The Pinkbike Podcast: Episode 143 - Pole's Leo Kokkonen on Recycling, Internet Comments, & E-Bike Batteries

Sep 8, 2022
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich

Pole’s founder, Leo Kokkonen, is behind some of the wildest bikes - and manufacturing methods - in the cycling industry. The Finnish company's Machine and Stamina frames were milled from solid blocks of billet aluminum before each side was glued (and bolted, depending on when it was manufactured) together to create something completely unlike the carbon and welded aluminum frames we're used to seeing. Kokkonen was also an early proponent of the much longer geometry that's common today, especially steep seat angles and slacker head angles, and was touting the benefits of his Huck Norris tire inserts long before most of us got behind the idea.

But much of that has been an uphill battle; there was resistance to his ideas about geometry, very public failures like our Stamina test bike back in 2019, and too long wait times for production and warranty frames.

Today's episode sees Leo Kokkonen and I talk about all that and more, including recycling aluminum waste, e-bike batteries and the environment, and his interactions in the Pinkbike comment section.

Sept 8th, 2022

No carbon, no welds, but definitely some glue, batteries, and controversy.

Featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.

Subscribe to the podcast via your preferred service (Apple, Spotify, RSS, LibSyn, etc.), or visit the Pinkbike Podcast tag page for the complete list of episodes.

Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 55 0
 A few things about this podcast:

1. Leo comes across a lot more sympathetic than he does when he’s writing comments or whatever. After listening to this, I think I could hang and have a beer with the guy. I might even consider buying a Pole.
2. Mike does a pretty good job asking tough follow-ups and challenging him on some of his answers. Mike and Henry were pretty self-deprecating about being real journalists, but Mike deserves a lot of credit here in regard to that. Well done.
  • 32 0
 Thank you! I sure have to learn how to discuss things more flexibly online.
  • 18 0
 @cosaleo: Well, don’t be so hard on yourself. English is your second language (which is pretty much flawless), but maybe when you’re writing, it’s hard to convey tone in your non-native tongue. Or maybe your tone was intentional. Whatever the case, good interview today. I have a more positive view going forward.
  • 19 0
 @TheR - Thanks for the kind words Smile
  • 8 0
 The problem with the forum comments.. Context is often lost.. The way one reads something is often different than how it was written...
  • 11 0
 Agreed. Mike is genuinely a good interviewer and these podcasts have been a real highlight. I hope they continue for a long time!
  • 3 0
 I am with you on this one Great piece of podcast Though question I feel that Leo is really fair play ! Thanks for the good time
  • 5 0
 Great podcast - why not make it a yearly catchup?

I would still love to hear Leo's answer on which bike (apart from Nicolai) he would ride.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: Hello from Manchester England In a future podcast could you please discuss the importance of the bike in Downhill and Enduro races. I'm an F1 fan and it's well understood that the car is the main factor in determining the results, with drivers mainly competing with team mates.Thus never seems to be talked about, also suspension, tyres, breaks etc as riders may not have a choice if sponsored...thanks
  • 46 2
 Any chance you could get Rob Warner on the podcast?
  • 6 0
 Warner was on a vital podcast a few years ago. Worth a listen.
  • 6 0
 A good RW debriefing would be amazing.
  • 3 0
 @kcy4130: yeah I listened to the re-airing yesterday, it was great.
  • 19 3
 @pinkbike @mikelevy Why the hell am I now subscribed to Outside+ and receiving spam emails from them?

Not cool. Not cool at all. And I'm sure ECPA would have opinions on that too....
  • 6 0
 I've now blocked them.
  • 3 0
 This. Happened yesterday.
  • 19 0
 Oh boy, I have zero idea and zero to do with any spam e-mails from Outside but sorry you're getting those - super annoying. If it makes you feel any better, Outside e-mails me too much too haha I'll forward this up the chain, thanks for the heads up.
  • 1 3
 @mikelevy: Yeah, I guessed it wasn't your fault. You're just the unfortunate author of the article that looked most relevant to that whinge. (I know it's not very relevant, but better here than under a bike review or something).

