When I first laid eyes on rendered drawings of a futuristic carbon bike bound by fancy metals, my bike nerd alarm bell went off. This rig ticked all the boxes that every keyboard warrior was asking for because the carbon and 3D printed titanium front triangle captured a belt-driven gearbox and coil shock, while the alloy rear triangle looked like it came fresh out of a CNC machine. I soon learned that the bike in question was being built within the Sea to Sky and that meant we’d have to get our hands on it, but I had no idea what the First Ride would have in store for me.
Sion Gwynn and Tom Moffatt built their first Machina Bikes prototype in-house and after hours at FYI Design in Squamish, where they also held day jobs. Both lads had gotten their feet wet in the bike industry prior to starting this project though. You may recognize the similarities on the rear triangle with a park bike that Tom built while working at North Shore Billet
Machina Proto Details
• Wheel size: 29" front, 27.5" rear
• Travel: 165mm, 170mm fork
• Carbon front/aluminum rear, 3D-printed titanium junctions
• Pinion C1.9 XR belt-driven gearbox, 568% range
• Head angle: 63.5º
• Seat Tube Angle: 77.5º
• Chainstay: 437, 442, or 447mm
• Reach: 475mm
• Claimed weight: 17kg / 37.5lb
• Price: N/A
• Machina Bikes Instagram
The prototype, however, is a much different beast. Sion and Tom set out to build an enduro bike that would cater exactly to their riding requirements and highlight their skill sets. Essentially, the Machina Proto threw out any preconceived notions of what marketing departments deemed necessary, while both the specifications and geometry of the frame are tailored to what they value. A focus was placed on durability and low service intervals from the gearbox, but also being able to tune the amount of flex in the rear triangle.
Off to work they went. The project began in October 2021 and the duo wasted no time getting the first frame built up for Crankworx, just ten months later. In fact, Sion dropped into the EWS 100 that week and walked away with a top-10 finish to prove its might.
The Machina is one of a kind in both how it’s produced and the materials that shape it. All of them are exotic in their own way; carbon, titanium, and aluminum use manufacturing methods that optimize their strengths, both figuratively and literally, in key areas. The build process isn’t exactly cheap though.
Three molds are CNC’d from aluminum to serve as the bed for the layup of the carbon. The front triangle isn’t built as one piece though. First, you have the top and down tubes that extend from the head tube intersection. Offsite, the BB and seat/top tube junctions are 3D printed from titanium. The rear triangle and rocker link halves are machined from solid aluminum blocks and then bolted together. At the seatstay, an interchangeable bridge allows for tuning the frame flex. The seat tube and drive-side seatstay are formed on their own and then bonded into position.
Very little finishing is needed once all of the various materials come out of their processes. Inside the drive-side seatstay, head and seat tubes, the walls are as smooth as they are on the outside. Sion and Tom have achieved this by inserting silicone mandrels that can withstand higher pressures compared to the inflatable bladder. The mandrel can be built in multiple pieces to simply slide out once the carbon is set.
Internal hose guides are waived in favor of a higher quality carbon finish and the cables run through foam tubing. This leads to cables running at perfect angles into the gearbox and out to the rear caliper.
A stock Pinion C1.9 XR gearbox is the transmission of choice and bolts straight into the 3D printed junction. This system produces a whopping 568% range in the gearing, but also moves the shifting mechanisms off of the swingarm. Relocating the gears onto the front triangle, the sprung to unsprung mass ratio is increased. In theory, this makes the rear suspension more supple.
By using a belt, there’s no chain slap noise or oscillations either, plus the only servicing needed for the system is a once a year gearbox oil change - no lubricants are needed for the belt. Underneath the gearbox lies a belt tensioner jockey wheel that rides on a spring-loaded arm which also acts as a skid plate, further adding to the clearance and reliability of the drivetrain.
A more obvious benefit to ditching the derailleur though is the clearance and risk of smashing the venerable mechanism is basically removed. If desired though, a standard bottom bracket could be 3D printed and a derailleur hanger added to the dropout to operate a standard drivetrain.
If the rear triangle looks familiar, that’s because the theory of the design builds on the park bike project that Tom built a couple years ago. This iteration is a refined evolution though and flip-chips at the dropout allow for geometry changes. A carbon section makes up the drive-side seatstay to increase stiffness and save weight. On that note, the seatstay yoke uses a modular bridge to tweak the amount of flex desired from the rear end by the rider.
