Medical Stoppage

(To the tune of The Bluebells Young at Heart.)

HEEEEEERNIA, HER HER HER HERN-NI-AAAAA!!!

So towards the end of last summer, I had a little road bump that stopped me from riding for a while. We all have them from time to time. Some accrued on the bike as injuries and some (usually more seriously) come about all by themselves in everyday life. Mine was an annoyingly small umbilical hernia.

This is pretty much, eactly like a hernia in real life.

I say annoying, because it was small, yet caused such a surprisingly big break in my riding. Time off the bike always feels longer than it is in reality, and it was no different in my case. The recovery whilst smooth, and shorter than some others with the same condition seemed to drag and drain more than I had hoped for.

I have been back riding for a while now, and whilst I probably could be riding proper trails again, I have taken my time. Easing back in with lots of XC orientated miles. Building the fitness back up and not pushing the healed surgery more than I know it can handle.

I have been giving the big bike some TLC and spent some time building myself back up as well. But that break in period I feel is over, its time to go ride bikes in the woods again.

Used Parts Addiction?

I have a confession to make,

I have a bit of a second hand parts problem.

We all love new bike parts. Part of the hobby (if it can be called that) is afterall, the equipment that allows us to ride what we want to ride. Whether it is a slick new fork, brakeset or even just a stem. Seeking out and researching the best upgrades for our performance or budgetry requirements, and sometimes, for pure bike vanity is a constant distraction to the commited cyclist.

Upgraditist is a very real thing afterall.

But in reality, do most of us really need the udgrade? Will we really notice the marginal performance improvement? Have we really worn out the part that is being replaced? More often than not, I would suggest that we are swapping out perfectly servicable equipment for something new for the sake of something new. So do you really need that upgrade? probably not, now I’m not suggesting I am any different, we all catch upgraditist from time to time.

Literally only the gear outers were new on this build…

What this results in however, is all of us who have been riding for a long time, having a large collection of spare parts. Just sitting in greasy boxes becoming more and more redundant (or unfashionable) by the day, in our sheds. Most of these 9 speed drive trains, front deraileurs and non-dropper seat posts, will be of little interest to most modern riders. But when they were replaced, they probably weren’t that redundant. Not many riders would have gone from a 9 speed with a triple to a 1x 13 speed for example.

Progress is incremental, and the upgrade cycle that we run our gear through, for most of us, is also incremental. But when making these incremental upgrades I try always to find what I want (as need is rarely the driving factor) second hand first before buying new.

I do this for two main reasons, the first is purely financial, nice bikes are hella expensive. So finding a boutique brand stem or high quality dropper lever that actually works second hand, can allow me to run a bike I couldn’t afford if I bought everything new.

There are however parts that I will not buy second hand, normally things that will wear out. I am suspicous to the level of wear and tear that those parts may have been through. Cassettes and chain rings for example, is it being sold with 50km on the clock because the seller prefers Sram over Shimano or is it for sale because its been through the mill? SCrew it I’ll get a new one.

But if a part was top tier when new, I wont normally worry too much about its servicablility. I have for example bought Hope and XTR on a good nember of occasions. But as always, I try and look things over and make my purchasing decisions on a case by case basis.

The second reason is slightly different. When trying to assess and reduce the waste caused by single-use items in my homelife, why would this stop at the shed?

So when I do need (more often want) a new crank/shifter/dropper etc, I have a stalk about eBay and the various facebook buy and sell groups. The search can be far more rewarding (and not to mention distracting) than the more prosaic scroll through Chain Reactions or Wiggle (both are the same thing anyway).

So theres my take on it, second hand parts for the win, almost everytime.

Atherton Bikes – Next Level Thinking?

ARTICLE 1.3.007 Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport.

So the Athertons have a launched a bike brand, sort of. Robot Bikes Co has emerged butterfly-like from its chrysalis and has unveiled itself with Atherton winningness on the head badge. But is this just a cash in on their brand whilst Rachel is still at the height of her career as Gee’s star is on the fading side of his? Or could it something else, or both?

I have previously mused on the UCI article 1.3.007 and how it requires all bikes raced to be available for purchase by anyone. I am of the mind that this, in fact, stifles bike development. This requirement for a race bike, means that compromises must be made if the bike raced is for mass public consumption.

That is a ferocious follow to post ratio.

If you built a bike that was a pure race only machine, it would probably have quite a high cost of entry regarding the skills required to pilot it. Race teams are primo marketing for a bike company. So the ability for the man on the street to buy the same bike as the racers they follow is a big draw. It is also one of the things that makes bike racing unique compared to automotive racing. But does it make for better racing? Yes and no.

