I have been with Cube since the start, I think 2013 was my twentieth year. So that's 22 years now, so a pretty long time!
What is your background?
I started studying engineering, but I didn't finish. The rest of my background... I used to have a bike shop, so my background has always been biking. I used to do some downhill races, some cross-country. But I was never able to qualify for finals at a World Cup, so not that good. I am mostly into the full-suspension thing.
Would you say it was easier to make a bike when you guys started?
Yeah. At that time you simply ordered a bike in the catalogue - so you said, "I want this frame, in that colour, that geometry, with Shimano Deore DX components". At that time there were no suspension forks, so simply rigid forks, simple tyres This was the first delivery of bikes we had.
Did you have to learn as you go then?
I would say that for sure, especially at the beginning, you had to learn how to deal with the Chinese guys. Actually, at that time, it was Taiwanese guys. Simply to deal with quality claims and things like that. Also, how to build a bike, how to get the perfect mix for that bike and its planned use. This was a learning process and we are still learning each year. When you look at the development of our design within the last ten years, I think there has obviously been a step and since we do our own frames - something we have been doing for quite a long time now. In the beginning, what we did was define the geometry of a bike and then ask the Chinese guys to make a tube in a certain shape. Then we started to do all of the engineering here in Waldershof - all the geometry, kinematics, tube shapes, FEM calculations, all done here. Then our Chinese guys make sample frames. They have to pass their tests in China, then we would get the frames and test them according to our standards in our testing laboratory. These standards are way higher than those requested the mandatory standards to sell bikes worldwide, like ISO. It is easier to get those standards, but our tests are heavier and harder.
So you have more experience of people riding your bikes hard?
Yeah. We're not quite ready with it, but we are doing some testing with data recording all-mountain bikes. We did some tests working with a guy doing his doctoral thesis at a university who made testing machines for us and did some data collection with different bikes. This means we have some forces we now know for our calculations for our frames. We are now doing this for each type of bike, so cross-country racing obviously needs a different strength to a downhill bike. This is now done here in-house and according to these forces we measured, we made our testing standards. We now improve them and change them according to each new bit of information we get.
The difference between a bike 20 years ago and now is huge. If you had to pick the biggest thing you have learnt over that period, what would it be?
I think the biggest thing that came in this period was the suspension. Over the years, what I learned most is, for me, is kinematics and geometry, I now need more time to fix the right geometry and kinematics. If the geometry is wrong, the suspension can be as good as possible, but the rider doesn't feel comfortable on the bike. I think the first thing that must be right is the geometry, then the kinematics on a full-suspension bike.
Is that something you had to learn with each iteration, or did your engineering background help?
I think the mechanical engineering background didn't help. I think when you are considering the kinematics there a few factors you have to keep in mind, your own experience, then you have to think how the shock works and the shocks are always changing, especially when you look at the new Fox shocks, they are completely different to the old ones. This means you have to modify the kinematics again, experience and then the rider profile. When you look at an enduro race bike like our team riders are using, then this needs different kinematics, different geometry compared to a 140mm 650B bike, which is more used by normal riders, not racers.
How would you quantify the difference between a normal bike and a race bike?
When we talk about enduro bikes or downhill bikes, these are race bikes. These bikes always have to compete against the clock, so these bikes have to be fast. That means, looking at the kinematics, you need a design that gives you support from the ground, so you can feel what is going on, but, in my opinion, the support should be as little as possible. Only as much as you need for jumping, for berms, things like that. If you have more support it's more fun to ride the bike, but then the bike is slower.
So if an average rider came to buy a Cube bike you would recommend they go for the 140mm bikes, rather than the 160mm bike as it's going to be a easier bike to live with?
It depends on the rider. We hope that our dealers have enough test bikes to ride them and decide whether they want the faster, more racey bike, or the more fun bike to ride. The differences are not that big, I think a race bike cannot be 30mm longer in horizontal top tube length, compared to a fun bike. The difference in geometry and kinematics are not that big, but an experienced rider can feel it.
At the moment Cube bikes are at neither extremes of geometry, not short, but not as long as some bikes out there either.
Currently, there is a tendency to have the top tube, and, therefore, the reach values, longer and longer. When you look at the rider standing on the bike the body tries to find a 90-degree angle between your arms and the upper body. When the frame is too short your body always tries to keep this angle, so you move your ass more behind the saddle, when you get too long, the body still tries to do that, so you have much more weight on the front tyre. This helps in getting the front tyre around the corner, but then you don't have enough grip on the rear tyre. So you have to find the right balance in between. Going by the feedback from our team riders and the feedback from the different press guys who have ridden our newer bikes say that it is good, I hope that we have the right balance, but probably you will see next year that we have to change the position a little bit, but I think the position we have now with our geometry has a good balance.
How do you see the rate of progress with bike developments? Is it continuing, plateauing or even speeding up?
The progression of bikes is dependent on different things. So in the last three or four years, we had big changes, especially in the wheel sizes. That meant the complete bike made maybe two steps forwards, also, the suspension always has a big influence on that too. Within the last five years, I would say, the performance of the bikes, including the geometry, has improved a lot. Currently, the normal customer maybe wouldn't see it, but there are big steps in the development of the bikes.
In the comments see a lot of people angry with new wheelsizes, axles standards and so forth. From your point of view, is this good progress?
