#50Startups: TorHans Fuels Triathletes With Aerodynamic Hydration Products

By: Tierney O'Dea - May 14, 2015
Source: Startup Bend

Tor Naerheim and Hans Blielat grew up only one street apart, and discovered by chance 20 years later that they both ended up in Bend. They launched TorHans in 2010 to “conspire against the wind” by offering aerodynamic hydration products for athletes based on a void Hans, a former pro racer and Southwest Airlines pilot, noticed in the market.

BendTECH sat down with both Hans and Tor to learn how their idea became a well-known brand among competitive athletes (in fact, the company sponsors 25 triathletes). Their products were also part of two wins at the Ironman World Championships and dozens of Ironman victories.

Startup: TorHans
Year Started: 2010
Leadership/Founders: Tor Naerheim, Chief Marketing Officer; Hans Bielat, Chief Innovation Officer; Kevin Cox, Consultant
Employees: 3 full-time employees, 3 contract engineers
Headquarters: Bend

Where did the idea come from?
Well it was pretty simple, Hans noticed bicycles, wheels and aero handle bars were all very aerodynamic, while the hydration systems were not at the time. They were just an afterthought even though hydration is necessary for performance. Tor brought his entrepreneurial experience and design know-how to the team and we’ve been working to innovate systems that eliminate aerodynamic drag associated with hydration, tool, and nutrition storage ever since.

Living in Bend is also an inspiration. Where else (short of Boulder) do you have such amazing riding and a collection of incredible and dedicated athletes? Two world class professional triathletes in town use our products.

What was the design process like?
Our design process was long and started with basic sketches as ideas often do. We partnered with an aero engineers to refine the shape and make it a working hydration unit. We also tested some rapid prototypes with Felt Bicycles at a wind tunnel. The results showed our design exceeded other similar products aerodynamically. This was good validation for us to go ahead.

Where are your products produced?
Originally we wanted to manufacturer the products in the U.S. We could find a blow molder in Tennessee, an injection mold company in Colorado, and a compression and extrusion molder in California. But no one could do everything with packaging, color, and graphics. The numbers just and are still not there…which is eye opening and disconcerting. We do feel though that a lot of this in the future will be solved through the evolving technology of 3D printing machines.

What makes your products different?
Some competitors just slap their name on an existing product from a trading company. These are called open mold products, and are much cheaper than building your own design. But this is not who we are and not function like we want. The design, tooling and production of a product such as the AeroZ cost upwards of $70,000. We own all of our molds and tools stored with our manufacturing partner in Taiwan.

We are still the only bicycle hydration company that uses airfoil aerodynamic shapes as the starting template for our products.  And obviously we’re biased…but our products just look so much better than anything else out there.

How are you funded?
Funding for TorHans came from the founders along with a loan from local company Craft3. We are in growth stage now.

So do these really work, or just look cool/intimidating?
The carriage of hydration on a bicycle had been sometimes 30% of the total aerodynamic drag of the athlete’s bicycle. Our current hydration and storage systems eliminate the drag, and some systems actually give an aerodynamic benefit. In Ironman with a 112 mile bike portion, TorHans systems have saved six minutes over not carrying any hydration at all.

What’s next?
We just launched out newest hydration product, the AeroZ. Triathlete Magazine just named it “Best in Class” and sales are exceeding expectations. We’re now working at various levels with seven bicycle manufactures to ‘Aeroblend’ custom hydration/storage products on the manufactures bicycles.  Finally, new bicycle aerodynamic products and run hydration products are on the drawing board.