If teams were able to race custom built machines never intended for public consumption, like F1 or WRC. Then the teams with the deepest pockets would win. But it means that top tier racers are always fighting with bike fit and suspension kinematics. There is only so much you can do to make a frame fit with anglesets and custom linkages, this is only exacerbated when your over 6 foot.

So how do the Athertons and Robot, I mean, Atherton bikes come into this train of thought? This could be next level thinking to work within the UCI rules and still ride the perfect tailored race bike.

Looks like a session.

Robot Bike Co’s USP was their method of manufacture and their offer of custom geometry. By using sintering additive manufacture (3D printing in metal), they were able to make each bike to order, exactly to your bodies measurements. They were a tailored suit in a world of off the peg frames.

So acquired, re-branded and re-launched as Atherton Bikes means Rach, Gee and not forgetting Dan, now have the ability to have the perfect fitting bike, with the exact geometry they need. The kinematics or reach not working out? Then a new front triangle or linkage can be fabricated between races, it can be that quick.

Selling direct to consumer, they can then offer the “Gee Bike” or the “Mere Mortal” editions of their frames. If each bike is a custom piece, then they can constantly evolve and adjust the design betweeen races. Just like F1, which is funny as two of the founders of Robot work in F1.

Stealthy.

So are the Atherton’s cashing in on their brand? Well maybe, but who can blame them, Peaties been selling unicorn jizz in his retirement afterall. But is this a next level strategy crossing over from motorsport into DH? Maybe, just maybe.

Quiet Moments

The wind is uncharacteristically still at the tower.

The heat of the climb is emanating from my jacket and I breathe deeply. In through my mouth then out through my nose, deep in and deep out. I am slowing my breathing and can hear the exhalations loudly in my ears. The usual dog walkers and families burning the Christmas energy are about, but my gaze is elsewhere.

On the other side of the valley the trees are breathing as well.

The warmth of their cover rising in tendrils of mist with every exhalation of their limbs. Thin threads of moisture slowly rising and intertwining in infinitely complex and delicate forms. Barely rising above the uppermost boughs of the plantation, just high enough to meet the cold December air.

The grey sky cracks, and the woodland’s mist illuminates, golden fleece hanging pristenely in the air. The heat from the sun energising and exciting the droplets, they rise and dance. Rapids and eddies of warm and cool air, revealed by the shifting of the subtle density of the woodland’s breath.

The clouds above roll in their own waves, suddenly washing over the crease in the flat grey blanket cover, blinking out the shaft of golden “God ray” light. The mist has risen too high and now begins to dissipate. Like cotton wool in water, it has spread too thin, and slows, and fades.

The whole dance was probably no more than five minutes long. A brief canto in the hills and woodland. One that I would have missed had I been within the canopy, and one I would have missed had I pushed on to get as much riding into the time available. But sometimes, well, most rides, these moments occur. Some are not as delicate as this, but there are always those moments where you can see the land breathe.

They are important. Yet they do not always present themselves obviously, but sometimes, it’s worth stopping just to breathe.

Growing Pains – The EWS & Doping

The EWS was (and possibly still is) the wild west.

Not the bad stuff about the white man’s manifest destiny, but the open, wild space where the spirit animal of early downhill had found fresh pastures. But with the announcement earlier this year that the UCI is going to adopt the series, was too strong a trigger for many Pinkbike warriors to resist. They would bring about certain standardizations and (god forbid) rules that would kill what the discipline was, “the spirit of Enduro” would die and whither on the vine.

It was too easy to make Ratboy hiding the bong jokes to see what was coming, yes, drug testing, but also positive results and the inevitable hard questions.

The EWS when it was founded reached out to the UCI. The UCI at that time was not looking (or willing) to adopt enduro as a discipline. That meant, that the EWS was unable to issue the hallowed and iconic rainbow stripes to its champions. It also meant that certain other duties where left to the individual federations of a races host nation. Duties such as anti-doping screening.

With the structure of the EWS being what it is, with each race run by different national organizations and federations, the rules and format at each event can be different. With each race organizer having a different opinion on some of the finer points.

This in the first few years caught out some of the riders at the sharp end of the league table. Riders have been hit with penalties due to infractions that some would argue, wouldn’t have happened during a different race. What constitutes shuttling during practice for example.

On top of this, the penalties for similar infractions have been, varied. Fabien Barel received a five-minute penalty for shuttling at Crankworx back in 2013 compared with Adrien Dailly, Dimitri Tordo, and Florian Nicolai receiving twenty seconds in Colombia earlier this year. Whilst this isn’t comparing apples with apples, it is certainly something to think about when you take a step back and look at the EWS over its 6-year history.

