Boutique European Downhill Bikes that Dare to be Different

Mar 14, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  
Euro bike makers


A few years ago, downhill bike design was converging on a cut and paste blueprint and it's no surprise the 'looks like a Session' meme was born. Now, with the advent of 29 inch wheels and resurgence of high pivot designs, that no longer feels like a fair criticism. Downhill is a hotbed of fresh ideas.

What the big guys are doing, the little guys often are too. We thought we'd take this opportunity to shine some light on a couple of European, under-the-radar bike designers pumping out some fresh and unique downhill bike ideas.



One of Maciej's early designs, constructed at Kajak Customs.


Dark Owl - Polish Steel

Maciej Trojnar is the son of an engineer and a pretty much self-taught bike designer. He remembers first sneaking into his father's room to admire technical drawings and later teaching himself 3D software and FEA methods without the help of the internet or videos. He knew from his days as an engineering student that he wanted to design bikes. His first single-pivot frame was made with Kajak Customs. Since then, he's been refining the design, aiming for lighter and faster each time.



Dark Owl came about in 2017 and the team undertook two years of prototyping and testing on a new downhill design. They only work with companies from the either United States or Europe, and their long-term goal is to make everything in-house and to support small businesses and local vendors. The production bike is made from high quality 4130 steel that is sourced from the US and Germany. Dark Owl believe steel is, "a great balance between stiffness, strength and durability," but they also say they prefer using a material that will bend, not break, and claim that a dent will be less likely to morph into a break-point on a steel bike, which will seriously help if you're not a new bike per season kind of customer.

The 205mm metal machine has a reach of 455mm in large and a 63° head angle. It uses Maciej's own suspension design that he claims combines all the benefits of a high pivot design and virtual pivot suspension - you get the descending capabilities of high pivots without the wallowy pedaling.

It has been a tumultuous few months for Dark Owl, who went from opening up to pre-orders, back to design and development when a few creative differences split the team in two. As original designer and creator of the brand, Maciej will be ploughing on regardless and building up from his original prototypes to create a new bike plus an enduro bike.
Views: 4,238    Faves: 7    Comments: 2


The bike pictured cost €2,399 with custom reach and stack, a CCDB air or coil shock, and a Mozartt Presto chainguide. Future models are expected to cost less as they will have fewer CNC-machined parts.


Learn more about Dark Owl here.





Hardcore Industry - Croatian Carbon

Nino Dusak, a former pro downhill racer, is the man responsible for Hardcore Industry. He leads a five man team that includes World Cup racer Jan Ciperman, as well as, two carbon and composite specialists. He's decided to go his own way and produce carbon frames in Croatia, rather than shipping the work out to Taiwan like most others. I first clocked his bike at the Losinj bike last year and it looked super-smooth through the bottom woods. Now, as he continues into 2019, he's looking for some investors and preparing to bring Hardcore Industry to the masses.

The bike is made using carbon simply because his team know more about it than aluminium. They are apparently bringing over carbon techniques from shipbuilding and stress analysis procedures from aircraft technology, then combining them all together for mountain bikes in Croatia.



The front triangle is made from just three pieces of carbon, which apparently makes it stiffer. Hardcore have also designed their own '50/50' linkage system that is claimed to be a floating suspension with no pedal kickback, making the bike ride smoother and more manageable. They wouldn't give us too much info on the geometry front except for a 62° head angle and 1276mm wheelbase in size large.



After two years of development, Hardcore are ready to put the bikes on sale and take on the World Cup circuit - starting in Maribor. They have a new frame designed, which is expected to be available for pre-orders soon, and an enduro frame is also in the pipeline for 2020. They are now looking for an investor to help bring their dream to life.

The frame will cost €4,600 but the first 15 can be to pre-ordered for €4,000.

The next step: a production ready model for Hardcore Industries.

Learn more here.





Vulcain - French Steel

Vulcain bikes first started late in 2017 and they brought their first realised prototype to the Brioude DH Cup in February this year. It's another steel framed DH bike, but this time made from good old Reynolds 853 tubes with a machined aluminum rocker. The bike is the brainchild of Julien Verbicaro, a former World Cup junior racer who went off to study Mechanical Design and is now starting his own bike company at the age of 25.