Yeah. So, talking about wheelsizes, it took a longer time to get the bigger 29" wheels to the market, especially in Europe. Many of the improvements for bikes were coming from the US, the 29er came from the US and here in Europe, we needed a long time to accept it. Now I think it is pretty well established for certain uses of bikes, cross-country and tour riding, but not for harder riding. The same goes for 650B or 27.5" wheels, they are also a big step compared to the 26" wheels. 26" wheels offered you a bike that was very, very easy to handle even in the hardest technical terrain. 650B is a little bit less, but they are way faster, they give you more speed, more control, more traction. So I think the group of people that say, "27.5 is not necessary," is pretty small. I have only checked on the Germans forums and there, there are a lot of fans of 26", which is ok, but sometimes the customers are a little bit too conservative in checking what is good for the future. In the beginning, there were discussions about suspension forks on bikes, lots of people said they were more weight, that they didn't need them for the hill-climbing they did. We also had the same thing with disc brakes, many people said there was a creaking noise, the braking power was too strong, they might get you injured. I think it is this way many of the improvements that have come in the bike business, and that are coming. I think it is this way because the normal customer is not involved in the progress, but in the end, I think most of them accept and welcome the improvement, so it's good.
At the moment, for instance, Boost is a sore topic in the comments.
Boost is an awesome improvement, especially for the bigger wheels. But what is also good for the bigger wheels is also good for the smaller wheels. I think Boost brings the bike more to the front again because the wheels get stiffer, so we have fewer problems, especially with 29er bikes. Normally when you ride really hard on a 29er the wheels are not strong enough, with the big radius compared to 27.5". Now, with the Boost standard, I think you can build stronger wheels and it will be possible to have 29er bikes for harder riding. So, yeah...
One of the things we see seems to be a feeling that one of the major areas of contention with these changes is the pace, they are coming too fast right now. For instance, if someone just invested in a 650B bike with modern geometry, they are now being told that their axles and cranks are out of date.
For us as a company, or me as a designer, I think it is necessary we stay on top of this. We have quite a good position in the market now and to keep this position we have to try and stay in this top position. We have to always work on all products to keep them looking as nice as possible and the function has to be as good as possible. They have to improve year-on-year. When there are improvements possible, we have to do them. When it's Boost we have to do Boost, in two years it's probably 28", it might be that we have to make 28" bikes. It's not that we have to do it to be in the group going down the river, but simply to keep our position and improve our products. For sure there are some improvements that will disappear again, but we have to try all new things simply to check whether they are an improvement for our bikes or not. So, in the end, what we have brought out up to now has always been an improvement.
Some people seem to feel that this is simply a ploy to make them buy a new bike next year.
Yeah, for the customer it is really difficult. Bikes are getting more expensive, due to exchange rates, due to improvements in the products. So normally a more sporty rider would buy a new bike every three or four years, hopefully, they do! But, when massive changes come, like when 27.5" came and 26" started disappearing, I think this can be a problem for a lot of customers because they don't have bikes that are up to date anymore. Probably they don't have the money to buy the new stuff, but I think it is the same with every product. When you are in engineering and you need a new computer because with FEM a new computer runs in a tenth of the time of the old computer, I think then it is necessary to buy it, even if it is double or triple the price of the one before. But I think if you have a twenty-year-old mountain bike, you can still use it to do the sport. You can have fun with it, and you can ride the same trails. But with new bikes, I think it is more fun. So I think the customer has to decide whether they want the fun they are used to or the bigger, newer, better fun with the new bikes.
What would you like to see as the next big step for mountain bikes?
I think, within the last few years if you look at the cockpit of the bike there are so many shifters and levers on the handlebar, and, in my opinion, they are way too much. I hope that in the next few years the cockpit will get less crowded. The other thing could be the new suspension, with electronic adjustment, I think this could also be one of the biggest steps.
So you're saying that with a triple chainset you would get better pedalling in the small gears and better descending in the big gears?
Yes, definitely. Look at a downhill bike. I don't know if this is the main point, but I think it is one of the reasons why Neko Mullaly and Aaron Gwin could compete better without a chain than with a chain. It might be that they were more motivated at that point, but it might also be that the drivetrain had no influence on the suspension. I think the suspension would have worked better.
A few people have cited the derailleur as a big problem as the biggest thing wrong with the modern mountain bike.
I think the mountain bike is more or less derived from road bikes, so gear shifting is more or less derived from road bikes but at the moment, for a mountain bike, especially a full-suspension bike, it would be good to have less mass at the rear, because the suspension works better without the weight. Plus, there are fewer problems without a derailleur. But then you have to go to a gearbox and, currently, with the gearboxes that I checked on the market, they are not really ready for the perfect bike. So currently, I would say that a drivetrain using a chain, sprockets and a front and rear derailleur, is more practicable compared to a gearbox. If there was a gearbox system with less friction, that offered shifting performance under hard pedalling, I think this could be the next big step in mountain biking.
Are you excited about electronic suspension, or will it just make your life more difficult?
Electronic suspension will give you the possibility of building a bike that, due to the suspension, works like a cross country bike in the uphill sections, works like an all-mountain bike in flat sections and works like a downhill bike when it's descending. This could be the possibility to create the most versatile bike. So it could be possible to have a really lightweight 180mm bike that goes up the hill like an XC race bike and goes down like a DH bike because you don't have to compromise. Now you always have to try and keep the right balance between pedalling influences going uphill, but then they are not the best influences going downhill. With the electronic suspension you could have it closed like a hardtail going up the hill, then when there is a knock to the suspension it opens automatically. Then you have the performance of a downhill bike. This could be one of the biggest steps in the near future.
So what does the perfect bike in fifteen years time look like in your head?
When I see how this bike could look... I think this bike is a very clean bike, so when you look at a bike that has electronic suspension and a gearbox system it is possible to build a bike with way fewer visible cables. I think it will be reduced, to a front wheel, a rear wheel, and suspension front and rear, a frame, the necessary things like saddle and handlebar, but no shifter levers, no lockout lever for the suspension and probably also the seat post would be operated electronically. So then you would have all the cables hidden in the frame. This would be a really clean and light-looking bike.