These growing pains were however necessary, for the teams, privateers and the series organizers, to work out what the EWS was and is going to be. As the series has matured, teams have gotten wise and become more attune to these variances, with fewer of these mishaps befalling the top riders.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

From the start there has been a strong statement against doping within the EWS, Chris Ball is very clear on his position on the matter. But with the anti-doping screening programs being delegated to each individual host nations federation, consistency has arguably been lacking.

Consistency in the application of both the testing and contents of the rules regarding doping is something that should have as few inconsistencies areas as possible. One person’s asthma prescription is another person’s positive test response after all.

This all leads us to the anti-doping testing at the Olargues stage of this years series.

What we know so far;

  • 9 male athletes were tested.
  • The tests were carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).
  • 2 riders samples returned “adverse analytical findings”
  • Jared Graves & Richie Rude have confirmed that they returned those findings.
  • Four of the others tested have confirmed their tests came up clean.
  • 3 unknown athletes have not come forward as yet.
  • The AFLD have yet to release their findings and any sanctions.
  • The UCI did not oversee these tests.
  • The UCI may restrict sanctioned riders from racing next year.

So why have we had a round of testing now? And why none of the female athletes? Well the lack of females being tested was due to no female anti-doping officers being present, again the lack of consistency is evident. The AFLD may have opted to test at this race precisely because the UCI would be doing so next year. They may have wanted to appear proactive and not ignoring the event. This is pure conjecture and we will never know why this race.

Why have we not had more people caught in the past? Is Enduro inherently more clean than other mountain biking disciplines? Probably no more or less so, but regular testing doesn’t currently exist. In fact Rude implied that this was the first time he had been tested whilst racing the EWS, which for a two time world champ is kind of incredible.

As the standardized anti-doping test regime and infrastructure of the UCI comes on stream with the EWS next year, the contents of the banned substance list and the true ingredients of the supplements used by athletes will no doubt be poured over by the teams. The level of rigor on the nutritional aspects of the athletes will level up so to speak.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

Cedric Gracia told a story in one of his vlogs about doping in early French XC racing. The essence was that during a race someone from the crowd held out a bidon. He took the bottle whilst passing and his Dad basically saw this and tackled him off the bike. The reason being, you don’t know what is in the bottle. It could be just an isotonic drink, but it could also be a banned substance. It could be an over the counter supplement that contains a banned substance. A deliberate act of cheating would not have taken place, but Gracia’s career would potentially not have happened if he had tested positive.

Something of this nature may have happened, feed stations are an important element of a race day nutritional strategy. This with the fact that other riders in other disciplines have provided positive samples due to a supplement not listing all the ingredients it contains give plenty of scope for how this could have happened innocently.

The fact that they were once team mates and training partners, as well as both sponsored by Rhino Power supplements. Will no doubt raise some eyebrows. However, even without the confirmation of guilt, the fact is that these test results may impact Grave’s return to racing and Rude’s plans for the 2019 season if not beyond.

Whilst this whole episode is sad to see, I am not really surprised that it has happened. We just have to wait for the full findings and any sanctions to be published.

Is The UCI Stifling Innovation? – Sick Bike Co Collab

As part of what I hope to become a series of guest Vlogs (still hate that term). I recorded this vlog posing the question “Is The UCI Stifling Innovation?”. I look at the case of DH and XC, looking at how the UCI technical regulation affect and shape the disciplines. I also ask whether they should and what the “soul” of those races should be.


Excert from the UCI technical regulations, the full document can be accessed here.
ARTICLE 1.3.007
“Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport. Any equipment in development phase and not yet available for sale (prototype) must be subject of an authorization request to the UCI Equipment Unit before its use. Authorization will be granted only for equipment which is in the final stage of development and for which commercialization will take place no later than 12 months after the first use in competition. The manufacturer may request a single prolongation of the prototype status if justified by relevant reasons. The UCI Equipment Unit will pay particular attention to safety of the equipment which will be submitted to it for authorization.
 
The use of equipment designed especially for the attainment of a particular performance (record or other) shall be not authorised.” The bicycle must be accessible to all participants. All the components of the bicycle must be available commercially (i.e. available on the market or sold directly by the manufacturer) at the latest twelve months after their first use in competition. To implement this twelve month period, the manufacturer must publicly announce that the product in question is being used in competition and when it will be available for sale. In all cases the product must be in a final stage of development, very similar to the product that will be marketed.
Thus, it is not allowed to use equipment in competition that is not either available on the market or authorized by the UCI Equipment Unit and previously communicated by the manufacturer (with a twelve months period for the marketing). The use of equipment specially designed for a particular athlete, event or performance are prohibited. “Specially designed” means a bicycle with a technical added value when compared with other equipment. No minimum production quantity or minimum price is defined for either bicycles or any component parts.
However, for down
hill and 4X cross mountain bike events, BMX, trials and indoor cycling, specific provisions are laid down in the part of the regulations concerning the discipline in question.

