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Triathlete’s 2020 Design Awards: Biggest Innovator

The winner of the biggest innovator award is...

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While other sports wait for trends to come to them, triathlon has a long, rich history of living at the cutting edge of technology and design. Multisport has led the pack in breaking trends, and while not every tri design is a home run, our sport is a petri dish for exciting innovation. We sat down with our editors and a team of gear experts to whittle through the most exciting and impactful people, products, and more from the last year to see who is truly deserving of Triathlete’s designs of the year. We’ll be announcing the winners one by one here on Pick up the March/April issue for a complete list of winners (and don’t forget to enter to win the bike featured on the cover). The winner of the biggest innovator award is…

Eric Min – CEO and Co-Founder of Zwift

Alongside co-founder Jon Mayfield, Min combined his passion (indoor cycling) and his penchant for creating successful businesses into one of the fastest growing segments in an otherwise plateauing cycling industry. His creation, Zwift, allows indoor cyclists across the planet to train, compete, socialize, and interact in a virtual space that didn’t even exist a few years ago. 

Today Zwift has had 1.5 million people sign on to its online platform and take a ride, as Min and his booming brand now lead the charge into the seemingly lucrative world of eSports. Just last March, British Cycling held its first national championship in the nascent virtual sport and the UCI—cycling’s governing body—has announced an eSports world championship to be held this year. In an effort to formalize the tricky guidelines behind remote sports racing at a high level, the UCI recently published its own rules and regulations.

Though Zwift isn’t the only player in the virtual training environment game, Min’s insistence on leading with a “virtual” world designed around real-life inhabitants has thrust his company into the front of the space’s vanguard. As a company, Zwift has outgrown their offices many times over in the last year—nearly doubling their staff. Their focus on hiring video game industry veterans from big titles like Call of Duty has helped them create beautiful—and engaging—“gamified” spaces.

As Eric Min and his army of online cycling avatars push the envelope of what technology and gaming can do, Zwift is still making sure to remember cycling’s outdoor roots. “We’re not trying to digitize bike racing at all,” says Craig Edmonson, CEO of Zwift eSports. “It’s about effectively reinventing cycling competition in a virtual world, built off of physical endeavor and bringing in skills and tactics that could lead to an entire portfolio of competition types beyond scratch racing.” 

Honorable Mention: Dan Eisenhardt – CEO and Co-Founder of FORM Goggles

This former creator of now-defunct Recon heads-up display eyewear has changed the face of swimming by bringing live feedback metrics (pace, strokes, time, laps, heart rate, and more) underwater. Though Eisenhardt’s roots in the heads-up display world were underwater, when he pitched the idea to his MBA entrepreneurship class, he says he mistakenly “overestimated the value proposition” for a cycling device. Thinking that cyclists would be most interested in a device that kept their eyes on the road, he redeveloped his unique technology for biking. After his initial cycling invention, known as Recon Jet, was purchased by Intel in 2015, it was later shelved, never to be seen again.

Not one to be deterred, Eisenhardt spent the last few years reconfiguring his projected display technology to fit into a waterproof vehicle that would reach those who never actually get a chance to see their data in real time. In August, he released the FORM goggle that projects data onto the inside of a swimmers’ lenses, allowing pool swimmers to see things like lap pace, stroke count, and time without pausing between laps. Not only do the new goggles display the data, but they also store and report entire workouts, doing a good job of breaking down the swim set you did into something readable (i.e., 4 x 50, 6 x 100, etc) without having to type it all out. 

Not one to put a good idea on cruise control, Eisenhardt and FORM already released a big software upgrade this year that extended the existing goggles’ range to include real-time heart rate. By partnering with Polar and utilizing their goggle-mounted OH1 or OH1+, this helps break the $200 pair of goggles out of the pool—at least somewhat—and give some open-water options for triathletes. At this rate, this absolute game changer for pool swimmers (open-water use is limited to time, strokes, and heart rate currently) could completely rethink the way we train in the water.