Julien has spent the past two years designing the frame and building a workshop in Auvergne to launch his vision. He says: "For the kinematics, the frame becomes super sensitive on small bumps and gives speed, thanks to the rear wheel moving back during the first 100 millimeters of the stroke. After that, the rear wheel comes back to stabilize the bike on big jumps. For geek stats, the ratio is progressive, as it starts at 3.45 and finishes at 2.24. Anti-squat is 120 percent at sag and anti-rise stays between 55 and 65 percent throughout the travel."

The bike fits 27.5" wheels and has 200mm of travel. Some other key numbers are a 63.5° head angle and 438mm chainstays. This steel frame weighs in at 4.15kg (9lbs) or 17.7kg (39lb) built up.



Next on Julien's list are a few tweaks before sending it off to a test lab to meet standards. By the end of the summer, he is hoping to offer made to measure, boutique bikes for all, then he will start working on an enduro bike and is even looking to launch a race team.

Prices aren't confirmed yet, but are expected to be between €3,200 and €3,500.

More info on Vulcain Cycles


127 Comments

  • + 68
 And finally: the Antidote Dark matter. One of the most beautiful bikes out there, and apparently one of the best downhill bikes to ride (says Dirt Mag). I've always wanted one....
  • + 34
 Antidote is an established business though, not really in the same category as the above.
  • + 0
 @justanotherusername: What do you call established business? How many bikes you think they have sold? How long they are in the business, like from 2013? That Hardcore bike is pretty simmilar to LifeLine
  • - 19
flag BochyTheKid (Mar 14, 2019 at 7:39) (Below Threshold)
 looks like a session
  • + 12
 @bok-CZ: The bike may look similar but I am not sure what this has to do with how established a business is?

What makes them more established? Well Antidote are out there selling bikes, have been doing so for years(If as you say 2013, then 6 years) Hardcore don't have anything for sale yet, - I think that's a pretty good distinction, no?
  • + 2
 I came across this bike on my search for a new rig. Absolutely fell in love with the design. Wish I had an opportunity to try one out
  • + 1
 @bok-CZ: they haven’t sold much, mainly because of the price and import charge. It’s also serialized. So when I got my dark matter this year it was frame #45. There is a USA ???????? distributor that people that know of without asking Antitdote themselves. Check out fluid focus. They are SoCal suspension tuning facility. The owner rides a carbonjack and he’s ordering a dark matter and pre spacing it with Ohlin.
  • + 1
 @justanotherusername: the simillar looks have nothing to do with, just saying. But as you can see below, Happypanda having a dark matter with no. 45, not 450 or 4500

still a boutique I would say, it doesn´t matter they are on market 6 years, my point was more about how many bikes did they produce in the 6 years and honestly, the price here in EU without additional taxes is not so high compared to carbon frames made by huge companies. A boutique for me means small sophisticated company/shop/produce focused on very tight sector of customers with not standard products, not being new in the game
  • + 0
 @Happypanda1337: how do you like it? I am still thinking about the Carbon Jack, just have to make so time to make a trip to Poland to try one out
  • + 2
 @bok-CZ: I didn't say Antidote wasn't boutique, I said they were an established business so not really in the same category as the above who are almost all yet to sell anything to the public - you are arguing with yourself.
  • + 1
 just went and looked at those Anitdote bikes........wow. beautiful stuff!
  • + 1
 @bok-CZ: I haven’t ridden on mine. Still buying parts. TRP was converting to the gwin DH Brake line up (I shit you not that’s what it’s called). So I was struggling to find some new quadiem G spec. But based on the leverage ratio graphs. It’s a buck to flat machine. It’s extremely linear all the way up to the end stroke. Then it become hyper progressive. The carbon jack is different. It’ll feel more like a EVIL bike if you’ve ever ridden those.

