If you’ve watched the Tour de France or any major cycling event, you’ve seen the products created by Nopinz… probably without realising it. You see, the core product of Nopinz is their SpeedPocket™, a patented and unique product that makes attaching your race number easier, whilst simultaneously improving aerodynamics and performance.
From its humble beginnings the company has expanded from manufacturing their trademark SpeedPocket™ to developing state-of-the-art clothing for cyclists of all disciplines, including a specialised line designed for indoor cycling called the “Sub Zero,” addressing the issue of “how to remain cool.”
If creating innovative products and clothing wasn’t enough, Nopinz are hugely active in the Esports arena, including sponsoring the Saris Nopinz Team who describe themselves as a “team of athletes driving the development of a new discipline of cycling; pushing the boundaries and expanding cycling’s accessibility worldwide.”
The History of Nopinz and the SpeedPocket™
The development of this brand makes for a fascinating story. Founder and CEO Blake Pond and Sales Director Gary Chambers were avid racers and often found themselves pinning their race numbers onto their cycling jerseys whilst sat in their car, prior to a race, often stabbing their fingers with the safety pins which are used to hold the numbers in place and damaging their expensive apparel in the process. Blake questioned if there was a better way and went about solving the age-old problem of pinning your race number to your jersey, without using safety pins. And from his kitchen table in Barnstable, Devon, UK “Nopinz” was born. The name “NoPinz” literally means “No Pins” in reference to not using safety pins.
Early designs saw the production of adhesive wallets, where you could put your number in, which was a revelation from using pins, but it presented challenges around a suitable adhesive to use that was environmentally friendly, as well as the issues of using plastic. However, testing saw positive feedback that led to the invention of the SpeedPocket™ which resulted in the number being installed from the inside of the suit to maximize aerodynamic efficiency. Then followed the SpeedPocket™ Easy, where the number is installed from the outside of the suit, ensuring it is aerodynamic and fundamentally no more pinholes, a different option for the customer. In fact, there are several different versions of the SpeedPocket™ now, all catering for the different number sizes required for different events and race organisers. These include:
- RTTC AERO – Used for Cycling Time Trials (UK) events
- RTTC EASY – Same as RTTC Aero but the number entry is external rather than internal, slightly less aero but more practical.
- UCI SINGLE – Used for UCI TT events
- UCI DOUBLE – Used for UCI or British cycling road races
- TRACK X2 – Used for bunch track racing
The early iteration of the SpeedPocket™ saw Blake sewing these into skinsuits based from his kitchen table. His setup was small but simple: there was one machinst, one sewing machine, and one computer. However, in the climate of “marginal gains” what Blake was doing was noted and soon people were sending him their skinsuits to have the SpeedPocket™ installed. Before long, the company took off and subsequently expanded, moving into their first premises. That was 7 years ago.
Over the last 12-18 months, the company has expanded exponentially, recently relocating into their second new premises, where they now develop their own skinsuits. Their innovative clothing is still being handmade, and the company has expanded to 22 employees to keep up with demand.
In April 2022, Nopinz launched their new website showcasing their products and offering a “Club Shop,” yet another innovative service where you can get your own cycling apparel designed and manufactured without the need for a “minimum order” or adhering to certain times when orders can be placed.
Innovation is Key
Central to the company is the concept of “innovation” and this is evident with their “Subzero” indoor clothing range.
Subzero – As Blake explained “Subzero is a range of kit that has been optimised for indoor use. It is made from highly breathable fabrics and there are pockets that are built in where you can insert specially designed ice packs to keep you cool.”
The range is diverse and developed because there is a need for specialised indoor cycle clothing. The line includes sweatbands for the arms, allowing you to insert cooling gel packs. There is an all-in-one suit where gel packs can be inserted across your lower back and in between your shoulders. And there are bib shorts that have a compartment for the frozen gel pack situated in your lower back.
The locations where the gel packs sit are all key cooling areas of the body and like all Nopinz clothing, it is fully customisable. When used, the gel packs required changing every 20-30 minutes to help prevent overheating. This will optimise performance which is vital because as Blake noted “once you overheat, there is no coming back.”
This innovative product, like all Nopinz products, is designed and manufactured in their factory in Barnstable, UK.
