Inside BMC: Behind the Scenes With the Swiss Risk Takers

May 25, 2018
by Matt Wragg  




To understand BMC, you need to understand what BMC stands for. Quite simply, it stands for Bicycle Manufacturing Company. It is a perfect Swiss name – straight forwards, utterly without pretense and very efficient in explaining what the company does. In a world dominated by social media and carefully cultivated public images, it is endearingly honest. Fun, even. To those unfamiliar with Switzerland 'fun' may seem like an unusual choice of adjective, but despite their straight-laced reputation, in my experience, the Swiss, as a whole, are pretty good fun to spend time with. Certainly, by the end of my day with BMC, I came away with an overwhelming impression of a genuine shared sense of excitement and enjoyment amongst the people working here.

Writing about BMC right now is a little difficult though. A few days after we visited their HQ their long-time investor, Andy Rhis, died after suffering for a long time with illness. It is hard to write about BMC without him. Although he may never have held a day-to-day job, his mark on the company is indelible. After making his money with a hearing aid patent he began investing in a nascent BMC in the 90s and his enthusiasm, passion and willingness to encourage them to innovate has shaped the company.

In the Germanic business tradition, he allowed the business to put aside the bottom line to an extent not possible with regular shareholders, and it is under his guidance that they established a facility in Grenchen, Switzerland, to perfect the art of working with carbon fibre. While most high-end companies now work with carbon, this facility is unique – when BMC opened this facility in 2010 nobody else in the industry had such extensive in-house technology. Anybody who works with carbon will tell you that there is a massive learning curve to getting the best from the material, yet it has not all been plain sailing for BMC.

The original idea was that they would produce their high-end bikes in Grenchen, but in 2014 they acknowledged that it simply was not feasible and by the time they had truly understood the technology they invested in, it was no longer cutting edge. So to keep up with the competition in terms of both cost and quality, they had to keep their production in Taiwan. With that decision, this facility was re-purposed as their R&D centre and their test lab for new ideas and technology for their range of products. It became the beating heart of a company who have always put great value in bringing new technology and ideas to market.



Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Their design team is based in the main building of their HQ. For a company the size of their design team is very noticeable - BMC clearly is not afraid to invest their resources in the engineering side. Of the 75 people they employ here in Grenchen more than 10% of that total work in engineering.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
BMC's Impec Lab was the focus of our attention. Opened in 2010, its sole purpose is to chase the ever-shifting goalposts of making the perfect carbon bike.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
As you walk into the Impec Lab you are greeted by their museum - charting the development of their mountain bikes from late 90's experiments onto straight tubing, hydroforming, then carbon fibre.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
In their relative isolation, BMC developed their VPS suspension system which, the keen of eye will notice, is based on the same principles as the Outland VPP patent owned by Santa Cruz where the two links move in different directions. Because they developed this system before VPP was bought, they were free to use it for several years while across the Atlantic lawsuits and licensing fees were flying about.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Because they are making prototypes in-house, it should come as no surprise that they have instant access to an extensive testing facility. Every single prototype they make passes through this torture chamber, then a random 15% of the pilot production run gets tested and finally, 1% of the final production bikes get tested, too.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
It is behind these doors that the real magic happens.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
The team behind BMC's carbon mountain bike development (clockwise from top left): Stefan Christ (Head of R&D), the head of this team and BMC's mountain bike division; Peter Staemplfi (MTB Product Development Engineer); Mariano Schoefer (MTB Product Development Engineer) and Angelo Visno (Prototyping Supervisor) who is the aluminium master - he is responsible for anything shiny, including machining the moulds for their carbon layups.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
It may surprise you to find out that their new frames begin here - on a measuring table with a bandsaw. Stefan and his team are certainly not precious about the frames they create, so when it is time to try a new idea their starting point is always an existing frame. This gives them a solid base that they understand and that has all the features they need to make a working bike. For instance, laying up internal cable routing is a pain for a prototype, so they place their cuts to keep the existing system intact. This also means they know that the greater part of the frame will be safe to ride. This particular frame has something of a sad story behind it. It is a modified Trail Fox, adapted for Lorraine Truong to race World Cups on - something she never got the chance to do because of her brain injury.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Looking closely at this frame, you can start to understand how they operate. The front has been re-worked to slacken the headangle to DH-worthy territory (the stock bike started with a 67-degree headangle) - this was done by replacing the downtube and the toptube and leaving the headtube intact because it is a more complex and critical shape, complete with cable ports. At the back, the rear stays were cut to lengthen the chainstays. In the centre, the shock mount was re-worked to create space for a piggyback and custom links were machined to adapt the kinematic to DH. It may all look a little rough and ready, but that is because it is precisely what it is. For a prototype like this, they err on the side of safety over-building the new parts and finishing any cosmetic imperfections with filler to create a frame that is fully rideable, but less refined than you would expect to pick up from your local bike shop.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Understandably, BMC is keen to show off how they developed their new Trail Sync technology - where the seatpost is integrated into the frame and works in conjunction with the lockout for the rear shock. Again, they started with an existing frame, this time removing the seat tower section to accomodate the integrated post.


Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
One of the big challenges for the Trail Sync system is the tolerances required - because the seatpost is integrated, the bushings for the post sit directly in the frame so they needed to perfect their tolerances down to 0.05mm. To achieve this they had to use a special metal piece to lay the seatpost around, where the rest of the frame uses a standard inflatable bladder which cannot provide such precise tolerances. The mould for the seat tube took around 4 hours in the CNC machine to produce, where a full frame mould could take a couple of weeks.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
For their prototypes Angelo has an extensive in-house materials store. Most of the time he works with 7000 series aluminium, mainly because it is what he knows best and has stockpiled a fair bit in the lab. That is a big barrier-breaker for their development process because they already have the materials here to get started with something, it makes the decision to try something that little bit easier.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
In this freezer, kept at a constant -18 degrees Centigrade, is their impregnated carbon store. Once they are ready, Stefan and his team will put together the layup themselves. Just around the corner their old resin transfer moulding (RTM) and carbon braiding machines lay idle. They are a testament to the pace of carbon development - by the time BMC had really worked out how to get the best out of those techniques, the technology passed out of date.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
This is a really good example of the kind of project they are free to experiment with. For a long time, BMC has used vertically-mounted shocks on their mountain bikes and they were curious to see how a horizontally-mounted shock would change the performance. They took an existing frame, glued on the top tube mount and machined a custom link to drive the linkage. They rode the frame for a while and came to the conclusion that it was not a direction they wanted to pursue.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
This BMX frame was created in this lab for Roger Rinderknecht for the 2012 Olympics - he specifically requested the chainstays that measure a vast (for a 20" BMX) 430mm.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Peter was very curious about the Pinion gearbox. Once they had finished their flagship eMTB, the Trailfox Amp, they popped the motor out and machined a custom cradle to mount the Pinion gearbox on it. This bike then got the hell thrashed out of it so they could make up their minds about the system, really understand the benefits and the drawbacks of a gearbox - they decided that for now it is not something that is likely to make it into their range.

Inside BMC. Grenchen Switzerland.
Angelo's height-adjustable stem is maybe the most out-there thing in the lab. He had an idea that he wanted to be able to change his stem height so he could optimise it for both climbing and descending. This really exemplifies the risks they are willing to take. Talking to Stefan about this, he admits that he does still have to keep an eye on sensible things like budgets and production timelines, he cannot simply let the guys try anything and everything, but having this facility in Grenchen removes obstacles so much that they can take far more risks than most. For instance, if one of his team really wants to try an idea, they are relatively free to experiment outside their core work hours because they have all the machines and materials already in-house, so if it becomes mainly a question of time they can add that in themselves. Over the years he has also discovered that even when a project or idea doesn't work as they hope it will, there is still a lot to learn and it may become useful in the future. With Angelo's stem here, it is fair to say that it probably won't see production, but you should not be surprised to see some element or idea from this pop up in BMC's range somewhere in the future.