Is Your Clutch Mech Affecting Your Suspension?

You know that little switch on your clutch mech? That magic little mute button? Well does that clutch affect your suspension?

I had a hunch that the clutch on my mech was inhibiting the initial movement of my rear suspension. We already know that anti-squat (pedalling) and anti-rise (braking) affect the suspension ability to do its job properly. So it is only a small leap of logic to assume that the clutch inhibiting your mechs movement, (thus affecting chain growth) is adding to that mix.

I’d proposed this question a few times and was always met with two responses;

“Yeah probably.”

and

“There are bigger influencing forces, like rocks on the trail! The clutch exerts such a small amount of force that it makes no difference!”

So with no way to prove or disprove my hypothesis the debate always ended there, that is until I had an extended loan of a Shock Wiz. The Shock Wiz is a suspension setup aid, it plumbs into the air valve of air forks and shocks, monitors them on the trail and offers setup advice and feedback. With the latest update to the app, this little unit now offers a far more nuanced tool for suspension tuning. It also offered the opportunity to experiment and get some data to further my curiosity on the subject.

Time for the science bit.

The experiment was simple, I had gotten my Shock Wiz score to 88% and I was feeling pretty happy with how it was all feeling. I would do a control run of a fairly typical piece of natural Scottish single track, then again with the clutch switched off. This direct comparison would show if the Shock Wiz detected a difference in the shocks behaviour.

Screenshot_20180603-123930

The test track was a lovely little ribbon of prime condition singletrack on the southern edge of Aberfeldy. Comprising of fast and pedally sprint sections, drops and root matrices, so providing a good variety of trail conditions to test on.  After a few runs it was time to consult the app and see if the Wiz had noticed a difference.

My prediction was that the Shock Wiz score would decrease and the low speed compression would need increased by a few clicks and maybe a few more PSI in the air spring. My thinking being that the clutch would inhibit rider induced movement and would be more active to small bump input.

 

So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension,

Whilst the suggestion after the first run was that with the easier breakaway more air pressure was required, however after successive runs it settled back to the green. So, my prediction was partially right, the compression was affected, but it was in the high-speed over my predicted low. So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension, now the question was, how much of an impact does it actually make?

Well the initial suggestion, with the mech activated was that the high-speed was far too firm, listed fully in the red. So by the apps measure, it needed adjusted by three or more clicks softer. Now the Cane Creek Inline, has an adjustment range of four full turns on HSC. So if we take one half turn to equate to one click of adjustment, three or more clicks is a significant tweak that the app is looking to make.

However with the clutch turned off the app was only looking to make an adjustment of one to two clicks, so maybe a single half turn. That is more or less in the right ball park in my view.

Something that I did find interesting, is the lack of a braking shudder feedback that I experienced with the clutch turn off. With the clutch on, when I was at full chatt through a rock garden I had significant shudder from my rear brake. My reckoning was that this was my shock and clutch fighting it out due to brake jack. With the clutch no longer fighting the HSC the shudder didn’t occur. Shock was able to do its job and the bike just monster trucked along.

Conclussion:

Did it make a difference to what I experienced as a rider? In some circumstances.

Was the bike louder? Well, yes.

Did I drop a chain? No, I have a chain guide and narrow wide front chain ring for that.

Did the the app measure an improvement with it turned off? Yes, the tuning score improved by 5%.

Will I run the mech with it switched off form now on? In some circumstances, yes I will.

Will this be a definitive answer to this question on STW? HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAA, sorry was that a serious question?

Are You Tall Enough For a 29er?

Everybody knows 29ers are faster-rolling race winning wunder machines. But should you be riding one? Should we start to think about wheel size in the same way we think about frame size? ie, the taller you are the bigger the wheel size you ride?

In this Vlog I thrash the question out to start bit of a discussion

Right to Roam?

I have been musing about land access and the “right to roam” enjoyed by outdoor users here in Scotland.

This can be a thorny issue for all users and commercial operators in the countryside. However, this is only made worse by the common misconception that we have the right to roam when what we have is “the right to responsible access“.

A right that has been challenged recently by Scottish National Heritage on a few fronts. With the recent embargo on camping at Loch Lomond and this winters fracas between the Scottish ski touring fraternity and the ski resort management. They also named mountain bikers as one of the user groups infringing on the wrong side of the access code. Whilst the instant response is “what have we done!” when you consider wild trails dug without permission, they have a point that is hard to argue against. Especially when they use arguments framed around preventing injury to riders and damage to sites of archaeological interest.

