“Winters are not the same as when I was a kid. We used to stay home from school and couldn’t go out for days because of snow”. You may have heard the sentence from your father or a relative. As a kid you only notice one thing; “Wow, you could stay home from school?”. As you grow older and listen to the same story over and over, you start thinking that winter can’t have been so much better back in the day?
Fast forward to 2020 and the fact is that winter is simply not as it used to be. A reality we are facing on an everyday level in the news, and for brands specializing in manufacturing cycling apparel and accessories, there is a need to address the issue that winter is no longer colder, but instead warmer and wetter.
At GripGrab the range of shoe covers are renowned for addressing the coldest climates you get thrown at you on your bike. After all, we are from the North, so we’ve grown accustomed to extreme weather conditions. Even though our product line is very comprehensive we still felt a key element was missing: An extreme rain shoe cover, which will keep your feet and legs dry from spray and dirt in the wettest conditions you can imagine. COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, if you like.
And “High Water” was close during the making of this new product. 2019 was the second wettest year in history in Denmark, so during the development of AQUA SHIELD HIGH CUT ROAD SHOE COVER conditions were near perfect for testing “The Shield”, as it is affectionately called in-house.
Our Research & Development department set out to develop a shoe cover which would have a supreme function in a competitive racing environment but equally work as well for any Commuter who battle through wet conditions every single day. A product which should be high on aesthetics, be able to match whatever cycling apparel is your favourite, minimal branding while being light and warm on your feet. More importantly, the product should protect your shins higher than normal, without the use of any zipper, so you can remain comfortable without irritations.
Kristian Krøyer, Chief Product Officer & Founder of GripGrab.
We asked Kristian Krøyer, CPO and Founder of GripGrab, to give us the low-down on how “The Shield” came about, was created and just why a shoe cover needs to be this high.
GripGrab is renowned for a collection of high-performance shoe covers for almost any climate. What made you realize you needed to create Aqua Shield?
Kristian Krøyer (KK):
The Aqua Shield shoe cover is a natural extension of our series of zipperless neoprene shoe covers. When we launched our first zipperless shoe covers it was at the same time as another brand launched a similar product to the market made from latex. The game-changer for both shoe covers was the removal of the zipper which has always been an Achilles heel of a shoe cover. Especially when it comes to keeping water out and making them close-fitting. While our product offered great insulation, and good waterproofing, it was a bit too warm for many riders. I have to admit, that I did like the concept of the tight-fitted latex shoe cover, but through personal testing and feedback from fellow riders, I learned that latex shoe covers are very difficult to fit onto the shoe and are also quite fragile and hard to maintain. This is when I decided to work on a GripGrab product with the goal of addressing the shortfalls of the latex shoe covers.
Please tell us about the process you go through when materializing a product like “The Shield”?
Feedback from our customers is always our starting point. We try to bring products to the market which add extra value compared to existing products. A good example is our zipperless shoe covers with IntelliSeal™. At the time we developed these we had gone through a significant amount of customer feedback to realize there were essentially three major issues with shoe covers: Missed expectations in terms of performance, such as level of waterproofness and thermal insulation. Durability issues, as well as problems putting the shoe covers on the cycling shoes. To make a shoe cover addressing these issues we looked at multiple aspects from choice of material, pattern construction and technical details that could enhance performance.
What were the most significant challenges during the creation of this product?
As opposed to a latex shoe cover, which is moulded in one piece, and have no seams, the Aqua Shield covers are constructed from three pieces which need to be connected in order to ensure a fully waterproof construction. The product is made from microfleece coated polyurethane, which is both waterproof and very flexible. In order to ensure these characteristics would make for a close-fitting, and waterproof product, we had to come up with a construction that did not compromise these parameters. Consequently, we chose to bond the material with a technology called High Frequency Welding, which makes it possible to join two pieces of material without stitching. The result is a seam that retains flexibility almost like the material itself. The seam is very smooth with an appearance as if being completely watertight. We learned, however, that there were small micro-holes rendering the product not completely waterproof. For this reason, we decided to apply an outside taping to completely close the small micro gaps. On the inside, we had to reinforce the seam as well, because the shoe cover must sustain quite a bit of pull and drag when taken on and off the shoes. So, essentially the main challenge was keeping the great properties of the material in the final product.
A product of this kind is very obviously aimed at riding in wet conditions. A thing most riders hate. What are your own views and preferences on wet weather riding?
I agree, that this product is aimed at riding in very wet and muddy conditions. I don’t mind riding in foul weather, but I do like to keep as dry and comfortable as possible. When riding in Denmark bad weather is just a circumstance you have to deal with. Especially if you, like me, have your daily commute to work. Aside from being far more comfortable to ride with dry feet, it also saves you quite a bit of cleaning. After my ride with the shoe covers, I normally just rinse them with water and dry them with a towel. Then I can easily hang them to dry if they are damp on the inside.
The height of Aqua Shield is quite surprising when you see it the first time. Please explain how you came to the idea to make it this high and why?
The first prototypes were tested in close collaboration with a friend of mine who is an endurance rider. He rides a lot more in foul weather than I do. Together, we realized that regular shoe covers do not shield your lower legs from road spray, which is often what causes your feet to become wet when water seeps down into your shoes. Adding some extra height to the shoe covers provides added protection against front wheel spray running into your shoes. At first it felt a bit awkward to have a shoe cover this high, but we quickly realized that it’s quite comfortable to keep the shins protected from road spray. I did a 7-hour gravel race in very rainy conditions and although my feet eventually did get a bit wet, I really enjoyed the comfort of not having water sprayed directly on my lower leg when riding through big puddles of water on Swedish dirt roads. That was the moment I was convinced that going high on height was the right choice for this product. During the development, some people raised the question if the product would be UCI legal. To be honest, I never considered this to be an issue for this product, which is designed primarily for optimal protection against very foul weather. For sure we can make a product complying with UCI regulations, but this was not the priority.
Are you considering any other developments along the lines of Aqua Shield?
Aqua Shield was specifically developed for Road riding. You can use the shoe covers with gravel compatible shoes if you plan not to walk but just ride. As Gravel riding is extremely close to our hearts at GripGrab, our ambitions are to develop a reinforced version, which will have tougher protection on the outer point of your toes, making it more sustainable against gravel and enabling you to walk with your bike.