Giro Sport Design has been leading the way in bike helmets since 1985, when founder Jim Gentes created the game-changing ProLight.
Since then, the Californian company has developed the most advanced helmet design and testing facilities around.
BikeRadar: How did you come to work at Giro?
Dain Zaffke: I grew up riding and racing mountain bikes in Florida, and moved to California when I was 15. My eyes were opened to a true hotbed of mountain bike culture and industry.
I met a couple editors of Bicycling magazine at an XC race during my first year of college, and found they needed some help with product reviews.
I took the job for the free stuff initially, but realised that I really liked writing. I worked in the magazine world – primarily at Bike magazine – for about five years before jumping ship to marketing.
I enjoyed working on magazines because, more than anything else, I’m a storyteller. Marketing is even better though – I’m still telling stories, but also building the pieces that support products that I believe in.
- Related reading: Inside: Giro Sport Design's R&D lab
What is it about Santa Cruz that is so appealing for the bike industry?
Santa Cruz? Nah. Not much here. Don’t bother. You’re better off going to LA or New York… ha! There really is some carry-over from the classic, territorial surf culture. This area is so amazing that most people I know want to do whatever they can to keep it protected. My favourite trails are still pretty empty, and I like it that way!
It’s a great place for product testing, and geographically, it just works. It’s easy to get to most places from here.
Zaffke started off working on bike magazines, and then moved to marketing. Both careers appealed to the storyteller in him
With its new road-specific clothing range, it seems Giro has concentrated a lot on the road market in the last few years. Will MTB get the treatment next?
We launched our apparel as New Road and focused specifically on road because we saw an opportunity to shake up the status quo.
The road riding mentality that you need to wear a certain uniform to participate turns a lot of people away from the sport. Giro is a very inclusive brand and we want to welcome newcomers to all categories of cycling.
Giro has never lost focus on mountain biking. We believe we have the most comprehensive range of off-road footwear – from the Jacket (DH/dirt jump shoe) to the Terraduro to the new Empire VR90. Mountain biking is very dear to most of the staff here, and we’re eager to bring some new ideas to the trail. I’m personally excited about a couple of opportunities – we’re not interested in chasing market trends, the pieces that we’re planning will be exciting and different.
It seems Giro’s top MTB helmet is the Feature. Will we see a new model to compete with the likes of the Troy Lee A1 or Bell Super?
The Feature is a great helmet, especially now that there’s a MIPS option. It’s stylish, comfortable, offers an extra measure of protection compared to a traditional XC helmet and the price is about that of the price of most other MIPS options!
However, those other helmets you mentioned prove that riders are willing to pay for bells and whistles. We see that, and we’re working on a few super premium trail helmets.
Giro is big on colour co-ordination across ranges. How do you go about research for fashion?
Our team here is incredible. Our designers’ credentials are too many to list, but most of all, our designers are simply cool. Some people just have a more keen sense of what is cool and what isn’t.
It also helps that we have great communication with several leading bike brands and our apparel designers spend a lot of time in the fashion circles, which are always years ahead of the bike world.
How much investment have Giro put into testing?
The reason that we lead the market in helmets is entirely due to our dedication to testing and R&D. Giro and Bell are part of the same company – Bell-Riddell-Giro Sports (BRG) – which is the global leader in cycling, snow, football and power sports helmets.
The Giro headquarters alone houses 14 different helmet-testing fixtures. We have other BRG facilities around the world with testing equipment and we also use third party test laboratories regularly.
Occasionally we’ll work with other partners on testing and development – MIPS, for example – but we don’t open our doors for competitors to use our equipment.
Santa Cruz is a natural base for many mountain bike companies, Giro included. According to Zaffke, the lends itself well to product testing
Is Giro revisiting eyewear?
Giro never left eyewear as such – the Giro snow goggle business is thriving. We don’t have any plans on re-entering the sunglass game, but we introduced a mountain bike goggle last fall, called the Blok MTB. It’s based on the Blok snow goggle, and the field of view is fantastic.
Where would you ride tomorrow if it could be anywhere, and who would it be with?
Outside of Santa Cruz, there is a series of trails I like to link together to make my perfect six-to-seven hour ride. It has everything that I love; fast and flowy singletrack, nasty steep chutes, rocky sections, awkward wiggles through tight trees, rhythm/jump lines, and some well worn, flat-out braking-bump-riddled freeway trails.
I love travelling with my bike and riding new trails, but my best days ever have been close to home.
With the favourite people category, I hate to name names because I don’t want to leave anyone out – but my wife Katie is top of the list. Katie shreds, she’s easy-on-the-eyes and she’s truly my favourite ride buddy.
In addition, Todd Ingermanson (Black Cat Bicycles) because he’ll be talking shit and laughing all day, Allan Cooke (Santa Cruz) for a lot of laughs and a mind-blowing showcase of talent on two wheels (remember when he won X-Games?), and Jason First, trail boss of Sedona, AZ. It’s been a long time but Mark Weir used to be a good riding buddy and always a lot of fun. Caleb Smith (of Spoke Mag in NZ) is good for a laugh too, and Olivier Guincentre is probably the most entertaining guy I’ve seen on a bike – he was top world cup downhiller in the 90s and he’s still fearless.
Zaffke is hot on the tail of his wife, Katie, as they ride the hills around Santa Cruz
If you weren’t based in Santa Cruz, where would be a good enough base for you?
There are cool aspects to a lot of places. Sometimes I could see myself living in a bigger city – I lived for nearly a year in London and that was really fun at times.
I also lived in San Francisco for a year and that was a blast – but having good mountain biking within pedalling distance from my house is something I never want to live without again.
This is article is the first in a series of interviews with key players of the Santa Cruz bike industry. Watch out for more in the coming weeks.