How do we progress without running the risk of losing the support from the public to access our wild spaces freely? That is a question without and easy answer, but we aren’t going to find it without a free and open discourse on the matter.

Further information and reading on our access rights can be found on these sites; https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outd…

https://www.scotways.com/faq/law-on-s…

https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/

The Geometry Spectrum

In recent years bike geometry has become a big talking point among riders.

Longer reach, slacker head-angle, steeper seat tube, longer wheel base and the perpetual argument about if chainstays should be growing or shrinking. These are but a few of the aspects that make-up a good balanced frame design. But the numbers tend to be discussed in isolation from one another by riders when contrasting and comparing geometry tables. That being said, the more experienced (generally speaking) a rider is, the more of the geo-chart they take into account when making bike choices. However, the conversation rarely expands into how one element affects the other, and that is truly the crux of the matter.

But regardless of how informed the general biking public is to the finer points of frame design, the trend is that geometry is getting slacker, longer and lower.

The first thing we have to accept, is that there is no single magic set of numbers, no magic bullet, there is no such thing as “perfect geometry“. Geometry gives a set of characteristics and a certain feel to a frame (not withstanding the suspension platform if applicable). It will bias a frame to be better suited for certain types of riding and certain types of terrain. Whilst sharing the share same DNA, we can all agree that XC race bikes are different from DH rigs.

Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

It is also a perfect balancing act, If you change one thing you have to change it all, you cannot simple extend one aspect in isolation. A bike designer once described it to me as spinning plates.

For example if you extend the top tube and thus the reach, that will move the riders weight forwards and this may imbalance the ride.  So a designer may choose to shorten the chainstays to account for that shift in the riders weight. If they don’t, then the back end may become unweighted more easily and be prone to breaking traction.

Now if we take the view that the best riding position is central on the bike (and ignore the impact differing wheel sizes have to the equation). Then we can make some objective observations on how frame geometry has evolved over the last 10 or so years.

To illustrate this, I will track the evolution of a fairly critical and influential bike, the Specialized Enduro. Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

Now lets have a look at some key figures, the headliners if you will.

  • Head Angle
  • Top Tube Length
  • Wheel Base
  • Chainstay length

The trend has been for the head angle to slacken, the wheel base and reach to grow and the chainstays to be kept as short (or as static) as possible.

year Head Angle Top Tube Length Wheel Base Chainstay Length
2005 68º 623 mm 1156 mm 424 mm
2009 67° 620 mm 1177 mm 421 mm
2010 66.5° 620 mm 1185 mm 419 mm
2014 66.5° 617 mm 1183 mm 419 mm
2017 65.5° 604 mm 1201 mm 425 mm

All of these sizes are taken from large size frames.

So whats actually going on here?

The head angle is consistently getting slacker and the wheelbase is getting incrementally longer. But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

The wheelbase is being extended in two ways, by throwing the front wheel forwards from slackening the HA and latterly by extending the chainstays. But if we look closely, the reach is actually contracting, in a size large, it shrinks 7mm from 2010 to the current year model.

Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it.

But if longer and slacker leads to a more stable and therefore, faster platform then why are the big S shrinking the reach of their race happy Enduro? Why not go all in and extend the top tube and the reach aswell? In my mind it comes down to two things, the elusive “ride feel” and the rider that they are selling this bike to.

Geometry gives a certain feel, some riders prefer a bike that is not to long as a shorter bike feels more “playful“. Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it. They don’t want to move the position of the riders weight on the bike as that will change that feel. But riders have also drunk deep of the Enduro cool aid, so Spesh needs to not only make a bike that still feels like an Enduro, but also appears to be following the trend of longer slacker bikes being better without changing the taste of the secret sauce.

The second point that I feel is pertinent is the market that they are selling the bike to, or more accurately how broad that spectrum of riders is. A bike that is genuinely longer and slacker, regardless of what the chainstays or top tube are doing on paper, will appear to be very different to what has gone before. It will also feel different, and that will put some riders off.

Now there is no getting around it, if you are designing a race specific bike that is built around 160mm of travel, then you will probably come up with some more aggressive numbers than what the Enduro has. But the vast majority of riders don’t need a race specific bike, they would find it harsh and beyond what they were used to. So when your objective is to sell as many bikes as possible, which approach do you take?

Now this is by no means an attack on the abilities of this very capable bike or the riders who choose them. Change is generally slow and usually has interim steps, hybrids before full electric cars for example.

but when looking at geo tables and comparing bikes that are on the market, maybe compare them to previous iterations as well, to get a sense of how a frame has been evolving to see whether it is indeed the frame for you.