Cheers for the response! PB is probably my most frequented site on all the web, even if I'm a grumpy f*cker I do appreciate the work you guys do.

Outside+ though.... they can f*ck right off. Big Grin
  • 26 13
 He's got the whole efficiency of production thing completely wrong. Lets use a normal Alloy frame as an example. The raw material starts in china, tubes get made, sent to taiwan, welded, treated, packed etc. The whole process may take 60 days to go from china to the warehouse in the US, i get that. But the big difference is, that every manufacturing step takes a short time and so many tubes can be made an hour, many frames can be welded a day, many frames can be painted at the same time etc. and so while for a single frame it takes longer, the frequency of production is a multiple of what can be done on his cnc machines. For his cnc frames, if he wants to make 4 frames a day and it takes 1 day to make a frame. He better have 4 machines, if he wants to make 50 a day, buy 50 machines. There are no economies of scale for this, it's the opposite of efficient, it is mostly just 'really cool' - i'll give you that
  • 2 5
 That was definitely a kooky answer…

Guy must be smart, but has this point all wrong
  • 42 1
 50 Pole Voima's a day would mean roughly 140 million dollars in annual revenue. I'll take that Wink

A 60-day lead time from China means that for 30 days, half a mil will float on the Pacific ocean. We could efficiently run our 50 bike daily CNC shop overheads with half a mil working capital. Furthermore, made-to-order bikes are always the right volume, the right model, the right size, and the right color. Therefore, there's no excessive stock.

During this year, we reduced labor by 70%. Next year we will cut machining time by 30%. So, next year, if we want to make 50 bikes per day, we'll need 35 machines instead of 50.
  • 3 1
 I think he mainly meant cost efficiency. Labor is generally the highest cost of producing things
  • 10 0
 They still sell the evolinks which are made more traditionally, so I think he gets it. I think more credit should be given for people not speaking in their native language!
  • 5 0
 You need to learn some value stream mapping. He's go it right.
  • 1 0
 @cosaleo: Keep the production in Finland. That’s just one of the reasons I bought my Voima, which I love by the way, both looks and performance. It’s just f*cking awesome! Also, I love that it looks different than all of the other bikes. I don’t want a bike that looks like everyone else’s bikes. If I wanted a Chinese catalog bike, I would have gotten one, so keep up the good work man!
  • 13 0
 The Machine was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I really wish you would do another version of that.
  • 9 0
 Agreed, the Machine and Stamina look so foreign and interesting compared to most stuff out there.
  • 3 0
 I thought the machine was slightly too pole-arizing when it first arrived on the scene..., later on was lucky to find one and bought it used. When it arrived I couldnt believe how stunning the bike was in person. these frames gorgeous if you are into the details. later bought a stamina 140. both were a blast, sold the stamina, but, the Machine, she is a keeper
  • 9 0
 Mike you've found your calling with these 1 on 1 interviews . You let the conversation flow so well, nice not trying to cram it into a set time limit.Your one with RC was really excellent , and you took the conversation to some fascinating places. This one is top work too well done. Leo it was great listening to you. I saw a Pole in the flesh when I met Matti , bike looked incredible!
  • 3 0
 Thanks dude! We were riding together with Matti a few weeks back. He is helping us on testing bikes.
  • 8 0
 I saw a Pole Machine once in the was a sight to behold, definitely one of the coolest bikes I've seen and now the Voima looks are growing on me. The first time I saw it I thought "kill it with fire". Second time: "ok, not for me". Now: "pretty cool".

