We’re heading down a swoopy, winding descent in the Mallorcan sunshine and Chris Hoy puts the power down coming out of a tight corner. Yep, that’s a lot of power alright! Although Chris hasn’t been riding for a while, he’s not forgotten how to turn on the speed when he wants to. I guess when you’ve competed at the very highest level for as long as he has, you never forget. It’s a bit like riding a bike.
We’re out here in Mallorca (or Majorca, if you prefer) for the launch of Hoy Vulpine clothing. The name kind of tells you what’s going on; this is new range from Chris Hoy and London-based Vulpine. What it isn’t, is a one-off collection. Hoy Vulpine is an ongoing brand, the idea being to provide a full range of clothing for everyone who rides bikes – everyone from urban cyclists to sportive riders to kids, eventually. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
You already know that Chris is the most successful Olympic cyclist of all time, right? He has more Olympic golds than any other Briton – six – and he’s tied with Bradley Wiggins for the most Olympic medals of any colour: seven. World titles? 11. World Championship medals? 25. He’s got a couple of Commonwealth Games golds, a BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy and a SPOTY Lifetime Achievement Award. Oh, and he’s a knight too, so by rights he’s Sir Chris to the likes of you and I.
Not a bad track record.
Now though, Chris has retired from competitive cycling and he’s pinging it down a hill in Mallorca with Ned Boulting off of the telly, Nick the head honch at Vulpine, assorted other Vulpine peeps, and me. Most of them have been out here for a few days shooting pics for the Hoy Vulpine launch, and now that all that’s in the can it’s time to go out for a ride.
It’s no secret that there’s some great riding to be had in Mallorca. There are some big climbs, some wiggly little laney bits, scenic coastal routes, flat and open roads if you want to get your head down and pound out some tough miles. That’s why it’s such a magnet for cyclists on training camps, pros and amateurs alike, especially during the spring.
We’re here early though, in January, and you can get pretty much anything. I came here a few years ago in February and it snowed. I came back at exactly the same time the following year and got a suntan. The weather reserves the right to do what it wants at this time of year on this island stuck out in the Med.
Yesterday they had torrential rain halfway through a photoshoot, but it looks like the weather gods were satisfied with the entertainment that provided because we’ve got sun today. It’s not hot, mind – it’s arm and leg warmers weather – but when you’ve come from a sub-zero UK where you need three thick layers to keep the cold out on every ride, who’s complaining? It’s perfect. It’s time to make the most of it and get in some sunny miles.
Dan, the Mallorca-based tour operator who sorted the logistics for Hoy Vulpine’s trip (Marsh-Mallows.com, since you ask; highly recommended), has organised a steady ride on the western side of the island. There had been talk of heading for the Sa Colobra climb, Sa Colobra being a name used for road bikes in the Hoy range so that would have all tied in neatly, but we had to bin that off because of the weather up there.
Instead, we head out to Coll d’Honor (these pics are from various different parts of Mallorca taken over the week, by the way). As climbs go, it’s quite a mellow one: not too steep and not too high, just a few minutes long. It features hairpins, though. Not many, but a few. We don’t have too many of those in the UK so a hairpin bend is usually a sign that you’re Somewhere Exciting. They get your heart rate going.
Magaluf is just a short ride down the road but you could be a spaceship trip away from that Brits abroad element of Mallorca out here. The landscape is pretty and there’s virtually zero non-bike traffic as you wind your way up through the trees. It’s just a really cool place to ride your bike.
Coll d’Honor tops out at 550m which is really not that high, and the temperature up there isn’t much different from the temperature at the bottom. That doesn’t stop me from cracking into the tale of when I got hypothermia riding down from a mountain summit, though. Any opportunity to launch into an old war story!
There’s no danger of that today. We didn’t even need windproofs for the descent. At most you could say that it was a bit parky on the way down.
It’s a lot of fun with a few more hairpins to negotiate so you have to click back into switchback mode, braking early, going wide, clipping the apex and heading out wide again. The roads coming down aren’t the smoothest ever but they’re fine so you want to get the power on as soon as you straighten up, taking care to avoid the greasy bits that the sun hasn’t cleaned up for the day yet. Cycling nirvana! Get in the groove and make the most of it.