Standard Rant

New standards, everybody loves them, wait no the other one, nobody loves them. Pink bike keyboard warriors love them, nothing gets them going like a new axle width. What do I think, well, I don’t care and neither should you.

This little shed based rant/vlog I cover the ground I previously wrote about in this post.

 

Sick Bicycles: The Birth of an Unusual Bike Company

This article was originally written and published on Singletracks.com

Sick Bicycles are not a normal bike company.

They sell more t-shirts than bikes. They fight fire with fire with the trolls online. They make bikes that are not for everyone, and you can’t just order one stock or from a dealer. They hand build steel hardtails in the UK, but they don’t do custom frames. They mix materials almost as much as their metaphors, their full suspension frames blending titanium, carbon, steel, or aluminum to achieve the perfect balance of strength and flex. They want you to own their bike for life, not until the end of the next season.

And with all of this, Timothy David Allen and Jordan Childs are making and developing some of the most exciting bikes I have seen in a long time. They have extreme geometry (that’s not hyperbole: a hardtail can have a wheelbase of 1.4 meters, or more) for extreme old skool riding.

Don’t like it? Buy another bike. Sick Bicycles are not for everyone, but that mono-focus allows them to build some truly special bikes.

Fittingly for a bike brand that is known for its social media as much as its bikes, I met Tim and Jordan online after selling them a tiger proof rock and some tire inserts. I had seen snippets and heard the name “Gnarpoon,” but Sick Bicycles wasn’t on my radar, yet. The EWS had just visited Millau and a semi-privateer had just piloted one of their prototype hardtails far higher up the results than common sense would have allowed a hardtail to go.

It was punk, it was raw, and Sick Bicycles had my attention.

After a failed Kickstarter, they turned to what they knew: self-funding development through sales of limited edition hand printed tee-shirts. They tested their extreme geometry ideas through hardtails, but from the beginning, longer travel suspension frames were always the plan: long-legged bikes for the kind of riding best described as dicking around in the woods.

Very quickly, a titanium and carbon full suspension super-bike (the Have Blue) surfaced. It was successfully tested and received positive press, before being shelved. It relied on eastern carbon fibre manufacture, and as such, suffered from the lack of environmental waste management of the by-product produced by the less regulated nature far eastern manufacture. This did not sit well with Tim and Jordan, hence the difficult decision to mothball the project.

However, the Have Blue (named after the stealth bomber’s development code name) garnered a lot of interest in its short time in the sun, so plans were put in motion. A UK carbon manufacturer was found, and the project revived.

This journey is indicative of Sick Bicycles: ambitious plans for large scale manufacture of accessible, high-performance bikes but not at the expense of environmental or ethical concerns, all framed with an ultimate ambition to return as much of the manufacturing to UK shores as possible. They sell hardtail frames, tee-shirts, luggage, and courier bags that are all made in the UK, but pragmatically and only when it makes sense.

Sick Bicycles are not your normal bike brand: they have a personality, and that guy might not be for you. Taking their fair share of flack online, but instead of ignoring the it wont climb, it will never work comments, they call the trolls out and better them at their own game. They also have the dubious honor of having received a cease and desist order from Kanye West’s lawyer–true story.

After one year, they have a range of hardtails and three suspension frames in development, each with a different suspension platform, including the radical and reverential Heathen.

Whilst looking backwards at what has inspired them (Brooklyn Machine Works being an obvious influence), they are not afraid of new technology. Gearboxes and additive manufacturing (3D printing), as well as more conventional processes, all come together to make bikes where form follows function.

So at the onset of year two, I put some questions to them to see whats next.

Callum Kellie, Singletracks: What led you to start a bike company? With the recent growth in boutique builders, if you wanted a specific bike for you, why buy a cow for a pint of milk and start a bike company?

Jordan Childs, Sick Bicycles: Well if anyone would buy a cow for a pint of milk it would probably be me and Tim.

But it wasn’t that there isn’t any good bikes available, I think the reason we really did it was to see if we could. It was almost like a dare, to be honest. Now we are really just struck on a development cycle where we are kinda more interested in testing theories than selling bikes. It’s pretty exciting to push the envelope with design. Now we know we are starting to streamline things, we are enjoying the last bit of truly out-of-the-box thinking. It’s fair to say we might be restricted on that going forward.

Singletracks: What have you and Tim tried to bring to bike building from your past work and life experiences? How has a background in Tattoos and Toyota shaped how you’re building Sick?

