We’ve wanted to expand our protection range to cover shifters for some time now, but due to the complex curves and contouring required, it isn’t possible for us to produce a protector based on CAD data. We would need access to the levers themselves so we can template, test and revise until we have a finished product we’re happy with. After countless emails to manufacturers, retailers and distributers it wasn’t looking likely that we’d be able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that would give us access to the products required. This means we would need to purchase the shifter sets ourselves, which would be a sizeable investment for a product that didn’t currently exist anywhere in the world.
Eventually we shelved the project and continued to build out current product lines and refine others, until earlier this year. The idea of shifter protectors arose again and pure curiosity lead me to try a prototype version on my personal bike. It started as nothing more than a “let’s just see if it can be done” endeavour, but along the way, through many revisions and adjustments we landed on a product I felt was arguably one of our best.
Step 1 - Template
The first step was to get a net template of the lever into our design software so we could start working on a prototype. A piece of backing paper from a postage label proved to be the most useful material for getting the rough shape outlined, which we could re-scale digitally and start with prototype 001
Step 2 - Design
The first pass design is really rough but it gives us the opportunity to see how the vinyl contours around the lever, highlighting any problem areas. The balance here is maximising coverage while keep the install process user friendly. These two factors are often mutually exclusive and where the real design work shines. Our mandate is to prioritise easy application, as a full coverage protector does no good if the end user struggles to apply it neatly and ends up punting it in the bin.
Step 3 - Testing
After we have an acceptable design we run a test fit to see what areas need improvements. This then leads us back to the design phase of step 2 and the cycle repeats until we’ve ironed out all the kinks. During this time it’s easy to let the user friendly installation factor slide, as the more times you test fit the protector, the more you figure out a good technique for applying it…something a first time customer doesn’t have.
So I recruited a few friends, handed them an Ultegra 6800 shifter and accompanying protector prototype and offered zero guidance on the application process. A few interesting lesson were learned from the experiment but ultimately they all did very well indeed.
Step 4 - Refining
During the creation process we had 8 different shifter sets being worked on during a 2 week period. One day after the next we were repeating the processes above, so once all the designs were complete I took to the road for some ‘Product Testing’ which was just an excuse to separate myself from the protectors long enough to be able to view them with fresh eyes a few days later.
This proved extremely useful and lead to a lot of small tweaks which I felt improved the protectors and one major refinement that turned them into a product. For context with our crank protectors we write on the reverse side the model name/number and the crank length. This is so both us and the customer can easily identify which is which. For the shifters however we don’t have the constraint of varying lengths so marking each isn’t as vital.
This lead me to test out model inscriptions that are cut into the vinyl. It was a silly idea at first but once we nailed down the right font it turned a good protector into a great feeling product. I’d like to think this small detail elevate our product above the competition and signifies the hard work and attention to detail that went into creating them.