But yea, they also have a 26in DH bike and they are making a 29er. The 29er is hush hush though.
  • + 2
 I rode Dark Matter. Amazing bike. Rides like Enduro bike for most of the time and provides all the cushion when necessary. Feels very lively, nimble, very responsive yet will take any bigger hit or G-out like a downhill bike. Rode it back to back with my Carbon Jack and DM felt just a bit bigger. Didn’t need to get used to it at all.
  • + 4
 @bok-CZ: first antidotes I've seen were around 2008. Probably sold before that so don't post BS about 6 years
  • + 2
 Dirt said a lot of things over the years not all is true haha
  • + 2
 @heavyp: but we learn on comment boards here that nearly every award that Pinkbike has ever given away was a sell out. So Dirt must have had more cred. Becsuse every Pinkbiker knows a non biased source of information with balanced reviews, he just won’t tell.
  • + 1
 @BochyTheKid: err, no. Looks like a radical.
  • + 1
 @ColquhounerHooner: I already received 14 downvotes... my self-confidence is totally destroyed, so it looks what you want :-P
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: do you consider your carbon jack to be lively? Played on one a while ago, and it was very downhill worthy and plowy. Sounds like setup is key.
  • + 1
 Soo much time, sooo many turtle heads.
  • + 1
 @sethius: yes, depends how such sag you give it. i run 25-27% in the back, ca 17 in the front. And coil shock. Dark Matter also benefits from harder setup. Those kind of suspension design turn into a mother of five if you give them air shock and too much squish.
  • + 28
 The Dark Owl is a good looking bike, reminds me a little of a sleeker Kona Stab.
  • + 2
 Beat me to it. Especially with the Marzocchi 888'esk forks
  • + 3
 One amazing looking bike for sure. If I were in the market for a DH sled, this would be at the top of my list.
  • + 20
 I am reading this article from work bathroom. I feel like I'm doing something really wrong now...
  • + 35
 Username checks out.
  • + 18
 Whoa!I vote yes on the Vulcain frame!
  • + 1
 When you get the lines right steel frames look amazing. Not sure the full build pic does it justice though - screams these were the components we had lying around the factory.
  • + 2
 Looks like a Session’s prototype
  • + 14
 The Croatian Bike it is One Rad Looking Bike !! Props to all of this Guys thinking Out Side The Box ..
  • + 12
 If only American fabricators would make cool downhill bikes instead of weird cross, townie, and archaic mtb's
  • + 32
 If Americans bought cool downhill bikes we'd still be making the GG/DH.
  • + 3
 @GuerrillaGravity: heart breaking news. I like my Supreme, but I was looking out for a GG or Canfield 29" dh bike.

Maybe someday when your crew is reaping the benefit from all the recent smart moves and you guys have some room for a DH project
  • + 4
 Ain’t that the truth. Stupid beer/grocery getters.
  • + 3
 Too bad GG is not making DH stuff anymore
  • + 4
 @GuerrillaGravity: Challenge accepted. It's a weird niche, must be so small you need a crystal ball to decide how many to make so you don't go OTB financially. Must be why the Atherton's went for a quick turn around production method.

You guys rock

Seriously, there has to be at least 20 of us stupid enough in this country to make downhill bikes for pennies...or do preorder only, a la the very first production breezers? I don't know man...
  • + 14
 The dark owl is so nice!
  • + 4
 Thanks man!
  • + 2
 @darkowlbicycles: no worries guys keep up the awesome work
  • + 9
 Are those frame or complete bike prices? I need to know how to gauge my outrage, or lack thereof.
  • + 2
 Considering production numbers these aren't expensive at all. Not saying I'd put thousands of dollars into an unestablished product. Somebody has to though.
  • + 2
 @colincolin: "The bike pictured cost €2,399 with custom reach and stack" I mean that's a fantastic price if it is indeed a whole bike. If that's his frame only price, then what's up with the French one? 1.5x the cost, perhaps steel is more expensive in France?
  • + 8
 @usedbikestuff: The yellow west protests have to be financed somehow..
  • + 2
 @usedbikestuff: steel is expensive everywhere
  • + 1
 Can we get ANY of them in the US?
  • + 1
 @usedbikestuff: That is a price for a frame/shock/chainguide combo.
  • + 10
 someone in France forgot their fork stanchion rubber bumpers...
  • + 1
 woops...
  • + 12
 In fact, it's at the workshop this little shit happen when i'm working on the prototype Razz But well, this one will not reappear, for sure ^^
  • + 2
 @vulcaincycles: Ha ha, I thought the frame looked too clean to have been damaged riding!
  • + 4
 On next link you could see a bike of mine friend who has designed this high pivot beast way before high pivots were so popular. The design is his own as a result of a university leaving exam. Check it out!

