Ronnie Dillon has been with DVO for over five years, and he's been a suspension tech and test rider for more than two decades. This season, the Southern California suspension maker has teamed up with Giant for the DH World Cup series. That's a huge commitment for a large brand. Double that for a small company like DVO, but the benefits of the World Cup's steep learning curve and failure-is-not-an-option work environment are invaluable for a high-end suspension company that aspires to remain on the cutting edge. PB photographer Ross Bell spoke with Dillon as he was dialing in Team Giant's suspension for the World Cup at Val di Sole, Italy.
How did DVO become involved with Giant's downhill program?
Man, this is something that has been in the works for a while. It's something that made us a little nervous in the beginning, because we know what it takes to compete at this level. It turned out to be even more work than I thought it would be going in, but these guys are a lot of fun to deal with. They know what they want and they ask us in the correct way - they have their terminology down. That helps us to nail down their tunes.
What are the primary reasons DVO has teamed up with Giant DH? Exposure? To move the products forward?
A little bit of both. These guys are a huge asset in helping us develop the product even further than we would be able to do on our own. It's nice to be able to work with the team, because it gives us a different perspective on what they need to do their jobs rather than what we bring to them. It helps us to develop a much better product for a racer, and then it gives us a little more perspective on what a consumer may want to purchase right away.
Those two things are lot different aren't they?
Two completely different animals!
How do you balance that?
That is actually very hard, because if we threw an average consumer who was really good at a bike park on one of these tunes, they would get rattled to death. It would be obvious. After a few runs, they wouldn't be able to hold onto the bike. Vice-versa, if we gave one of these guys a standard tune, really bad things would happen - it would be visually obvious if you watched them ride.
How far removed are these forks and shocks from the ones you already have on the market?
You know what? Not much at all. We don't have very many of the Onyx forks out in the market right now. These guys are really setting the standard for that race tune and then we will take that tune and strip it down and figure out what the consumer actually wants. A lot of the stuff in the forks is exactly what will come in OEM or aftermarket product. The shocks, on the other hand, are actually specially tuned for the Giant guys, so what you get on the Giant bikes will be slightly different than the shock that you would buy aftermarket.
In terms of rider feedback, did the team have any specific stuff they wanted you to work on?
Yeah, it was a little tough in the beginning, because they were used to a different brand of suspension. They were a little intimidated, because there was a different range of settings. We had to start from ground zero on all the shim stacks. We set aside some testing time at a couple of different locations and met up with them, and actually managed to produce some pretty cool tunes for these guys. We started with "A, B, and C tunes" and figured out which ones were garbage, then worked from the tune that they like best into a different level that really worked well for them.
In the future, do you think that you will be working with more teams?
It's easy for us to do one team right now. We're still a very small company, so this is something that we are basically going to take our time with. We have one tech out here working with about ten riders. The stuff they ask from us isn't outlandish, but you have one chance to nail it and it needs to be done properly every time. There's no point in us overwhelming ourselves.
As an OEM supplier, are you also working with Giant as well?
We signed up a pretty sweet OE deal with Giant. That is something we have been working towards for a while, and at the same time, it's kind of intimidating working with [a high-level] product and a company of this scale. We have to schedule our steady production for aftermarket sales, along with large and immediate OEM orders for Giant. So, we're working!
The bikes are using coil shocks in the rear?
Giant's downhill bikes are, obviously, using coils in the rear. Their trail bikes are all using air shocks. The EWS guys are running a little bit different setup, so they have one of each for their enduro bikes. They can choose to run either their air shock or their coil, but for the most part, they are sticking with the air shock. The Topaz is a favorite of theirs. They can play with air pressure, the pressure in the reservoir and basically, get it done immediately. They've found that it is more convenient to leave the shock on the bike, and it's giving them the range of adjustment and useability that they thought they were getting from a coil shock.
Are you planning to offer an air shock for downhill? The field seems to be split exactly in half between air and coils.
We are working on something. I'm not saying that it's coming out soon, but it is definitely in the works. I've seen some of the stuff that the guys in the office are doing and they are probably going to kill me when they hear this. We have some stuff that we are working on, but because of the stuff we are in the middle of with Giant, we have had to pull back a little bit, but it's going to happen.
It's been interesting this year, for sure. Before, it was only two brands in the pits, and now you guys are popping up...
I think people are a little more willing to accept the idea of using a brand outside of Fox and RockShox. There are options out there and they don't exactly need to be affordable options, because I don't think that people are looking for suspension that is affordable - they want something that is actually usable, and that isn't something that you would see mainstream, every day. I love seeing DVO product on all kinds of brands of bikes. Users that want to tinker usually end up on our stuff. There are a couple of other brands out there that have that same range of tuneability, so it's cool to see that.
You got Eliot Jackson racing Crankworx events, and then Marcelo Gutierrez and Jacob Dickson have polar opposite styles on the bike. How's that going to work out?
These guys are unreal. Jacob's a lot of fun to deal with. I've only had the chance to work with Jacob during testing days and a couple of race venues where we were working on tunes. I've actually wanted to work with Marcelo for a long time. I've watched him grow through his career, so I saw an interesting opportunity to work with that guy. When I found out Giant was going to happen I thought, "This is going to be awesome."