Btw, the comments section of a Voima with a linkage fork review would probably kill the site.
  • 9 0
 Finnish cell service amazing, where I live this interview would have been over in about 2 minutes. "Leo? Leo? You're breaking up. Can you hear me Leo? I think we've lost Leo ladies and gentlemen"
  • 9 0
 I was impressed - he did the entire podcast while driving!
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy: Another great podcast, thanks. And I've adopted a Levy original whenever I call someone, I hope you don't mind. "WHERE ARE YOU AND HOW ARE YOU?". So cool
  • 5 0
 The cellular network is fantastic here. We don't even realize how good the coverage is when we compare it to the population's density. I was driving in Germany while we tried to have a phone meeting. It was pretty impossible. Our conversation broke up a few times with Mike. I connected myself to the podcast through a beta website for the podcast app that Pinkbike uses.
  • 7 0
Podcast idea. How about a discussion of mountain bike race formats that have disappeared. I'm relatively new to mountain biking and noticed a bit of PB chatter about 4X which is generally followed by a comment stating its dead. I had no idea what the format was before jumping on google. There must be more. You could break down the format, where it was raced, who raced it, what types of bikes were used for the format, how it eveloved why it died.
  • 8 0
 Who remembers super-d racing?! Or the Reebok Eliminator? Added to the list.
  • 2 0
 Great idea!! Even dual slalom is a dying art... the tracks are just hard to maintain and despite it being super spectator friendly, it never gained a wide ridership/audience.
  • 7 0
 What a great episode. The guy is a super smart and interesting, and has the ability to express it in words. Big like!
I wonder how the economic crisis in EU will affect the industry? With rising energy prices, crazy inflation in the cost of aluminum I wonder if in a year from now, EU manufacturers will be able to source the materials and funds to produce competitively priced bikes?
The car industry is consolidating and gradually moving to China. I hate the thought of my next bike frame coming from a generic noname producer selling it on Aliexpress.
  • 4 0
 And if you consider how intelligently he expresses himself in a non native language it's doubly impressive.
  • 4 0
 At the moment pricing is quite ok. Tesla opened their Gigafactory in Berlin, so I don't think car manufacturing is moving to China. Germans are too proud to have their factories in Germany.

I post here the link about lithium recycling:
  • 5 0
 @mikelevy could you guys do a podcast on sports psychology? I was driving around today and thought back to when Vali made the transition from juniors to elites, and how much pressure she was under to succeed. It makes me think of Jackson and Jordan, who will be heading to elites soon too. I’d love to hear more on the topic, because it feels like it’s kind of forgotten. Thanks.
  • 3 0
 Freakonomics has a series on different sports with several interviews on the psychology aspect. Worth a listen!
  • 5 0
 Wow - what a podcast, chapeau @mikelevy

Peeps don't have to agree with everything Leo says, but you have to respect his thought process and his openers.

That was great. Can we have an "episode of the year" award? I'd vote for this episode and the Mikes' Stone King podcast (previous years would have been the RC life stories).
  • 4 0
 Leo and Levy, great podcast. Thanks for talking about some difficult topics. Being transparent and vulnerable can be hard and it shows that you have a lot of passion for what you do. Respectfully, i do not agree with a few of your manufacturing points you were trying to make but ultimately i respect you Leo for being different and trying to carve his own path. I love seeing different types of bikes in the market and look forward to what the future brings. Ps. I seen a ufo, was not beemed up but do believe there is some things we know nothing about.
  • 4 0
 Interesting point about BB drop. Seems like Pole has a different perspective than most other manufacturers, and suggests a higher BB helps with cornering and dynamic handling as it provides more leverage. I’ve heard a local coach also say the same but they seem to be in the minority vs the conventional wisdom.

Would love to hear more @cosaleo and perhaps hear @sebstott take on it too.
  • 3 0
 Being in Seb is reviewing the Voima, so I believe he will also cover the BB height. I want to talk more about frame stiffness and all its aspects. I believe that for most riders, the bicycle frame should be more flexible. We have made our frames stiffer for our pro racers for a while now. Later, we can offer the racing setup to our customers as well.
  • 4 0
 @cosaleo Just got around to listening this - it was a really fascinating discussion. I've also had a really good time with my Evolink.