Once we’re off the helter skelter, things calm down again and we’re back into the chat. I’ve ridden with a few big name cyclists over the years thanks to this job, although I’m not into name dropping. The main thing – Bradley Wiggins – that you need to remember – Alessandro Ballan – is not to knock them off. Can you imagine? You don’t want to be the bloke who wipes out Juan Antonio Flecha the week before Paris-Roubaix, do you? You’d struggle to live that one down. Even with Chris Hoy now retired, it’s just not something I want to be remembered for, so I find myself riding just that little bit more carefully than usual.
Chris knows Mallorca really well having been here a load of times before to get in the road miles – hence using that Sa Calobra name in his bike range. Palma velodrome was also where he won the keirin and the kilo at the World Champs in 2007, and got a silver in the team sprint.
“We were at the track yesterday and it was only the second time I’d been back since my last ever competitive kilo,” says Chris. “It was weird because I remember thinking at the time that this is it, I’m not going to race the kilo again because it has been dropped from the programme for the Olympics. It was a big one to finish on and I won the last rainbow jersey for the kilo.”
That’s an age ago now. Since then Chris has won a million more medals, moved on from racing and become a father. His son was born 11 weeks premature towards the end of last year, but now mother and baby are doing absolutely fine, thankfully.
Chris has also got more into motorsport, which isn’t the sort of thing you can do to any great degree when you’re preparing for the Olympics. He’s actually heading straight from Mallorca to Malaga for some racing, and he’s working as part of a support crew at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with a view to driving in the event in 2016. He does some presentations to businesses too – that’s standard fare for yer retired athlete – and, of course, he has Hoy Bikes to deal with and now a completely new venture.
Speaking of which, Hoy Vulpine: what’s all that about then?
“The idea is that the each piece of clothing is something that you look forward to wearing, that does the job, that you feel good in, and is accessible,” says Chris. “You've got your favourite garment like a favourite winter jacket – the one jacket in your drawer that you would choose if it's all clean and ready to put on. We want every single item in the range to be that garment. And we want them not only to be your favourite shorts and your favourite jersey, but for it all to go together and look cool as well.
“We sat down with a blank sheet of paper and made a wish list for each garment. What would you like to see in each of those garments? What would you not like? What are the classic mistakes? What are the things that make it standout as being good? What do you wear and what do you think other people would like to wear? So it's not just liked the car that Homer Simpson built where it's this sort of thing that only one person would want, it’s something that lots of people would want to wear.”
If that reference passes you by, Homer once designed a car that he thought would appeal to the average buyer. It had bubble domes, three horns, optional restraints and muzzles for kids in the back, tailfins – all the stuff he wanted – but the development costs and the price tag put the company out of business. If you don’t know about The Simpsons, it’s a documentary from America.
You get the impression that Chris spent a lot of time during his racing days wearing kit that he wasn’t necessarily best pleased to wear.
“We tended to get quite cheap kit for training in. The race suits were the very best you could get but the general team kit could be fairly poor quality, certainly not the same quality that you would buy in the shops. It was frustrating that the chamois might not be one that you particularly liked, and the leg grippers would dig into a sprinter’s bigger legs.”
Told you. The Hoy Vulpine team actually sound very proud of their leg grippers which they reckon suit big legs and skinny legs equally well.
It’s clear that Chris isn’t just into slapping his name on a bunch of products, sticking a cheque in his pocket, and kicking back for a bit. I mean, I’m guessing he didn’t have much input at Kelloggs when he did that Bran Flakes ad, but it’s a different story with the bikes and now the clothing.
“Before the London Olympics, I could have had a range of bikes out with my name on them and we would have sold loads, but I wouldn’t have been able to work on them or do any of the testing. It wouldn't have been my project.
“I could do the celebrity endorsement thing but it wouldn’t be longterm and I wouldn’t have any pride in what was produced. When I see someone riding by wearing Hoy Vulpine clothing, I want to say, ‘Yeah, that’s my name on it’, and be proud of it. I want to get feedback about it because it's a passion and I enjoy it.”
