Episode 8 - Steven Nemeth

 

  

 

In this episode we talk to Steven Nemeth from Bont.

Bont is a leading innovator and manufacturer of cycling shoes that include road, MTB, triathlon, specialty, track and custom cycling shoes. The company uses the best technology and materials to create comfortable shoes that aims to boost performance and reduce injuries.

 

In this episode we cover:

  • Working with Bat Logic in innovating and creating Rowing Shoes
  • The process of creating the best performance shoe from quality carbon and special resin
  • Studies conducted by the company on the effects of shoes on athletes to design and construct a natural fitting shoe that prevents injuries
  • Injury example in cycling connected with the foot
  • How they used sport specific data to create a shoe that not only prevents injuries but also provides comfort for the athlete
  • The development behind Helix, the revolutionary shoe that’s 265 grams light and the positive feedback they’ve received about it
  • Plans and next steps for Bont in the coming years
  • Design theory behind Bont shoes

 

Links:

 

Transcript:

 FELICITY:

This is episode number eight. Welcome to the ‘All Torque’ podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I’m your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque. Let me welcome today’s guest, Steven Nemeth from Bont Cycling.

 

Bont is a cycling shoe manufacturer centred heavily around functional anatomy and biomechanics and is a leading innovator of cycling shoes that includes road, mountain bike, triathlon, specialty, track and custom cycling shoes. You also do rowing shoes, which you started 12 months ago and work with Bat Logic to innovate.

STEVEN:

Hi Felicity.

FELICITY:

Hi.

STEVEN:

Thanks for letting us be involved in this. Look, we have, we have been involved with Bat Logic for about 12 months now. We actually launched the rowing shoes probably a little bit before that but it’s been an interesting journey. We’ve had a lot of fun with it, we’ve managed to basically introduce some innovation into that industry. It is quite unique, quite different. Innovation and technology basically that hasn’t been available in rowing shoes previously. It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve had a great time working with the guys from Bat Logic, they’re a great crew and we have a lot of fun trying to create products and trying to make the athlete’s journey or the athlete’s job that little bit easier.

FELICITY:

Yes and I think it would make the rowers a lot more comfortable now that they’ve got a shoe that’s actually made for them and not just a shoe that’s in the boat.

STEVEN:

Yep. (laughs)

Once the history of the cycling, of rowing I should say, was once kind of like attitudes over that change, it will. That’s an ongoing process and the sport has had shoes shared in boats for well, a long time. I mean, even before my time and I started rowing about 38 years ago. But it’s a change, it’s a process, we’re introducing the new quick release systems into boats which allow people to actually have their own shoes. Which is extremely nice and makes things a lot more comfortable for them but it takes time and it’s like any sort of major change in sport or even a commercial environment, it will take time to get done.  

FELICITY:

Definitely. And you use carbon fibre in your shoes and source it from the world’s number one carbon manufacturer, Toray of Japan. The quality of your shoes is at the same level as the Aircraft industry using a tightly woven carbon called 3K Plain, rather than the cheaper forms of carbon which I found very interesting.

STEVEN:

It is, we’re very happy to be working with Toray. I mean they’ve been a great provider of that carbon. We’re a little bit different than the rest of the industry, we use what we call a ‘wet layup’ so we actually don’t buy prepreg carbon. Now, prepreg carbon is basically a laminated carbon that is already impregnated basically with a resin.

We developed our own resin back about 40 years ago, in the company and we’re still using that resin, we’re still refining that resin as we go along. But essentially it’s a resin that allows us to actually mould the shoes or customise the fit of the shoe at a very low temperature. Your average consumer can do it at home in their own oven, it doesn’t take any special equipment and they can customise the feel, the extra feel of the shoe, sorry.

As a result of that, we have to use what we call a wet layup. We tend to use both 3K and the Unidirectional. Unidirectional is a little bit challenging because have you have to know a little bit more about carbon orientation and how that’s going to affect how the shoe will react when you’re cycling. I mean, to turn a pedal you need to do a certain amount of work. There’s a certain amount of range of motion, there’s a little bit of biomechanics involved with it in order to get the best performance out of that shoe, you actually need to be able to map out the unidirectional carbon in a way that’s going to give you the best benefit, whilst giving you also the best injury prevention as well, in terms of torsional and directional stiffness.

FELICITY:

Is that similar to the ski industry? I’ve actually had a pair of ski boots moulded to my feet, which was fantastic. Because it just makes it so much more comfortable and enjoyable experience on the slopes. Is that similar with the cycling shoes?

