Nike Ditches Safety Pins, Gives the Runner’s Bib a Much-Needed Redesign
Whether you’re an Olympic marathon runner, or just jog the occasional 5k, you’re familiar with the sad state of race-bib technology. Safety pins, which a runner typically uses to affix the corners of her bib to her shirt, were invented close to 200 years ago. And your standard race bib, in addition to being awkward to attach, tends to flap around. Now, if your athletic career entails no more than an annual turkey trot, this setup probably serves you just fine. But for serious runners—and world-class athletes—it can be a major source of frustration. So this year, Nike decided to redesign the bib, and get rid of safety pins while they were at it. The AeroSwift Bib, as it’s called, adheres to clothing or skin, like a big sticker. No safety pins, no wind drag. Just slap it on and go.
“Our job is to eliminate distractions, to help unleash athletes to their fullest potential,” says Michelle Miller, an Olympics concept director at Nike. She says athletes have been telling the company for years how much they dislike standard bibs. But it wasn’t until recently, when Nike designers were finalizing another new Olympics product, AeroSwift Tape, that they realized how to make the new bibs work.
AeroSwift Tape is like kinesiology tape, but dotted with tiny 3D-printed plastic teeth. Nike calls these teeth AeroBlades, and according to wind tunnel tests, taping them to a runner’s legs and arms can make them more aerodynamic. The tape also gave Nike designers “the a-ha moment,” for the bib, Miller says. Both products are made from a four-way stretch, perforated, breathable, polyester knit that can cling to fabric as well as skin, which makes it a great, low-profile substitute to paper and safety pins. Miller and her team tested the bibs in a range of conditions—in the shower, in high humidity, on sweaty athletes—and say it “sticks fantastically.”
The funny thing about running bibs is they’re not even essential to the sport, anymore. Originally used so judges could record times at the finish line, bibs were replaced years ago by RFID chips and photo timers. Amby Burfoot, editor-at-large at Runner’s World, says the bib-wearing tradition only continues today because of sponsors. For a company (like Nike) sponsoring a race, a bib presents a great photo opportunity for its logo. “It’s not for the runners now,” Burfoot says, “it’s for the race directors and sponsors.”
Nike, however, hopes its new bibs are for runners—or, at least, that they aren’t bugging runners. Unfortunately for Olympians, AeroSwift Bibs won’t make it to the games this year. Nike completed the project too late to get approval from the Olympic Organizing Committee. But they do plan to put the bibs on the market, so look for them at a marathon near you.
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