Sick Bicycles: Well I worked for 3M not Toyota (that frequently gets muddled up) but I’m a big fan of the “Toyota Way.” I’ve mostly had a background in consultancy, making companies more competitive by being efficient and driving down waste. Our business has to be lean, we don’t have capital, so we have to ride the lightning quite often to keep innovating. This means not drawing a wage and reinvesting, working for free is draining, but not on something you love.
The excitement of prototyping and the highs and lows keeps me going significantly. We’re friends working together. If me and Tim can’t handle something, Lee, Zam, or Bry will know how to. I own and operate a tattoo studio. In this respect, I guess my acumen for running a team and non-standard, clear and open marketing probably natively comes to me. I like bikes, I like tattoos and tattooing, but I’m not particularly keen to have them define me.

Singletracks: In the UK there are a number of what are essentially very skilled “men in shed” bike companies. Some are a little larger–Shand Cycles, for example. But Sick seems to be trying to make it clear that whilst the hardtails are made by one of these builders, that is not who you are or what you’re aiming to be. What is the ambition?

Sick Bicycles: I have no interest in standing ’round in coveralls with a cup of tea telling everyone who will listen that I am an artisan. The media loves that gritty image. I think Hope Tech have shrugged that off so they can get taken seriously on the world stage. I’d like to be a global leader in a decade, to be big enough to step down and let someone run the minutia, so me and Tim can innovate, raise our families, and ride in peace is the goal. At the same time, I don’t want to downplay the cottage industry in the UK, the things we/they can do here. The progression in products that lead the industry often starts at the bottom, and people WILL pay for that bespoke craft. It’s not my vision. I’m not coming for their business, but we are here to stay.

Singletracks: I come from an art school background, and within fine art and design there is a differentiation between making and building. Making is experimental and testing: it generates knowledge and experience. Building starts with a plan, and what you have at the end matches the plan. Building normally follows making but not always. Does that sound familiar from year one?

Sick Bicycles: Yeah I think it’s pretty apt! We are detail-orientated and curious people. We want to know the limits, so we take things there, sometimes at great personal cost. At the moment we very much make bikes. Until there is cohesion in the brand, then we are not truly building. We’ve been making bikes 7 months, we’ve been careful, but I think we’ve been underestimated as chancers, or lucky. But no one is that lucky.

Singletracks: All business enterprises need initial capital to develop product, marketing, and buying inventory. Often startups use savings, bank loans, outside investors, or all of the above. Have you guys used any of these traditional revenue generators or has it all been tee-shirts and frame sales?

Sick Bicycles: We fund the business forward by selling garments or out of our own monthly [salaries] from our day jobs. Many projects have been pure financial loss ongoing, some have required us to sell our old bikes and components to fund. It’s certainly been a year of bootstrapping. I’m not against investment, but we’ve not even had any real offers. I guess it’s just working fine, or investors feel we are too volatile, or we are not valuable enough to want to retain and control. With special projects like the HB, LUXE or DFA, customers have paid upfront for the prototypes at cost price to have the right to retain the finished item down the line. We are lucky in that respect.

Singletracks: Some people have found your approach to social media… abrasive, shall we say. I feel that Sick is a brand that has a personality, and it is this “personality” that helps align riders with the brand. Would you say that is a fair assessment, and how much of the brand’s online persona is representative of its founding fathers?

Sick Bicycles: People find everything abrasive at the moment; the internet gives people a voice to disagree just to be heard. People are comfortable with the very fake customer service and business models eBay / Amazon etc. employ, but it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove–make no mistake, those guys are monsters. I’d prefer to be honest with people even if that means we will clash heads. I’ve grown weary of it though because I can’t stand dull repetition. After a year of it, I’ve really heard it all again and again. I totally respect the Mike Sinyard and Gary Fishers of this world–they were renegades and hellions back in the day. Later on, they just made it pay the bills. MTB was road riding’s wild sibling. Now, not so much.

Singletracks: You have also been increasingly vocal about environmental and ethical factors steering business decisions, even if it contradicts previous actions. What influences the decision making processes for how projects develop and what you make?

Sick Bicycles: I think if you are worried to contradict yourself you are treading a bad path. We each force each other not to be stubborn. We can admit we are wrong and progress on a path contrary to where we started if it’s the right thing to do. We both have strong environmental concerns, the implications were very wide, the media tried to make light of “silly boys hating carbon whilst everything is bad” when we never implicitly said carbon. We even went into detail about paper waste and QC rejects.

We are very young in the industry. We have been pretty knee jerk in the past because we are passionate about protecting our sport. In the end, it’s a case of lead by example because, as a generalization, turns out the consumer base actually doesn’t care at all. So for us, we don’t want to clean up and chase other companies. We have our own business to run, and we’ll run it as clean as we can, we don’t even bother to shout about it.