STEVEN:

Yes and no. Yes in a sense of what we’re doing, probably no in terms of the industry norm. Your ski boots having to be as tight as they are, they have to be an extremely good fit. Like even with skating boots, you know skating boots again, they have to be very tight, they’re going around tight bends and they’re going around at high speed, there’s a lot of G forces involved. From that point, it has to be extremely comfortable, it had to be very moulded to your foot.

Cycling is a little bit different, so there’s not a lot of torsional movement. That’s actually quite minimal. But to get the most out of the shoe and to be able to create a good structural support for the foot, which then affects everything from your knees, to your hips, your back, everything up the chain. You have to have something that’s actually fitted well.

We, as you mentioned earlier, we do really focus on our anatomical fit and biomechanics. We look at things a little bit differently, I guess. When we first started designing the shoes, we really looked at cycling in its purity, rather than working backwards and saying, “Okay, what’s it going to make to make the shoe look nice?” We looked at a cyclist, we looked at what it takes to actually turn the pedal and not just from what happens at the foot level but what actually happens up the chain.

So anything that we do at the foot level is going to affect your ankle alignment, your knee alignment, it affects your hips, it can affect your lower back, your cervical spine, it goes all the way up. What we looked at was really to create the most natural fitting shoe, so something that actually is, for example, the shape of the human foot. And created a structure around that we’re even without the closure system, the actual shoe shape is so well shaped around the human foot that it can actually hold the shoe without any pressure points. And then supply a neutral support zone or a neutral support for the foot in a way that will allow you to have better ankle alignment, knee alignment which then in turn improves everything up the chain, through the hips and your lower back and your upper back.   

FELICITY:

Absolutely and that would reduce also any inflammation or possibility of getting injuries, so it’s definitely, as you say, important to start from the bottom up. Isn’t it?

STEVEN:

It is, I mean, a really easy example to use is one of the common injuries in cycling through just through the fact that it’s an extremely competitive sport. When you think about, you go out for 160 ks and you’re turning your pedal at anywhere between 75 to 95 to 100 revolutions per minute, that’s a lot of pedal strokes. It’s a hell of a lot of repetitive motion, that’s happening non-stop over a very extended period of time. One of the easiest examples I tend to use, is if you look at a foot that pronates, if you have a foot that actually pronates and isn’t structurally supported, that’s going to affect your knee alignment which then in turn affects your hip alignment, once your hip alignment goes it’s pronating, your pelvis will rotate forward. Which again then puts stress on your lower back, that’s what I mean by the fact that anything that we do at foot level, can actually affect the chain all the way up and cause a lot of problems for things like patellar tendinitis comes into it, lower back issues with L4 and L5 area.

There’s a lot of potential issues there that we’re working against, working at guarding against. So, for us it’s not just about creating the best performance shoe, we do, actually have an extremistic shoe that has been tested by people time and time again and it is one of the best power transfer shoes out there that you can purchase. But what we’re also always working on is to make sure that we’re creating a structure that actually helps in or helps minimise repetitive injuries.  

FELICITY:

Well you’ve had 30 years’ experience as a company and using data from 20,000 laser foot scans to develop a standard last which is the base of the shoe, you cover every detail in construction, starting from the inside out from the last, the foot bed, the liner, using memory foam and anti-stretch tapes or the new evolutionary cabling system that you’ve developed, the upper and the resin used. Would you like to share a bit more about the last and some of those details?

STEVEN:

Yeah, well the company actually goes back about 40 years now. Originally the laser scans weren’t done back then, the laser scans were actually done a lot later than that. But we did about 20,000 laser scans and what we actually did was do the laser scans across different parts of the world. Even if you look at the, if you look at it on a global sense and if you look at the various regions, you’ve got North America, you’ve got Asia, Australasia, Europe, Middle East. There are actually differences between those regions, in terms of the demographics, so North Americans tend to be a little bit wider, Asian fit again is very, very different.

When we first started working on the last, on the cycling last, we went out and did all these scans in all these different areas to get a really good level of understanding of the human foot across the board. That was interesting, we learn a lot. But what we then did is say, “okay well, how does all this information work with cycling motion?” and that’s what we always keep coming back to. It’s like, what is going to affect that ability of that cyclist to perform at the best possible level that they can with the most amount of comfort.

We didn’t use a lot of the industry fairly standard lasts, we basically, like you said, we developed our own. We started from scratch and it was really centred around biomechanics, efficiency, comfort and injury prevention. We did the same thing when we did the rowing last, we could have done it the easy way and gone and just used that cycling last, the rowing shoes. But instead we again looked at the sport, looked at what’s required and again in rowing there’s various different parts of the actual, the form of rowing and the foot actually changes shapes quite considerably for that and again we developed a totally different last for that.

