We caught up with the team behind Airdrop bikes at Ard Rock, to talk about the new DH bike they are creating. The Slacker is a little different to most downhill bikes you see launching these days and it comes from a brand that's a little different from your average bike brand too.
Airdrop is just 3 guys and I thought I'd get each of them to give themselves a little introduction:
James: The Designer
Sheffield born & shred, James cut his teeth (and plenty of trails) in Wharncliffe before a few seasons in Whistler and Queenstown. Now he brings that experience to Airdrop.
Andy: The Builder
Hailing from Scotland, Andy’s a regular on the SDA circuit. He could have been a World Cup mechanic but realised building bikes in Sheffield is cooler.
Ed: The Founder
Ed came to Sheffield in 2002 for the climbing, then stayed for the riding. After years working as a designer for some big & bad companies, he quit to set up a company that's small & good. It's Ed's house thats on the line every time they do a new bike.
So now you have met the team, let's talk about the bikes. I sat down with all 3 of the team at Ard Rock to talk about the Slacker project.
You guys have been developing your downhill bike for a while now. Can you give a brief introduction to it?
It's called the Slacker Project. We started it in 2018 privately just as an idea and something that we really wanted to do. Then once it gained a bit of momentum between us, we decided to open it up and do the development as a public thing. Partly because it was a kind of a crazy idea, it didn't make a lot of commercial sense. We weren't really sure if it was going to work to tell you the truth but we knew that it would be something that our customers would be really interested in. So we just thought why not do it in the public domain and see if people want to get involved and have input into it as we go.
How would you describe the Slacker?
It's supposed to be our definition of the kind of downhill bike that we'd like to ride so we want to hit uplift days, holidays - just a proper bikepark bike. It's 27.5" front and rear, moderate reach numbers, not crazy long and not crazy short. There will be three sizes S/M/L. It has 200mm of travel front and rear but 27.5" only for now.
Is the Slacker a brand new design or an evolution of your enduro or trail bike?
So we're taking what we've learnt in those bikes, but it is a blank piece of paper. It's a start-from-scratch job. You can't really take too much from our enduro and trail bikes. So it's a totally new design. The kinematics need to be different. All the clearances are different. It's the same design language as our other bikes, so aesthetically it will be recognisable as an Airdrop bike. The characteristics of the ride will be similar in terms of what the flavour of the bike is, but a real cornerstone of the project has always been that it needs to be a proper downhill bike. It's not a beefed-up version of something else. It was a blank piece of paper, on which we've developed a proper downhill bike albeit not one that's oriented towards racing.
It's a bike designed for fun then, not for race times?
I guess, to be honest, what kind of underpins all of our bikes is they are first and foremost supposed to be fun bikes so we're not necessarily pursuing bikes that are purebred race bikes. Yes, you can race them, but they're always supposed to be fun and they're supposed to be about the way we define riding. Just about being out in the woods enjoying yourself, having fun and that feeling you get from riding rather than all-out chasing seconds.
That being said Andy, you raced this bike at the UK National Champs. How was it?
Excellent. Wet. The track was hard for the bike but the bike dealt with it. It's not its first race, I raced all the SDAs on them, all the Scottish Nationals and the odd British round as well. I've done them both over the last two years now on the Slacker and it's not been off the podium!
So it's definitely no show-pony! Have you written any off yet? Is it the same frame?
Last season I rode on the first production sample that we got. And then this year has been on the final sample. So it's been on two different frames, but no, never had any issues with it. Not broken anything.
How important is that kind of feedback to the process that you're actually getting out and racing it and using it for what it's intended for?
In the sense that it's being raced, obviously that's where bikes get pushed absolutely to the max and all of the kind of mechanical sympathy just goes out the window. So you know, it's great to have that kind of feedback. We're not trying to make the bike as fast as possible to the exclusion of other characteristics. But in a kind of broader sense, we're just riding bikes all the time. I guess we're fortunate in the sense that we're testing every time we ride. Everything that we learned from just riding bikes, on a day-to-day basis, we get to implement that. We don't have to go through any layers of bureaucracy. We don't have to get anyone to sign off on it. We can build stuff into the bikes
How many iterations are you on at the minute? Has it been a tough process?
It has been a very tough process. Obviously, we couldn't have predicted what would happen between 2019 and now. I won't go into too much detail because we all know what's happened. But that has made something that was going to be very difficult into something that has been almost impossible. It's all there on the blog. So if anyone does want to see what the process has been, you can actually read through it all, warts and all. We've taken some wrong turns. We've learned a ton as we go along and we're very honest about how that all gets rolled back into the finished product.
So we had a look around this bike at the National Champs, most notably were the oversized bearings everywhere. It looks really easy bike to service. Is that an ethos you put into everything?
Yeah, we do. We make sure with all the bikes that: a) all the bearing sizes are easy to get ahold of. They're the bearings that are going to last, we need to pay special attention to what the load capacity is on the bearings so that they don't wear out quickly. And b) The bikes are just designed to be lived with. It shouldn't be hard to work on, should be able to strip them down at home. They're just designed to be easier to live with.
