How Nopinz innovated indoors with its SubZero cycling kit
From finessing skinsuits for time trialists to outfitting virtual racers, Nopinz is bringing real gains to virtual worlds.
Based in Devon, Nopinz started out by making stick-on race pockets allowing racers to attach numbers to their skinsuits without ripping them or having their numbers catch the wind. Soon taking requests to stitch these SpeedPockets directly onto the kit of various pro and amateur racers, the firm soon decided it could also make better skinsuits than those that they were modifying. More race-focused products followed, and by the 2021 Olympics, Ahmad Badreddin Wais plus another unnamed pro were competing using the firm's creations.
Around the same time, like many of us, Nopinz founder, ex-elite racer Blake Pond was also spending an increasing amount of time indoors. Shifting from racing solely on the road to competing on Zwift, he turned his experience in eking gains from outdoor clothing to working out how to improve his performance on a static turbo.
The result was the SubZero range, the world's first indoor cycling kit designed to actively cool the body's core temperature.
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“SubZero was designed and born with the racer in mind,” explains Nopinz' Sales Director Gary Chambers. “At the same time, you don't have to be racing on Zwift for it to improve your performance. Equally, that improvement could be just hitting better numbers in your session or being able to ride for longer before fatigue, simple things like that.”
Cool under pressure
To improve performance when riding on a static bike, SubZero products place interchangeable gel packs against key temperature regulation points on the body to provide a continuous cooling effect during training or competition. Charged with cold goodness in the freezer, as many pads as needed can be stacked up and swapped in depending on the length and severity of your session.
One of Nopinz' integrated cooling ice packs. Photo: Nopinz/ Michael Blann
Besides the pads, the range consists of bib shorts, sleeveless suits, and sweatbands, each with FreezePockets that hold the replaceable gel packs. Similar to existing Nopinz products, the entire range is made from bespoke technical fabrics that offer maximum breathability and moisture management.
“In the simplest terms, with SubZero, your body has to work less hard to regulate temperature,” says Chambers. “Any time you're pedalling hard, your body will try to keep you cool, and that takes energy. One obvious issue is sweating, and with that comes dehydration and loss of electrolytes; this not only impacts the performance during that session or race but can have a knock-on for your recovery and tomorrow's session.”
Find out more about Nopinz SubZero here
Combatting cardiac drift
A second issue that SubZero helps address is that of cardiac drift. If you've ever ridden a steady-state effort on a turbo, you might have noticed that after a period of relative harmony, your wattage and heart rate can become decoupled. As you get hotter, generally, you'll find your heart rate starts to increase even though your power output remains constant. This happens because your body has to gradually increase its efforts in order to keep your core temperature constant.
"To regulate that heat, your heart has to beat harder,” explains Chambers. “You'd assume that for a set power output, over time, your heart rate should go up and then level off. But what you see is that as you become fatigued, your heart rate will drift away and decouple from power. Preventing this is just another piece of the jigsaw that will help fend off fatigue.”
Saving some of the effort and calories normally consumed in regulating temperature can be a significant gain for e-racers. At the same time, increased comfort means that anyone using a turbo should have a more enjoyable and efficient experience, leaving them more inclined to stick to their goals.
Currently, Nopinz is working with Loughborough University to quantify the exact performance benefits. However, the advantages will be instantly obvious to anyone who's forgotten to turn on the fan before a turbo session.
“When using SubZero, I certainly feel more comfortable on the bike when riding at full tilt,” says Chambers. “I'm happier to continue working hard, and able to feel more relaxed working at that increased rate.”
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To help test and develop its products, Nopinz has sponsored two squads of e-racers. The first is Team Saris-Nopinz, which includes athletes Mike Cuming, Dan Fleeman, Kae Takeshita, and Jennifer Real. With the ability to link up wherever they are globally, the gender-balanced squad consists of 24 riders.
“Team Saris-Nopinz race in Zwift's Premier League and include several ex-pros,' says Chambers. “They're all absolutely obsessed with their indoor setups. They've generally got a fixed temperature and a certain humidity in their spaces, plus fans and rocker plates. Basically, they go after every possible marginal gain you can get. So the SubZero kit fitted them perfectly.”
Nopinz also sponsors the Nopinz R3R e-Racing Team, which sprang from the existing community of racers on Zwift and Road Grand Tours. Feedback from both sets of riders has helped inform the range's design.
It means that while some cycling clothing makers have experimented with indoor clothing, Chambers believes the SubZero range is so far the only one that takes into account the true needs of indoor riders. Beyond the cooling packs and perforated materials, this belief is borne out by the garments' extreme practicality. For one thing, the shorts are designed to be worn alone, because that's how many riders will use them when training. At the same time, if you want to cover your top half, the suits do without superfluous sleeves.
Back to reality
However, while the range has been designed for indoor training, SubZero's benefits are now transferring over to the road.
“The SubZero technology is also creeping across to our custom skinsuits too,” explains Chambers. “Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, everyone knew it was going to be ridiculously hot. To counter this, we made a version of our Flow-Suit including a pocket for a SubZero upper back gel pack. The idea was to put one in there while warming up and just before starting, slot a fresh one in so it'd be the icy cold.”
Already helping athletes to great real and virtual world performances, SubZero promises to be another asset in Nopinz' expanding arsenal.
“Coming from a background based on searching for those marginal gains within the time trialling scene, SubZero felt like a natural step for us,” says Chambers. “It's always been about controlling as many variables as possible. So it seemed logical to transfer that approach across into the indoor racing world.”