Of course, he’s going to say that, isn’t he? It would be a bit Gerald Ratner to say any different. But Chris is certainly hugely enthusiastic when talking about Hoy products.
“I was driving on the M6 motorway in a 50mph average speed camera bit, going about 1mph faster than this car with bikes on a rack in the middle lane. One of them was one of my Hoy bikes, so I was looking at the guy driving and pointing at the bike and then putting my thumb up!
“The point is that it's a passion and it’s the same with Hoy Vulpine. We want to produce the best clothing that we can. For me, it is about the pleasure of seeing end products that I am genuinely proud of and that I can see people enjoying.
So Hoy Vulpine is starting out with spring/summer clothes for sports-type riders, and more casual clothing for riding around town and so on, men and women alike, then they’re doing an autumn/winter collection, a range for children, the whole shebang.
And outside of the business, how does Chris see his future in the cycling world?
“I want to keep cycling and still enjoy it, and not become someone that used to be cyclist. I want to talk the talk and walk the walk, still ride a bike and not just be a big, fat bloater who touches his bike a couple of times a year, or just be the face of the company. I want to be a cyclist and listen to cyclists because cycling will change over the next five or 10 years.
“In terms of whether I'm a figurehead for cycling or a spokesperson or whatever, I want to champion cycling in the UK to make us realise that we don't have to be pigeonholed into being a cyclist or a driver, we’re all people trying to get around. Cycling is not going to disappear so let's make it fit in as well as possible and educate people that don’t cycle to realise that it’s terrifying to have a car wing mirror buzz past your head, and also for cyclists to realise that you’re sharing the road with other people too. Everyone needs to respect one another on the roads. It can work.
“Will I still be shaving my legs in five years’ time? That’s the question!”
We also caught up with Vulpine founder Nick Hussey to get his take on Hoy Vulpine.
road.cc: How did the collaboration between Hoy and Vulpine come about?
Nick: I had been thinking for a long time that Vulpine make stylish casual commuter gear that works, stuff you can wear on and off the bike, but you’re not going to ride 100 miles in Vulpine gear.
Then Chris contacted me in November 2013 and asked whether we’d be interested in doing some clothes together. I said yeah, but there were all sorts of caveats in my mind about not just having a personality stick a badge on some clothing, and that’s not what Chris wanted to do. Even before we signed on the dotted line, we sat down together in Manchester velodrome to start developing ideas. Nothing moves on without Chris.
How would you sum up the range?
When Chris and I came to work together, one of the most important things was that we both look at cycling as a joyous thing, not an exclusive thing.
It sounds quite a pretentious thing to say but it has to represent what I called the new cycling. Old cycling was a very exclusive, cliquey place. It wasn’t very welcoming to me getting into road racing in the 1980s. There were really tight factions – BMX riders, mountain bikers, roadies or whatever. Now cycling has changed so much and there are so many new cyclists coming in and just taking whatever they want from it. They just want to go and ride a bike.
We want to make nice clothing for everyone who rides a bike. If you’re into cycling, we want to give you something you’ll love to wear.
So what’s your favourite item in the range?
For me it's the bib shorts. If you get bib shorts wrong you really know about it so they’re the scariest thing to develop, but if you get good bib shorts that work you’re onto a winner.
The Hoy Vulpine shorts have a really good Cytec pad and it sits in the right place. We designed the grippers from scratch and they’re very comfortable.
We spent a lot of time researching and getting the women’s bib shorts too [they have a zipped, enclosed upper]. Although I can’t wear them myself, I’m really pleased with them!
The shorts are accessible but not cheap [they’re priced at £80}. We’ve always agreed that what we make has to be high quality and you’re not going to get that for £20, but at the same time we want to stay accessible. We’ve made something of value, not just something that looks pretty. Whatever we make has to back itself up.
Check out the Hoy Vulpine range here http://lookbook.vulpine.cc/hoyvulpine-ss15/
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.