“Made to Measure” service – This is another innovative option that is not widely offered to customers. This service enables even the amateur rider to get skinsuits designed to their own body shape, a service usually reserved for pro riders which is becoming increasingly popular with amateur riders as they look to push their own personal boundaries. This service involves a full body scan and takes a Patent Maker a minimum of 3 hours to put together a skinsuit.
Club Shop – This offering by Nopinz is something special. Despite being around for several years, its website has recently undergone a redesign and was merged with the central Nopinz website, giving it a more uniform and integrated feel with the overall brand.
If you have your own club or team, and have previously had kit produced, you may have experienced issues such as large minimum order quantities and reordering during certain windows. However, the “Club Shop” feature by Nopinz removes that. Other bonuses include:
- No minimum orders.
- Industry short lead times.
- A simple online ordering process for your members.
- Delivered straight to the customer.
- Reorder at any time with no restrictions or order windows.
If you are fortunate to have a custom jersey in Zwift, this is your opportunity to get it produced and wear it in real life! Given that I have just produced a jersey for my Mountain Massif events (which can be obtained by completing one of my events), Nopinz offered to get my in-game jersey produced in real life, showcasing the process and allowing those who enjoy and support my event to have the opportunity to obtain a jersey to wear in real life. Currently, Race3R utilise this facility to great effect.
The Club Shop process works as follows:
- Pay the Club Nopinz setup fee online.
- Nopinz designers will contact you to discuss your needs and help set up your designs.
- Once club designs are approved, they will be uploaded to Club Nopinz.
- Nopinz send you a unique access code for your club shop.
- Order online, with the added benefit of no minimums, short lead times, and delivery direct to your door!
Being innovative comes with a set of challenges that I did not fully appreciate until speaking with Gary, the Sales Director.
Gary noted that with the expansion of the brand, the ongoing challenge is their capacity in terms of working space and resources. They have already moved to a new site 18 months ago and have acquired additional storage to help resolve that issue but the ongoing challenge of ensuring acceptable lead times for products means there is a need to recruit machinists to meet the demand. Everything is handmade, and the manufacturing process is skilled and labour intensive (particularly the “Made to Measure” apparel), thus skilled workers are at a premium.
Another challenge is the continual testing that is required. This is both time-consuming and costly. As this is a performance brand, new pieces of equipment need to be continually validated and tested. Gary explained “to develop the ‘Flow suit’ took months of effort, because different fabrics were trialed and even developed. There is endless research and development that people are unaware of.”
Gary went on to note that due to developing new and innovative products and materials, there is a need to patent the designs and to secure the copyright and trademarks. This is both time-consuming and costly. In addition, you have to protect your design and this may require challenging those who seek to copy the design by taking legal action, which is expensive.
There are competitors who try to circumvent the patent, particularly in relation to their number pockets, by creating inferior designs. This resulted in the UCI requesting that these were not used during this year’s Tour de France, quoting UCI Regulations Article 1.3.029: “No item of clothing may hide the lettering on the jersey or the rider’s identification number, particularly in competition and at official ceremonies.” and Article 1.3.076: “Riders shall ensure that their identification number is visible and legible at all times. The identification number shall be well fixed and may not be folded or altered.”
This news was disappointing and shows the difficulties that the team at Nopinz face as they had previously worked with the UCI in 2016 and were named in the rule book as being approved. They were first used in the Tour de France in 2015 by Lotto-Jumbo. Inferior designs were therefore creating negative perceptions. It’s important to note that the UCI’s SpeedPocket™ request not to use the pocket was only for this year’s Tour and no other race has been told to stop using them. Talks are ongoing with the UCI to resolve this.
Given Nopinz’s innovative approach within the cycling world, it’s no surprise to learn that Nopinz have partnered with Saris and have the Saris-Nopinz Esports team. They are “a team of athletes driving the development of a new discipline of cycling; pushing the boundaries and expanding cycling’s accessibility worldwide.”
As well as being a strong team within the Premier Division on Zwift, it is stacked with strong riders including former pros such as Dan Fleeman. In July 2021, they were instrumental in the completion of the first Sub-2 hour 100km ride on Zwift.
There is no disputing that Nopinz as a company have impacted the cycling scene in a positive way with their innovative approaches. They continue to challenge the conventional ways by producing cutting-edge products and tackling the challenges this brings, head on. Ride On!