MENTIONS: @



Posted In:
Industry News Bmc



40 Comments

  • 71 1
 As a budding young mechanical engineering undergrad, these articles fascinate me whilst also giving me newfound respect/interest in the companies! Keep em coming pb x
  • 16 0
 From a more disheartened MechEng undergrad - I find these articles interesting and a welcome distraction from my crippling despondency and faithlessness in the educational institution I find myself in. Keep em coming pb x
  • 9 0
 As a mech eng undergraduate who is a soon to no longer be a mech eng undergraduate, due to the difficulties associated with maintaining a position as a mech eng undergraduate, articles like this provide a warm bosom of safety, and moment of solace from the trials and tribulations of my degree. Keep em coming pb x
  • 13 1
 As a PhD in a different field of engineering, these articles make me think my job is kind of lame and making bikes would be cooler. Although what I do does pay for bikes, I suppose.
  • 9 1
 @pinhead907: as a composites engineer 20 years In I'll tell you 3 times I have gone back into bikes and as quickly gone back to F1 and defence work..... Grass isn't always greener
  • 5 1
 As an engineer in the bike industry and the semiconductor industry at the same time, got to pay the bills with one while trying to make the other pay the bills, I can tell you its not all fun and games with bikes, its still work. Be passionate and persistent and you can do what ever you want but remember you got to work hard and put in your time.
  • 16 0
 As a total f*ckwit who will probably still be a total f*ckwit for quite a bit longer, I find these articles a welcome distraction from belly button fluff and the pictures are nice. Keep em coming pb x.
  • 1 0
 @juggmeister: you have a bright future in comedy though.
  • 22 1
 A bike which either an eMotor can be attached or a Pinion gearbox - that is very interesting
  • 4 2
 it would be. but they didn't make that. "they popped the motor out and machined a custom cradle to mount the Pinion gearbox on it. This bike then got the hell thrashed out of it so they could make up their minds about the system"

the e-mtb was simply a chassis to test the pinion on. they never said it was swappable. nor designed as such.
  • 1 0
 I said this to someone about 4 years ago and when I saw this I worried I'd somehow missed a trick - not so it appears....
  • 6 2
 Fascinating articles like this are the reason I come to Pinkbike. Apparently I am one of the few as this article has 20 comments. “What people are riding at whistler” on the other hand was posted at the same time and already has over 200...
  • 5 0
 If you're interested overall in how stuff works/put together(mostly electric tools and other stuff) and don't mind a bit of swearing, check arduinoversusevil (or AvE) on youtube. Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @dudy: thanks man, will do!
  • 3 0
 I’ve had my aluminium trail fox tf03 for nearly 5 years now and still love it to bits. I’ve upgraded the Fox forks to a like but other than that it’s still original. Such a great bike.
  • 5 0
 I want that bike with The Pinion gearbox.
  • 11 0
 Buy a Trailfox Amp, pop the motor out and machine a custom cradle.
  • 2 0
 I'm liking the look of that "tour" frame. Looks like a little 4X shredder
  • 5 0
 @jollyXroger: Buy the Trailfox Amp. Get a custom set of "Pinion" decals made. Make your friends all want a Pinion bike. Save a lot of time and money. Wink
  • 2 1
 you want a bike that wasn't designed for a pinion, but they just jammed in anyway?
  • 1 0
 @vikb: Shift under load.
  • 4 1
 Once upon a time there was a Trailfox. Had some cs clearance issues, but it was way ahead of the rest.
What happened to that bike!??
  • 1 1
 Mis isch immer no mis lieblingsbike
  • 3 2
 I took mine and put an angle set in it to give it a 65 degree head tube angle, plus a few other modifications. Ill put that bike up against the ripmo, high tower Lt, or any other 29er out there
  • 2 1
 Maybe you should ask "what happened to those engineers"? Maybe they went on to develop one of the bikes hamncjeez mentioned?
  • 5 0
 Hmmm.... does that stem come with a chin rest for a topcap!
  • 4 0
 Why's that top tube cut-away look all delaminated?
  • 3 0
 Do they still offer their "soft tail" XC bike that Absalon was using a few years back?
  • 4 1
 Yes, teamelite
  • 1 0
 "To understand BMC, you need to understand what BMC stands for. Quite simply, it stands for Bicycle Manufacturing Company" LMAO
  • 2 0
 Those pulleys would get mangled real quick.
  • 1 0
 The rest of the industry just caught up to the trailfox/speedfox, 4-5 years later...
  • 2 0
 Bottle Cage mounts on a BMCX. How big of a bottle can I fit?
  • 1 0
 not enough coffee to start reading yet, but oooh pretttyyy lab
  • 1 0
 Wow, Europeans still wear skinny jeans?!
  • 1 2
 Why do their bikes all have T rex geometry? Nothing for people over 5' 8

Not that I'd buy from an e-moped company anyway.
  • 4 7
 What about all the cracks and reliability issues the BMC are plagued with? Ask any retailer ...
  • 1 1
 Im a 250 pound rider and have ridden bmc for sometime now and I ride aggressively and can report zero cracks in any way. These frame are over engineered. This is not 2011/12where they had some issues with their layup process.
  • 1 0
 @twowheelsforthemasses: Difference is that I'm one of the biggest BMC dealer in the country. Carbon layup is quite average for the pricetag, loads of carbon wrinkles on the inside. At least they look good Smile

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