If I have to put it succinctly, they're designed to be ridden not to be sold. This is not just the bike industry, a lot of consumer products are all about the shop window appearance, so what features does it have? What does it look like in a showroom or an online context? If it comes down to how does that affect the bike five years down the road - I'm much more interested in longevity, reliability, and serviceability. So that's why you've got external cable routing, bearings you can buy from anywhere, threaded bottom bracket, there's no proprietary tools. You can use a five and a six mm allen key and do absolutely anything. It might seem like common sense but surprisingly uncommon because we're not a kind of marketing lead business in that sense. We're kind of a development lead business.
Component wise it runs pretty nice Rockshox suspension. Do you take a lot of time into running through that type of thing?
We put a lot of work into kinematics from day one. Kinematics is the sort of foundation of the frame design. It's not like we're working around fixed points, well we are working around some fixed points to begin with, but not to the point where we will make a compromise on kinematics. And then, in terms of suspension tuning we do test for different tunes, we'll test it and we'll come up with what we believe is best which typically will be a little bit heavier valved than you would see from bigger brands. Just looking for a lot more support in it than just running suspension that is buttery smooth.
I think it's important that you take charge of that and you don't just go off of SRAM's recommendations, it's part of the frame design right?
So we're obviously designing a kinematic with a shock tune in mind when we set off but then we do rider test that as well. When we come to the bikes as well, we don't fit cheap suspension just because you know, we put all this work into the frame all this work into the kinematic, we want to fit what we believe is good products as well. You'll see that in all the builds and all the bikes to be fair like we don't fit products we wouldn't run ourselves. So like when we do the Slacker, they'll come with the new super deluxe coils and they'll have the hydraulic bottom out stops in them and that's a spec option. So we always choose to make those an option, we think it benefits the customer.
Definitely, you have to spend money in the right places, right?
We're not trying to hit a price point. So ultimately, it just has to be the best it can be and then we have to be confident that customers will understand that and they'll buy into it, rather than us having to convince anybody of the merits of whatever it is that they're buying.
So production bikes are on the way or where are you in the process now?
So we are in production at the moment. We're aiming to land frames for sort of the back end of the year, October November time, probably. Maybe a little bit of an earlier preorder for people to get involved before the frames land. Unfortunately, with how the world is at the moment, things might go backwards but we're still on track as of now. I think we're aware people have been following the Slacker project. Some people from day one. So we're two and a half years in at this point and people are asking, you know, can I buy one? We had a customer on the other day who's already buying parts to build on to his frame, so we are going to look to do something to enable those people who are dead set to get involved and make sure that they're first in line.
Obviously you're not the world's biggest brand. What is the production run numbers for you guys for a bike like this?
It's 100 frames. That's all that's on order.
It's quite exclusive.
Yeah, I mean, I don't choose to use that word because, you know, there's a connotation that it's something that isn't for everybody and actually I would disagree with the use of the word. But we are a small company. So 100 of these is a lot for us. I mean, I literally have to remortgage my house to do a bike so it's a kind of everyman's downhill bike if I can put it that way. But there will not be a huge number available. So the Fade much the same when we did that. We actually started with only 50 because we were even smaller at that time and, you know, there came a point where we were selling 50 in minutes. It's possible that that will happen with the second.
It's an intelligent way to start, right? You start small, build as it goes.
Yeah. I mean, it has to be that way. We have some pretty hard limitations in terms of what we can do but we try and lean into that and make that into our strengths. Okay, we can only do 100 bikes so let's make 100 sick bikes and make sure that we've got 100 really stoked customers. We do want to do more, like this first batch is 100. But hopefully, people show up like they say they're gonna then there will be more than 100 in the future.
That's exactly right. If it goes well, the plan is to continue with it and that will give us the opportunity to continue to develop some other cool stuff.
Any rough idea of a price, even a big bracket?
Yeah, so the pricing will be in line with all the other bikes really. So I think frame and shock you're probably looking at around kind of £1800 kind of territory. And then there'll be a variety of full builds available. So there'll be a bikepark variant. There'll be a single-speed variant. There'll be some sort of single crown variant and you're looking at kind of £3500 upwards, so they're not cheap bikes but for what they are the pricing is pretty excellent.
Yeah, I mean, that frame price is pretty on the money. It's not massively expensive. When you look around the rest of the market, right?
We're not here to take the piss. We're just trying to make an honest living and enjoy what we're doing.
How has that process been? Have you enjoyed that process of kind of documenting it?
Always. I mean, this is what the business is about, really, we're not working towards some future goal. It's about what we're doing today. Always. And even if it's difficult, we have to remember we get to design mountain bikes, we get to test them out and we get to put our name on it. And the flat-out ethos, if you like, is we're trying to do stuff that we can be proud of. Even when it's difficult, in fact, maybe even especially when it's difficult that's an incredibly fulfilling thing to do. So to finally see it in the flesh and coming together and being able to share it with people. That's a really cool thing. It's bikes that we are proud of but it's always the bikes that we want to ride isn't it? That's why the lineup at Airdrop looks like it does. It's like a 150/160mm enduro bike, a short travel trail bike, a dirt jump bike and a downhill bike and we're just a company that does four bikes, so you know, we're not necessarily pursuing the bikes that just make commercial sense. They have to be the bike we want to ride. Which is, I guess a little out of the norm.
If you want to find out more, put down your name for a Slacker or just find out more about Airdrop head over to their website Here
to check out their blog and the range of bikes. A massive thanks to the team at Airdrop for taking the time to chat to us at a very busy Ard Rock and I look forward to seeing how the project finishes up.