Something interesting is brewing in Barcelona. A disused textiles factory has been restored to glory and houses the Cero Design studios, and now begins to break the mold with Unno Bikes. The man behind it all, Cesar Rojo, has a strong palmarés including top ten World Cup DH finishes, multiple national championships and is reigning Master's World Champion, a title he captured riding a bike designed and built in his own studio. We asked Cesar a few questions about his latest project:
Hi Cesar. What is your background in mountain biking, engineering and design?
I used to race during the late 90's and early 2000's the World Cup DH for Global Racing, at 21 years old I finished 11th overall in the WC and 6th in the final race, that is my best ever result. I raced a bit later on in 2009 doing a few top 30's I believe, I'm four-times Spanish national champ: 2x junior, 1x elite and 1x master 30. I'm an industrial engineer, but mainly now I manage Cero (we have over twenty-five people here, working for many clients. One of the big ones is KTM where we help with production motorcycles) and focus on taking care of projects, kinematics, and geometry. We have an outstanding team of engineers and designers that do an amazing job putting together the pieces.
Which brands and bikes have Cero Design previously worked with? What was your role in the development processes? Mondraker Dune/Foxy/Summum, Canyon Sender?
We did all the Mondraker stuff starting with Zero Suspension, Forward Geometry and the design for those frames. Forward was completely our own proposal. We have nothing to do with Canyon Sender, our DH frame was designed 2.5 years ago… Why is the Sender so close to our frame, who knows… Designers come and go.
Personally, I can't wait...
Where did the name Unno come from, and what does it mean?
Uno, with one 'n' means One in Spanish, and as the studio is named cero (zero) after my name (CEsar ROjo), Jaume came up with this idea that after zero comes one, so we all found that made sense to us. The problem was trying to register uno with one 'n' as Formula One was giving us a lot of problems, so decided to use double n.
Did you race an Unno prototype at the Masters World Championships last year?
Yes, that bike is not only a prototype, it's exactly as the production frames will be, bear in mind we are putting more than one year of riding on each frame, not only field testing, but we’ve been extensively testing the frames here inside for fatigue, impact and performing a lot of stiffness tests to be able to replicate the aluminum feeling - that we love - into our carbon frames. So we're trying to avoid this over-stiff feeling of carbon frames that you find now on the market. More controlled flex helps with traction, this is something we have so many experiences of in Moto GP, where you need to have flex to be able to turn, otherwise the bike just chatters and does not turn due to different alignment of suspension and the bump direction… But I can make five pages about this and probably some people will end with their eyes bleeding after so much nerd stuff, so let’s leave it at this.
Why did you feel the need to bring Unno Bikes to the market? Are you planning to fill a gap that's missing?
The idea behind it is on one side to show what we are capable of as a studio and to do something without any limitations, you won’t be hearing any marketing BS from us, only facts, that you can agree with or not. We know every single thing about these bikes and there is a reason behind everything, I know this itself sounds like marketing BS, but you can throw any question about the bikes or production at us, we have an answer. Try to ask others out there what temperature their frames are cooked at, how long, the heating ramp, how many different layers, which carbon orientation is the used, weight of the fiber used, I can just go on and on only about this small part. As I said there is not a single question we cannot answer about the whole process, from layout, how molds are made, to the final product. Also very important to us was to make something super exclusive, that means super expensive, but no detail is forgotten.
An interesting looking entry port for internal cable routing, plus I don't recognize that stem and top cap - will we see a range of components too?
Why have you chosen carbon fibre over other materials?
Because of its properties and because the amount of room for improvement. In Asia, you are basically stuck with T300 from Toray (or similar from other brands, Toho and Mitsubishi) for cheap carbon, or slightly higher-end T700 and T800 (really high end and only some small reinforcements). We are working now on T1000 type of carbon (T700 is around 22€/sqm and T1000 is 115€/sqm), but it's a high modulus, high strength fiber that with the same amount of weight gets much better properties, but this means you can reduce it if you want, even if now we are playing very safe, this fiber is not really available in Asia, they won’t sell to them. Then you have all these other very special fibers used in F1/aerospace/hypercars that are special for impacts, abrasion. Even the resin type for the pre-preg, now we are trying some organic ones that are environmentally friendly (this is a future step). There is so much to choose from and this is why carbon is so amazing and our reason to go that direction, because the room for improvement is huge.
Is it viable financially and environmentally to produce carbon bikes in Europe?
For sure it is viable, but I don’t think so if you want to sell at a competitive price, financially as you can imagine with salaries over 10 times or even higher here makes a difference as this is so labor intensive. We are looking at 40 to 50 hours of work per frame, plus material, machined parts, it adds up so quick! Environmentally, here in Spain everything is super controlled, what you do with waste, transportation, there are a million regulations for emissions. This means it's much more environmentally friendly, for sure it's more expensive, but it's our responsibility to take care of the earth and do as much to help. For us, this is a big plus and we want to learn more how to improve the environmental impact in the future. It will be our goal to do so. Also employing locally is something we believe in, a future investment, reducing the amount of transportation from Asia (a boat burns a lot of fuel) is a big plus for us too… We want to be super happy with our product, proud of it, I know that sounds like a topic, but it is what it is.
You say all the bikes will be handmade. Will they be made to measure? If not, how do you plan to make a geometry and kinematic to suit a wide range of riders abilities?
They are handmade, I would even say handcrafted. Not tailor made because if you want to do a monocoque construction this is almost impossible to do, also between sizes you should be adapting your layup, so this is not easy. We will be targeting some average height consumers for now.
Every single piece of carbon-fiber needed to make one frame.
Can you expand on what will be included in the line of bikes? DH / XC / Enduro?? What travel numbers? Forward Geometry? Wheel size, Plus size? Boost? etc?
As you can see on the bike range image, all will have modern geometry, this includes XC which hasn’t really changed since the 80s. We are looking at two 29er XC frames, two enduro frames with 29" or 27.5" wheels and one 27.5" downhill bike. No plus size, we feel these are performance bikes, we tried plus sizes and in very technical trails the tires on holes makes you lose precision. We feel a normal tire is still much faster for a skilled rider, that is what we believe are the riders looking at this. Sure boost, only 1by…