With Pole machining each frame as customers order them, has there been any thought of custom sizing or more standard sizes? I guess the same question could be asked about geometry, as well. Apologies if I missed you and Mike talking about it.
  • 6 0
 I would love to see the "Grim Donut" prototype made by pole!
Experimenting is fun, even when it goes too far Wink
  • 7 0
 I want to see a Grim Donut made by Allen Millyard, complete with his custom shock, internal gears and single sided swingarm with enclosed chain and sprockets bathed in oil.
  • 1 0
 @CustardCountry: Yeah that would be epic, maybe with 300mm suspension thrown in for good measure
  • 4 0
 Really good one. Nice insight into a growing company. Mike had good questions and didn't pussy out on the gritty ones. Leo took the questions and gave a acceptable response . Cheers
  • 3 0
 I've always enjoyed listening to Leo (and even tried to convince him to give me a job!), I think he's very "to the point" which is my general experience of Finnish people and something I like. Having moved to the US from Europe I can also see how this can get taken the wrong way over here.

I absolutely love my evolink and would have loved to buy a stamina but it was just too pricey for me. I do struggle a bit with the Voima looks, but I agree that performance is what bikes should be designed for. But the stamina was so damn pretty in reality!

Leo, when you open up your PNW manufacturing facility, give me a call. ☺️
  • 1 0
 Thanks dude! Sure thing, I’ll let you know when we do
  • 3 0
 I did the same, sent my CV to Leo.
A good interview and honest, open answers from Leo.
I bought a Taival HT last year, and it is a blast! I am on the Pole riders group on FB, and from the comments, they have definitely upped their Customer Service game in the last 2 years (even if they could still use my help )

Getting older now, so seriously looking at a Voima to replace my FS ride.
  • 3 0
 Loved the podcast. Leo’s a very interesting guy. I like how you discuss trolls in the comments while Levy constantly prods away referring to ebikes as opposed to mountain bikes. All the while Leo’s primarily selling e MTBs right now. You cheeky boi
  • 2 0
 Great podcast and brand/bike. Bring on the non-motorised Voima.
Given the relatively quick turn-around time on new prototypes with Pole’s CNC production, my ideal version would be with a Pinion gearbox and belt drive in the space left by the electric motor. Now there’s a comment that will really get lots of negative responses! From MikeLevy if no one else
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy listened to the seb stott podcast recently. When you two were talking about lockouts and the errors in testing power @ the crank, could you isolate how much force is applied by the rider using a pedal based power meter vs a crank based?
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy Great podcast but we have to be careful listening to one side of the arguement, especially when the discussion turns environmental.
While in its infancy Carbon recycling is real and about to become much larger scale.

Your sister website had a great podcast that I think you should mention to listeners as a follow up to this one to clear the water.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy I am super late to the comments with this suggestion, so I'll try to remember it for the next one as well.

A podcast episode centering on what different levels of riders do for aux & off season fitness would be awesome. Pedaling is arguably only half the body after all, navigating body weight fitness vs weights vs machines like the rip row seems like there could be a good amount to talk about to meet riding focused goals. PB racing PT as a guest perhaps?
  • 4 1
 I think that Mike L. Needs another media sample frame from Pole' with no return shipping label
  • 5 0
 I can dream but I think it'll be a while.
  • 5 1
 So much good info in this podcast! Great interview Mike and Leo.
  • 5 5
 Before making any claims about how the bike is made and how it might be superior in certain environmental aspects, I would suggest perhaps hiring a sustainability consultant and crunch the numbers. Would be interested to see how Pole compares.

Also, as an engineer, I take issue with non-engineers calling themselves engineers.

One more thing; a straight line is not always the stiffest (source: I am a civil engineer).

Maybe one last thing: there is a company called Carbon Fiber Recycling that does exactly what their name implies. Your sister website Cycling Tips did an interview with them.

Other than that, enjoyed listening to the podcast and I certainly like seeing smaller companies continue pushing the boundaries.
  • 6 6
 yet, industrial designers and architects can do their jobs and also yours. When they design something, they engineer it as well, they don't put engineers to do it for them. Engineers just came, check the projects and cerrifiy them. Basically, an industrial designer or an architect can do what engineers do but, engineers can't do what industrial designers and architects do.
  • 6 0
 One of the major sources of increasing the environmental impact of bicycle manufacturing is the shipping.
Manufacturing the frames in house through cnc should have a much lower environmental impact just because of the reduced shipping compared to drawing tubes, then shipping them to assembly into frames elsewhere, then shipping them to heat treating, then shipping them to paint/ bike final assembly.
Eliminating multiple shipping steps is s substantial lower environmental impact.

