What do you do if your dream bike does not exist? Design and build it yourself! This is the story of the first AMOS Design bike frame. Built not bought.
The project started back in 2016 when the bike I wanted just didn't exist. I had taken a sabbatical from work to spend 3 months travelling around Europe in a camper van picking off all the best riding spots. At the time I was riding an early Orange Alpine 29er because it was simple and reliable for a season riding. It opened my eyes to big wheels and progressive geometry but the problem was it had a derailleur stuck to the back of it.
Now I have to say that I have been drawing bike frames for about as long as I can remember - I even found some drawings on my high school books from 15 years ago. I just never quite got around to doing anything about. Fast forward to 2016 and I am running a small product design and engineering consultancy based in Wales which specialises in high-end outdoor equipment. My day to day product design work is in climbing, mountaineering, load monitoring and tactical equipment; all interesting high-end UK manufactured stuff and basically, the same design ethos as cycling equipment – lots of high strength, low weight, hot metal forging and CNC machined components.
I had been chatting trash about making my own frame and complaining about the lack of progression in the bike industry for years, but now I had the resources, education and skills to actually make it happen. Put your money where your mouth is. I can’t stand dreamers who never act on their dreams.
I live in Wales, it is wet, muddy and gritty for what feels like all of the year. It is a long way from the sunny, dusty climates that it seems most bikes are designed for. The idea was to make a bike that ticked all the ‘Welsh’ specification boxes: gearbox, 29er, 150mm travel, simple 6061 T6 aluminium construction, progressive suspension system and the usual long, low and slack. A no bull**** solid workhorse that I could ride all year round and chuck back in the garage after a muddy ride with the minimum of maintenance.
I did not design a bike to manufacture and sell, but to discover what is really possible with no perceived marketing strategy and approached it as a set of engineering problems. Buying a bike is easy, building one is so much harder, but it really is the best way to learn what works, what doesn’t and why. It is a great way to dissolve through the marketing rubbish and understand the engineering fundamentals of bikes. I am not saying bike companies lie to us, but there are elements that make a difference and elements that don’t.
The long term goal of my consultancy has always been to work in the cycle industry, so it all just seemed to be a good fit. I also wanted a project I could share that had no intellectual property sensitivity, as the day to day work is generally completely secret until the product gets released, which could be 2-3 years away.
This is pure innovation where you design a solution for exactly what you want, not for what the marketing team wants. But can you really build an aluminium full suspension bike frame in a small workshop without a big R & D budget or any background in bike design?
I roped in my best mate, Edd, and we set about building a pair of bikes in my workshop from scratch. From initial kinematic development and CAD conception to riding the bikes was 4 months in spare time fitted around normal business. Many long days, early mornings and espresso shots. I look back on the time with fond memories but some late nights I did question if it was worth it… what am I doing? I could just buy a bike! But of course it was when the first bike rolled out of the workshop that made it all worth it.
With these types of projects, it is a constant education, especially if you are bike design virgins. There was plenty of learning of suspension kinematics, designing complex welded structures, how to jig the frames and correct the alignment post welding, as well as heat treatment methods.
We innovated and used our background in other industries to apply ideas to the project to get it done quickly with the resources available and only outsourcing where absolutely necessary. We made machining and welding fixtures using 3D printed components, cut parts on the CNC milling machines and built our own heat treatment racks. This was a proper in-house design and build start to finish!
The best part of building your own bike is, of course, riding it.
The bikes have been ridden all around the world. They were tested in the deep dark Welsh winter, smashed through the rough and steep in the Alps and coaxed down the best of NZ’s enduro trails. Overall they have performed faultlessly and have been genuinely fast bikes, but nothing is ever completely right first go, is it? I always say that if you think you have designed it right first time then you just haven’t found the issues yet!
What I learned was that it isn’t easy to ‘make a frame in a shed’. Bike companies have a large team of designers, engineers and production personnel for a reason. We just didn’t quite get it 100% right the first time. So admit your mistakes, learn from them and then go at it again. And once you have ridden a bike you have designed and built and felt the gratification from it, other bikes just don’t feel right.
So why tell you all this now? I know the frame was good, but it could be better and I needed to explore this.
Watch out for our next creation soon, the Highline Project: A high pivot, gearbox driven, 160mm travel, 29” enduro monster with some interesting geometry numbers which we will share in the coming weeks.
Any comments or questions please get in touch and follow us on Instagram @amos_design_ltd