We are very specific in what we do, our track sprinting shoes are very different, in terms of lasts from our road cycling shoes. Again, different requirements for different disciplines.     

FELICITY:

Well you have the Helix is a very revolutionary shoe that’s only 265 grams, so very light and top level. You developed it for eight to nine months and it has a new innovative tensioning system that wraps around the shoe instead of across it. You also exhibited last year at EuroBike with that shoe in Germany, illustrating the cabling system that’s integrated, which is part of your own and working with Boa. How has this shoe been received?

STEVEN:

Extremely well, the Helix is next step in evolution for us. There is, we have our plan in terms of what we want to achieve and what I would like to achieve and the Helix was essentially just another step. The Vaypor S was the first part of that whole development phase, which is actually going over about a four or five year period. The Helix was the next one and each and every one of these shoes brings into play something that we’ve been working on, something that we want to combine for that ultimate shoe that we’re trying to achieve in a few years’ time.

It has, the Helix has been interesting, it’s not an easy shoe to make. We’ve done something that’s quite unique, in terms of that cabling system. Being able to, because we do have a monocoque construction, which is basically a one piece shoe underneath the aesthetic outside colour. Having that has actually allowed us to have a cabled integration that is I guess a lot greater than what other people have been able to do, in terms of, its ability to close a shoe range.

If you look at a traditional shoe, whether it be shoe laces, velcro or modern dial system, essentially what they do is they pull the upper together at the top. And that’s the way they close it and that’s how they secure your foot. What we’ve done with the Helix is with that wrap system is create a shoe that actually has a cabling system that goes all around your foot, the cabling doesn’t just go underneath the liner. The cabling is actually built into the carbon and gives you a very secure but very customised fit. That allows you just a lot more flexibility and making sure that that upper is actually going to be pulled all around your foot rather than just pull it closed at the top. If that makes sense?

FELICITY:

Wow, sounds pretty speccy.

STEVEN:

It’s been a bit of fun, actually. And we’ve had a lot of really, really positive feedback on the shoe. We’ve got people like Caleb Ewan out there using it at the moment in the pro peloton, he’s loving it and pretty much every person that we’ve given them to, has come back with an extremely positive response. And the consumer’s response has been phenomenal as well. We’ve been really, really happy with that shoe.

FELICITY:

That’s great, that’s great when you’ve developed something and getting the feedback that’s positive because you put the work is, it’s nice to see it being well received. Isn’t it?

STEVEN:

It is, it is. Like you mentioned earlier, we do use premium materials so even our memory foam, we actually, we make our own memory foam ourselves. We don’t just buy it in, so we get to control things like the hardness, so we have varying hardness in that memory foam around the shoe, in different areas. And we do manufacturer our shoes very, very differently. I mean the traditional shoe making effort is essentially, make a base, make an upper and glue it together. All of our top level shoes, in terms of the Zero models, the Helix, the Vaypor series are all basically shoes that are made inside out, so we start with the last and then we put the liner, the padding and then the carbon.

For example, the carbon is actually mapped out specifically for the discipline of cycling that the shoes actually being made for. We have, we basically only have two full layers of carbon in there, everything else is carbon pieces that are actually mapped and laid specific to where we want thickness, where we want torsional flexibility built into it. It’s actually quite a unique process.

FELICITY:

Do you use a CAD system or a 3D computer program to, when you’re refining a product to, if you want to shave a bit off here or shave a bit of there? Do you use that kind of program to assist?

STEVEN:

You can but I’m not very smart, I’m not really good with those things. (laughs) No, seriously. We do use various forms but there’s a lot of practical and real world testing in what we do.

FELICITY:

Right.

STEVEN:

The Helix for example, you mentioned eight months but essentially that shoe was being designed for a lot longer before that. I mean, we had probably a five month, six month period where we had selective individuals out there in the world who go out there whose opinions we respect and who are able to provide very detailed feedback. And those guys were out there riding those shoes for quite a long time, before we put it to the market.

FELICITY:

Yep.

STEVEN:

Even working with Boa, Boa were phenomenal when it came to the Helix. We were introducing something that is very unique, something that’s very different, something that’s actually required their product to behave in a different way and we couldn’t be happier with our relationship with those guys. They’re really good and a lot of fun to work with and a lot of smart guys in that company.

FELICITY:

Fantastic, what are you doing as your next step, Steven? Since you’ve released the Helix, where do you go to from here?

STEVEN:

Wow, I probably shouldn’t say that should I?