scontent.fbts4-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t31.0-8/22256501_1955140434513117_1999189388070869497_o.jpg?_nc_cat=103&_nc_ht=scontent.fbts4-1.fna&oh=4d25a306a6af2a30344635beea55ca01&oe=5D0E9A78
  • + 5
 Nice to see some smaller makers getting some love from PB. I know it’s tough find room on the page for them when the big guys generate all the ad revenue, but riding bikes made in garages is the soul of the sport.
  • + 4
 Yeah, I love this stuff. I've never heard of any of these brands and I like the looks of all of these. I'll probably never buy one quite simply because I don't think I'll ever need a full on DH bike but I do respect the fact that they're out there and are making exciting stuff.
  • + 6
 The wife is Polish therefore i am instructed to get the Dark Owl.......to be honest i agree its sexy!
  • + 3
 That's the spirit!
  • + 2
 Fair enough they are different but every other mainstream DH ride ‘looks like a session’ or demo 8 apart from YT.
Good luck to all these bikes and designers, they look rad. Shame the fat cats designers are all on the same Facebook page
  • + 2
 It’s a pity I didn’t know that you will be doing this @jamessmurfwaithe. I would recommend you to check out Omenracing.com, also from Poland. Their Noon 27,5 frame is one of the sexiest Enduro bikes out there, made of 7020 alu, and possibly some tailoring of geometry.
  • + 1
 That....*points*.....is SEXY.
  • + 1
 Try scrolling back to the title. The only e word i see is European.
  • + 1
 I just discovered them 2 days ago. Very nice bikes!
  • + 1
 looks really cool, do you know where i can find some kinematic stuff about it ?
  • + 1
 Nice frame, reminds me a bit of Propains and it's not expensive.
  • + 1
 And check out bobans pinkbike account. Plenty of rad stuff around.
  • + 4
 Theres something about the side profile of that Dark Owl built up that just looks so nasty and aggressive, love it!
  • + 5
 Wow hardcore industries!! I want that ride man
  • + 6
 Dark Owl please
  • + 2
 In Proto clear coat
  • + 2
 it looks really cool, this way we will go direction "buy local", which is a good thing, especially, that the frames are locally made. And you can get something that is not really ridden by masses.
  • + 2
 The shock location on the hardcore seems a little daft, the Dark owl looks sick.
disappointing lack of a single speed DH play bike? Always got a soft spot for a bike that's there to be fun rather than a race contendor
  • + 1
 Antidote makes some amazing frames. We have a few frames in stock, Darkmatter and Carbonjack. As previously mentioned Ohlins suspension shipped today for the Darkmatter. Should be a nice build! Props to all the small frame builders out there. I’m definitely into the boutique brands(aluminum and carbon). Wish there was a way to support more of them.
  • + 1
 "Self Taught Engineer" ,whose dad was an engineer who gave him access to all the tools and outrageously expensive software. Went to school for engineering as well. Beautiful bike, but this guy was set up to do this from the get go, he just had to show up.
  • + 2
 I must say, the Vulcain and Dark Owl are real lookers! I dore ther design and the fact that they are steel. I would love to get one raw and cold blue it! I guess I found my next bike Smile
  • + 6
 26aintdead
  • + 4
 God, I hope not! I want to be able to get wheels and tires for all my 26 DHers for years to come! Getting harder and harder to find those in the local shops!
  • + 7
 @liv2mountainbike2:
eBay is where I get 90% of my stuff. Shops refuse to support the 26 scene.....f*ck’em!
  • + 4
 Gonna have to get in contact & import a dark owl over to this forest...
  • + 4
 That Dark Owl is rad and i love the name. It's wise but can f*ck you up
  • + 2
 Beau gosse cet auvergnat ! :-) ça donne envie de faire de la dh !

