riders “incredibly engaged” by the process. I’ve seen both, as a witness to the team’s fitting for the FS260-Pro SL short, in Belfast, the day before the 2014 Grand Partenza.
The short is offered in a choice of three pad widths. Endura pressure-mapped the sit-bones of each rider using Gebiomized’s electronic saddle cover and software, which required them each to spend a few minutes on a turbo trainer. Most returned immediately to their mobile phones. One rider, however, plainly wanted to know everything about the process, and fired a series of questions through an interpreter to the man superintending the process (our own 202). The same rider wore the maglia rosa in Trieste three weeks later.
Endura is now in its second season with Movistar. The fitting session, held last November in Pamplona, was a success, Barclay reports. “This year, I don’t think we’ve had a single change on sizing, which, when you’re talking about 40 or 50 different pieces in the range, is quite a result.”
Endura’s delegation, which includes Michelle O’Connor, who leads for Endura on the pattern work for the Movistar programme, has only a precious window of a day or two each season to conduct the fitting session.
They arrived this year with hundreds of garments, she says: different leg and strap lengths for each standard size of bib-short, for example, and with six different pad options for each.
Endura can rely to a degree on its “library” of rider data, having sponsored teams from shop level to WorldTour. While this information is useful in “cloning” – providing a baseline from which more subtle variations can be derived for a bespoke fit – there is no substitute for experience, at least in Barclay’s opinion.
There is no legislating for personal preference, either, she adds. Some will want an extreme compression, others will want gloves made in a certain way to eliminate pressure points.
“There’s a kind of acumen in there that you can’t build up on a spreadsheet; a second sense that you get. ‘Okay, his numbers may be this, but I can see that the build is much closer to this guy’ and that’s not often something that jumps out of data.”
Fans who line the route of the Tour will see many of the garments stockpiled in the sewing room next month: perforated shorts for the baking climbs, a skin suit with pockets for the likes of sprinter Juanjo Lobato, and of course the Speed Suit, refined by Dowsett’s work with Simon Smart of Drag2Zero in Mercedes F1’s wind tunnel in Brackley.
That the custom clothing is made on the premises in Livingston is critical. The rapid development of Dowsett’s Speed Suit for the Hour Record is owed almost entirely to the speed at which Endura could implement the feedback from Smart’s wind tunnel testing.
Wind tunnels and Worcester CC
“New technology gives us all kinds of options to improve that process further, both in terms of efficiency in the process and also in that accuracy of fit,” McFarlane says.
He has no intention of allowing Endura to rest upon its laurels.
“I think if you speak to us in 12 months time, you’ll find that we’re doing things quite differently from what is already a very good process now. Things will have moved on again.”
Endura have come a very long way already. They do not shout about the Movistar connection, but quietly note the team’s many successes, and apply the lessons.
Members of Worcester CC, the Cheltenham Tri Club, and others listed on the white board in the Livingston sewing room share in the success. While others trumpet their ProTeam association, Endura simply employ the same staff and the same processes to produce their consumer range.
No fuss, please – we’re Scottish.