When shopping for a new piece of kit most riders typically look for a good blend of fashion, function, and price. Of course the creative men and women that design these pieces consider the same factors, but ultimately those considerations represent a target or destination they are trying to arrive at, rather than a guide to developing a winning piece of kit. Identifying the right target is problem number one, and it ain’t easy.
What are riders looking for this year? Bright colors? Bold prints? Sleek silhouettes? System integration? Lightweight materials? Loose fits? Casual looks? What colors are they after? Which color or color combo will be “the new black?” The reality is far more complicated however because the lead time required to get a piece of kit from concept to market is typically two years, but can stretch out to three for a complicated item such as a full face helmet. This means that great designers either possess clairvoyance or their designs are so powerful that they serve as trendsetters. But wait, there’s more! Throw in material supply shortages, manufacturing timeline limitations, manufacturing cost issues, miscommunication with contractors, different time zones and another laundry list of issues and you end up with a very tough nut to crack.
When I had a chance to visit Fox Head World Headquarters in Irvine, California I had the opportunity to learn more about how Fox Head not only deals with these issues, but thrives within this challenging marketplace. Fox Head’s Bike Senior Designer, Brice Oakden, walked me through the broad strokes of the design process at Fox Head from start to finish.
Color research for new items begins at least two years before the product is scheduled to launch. Artists then draw up apparel design concepts after which fabrics and hardware are chosen to match the design and intended use. Orders for the new product are placed a year before market launch and production samples arrive nine months before the product hits store shelves. This gives designers one last chance to make final tweaks before going into full production. Fox Head uses this time to test product fit and function out on the trail. This includes sending samples out to Fox Head pro riders to ensure that the product is made to work at the highest level. Pros offer their feedback on tweaks that can be made to perfect the product before the final production is green lighted.
Starting this year, Fox is now producing both a Spring and Fall line of products, which throws even more irons into the fire. A significant portion of the Fall designs are new color options for products released in Spring, while other products are entirely new season specific articles like rain jackets, or Fox’s new Attack Q4 CW shorts that keep your backside dry on muddy fall and winter trails. But they’re not stopping there. Fox is mulling over the idea of adding even more products to their line in the form of special edition colorways and pro rider signature gear.
If you think that managing Fox’s apparel line is tricky, development of hard goods like helmets is even harder. The new Fox Rampage helmet took close to three years to produce. Initial prototypes of the Rampage and Rampage Pro were ready two years ago but evolved over five subsequent iterations to reach their final form. Developing graphics for the helmet also requires multiple iterations and samples on top of this, but dialing in the fit and function is main challenge. Fox worked with their sponsored riders to make sure that the design was optimized for bikes, rather that simply adapting a moto helmet. Critical differences include a chin bar that extends a little further to improve air circulation and a lighter overall chassis. 2014 UCI Downhill World Cup Overall Champ Josh Bryceland was so impressed with the new Rampage helmet that he has abandoned the moto helmets he has used for years. Given how fast Josh rides, and the level of protection that requires, making the switch to the Rampage Pro is a huge endorsement.
While designing the future isn’t easy, you’d never know it looking at the polished and popular finished product Fox Head pumps out year after year. Brice Oakden’s relaxed manor doesn’t betray the facade either. He’s one of the most mellow guys I’ve ever met and is anything but a self promoter. But when you are as successful as Brice and Fox are, perhaps you can just let your competition do all the worrying?
Shop the full line of Fox Head products by clicking on the highlighted link.