It has been more than a year since Atherton Bikes burst onto the scene with their additive manufactured bikes and now they finally have 2 platforms they're ready to sell. They have today announced the first batch of 50 frames
with a choice between the downhill bike the team has been racing on the World Cup circuit this year and a 150mm travel, 29er enduro bike.
We caught up with the brand's CEO, Ben Farmer, and Rachel Atherton to discuss the unique development of these bikes and their plans for the future of the brand.Ben Farmer - CEOBen Farmer is CEO of the company and also one of the engineers helping behind the scenes to deliver the Athertons with the frames they need.
Why did you decide to limit the run to 50 bikes to begin with?
It was really to celebrate our first bikes going to customers. We are thanking people that have followed us from the start and came on board at the beginning. We've had people interested in having #01, obviously, and then people have been asking for their lucky numbers, someone even asked for #007! It's not too late to get involved, so if you do want to get involved just sign up to our newsletter and we'll get to you.
Another aspect is that we want to get going in a smooth and controlled way with manufacturing, so we can't just go in with a big bang. We want to get our bikes to people when we say we will.
Has there been a lot of demand for the bikes since they were announced?
Yes, the demand has been everywhere you turn - online, at the bike park and then bumping into people. We've got to the point where people really want to be able to see and buy the bikes so it was time to make that happen.
One of the options is custom fitting, how custom is that at the stage you're at now?
At the moment we take our customers’ height, inside leg and arm span and from that, we can provide the option of custom reach and custom seat tube lengths
We've got a wide range of standard sizes, wider than you might normally see, and then alongside that there's the option to go for a custom fit. Obviously we can suggest numbers or if the customer has a particular preference then that can be done as well.
We've already had some pretty wild questions about reach in particular, which is fine, we can do that, but we're sticking to our head angle, BB height, seat tube angle and so on. At some point down the line, we will be able to open up more variability but at the moment we're keeping it pretty simple because we're really confident in the numbers and we want to make sure people get a bike that rides really well.
What have been some of the difficulties of getting it to this stage that you hadn't anticipated?
It’s important for us to realise that, yes, it's a big name but we're a start-up company so there's a big long list of things to get through. It's as long as your arm, as with starting any company.
We were able to get a pretty decent bike together to get the race season underway but that was really the beginning of the story. The most difficult thing has been getting those bikes to a level where the guys genuinely think it's the best bike they've ever ridden. It basically can't work any other way, their name is going to be above the door for the duration and they have to really believe in what they're saying, it's the fundamental of our whole company. The starting point was a really good bike but it took a lot of work to go through various iterations and discover really where the combination of changes needed to be to get to that point.
Which platform has been through more prototyping?
One platform has informed the other so the downhill product has been the obvious one because it's been on the World Cup circuit and we've learned from that but then we've done some stuff on the back of developing the 150mm enduro bike that we thought, well actually that's probably something that we'd be interested to try on the downhill product. We've iterated between them. By having those different categories and then by extending those categories I'm sure we'll continue to do this, it's cross-pollination between them.
What's the biggest change in terms of the bikes from the first prototypes we saw a year ago?
There's no really one big change, it's really just a sequence of continual evolution. Probably something that's really obvious because it's visible is that we added a seat stay brace but there's a load of other stuff in there. We've changed the carbon layups, tweaked wall thicknesses in crucial areas, moved bearings around, changed the profile of the lugs and then looked at the lateral position of the chainstays. It's basically all in the direction of stiffness.
Are these bikes predominantly for racers? Is it difficult to balance the needs of pro racers like the Athertons with the needs of the average Joe rider?
There's not really a challenge to balance the needs of our riders vs our customers, it's quite the opposite - the bikes we are selling are the bikes we are providing to the guys. The main thing is the size and fit, that's what we don't have to compromise on for our athletes but equally, we don't have to compromise for customers. We've got a bike now which is being raced on by the guys and obviously they are constantly pushing things and will try things out but it's often basically from a platform that's pretty sorted. The difference is the setup, the guys run a setup that is potentially quite different to how your average rider might do it.
Will the bikes continue to sell direct?
Yes, we'll be selling directly for the foreseeable future. Particularly for us is that we can offer our customers the best service with the custom fit option. We can speak to customers directly and offer them guidance online or on the phone.
What's next for Atherton bikes?
We're working on a 130mm platform and, similarly to the mullet
, when it's ready we can go. We're not working to any particular season or shipping date with suppliers or capacity with a factory in the Far East, we're just working on it. We're just making sure we do things in a controlled way.
The main thing is getting our capacity up. Effectively our batch size will quickly drop to 1, we're not filling containers up, we're producing to order. With that, we can be much more responsive. We're looking for a permanent location for our headquarters and with that, we need that to bring our additive manufacturing in house.
How long will the process be from a customer placing their order to receiving their bike?