Hey guys you should look at utopy cyle too or victoire cycles ! Real nice products too !
  • + 5
 I came for the Dark Owl.
  • + 3
 The Vulcan frame is rad but do I see a dent near the HT...where the fork bumper would meet the frame?
  • + 1
 In fact, it's at the workshop this little shit happen when i'm working on the prototype ^^ Bumper is for nothing in this sad story Razz
  • + 1
 @vulcaincycles: Bummer. Bike looks really great though!
  • + 4
 I'm so proud of Dark Owl Wink
  • + 1
 yeah, with lots of US fabriacators these days it seems to be all about the townie/cross/utility/pubcrawler market. there are legions of buyers in that market now... pulling a kiddy trailer.
  • + 2
 That Vulcain looks like that old Raleigh Reynolds DH bike from the late 90's early 00's - had a red and yellow flame paint job. So sick!
  • + 3
 I wonder how far is a Ti version of those steel frames from being designed and built.
  • + 3
 all beauties, but that Hardcore is super duper sweet.
  • + 3
 Damn I'd rub my perinea all over that Vulcain bike
  • - 1
 They look ok, but there are nicer looking and probably better performing bikes available off the peg.

By Boutique do you mean unproven and over priced.
Why would any sane person buy a Dh frame from an unproven design at a premium price.
£4k5 for a complete commencal dh29 team BIKE, under that for the YT 29 Race or Euro4k6 for an unproven plastic frame.

Lets be realistic, the unproven frame is pretty much worthless 2nd hand, you would have to be mad to even consider anything over £1k5 for a "boutique" frame.
As for the steel frames, you are adding a couple of machined parts and some pivots plus a shock to a £350 steel hardtail frame and charging 3k for the privileged.
  • + 9
 Nicer looking? Well, maybe. Better performing? I wouldn't be so sure about that. You can believe me or not, but everyone that ever thrown his leg over my bike or bought it, was absoutely blown away by its performance. The only thing people were not as happy about was an idler pulley, that made cranks spinning a little bit less smooth than with "traditional" setup. They got used to it quite quickly tho.

I'm not sure what is Your background with producing anything, but if You think that building a full suspension frame is just "adding a couple of machined parts and some pivots plus a shock to a £350 steel hardtail frame", than You can't be more wrong. I can't speak for other guys, but low volume CNC work is insanely expensive. Labor, 23%+ taxes, insurance, materials (I'm using only aircraft grade steel, tubing made in the USA and Germany), shock, paintjob, tooling and so on. That is not just slapping couple of tubes together in a shed and charging premium.

You should try doing such part by Yourself, and let me know if that is so cheap (it is one piece all pivots and bottom bracket shell, machined out of 32kg block of steel on 5-axis CNC mill, and that is just one part, not to mention all the other bits and pieces that have to be machined for chainstays, seatstays and so on):

pinkbike.com/photo/16966140

Cheers!
  • + 3
 DarkOwl already says what i'm thinking too. Designing a efficient frame with low volume and with local company is for sure more expensive than a bigger brand that achieve their frame with some poor guys frome taiwan with high labor and low pay.
We take the market to the wrong side for sure but it's also to get something maybe more adapted for final user instead of making something for elite guys and after some big promote sells you without any adjustment.
I trusts in my geometry just because all i have achieved is published and everyone could check curves i made for the kimematic. May they aren't the perfect curves but for sure they give a super feeling and a effecient riding.
Steel is so durable that 2nd hand (and 3rd hand if you want) could be sure they get a frame which is still so much efficient than alloy Wink
But well, eveyone have minds and if you thinks because you buy lower it's better, ok let's go. One things i'm so sure is your way doesn't stop the smile we will add to our customer Wink
  • + 1
 @darkowlbicycles: I have been a design engineer for nearly 25 years.
I have worked on high end low volume designs. In my career I have been very fortunate to work with some very good mech eng's. From Expro's electrohydraulic intervention tool the militaries bomb disposal robot to military missile launch systems, torpedo drive, azameth and elevation drives, high temperature downhole tools.