I'm not an engineer, I just fix stuff that engineers should have seen coming. I'm in testing and evaluation. Wink
  • 6 0
 @eugenux: the difference is engineers design something in an optimal way given a set of constraints using mathematical models of how the world behaves.

Anyone can build a bridge, only engineering can give you a bridge that just *barely* stays up, is as cheap as possible to build, in a short timeframe.

In most modern countries professional engineers are required to certify the safety and integrity of things “designed” by architects and industrial designers for good reason.

In Canada the title of “engineer” and practice of “engineering” is protected by law.
  • 6 0
 @eugenux: We deal with architects trying to do our job regularly. It often doesn't work very well. Plus at the end of the day, the architect doesn't have the authority to sign / seal the final design (at least not in North America). That authority rests in the hands of the engineer, and is not something anyone should take lightly.

Designing and building something is not engineering. Leo's limited engineering understanding was evident during the interview. But that doesn't mean Leo doesn't design and build good bikes because bikes aren't skyscrapers or suspension bridges :-)
  • 10 1
 I think titles need to be reviewed case by case. Defining my role with one word is challenging. Titles don't matter to me so much, but I need to be able to describe my job. Therefore, I call myself a bicycle engineer generally. The reason is that I have ten-year experience in engineering our bikes. I do engineering from zero to 100%. I do kinematics, stress analysis, and tolerances, and I'm very involved in production engineering, from CNC jig design to material flow engineering. Also, I do industrial design. I have several patents on our current manufacturing methods and one frame kinematics patent for Sensei suspension.

People understand my position better when I call myself an engineer instead of an industrial designer. I'm an entrepreneur and CEO, but these titles also don't mean much. My job is a full-day job. I test-ride our bike, manage our marketing and the business, and oversee the operations. I'm a hands-on guy.

I don't claim myself as an engineer because engineering, for example, a bridge, would need more knowledge, which I sure don't have. But bikes I can create damn well. Some people call me a renaissance man, but I think using that title myself before I'm old may be too much. Big Grin
  • 4 1
 Turns out Leo is like a normal person. He has some crazy, and some conservative.
  • 1 1
 Who else has trouble following what he tries to say. Rather confusing rethorik. But good to hear about their ideas and business model. Shame they stopped the stamina. I always wanted one, but voima or the non motor version is not for me. Just like unno with their new bikes. Totally killed the good looks and made a spaceship. In my opinion only people with the intention to own something crazy but not actually ride it would buy these. Shame really, but good luck and hopefully build a real bike again, please.
  • 2 3
 Podcast question:

If you have an older bike and there is one main thing bothering you, do you fix that one thing or do you start saving for the next bike?

My situation is I was going to go mullet with my build and opted out at the last minute for the wheel set. So I have a 27.5 wheel on a 29 fork. I am dealing with wheel flop because of the 51mm offset on tight trails and it is driving me nuts. I think swapping to a 27.5 fork would help but will I just find the next thing that bothers me?
  • 1 0
 What frame do you use for the build?
  • 9 0
 maybe you should go to therapy
  • 3 0
 If you bought a 29 fork with shorter offset you could solve the flop problem and still have the choice of front wheel size.
  • 5 0
 Just get the biggest 27.5 tire made and pump it up hard, the resulting diameter should be 29.
  • 3 0
 Could also spend a thousand dollars on a fork and only reduce the flop a little bit.
  • 2 0
 The offset is in the fork crown, isn't it? Would it be an option to replace the steer-crown-stanchion assembly to get what you want? Alternatively, what would it cost you to just build a wheel with a larger diameter rim? Decent front hubs are typically much cheaper than decent rear hubs so you could build a front wheel for between 150 and 200 GBP or so (DT350, DT competition, brass nipples, Stans Flow). Or you could sacrifice your current front wheel so that you won't have to buy the hub and nipples. Maybe the replacement fork crown assembly isn't much cheaper than that.