It's a little bit of how long is a piece of string. The more customers we have the more we can generate the case to bring more capacity in. It'll probably go up and down, we’ve got some targets we'd like to be able to hit and they are 6-8 weeks but that right now is dependent on balancing the number of sales we make vs the capacity we have, the more sales the more capacity we can justify bringing in.
Rachel AthertonAs one of the main test pilots for the new bikes, Rachel has been hugely involved in the development of the bike up to this point. She may only have raced half a season last year but still picked up two victories in her first 4 races on the bike. Here she gives her experience of the testing process with the team.
How have you found the experience of starting a bike company from scratch so far?
Well, as you probably can imagine, just absolutely mad. We definitely had expectations of what it would be like and it has been all those things but it has been more of everything. Emotional, exciting, stressful, humbling, it's been a crazy whirlwind.
It's what you need to keep you pushing forward in life and keep you motivated. People definitely think we're a bit mad but we always wanted to do things that put us out of the comfort zone and make us step up to achieve our goals. Trying to race them at the same time as start the company and develop the bikes has been mad but the main thing has just been busy-ness, there hasn't been that much time to think about it too much.
It must be a big milestone to get the first few out of the door, it must feel pretty good.
Yeah, that's been amazing and we’ve definitely done it slowly and really took our time with it. The main takeaway from this first year has been the focus taken off ourselves as athletes and put on to some physical thing. It's about the bike, it's about other people's experiences and about how other people are reacting. It's amazing to have the focus on something that isn't us or our results or me as a person. It takes the pressure off me!
What's the biggest thing you've learned from the development process?
I think one of the biggest things you can learn, and that's from racing or business, is that you can't please everyone. You've just got to do what you want, what feels right for you, what you believe in, what you are passionate about and, as long as you love it, it doesn't matter what people say
I’m very susceptible to comments and what people are saying but you can't make a product that's going to please every single person in the whole mountain bike industry, it's just impossible. Take the logo, for example, there were a lot of comments when we first made it but we love the logo, it means a lot to us. There are reasons why it is how it is so it doesn't matter what people say about it because we love it.
On the physical side, we've learned a hell of a lot over this last year too. From the first prototype that we put down on the computer with Dave Weagle and Ben and everyone to what we’ve ended up with now, there have been a lot of different iterations. I only did half a race season but I don't think I rode the same bike and set up one day to the next, every single time I rode it was different.
Say, the flex of the rear end, that's something we learned about hugely because there are so many different types of riding styles and speeds and really having the one bike that suits everyone that doesn't really make sense. We've really played around with the flex and if you're not a racer, you can have more flex in the rear end, it tracks better and grips better but then for a racer, you need the other end of the scale.
People don't want to buy into the Atherton name if they aren't getting the bikes you would ride though, right?
Yeah exactly, there are always going to people that prefer a Santa Cruz or a Pivot but that doesn't matter for us because we're making the bikes that we want to ride. People are getting on board with that and that's been so humbling that people want to buy them.
We've been so lucky and we've had such incredible support from people over the years and people have really been on the whole journey with and now we've got a product that we can involve them with rather than it just being a one-way street.
How did it feel racing your own frames at the World Cups? Was it added pressure?
I thought I would deal with it pretty well but when we got to Maribor I felt so much pressure. I felt like everyone was watching the bike, how noisy it was, what it looked like riding, even on my first run I found it really difficult so that was pretty kind of eye-opening. I thought, “shit, what the hell have we done?” I was so committed and I wanted to get that first win on the bike but looking back, even that first bike that I raced in Maribor is so different from what we have landed on now. It takes at least a full year to get the right setup for racing and I'd been riding it for two months.
How much of a relief was it then winning for the first time on the frame?
That's the word, relief. When people think about winning World Cups, it is amazing but the biggest emotion is relief I think. That was true for winning this year on the bike and it only came afterward.
Ben was saying for him that was just the start of it, even when you win a race, you can still learn so much. I was really keen to not get complacent and think, “that's it, we've done the bike, it's good because I won.” Having that ability to learn from anything is really important no matter what happens.
How much has DyFi bike park helped with development?
Yeah, that's been awesome. For example, when we built the rear end with the brace, Rob brought that up, him and Dan rode and I drove the uplift and immediately after two runs in two hours we could see the difference. It just makes things quicker and easier. The bike park has a different variety of tracks, there's a jump line and then technical downhill race stuff so it's easy to put the bike through most of the scenarios that people are going to ride it in... maybe not dry dust!
What can we expect in the future from Atherton bikes?
One of the hardest things is to reign in your ideas and make sure you're doing things at the right time. I was like, "when can we do kids' bikes? We need a dirt jump bike, we need a hardtail, we need a commuter/town bike for when I go shopping." It's really difficult to have that energy and passion but not be able to do it yet because it's not the right time for the business you know? And that's really been the main thing to reign everyone in and let people do what they're good at.
We've got two bikes out at the moment and then we've got another two to come as soon as we've finished developing them. What I'm excited about is to actually spend some time riding them with the people who have bought them. This is such a big opportunity and hopefully it's going to be bloody awesome.