I understand manufacturing costs but it is interesting when you go from low volume, high price to high volume manufacturing. When I went from bespoke designs to mass manufacture it was a different world. We just pay significantly more money for production tools compared to soft tools.

I race also. As a vet and don't do too badly and know what I want out of a bike when I ride it. I havr never swung a leg over your bike obviously but have ridden with one or 2 very fast boys in my time on different bikes also and it's interesting how a bike impacts a rider and different riders suit different bikes.
  • + 1
 I smile when I throw my leg over my old school V10.5. Even in the snow today, it was wild.

You should try making some of these Smile .

d1458dd46a9574078e43-4d8ed278d3e1c655a7d91202527ea7af.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/About-Subsea-Safety-Systems.jpg
d1458dd46a9574078e43-4d8ed278d3e1c655a7d91202527ea7af.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/Case_Study/Media_Gallery/2.jpg

www.eurekamagazine.co.uk/article-images/45697/robot_popup.jpg

I dont work on oil and gas or military design anymore, its medical these days.
  • + 1
 @betsie: That is awesome. Problem is, that You compare operating companies with their machines, engineers, cnc operators and workshops to an "average Joe" who want to machine something with local vendors, who usually have no time and interest in such orders. Get some perspective.

Anyway, using the same logic, all those aluminium full suspension frames are simply 150$ hardtails with machined parts and some pivots plus a shock. Charging premium.

With Your experience, You shoul start Your own company and make those awesome frames for £400. Easy peasy.
  • + 1
 @darkowlbicycles: I would never make a frame, I would only end up complaining at myself and being an engineer I would never stop tinkering to the point I would never ride the bike as I would be changing it because I could.
I am like that with trail building which is bad enough Smile
  • + 2
 It seems like all these bikes have room for a bottle. The Pinkbike audience will be stoked!
  • + 1
 1 is not enough bro... MOAR water bottles!
  • + 2
 i had to sell the washer and dryer to buy my carbon frame, so now i do laundry at the coin wash...
  • + 2
 Julien better be careful with the hammer and wrenches on the next bikes down tube....
  • + 2
 that Hardcore industries suspension and rear end looks freakishly similar to my CarbonJack....
  • + 1
 And so does Prochain bikes.
The number of layouts is not infinite; they are similar to schools of thought
  • + 2
 Please stop using the word boutique to describe a mountain bike..
  • + 3
 +1
Please stop using the word boutique at all considering it just means small store in french...
  • + 4
 almost as annoying as "bespoke"
  • + 1
 All these years and CERN has been looking in the wrong place for DARK MATTER!
  • + 1
 No Starling Sturn?

I guess that one already hand its own article to itself
  • + 3
 Cool stuff
  • + 2
 Vulcain reminded me of the Raleigh DHO.
  • + 2
 I love all of it! This is what mountain biking is all about!!!!
  • + 2
 Hardcore Industries is probably the best bike brand name out there
  • + 1
 These looks like every mass production bikes out! 29ers are dead, come back when you guys make 36ers!
  • + 1
 Hardcore.....chaingrowth!
  • + 2
 Looks lika an Atherton
  • + 1
 The Hardcore bike looks like a Pole/Propain/Unno
  • + 1
 The downtube on Vulcain is already dented by the fork...
  • + 4
 Hi Sergey, check upper my comment Wink In fact, it's at the workshop this little shit happen when i'm working on the prototype. Be sure the steel is stronger than you just thinking now ^^
  • + 2
 @vulcaincycles: Thanks, I realized that)
Following the steel movement closely, waiting for steel enduro bikes to take off!
  • + 1
 Ah, reading pornos in the launderette... Those were the days.... Wink
  • + 2
 Starling Sturn...
  • + 2
 Some of those look rad
  • + 1
 Does my Solid Strike count? Especially since they are "ON A BREAK!" ?
  • + 1
 I still have a boner from the last article about the Starling Sturn.
  • + 1
 How are you going to ride your bike like that?

Asking for a friend.
  • + 0
 Both the steel bikes look like a Session ! What are they on about?!
  • + 1
 'sick'
  • + 1
 Hardcore... Porn
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