FELICITY:

(laughs)

STEVEN:

We do have plans, we actually have a number of products that we’re working on at the moment, across a number of categories. So both, obviously, cycling and rowing. We have some fun things coming up and I don’t want to say any more than that, but we do have some nice developments that we’re working on at this time.

FELICITY:

So stay tuned.

STEVEN:

Basically but don’t think it’s going to come in the next 12 months, that’s all.

FELICITY:

No and where do you see developments going to from here? How do you see the industry progressing and the opportunities available?

STEVEN:

Well the industry is actually going through a lot of changes at the moment. There’s a lot of brands in the shoe market, we have a lot of respect for our competitors and the guys that we work with. We’ve actually had some really good relationships with some of the other shoe brands. We are very unique and we offer a very unique product and so we tend to focus on what we do, I think we ourselves, will continue to focus on what we’re good at, which is really focusing on, again I keep repeating this like a broken record, but kind of like the performance and the injury prevention of it.

I think there’s a lot more that can be done with cycling shoes, we’re slightly limited at the moment probably by technologies out there, in terms of what I believe is possible.  And then there is other parts of bikes that can actually affect what we can do with shoes, so that comes into it. I think there is a lot of space out there for doing things even more differently that are actually going to make the shoes even more beneficial, in terms of performance. It’s not just the shoes, the shoes have to integrate with pedals and cranks and cycle bikes and everything else. That part of it can sometimes be challenging and sometimes be limiting, in what we can actually do.

FELICITY:

So what is the actual design theory behind the shoes with Bont?

STEVEN:

Like I’ve touched on beforehand, it really is, we really are focused on really working with functional anatomy and biomechanics. Everything that we do, every decision that we make is first passed through that. When we’re looking at a new product, when we’re looking at a new discipline of sport, we really go back to its raw form and say, “Okay, well there’s a human body, this is a real world. This is what it takes to turn that pedal, in that particular discipline and what is involved with that?”

Really looking at the body on a very holistic level but also in a very finite and focused level to say what muscles are involved exactly in turning that pedal and how can I minimise the amount of muscles and the amount of energy that’s required to actually do that action? Things like, performance is not just about power transferred source, it’s about creating better efficiency. And that’s something, for example, don’t actually think is being looked at enough by the industry as well. We know we have ultimately the best power transfer of any shoe out there that’s been tested and I’m quite comfortable in saying that. But what we’re also working on at the same time is to make sure that it’s efficient as it possibly can on an ongoing cycle.

Again minimising, for example, supporting muscles that can be taken out of the equation, in a sense. For example, if a shoe’s not fitting well, if a shoe’s not designed well then you can actually create situations where there are other muscles and other actions being brought into play simply to, at sometimes just to hold your foot inside the shoe. Which sounds really simple but if you don’t have a good heel cup on that shoe, basically your heel is going to be moving all the time. The first thing a person is going to do is actually start gripping with their toes to ensure that they’re not slipping or overtighten the shoe.

Now the moment you start gripping, you start bringing your calf muscles a lot more into play. There’s little things like that that we look at, I guess from an efficiency point in saying, “Okay, well we want that athlete to be able to turn out a pedal as is possible, as efficiently as possible and not waste energy on these supporting muscles. For example, they don’t actually have to do any work.

FELICITY:

Well that’s right and it distracts the energy, doesn’t it?

STEVEN:

Exactly.

FELICITY:

Of course, if energy is going elsewhere it’s displacing it and the athlete, for instance, whoever they are it’s obviously consuming that energy and not really going into the power.

STEVEN:

Exactly, you want to be moving forwards. That’s where you want to be, yeah spending your energy rather than just let’s say, keeping your foot in the shoe.

FELICITY:

Well it’s been a very interesting and enlightening interview, I thank you for spending time with us today and sharing all that knowledge with our listeners. Our listeners can follow you on Facebook as Bont Cycling and also on Instagram as Bont Cycling and you’re on YouTube and the website is www.bontcycling.com which also has a list of where to purchase Bont shoes, if you desire. You can see the range there, which is quite diverse I noticed. I think there could be some new shoes on my shopping list. (laughs)

STEVEN:

It’s been a lot fun, Felicity. Thank you so much for having us, me I should say.

FELICITY:

Yeah, it’s been lovely and I look forward to watching and hearing about future developments as they transpire.

STEVEN:

Okay, thank you very much.

FELICITY:

Thank you, Steven. Bye, bye.

STEVEN:

Thanks, bye.

FELICITY:

Thanks for listening to the ‘All Torque’ podcast, we’d love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about.  Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales. See you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the ‘All Torque’ podcast.

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