Singletracks: The brand has always been very upfront online in terms of demystifying the bicycle industry and your ambitions to use UK-based manufacturing as much as possible, but also pragmatically. How do you find the suppliers and fabricators that you work with, and couldn’t this possibly constrain your growth in the future?

Sick Bicycles: I think in real terms there is a disconnect with what riders SAY they want and what they can afford. Our end goal is to have a significant portion remaining in the UK. But our best-selling products are lower priced, that’s economics for ya. So people are vocal about their choices but then you get to the checkout, it’s how much do you want to pay? We will split lower priced frames offshore and retain home production. Which is quite frankly vanity. I want to always have a physical hand in things, we all do.

Singletracks: Ok, now for the elephant in the room: Brooklyn Machine Works. They are a pretty big influence. Influence is something that is not very common in the bike industry, but if you were a metal band, no one would bat an eye lid. Have past exploits shaped your outlooks on homage and reverence and how that translates into bikes?

Sick Bicycles: There is a deep-rooted respect for several brands: Rotec, Karpiel, Brooklyn, and Spooky. These brands were the offshoot from the main industry, did they produce the best race bikes? Nah. Did they make beautiful living breathing monuments to excess? Well, you know the answer.

I mean, you can’t put it any better than the metal band analogy, when people bring up plagiarism, like in music. I usually bring people’s attention to one of the earlier innovators that they missed as they’ll accuse us of copying X, when we were really influenced by Y. And you can only slice the pie so many ways. If you make a single pivot bike, there are a few ways of making it work, when its steel too? Well it’s going to look a certain way. People said the Gnarpoon looked like the Shan 05, well, duh, PP are our friends. I loved that bike, but its identical as long as you agree geometry and travel have no effect on a bike… that a frame is managed only by superficial similarities. We all know it’s not true.

Is it fair we get a hard ride over that when people are riding Chinese catalog bikes that have only had the decals changed brand to brand? That everything is still using the same horst link 4 bar? It seems if you do something enough it’s no longer plagiarism. Is the Heathen a modern retelling of the Brooklyn Race Link? Well Yes. Is it ok to have a homage to your heroes should you have the chance? Well… would you?

Singletracks: Now, speaking of bikes. You have Blue, Gnarpoon, and Heathen 3–very different bikes with totally different silhouettes. Is this a theme we can expect to continue, or can we expect to see a consolidation of frame styles to one that will be recognizably Sick, in the same way that Orange’s and Evil’s bikes are instantly recognizable

Sick Bicycles: No, I’m afraid you will see that variety disappearing. Consistency is something that customers REALLY want even if they don’t think they do.

From 2019, convention and silhouette becomes pretty important. We are working way ahead of time to bring things into line. There will be predicable processes now and standards we will adhere to. We already have cohesive dropouts, seat tube diameters, head tube, and BB. Even if the industry is all over the place. We will still have standards and we will fight to keep them relevant for us. Aesthetically, there will be formal rules we stick to.

Singletracks: Mountain biking used to constantly draw influences from outside of itself, but it now feels like it mostly looks inwards in terms of ideas and style. What, if anything, outside of bikes gets you excited enough to try and bring it back in?

Sick Bicycles: Riding bikes outside of competition. Y’know, fun! Making competition bikes is a great engineering challenge and allows you to measure yourself against other brands. I wanna bin that off. We are big fans of skateboarding and BMX. A challenging but relaxed environment with its own aesthetic.

That’s why we wanted to do an event like Raveduro. Bring partying back to riding. Pitch up a tent. Hang out with your mates. Send it into a pond on a BMX with sunburn

Singletracks: The last year has looked like a whirlwind of stretching the envelope of low and slack whilst looking like an Ed Roth painting on a mountain bike. What can we expect in year two, and what are the ultimate ambitions for Sick?

Sick Bicycles: I think we’d like it to be a full time job. Employ an adult to run the numbers and make sure everything is on time in full. Get ourselves dug in to prototyping and testing full time. That’s the dream. Might even happen.

Conclusion

With a recent offering of more affordable hardtails and plans for a matured product range on the near horizon, all the signs point towards Sick Bicycles settling down and becoming a more predictable–and dare I say, a more conventional–bike brand. But I suspect the reality will be more interesting than that, with making cool stuff and getting their hands dirty core to Tim and Jordan’s take on what a bike company should be.

At the metaphorical dinner party of bike brands, Sick will always be the one you wish you were sitting next to, whilst you’re being bored by the guy talking about Super Boost.

 

 

Why I Don’t Trust CO2

Co2 cartridges, small, light and fast. Its like they come from the future. But I’m increasingly not a fan. Here is why I don’t trust Co2 carts as far as I can throw them, and I have a terrible throwing arm.

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CO2 Inflator