So, how do you buy one? For now, you can't. This was a project that Sion and Tom built just for themselves. Surely though, there are other riders out there that are searching for a bike just like the Machina. As for the price, a frame would likely land well above most other competitors due to the exclusivity, materials and construction methods.
Machina decided to roll with Horst-link for its performance, simplicity and ease of tuning. Instead of anything overly complicated or wonky characteristics, the four-bar linkage provided the balanced and neutral ride the duo were seeking.
The prototype gains 165mm of travel by using a 205x65mm length shock, but could be dropped to 160 by adding a 2.5mm spacer to limit the shock stroke. A linear-progressive leverage curve keeps the action light off the top of the stroke and has plenty of ramp to control heavy bottom outs. The EXT Storia shock also has a hydraulic bottom out feature that reduces the chance of feeling a harsh clunk at the end of the travel.
Despite its artisanal appearance, Machina’s key numbers like anti-squat and anti-rise, are fairly run of the mill in comparison other popular enduro bikes. When sitting at full travel the anti-squat starts at about 120% and rests closer to a neutral 100% at sag. Under braking, the anti-rise floats around a mid-60 percentage.
Although, what really sets the Machina apart is its lower sprung to unsprung mass ratio thanks to the transmission being placed on the front triangle.
Sion and Tom built this bike to shine on their home trails in an aggressive, fun manner. In other words, the Machina won’t hold you back when the trails get steep, yet it isn’t a total plow. Two figures that showcase this ideology are the 63.5-degree head tube angle and an optional short chainstay setting of 437mm. The rear center can grow in 5 or 10mm steps using interchangeable chips located in the dropout that are finished so smoothly that they’re barely noticeable. For the course of the test, I opted for the shortest 437mm chainstay length.
The reach measures in at 475, although if desired, the frame could be built anywhere between 455 and 495mm without straying from the stock angles. By simply cutting the tubes shorter or longer and adjusting the angles at which they meet the 3D-printed lugs using only one carbon mold. We’ve heard of such an idea before from [L=https://www.pinkbike.com/news/an-in-depth-look-at-the-canyon-geobend-concept-with-the-industrial-designer-marvin-henschel.html]Canyon’s Geo-Bend concept that Marvin Henschel derived[/L].
When placed in the middle 442mm chainstay length, the wheelbase measures in at 1266mm and the BB sits at 338mm off the ground. That’s quite low but the seat angle is a forward 77.5 degrees and gets slightly steeper in the shortest axle position.
When I first got a hold of Tom’s bike at Crankworx, I wasn’t sure if I should even ride it because the whole bike was so captivating. The industrial looks are polarizing from the rest of the market and beautiful in their own way. There are no blemishes to hide behind extra epoxy or paint here. However, the Machina was built to be ridden, and ridden hard.
From the get go, I could tell that the Machina could happily charge down any of the surrounding trails in the Whistler valley.
A 400-pound spring sounded light and although I didn’t have time to measure the sag, it felt appropriate. The stance was very aggressive. The front axle was well ahead of me thanks to the slack head tube angle and high bar height. I’d change that out later but loved how, in conjunction with the low BB height, I felt so deep in the bike.
Dark Crystal’s rough, natural trail bed will quickly point out the flaws in a bike and your setup. Roots cross the ground at all angles and those can sap your speed. The rock-rolls near the top test the deeper end of the suspension’s travel too. Get all of those right, though, and you can fire out of turns and keep the flow going.
To get there, I’d have to pedal the moderate weight of the Machina up while testing the lower gears of the gearbox. While you don’t feel like you’re slouching off the back of the saddle when climbing, this is not an uphill rocket. I’d put that down to the combination of a few factors, like the high initial bar height, DH casing tires, and possible drag from the belt-driven gearbox. Maybe it was just Crankworx fatigue or dusty-lungs getting to me. Shorter 165mm cranks would make sense here too. The BB height is low, even with a firm shock spring and in the short chainstay setting.
On the way down though, the Machina shone. Immediately, I was impressed by the suppleness of the rear wheel traction, and of course the matching EXT Era fork that I knew well. The light action was accompanied by only the noise of the tire casing rebounding over the trail surface. Traction was plentiful and easy to come by. The ride felt chain-less. Well, it was, but there was still a usable drivetrain.
