JF Pelchat's binding is so hot right NOW
After years of dreaming, designing, and building, former pro snowboarder JF Pelchat is finally coming out with the NOW IPO -- a snowboard binding like nothing you've ever seen before. Inspired by the mechanics of a skateboard truck and built upon an entirely custom architecture, the IPO has already won the industry's most prestigious design award and has shredders everywhere talking about "the new ride" before they've even seen it.
"The kingpin acts as a fulcrum, transferring more energy to your edges," explains Pelchat of his new creation. "The binding does the work for you -- which translates into better board control, less foot fatigue and a seamless connection to your board. The bushings act as a dampening system when going through choppy snow and provide personal customization."
Before donning his Tesla cap and giving snowboard bindings a good swift kick in the heel-cup, Pelchat was a well-known pro for over a decade. The French-Canadian moved from Quebec to Whistler 18 years ago, filmed with MDP, nailed down over 15 covers, was Snowboard Canada's "guest editor," and managed to ride with Craig Kelly, Damian Sanders, Peter Line, Jamie Lynn and every dirty Wildcat worthy of the name.
The NOW pro team includes fellow Canadian shred icons DCP and Devun Walsh and the company even boasts Certified Canadian Legend™ Alex Warburton as Product Manager. Read on and find out why a brilliant idea is only half the battle and what it really takes to get your "better mousetrap" to market in the sometimes surprisingly conservative snowboard industry.
ESPN: I think I heard about you working on these bindings in your garage, like, seven years ago... How long was it from idea to proto to company with product to sell?
JF Pelchat: I always strive to find ways to improve product. As early as '92 I built my first pair of baseless bindings. Then I worked at Rev and, thanks to [board designer] David Partrige, he made me aware of products and made me like that aspect of snowboarding. In '04, I filed my first U.S. patent, which is an interface that works on today's Burton EST system.
Then, in '05-06, I had the idea of incorporating the motion of a skateboard truck to a binding. Adding bushings to the mix was a logical step. I built a working prototype, had lots of pros validating the idea and met with snowboard companies. Then the roller coaster began and I met will the "big 4" and, even though they thought I was onto something, nothing materialized.
In 2010 my friends at YES snowboards introduced me to their partner and they offered to help financially. NOW was born and the binding will hit the shops September 2012.
All the reviews and your site hammer home the notion that the IPO works like a skateboard truck. Why is this a good thing for snowboarding?
The IPO works like a truck in the sense that it has a similar movement as a skate truck and also because it uses bushings that can be changed depending on the style of riding, snow condition and rider's weight.
This is the first time a binding is built with that motion and serves a function other than just holding your boot secured in the binding. The IPO was designed to turn a snowboard and, just like a skateboard, the binding is really playful; the action happens more at the ankle level and it's more about a transfer from your toes to your heels. The IPO hanger, kingpin and bushing are names borrowed from skateboarding because of the relevance in their functions.
Critics say these offer a "solution to a problem that doesn't exist."
Ride it before you give your two cents... Honestly, I don't have time in my life to fabricate or waste others people's time by bringing a product to market that doesn't work or is a gimmick. I have been riding for a really long time [Ed. since 1985!] and there is nothing out there that compares or offers that type of a ride.
What's the best feedback you've heard from first-timers?
The three most common things I hear are: better edge control, really playful, and comfortable. My biggest joy is to see people returning from riding the IPO and smiling and not wanting to go back to their [regular] bindings. We've had beginners all the way to pro riders testing the IPO -- and jibbers to big mountain riders -- and it is unanimous: this binding is for everyone.
Alex Warburton did the industrial design of the IPO, which won product of the Year at ISPO this year -- the most prestigious award in our industry. We've also got other awards and mentions in Snowboard Mag [Platinum Award] and Transworld Business [Editor's Pick].
I've always felt like bindings have advanced the least tech-wise -- vs. boards and boots -- in the last 10 years. How does the IPO fit into that?
The conceptual [aspect] of bindings has been the same for as long as I can remember. NOW is breaking out of that mold with the IPO and taking a different approach. We are incorporating moving parts that serve a function and improve the ride.
Our flush cup is another first in the industry: the high-back sits on top of the heel-cup, creating a flush surface between the two which allows the binding to be ridden without the high-back while not compromising on boot settings.
What in your background, besides being a pro shred, allowed you to develop these?
I've always been hands-on with everything in life like cooking, carpentry, fixing cars etc. My dad gave me a hammer for my birthday when I was 10 -- I was really bummed at that time, but now I realize that it was the best gift ever. So, when I decided to build the first prototype, I retrieved in my garage [disassembled] bindings and went to town. I used a router to make the base and welded an aluminum heel-cup to other aluminum parts that I cut and had machined. To me this was the easy part because I enjoyed making stuff and it was right up my alley.
I knew I had something good, but finding a financial believer was the hard part and taking my idea and turning it into a real binding was also challenging. But luckily for me, I was also surrounded by talented people.
How are you handling your manufacturing and quality control? Any special components or proprietary radness?
The manufacturing is done in China and we probably go there six times during the year to sign off on parts and for quality control. Alex and I are really strict and I am really anal about all aspects of the product. We've also implemented processes at our factory to make sure that everything is produced or assembled to [our] standard.
Because the binding is made of nylon and aluminum and also because we have moving parts, it is mandatory that everything [be] assembled properly. The bushings are really cool -- they are a dual-injected process and will be offered in the box with the three densities: soft, medium and hard.
Any thoughts on where NOW goes from here?
From now on, NOW is sculpting the future of bindings and, by creating the IPO platform, it opens it up to endless possibility.