The bigger question is, what quality were you looking for when you decided to increase the front wheel diameter?
  • 1 0
 @DizzyNinja: Good point. I should have said that it won't eliminate wheel flop, just make it slightly less noticeable. At anything but slow speed it's difficult to tell the difference.
  • 1 0
 @bok-CZ: NOS Titus El Viajero Gravity Trail
@housem8d: Probably but not for this.
@tremeer023: I never really wanted the 29, I just rationalized the fork purchase with the idea of mullet.
  • 2 0
 Just get a new bike - you'll be blown away at how much better it is. I pretty much ride bikes until I can’t but there is a point of major diminishing returns and when you hit it, it’s just constant maintenance and frustration. Take the leap - just sayin!
  • 3 0
 @vapidoscar: I would just get 29" front wheel and keep the 27.5 as a spare
  • 2 0
 Shorter offset = more trail = more wheel flop
  • 1 2
 @NoahColorado: not quite, slacker head angle creates flop, but at speed more trail stabilizes steering. Trail is affected by changing any of head angle, offset, or wheel diameter
  • 2 1
 Leo would it be possible to have a motorless Voima shape in a Evolink package? I mean purely on a theoretical point a view, a Voima made of tubes?
  • 4 0
 Unfortunately not at the moment. We are focusing on CNC production in-house.
  • 3 1
 @cosaleo: thanks for taking the time to reply
  • 2 1
 Mannn Leo did not want to answer the "whose bike would you ride" question lol
I get it, man, but whewwwww
  • 4 0
 It's hard to answer. Last week I was riding at a Bosch ride camp, and I had to ride other bikes. I also had dinner with Karl Nikolai there. It was interesting to change our thoughts and stories. Nicolai has a lot of passion, but Mike ruled them out from the selection. I would have a hard time buying a bike Big Grin
  • 2 0
 @cosaleo: fair enough
  • 2 0
 i thought this was one of the best parts of the interview,

Question: what bike companies are passionate, non corpo, worth buying a bike from? GG, Reeb, Foes, banshee,nicolai, starling, cotic, plenty uk companies...last, raaw, revel, spot, transition, contra, forbidden, deviate, knolly? any more? stanton, curtis

-curious about Nukeproof,??? like their bikes but dont know anything cept sam hill rips on them.
Also Scor looks cool but dont know anything besides -BMC supported

-corpo brands?: special ed, trek, giant, SC, Orbea, IBIS, yeti, pivot, scott, BMC/Scor? / commencal, evil, kona, devinci, rocky, norco, yt, canyon, mondraker?, marin, cannondale,
  • 5 0
 @shaheeb: Good list! Commencal shares similar values with Pole, and I don't think Commencal is a corpo brand. The original entrepreneur (Max) is still in the house (I think). I have bought my children's bikes from Commencal for the reasons mentioned earlier. Now the older one is riding XS Pole Taival.

I like Nukeproof but it's owned by CRC, and they make carbon bikes. Therefore it doesn't fit into my spec.

My list would be:

1. Nicolai
2. Commencal
3, Nukeproof

Let me know if you think there are some other brands that would fit the spec, and I think about it Wink
  • 1 0
 @cosaleo: I'm not exactly sure what your spec is (sorry, have not been able to listen to podcast yet) but I will take a stab in the dark with Canfield? Have been doing their own thing, within reason, for years...
  • 1 0
 @cosaleo: So why do you think that privateer is an opportunistic bike company? I agree that the suspension is not earth shattering. But having a somewhat affordable bike with modern geometry and good components during this time, I think that is a progression that this industry needs.
  • 1 0
 @schlockinz: I believe you explained what I meant by "opportunistic": When a company drafts other companies' technology and offers a similar product at a lower price. I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with that. It's a business form; for example, YT has done well with a similar strategy. However, I would choose my bike based on passion and originality.
  • 1 0
 Cushcore insert integrated into the tyre sidewall with a wider rim wall would go along way to reducing flats and flat spots.
  • 4 5
 Let's get some people from transition bikes on the podcast to talk about the best bikes of all time. ITS TIME TO GIDDY UP PINKERS!
  • 6 0
 Henry's second account
  • 9 0
 “Have you guys ever heard of the Spire?!”
  • 1 2
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