Even pointing down steep rolls and coming off abrupt transitions, the support in the rear suspension was impressive. Possibly too much though. That’s where I wondered how the softer 375-pound spring might let me seek out a touch more travel. However, I didn’t want the BB height or head angle to drop any further with more sag.
I did need to tweak the setup, and I decided to drop the bar height. The Machina gave a tall standing position and possibly caused the front wheel to come out of corners early and push my weight off the back of the bike. However, I was satisfied with how the fork reacted and decided that rearranging the steer tube spacers would be a better option.
Swapping to the softer 375 spring for a Garbanzo tech lap proved to be a catch-22 scenario. I was using more travel and could feel the hydraulic bottom out control in the shock working its magic, but I preferred how the bike stayed lighter and higher in the travel with the 400 spring. That heavier spring matched the ride height of the Era fork closely and required less effort to dance the bike through slower speed sections of trail. There could be too much progression built into the linkage for my taste, but that light-action suppleness at the top of the stroke was impossible to disregard.
And how about the grip shift? There’s a reason that came and went. At times when I least expected it, when I was somewhat relaxed on a flatter but undulating trail, the shifter rolled forward and flung my wrist to its limit. I’d prefer a pull-style thumb paddle under each side of the bar over the throttle twisting action of the grip shifter. This also made it tough for my small hands to reach the short Hayes brake levers, which otherwise felt exceptional.
I was really getting along with the Machina in just a short amount of time, but all of those moments of brilliance came crashing down as I got towards the bottom of an A-Line lap. The frame failed catastrophically at the head tube in the worst way possible. The steer tube pulled through the front of the headtube due to an error in the carbon layup process. Every rider’s worst nightmare just happened to me on one of the fastest straightaways in the Whistler Bike Park.
On the long and low table top jump after the infamous “moon booter” on the lower second-third of A-Line, I jumped a little deep, but not nearly as far as I normally do, remembering that this wasn’t my bike and wanted to bring it back in one piece.
I remember the whole thing; plunking my way down a Garbanzo lap, jumping into an A-Line train with friends, watching them crank out whips on the moon booter and then softly lifting off up on the next jump. If I could forget the sound of carbon, metal, and flesh violently skidding to a halt, I would. As strange as it may seem, I knew exactly what happened because everything seemed perfectly normal, until it wasn’t. I felt extremely lucky to walk out to the truck on the service road on my own, but under the watchful eye of a Whistler Bike Park patroller (thank you for your help). The result was a mild concussion, a tire mark up my chest and stem to the chin, bruising around my neck, and a lot less skin on my shoulder.
Scary shit, I know. I obviously didn’t see it coming. There were zero signs of failure leading up to that moment or any reasons for me to doubt the frame’s integrity before the accident. Sion and Tom were totally shocked and only concerned for my well being. None of us envisioned the First Ride article going down like this.
Over the course of the following weeks, Sion and Tom set out to reconstruct new front triangles and put them through further testing, while I worked out my kinks through physiotherapy sessions. Back in the lab, they discovered that the initial portion of the carbon headtube was wrapped incorrectly on Tom's frame. The lap in the carbon sheet faced the forward direction and when overloaded, this caused the headset cups to pull through the tube.
At FYI’s facilities, they built a vertical impact testing rig to the ISO 4210 and EN14766 industry standards
Proto 2's headtube junction layup was redesigned to wrap around and reach further along the downtube. On the test jig, the headtube failed at a very high stress load and in a non-catastrophic manner. Basically, the failure that occurred while riding will never happen again. Ironically, the first generation frame that Sion rode successfully, was tested too and actually sustained the highest load capacity. This proved that their design was correct, but the mistake was made while constructing the headtube. Since then, Sion and Tom have also brought the mandrel component on the build process to the headtube for greater and cleaner carbon compaction.
Where do we go from here then? My thoughts on the ride characteristics of the bike aren't swayed. There’s no arguing that the rear suspension's light action ate up the trails it was bred for around Whistler. The Machina is a very clever bike that suits the trails and riding style that we enjoy in our neck of the woods.
Would I ride Proto 2? Sion and Tom continue to ride their second generation frames confidently. Even though I recognize their testing methods and understand why the failure happened, I still have my reservations. There is still a feeling of uncertainty, but I do want to ride the Machina again.