What is your job here at YT, your title, your responsibility?
I am one of the co-owners and my title is Chief Technical Officer.
You started the company with Markus?
What do you do on the day-to-day?
Back in 2008, 9, 10, 11, 12, I did everything together with Markus, we made our own decisions. Since we are growing, I have a bigger team. The whole team are specialists in geometries, load distribution, influences… We all discuss kinematic functions, we go riding together, we check the new shocks, the new forks together, we are a pretty strong team, we are all mountain bike enthusiasts and I share all my knowledge, all my experience with the team.
What was your background before you came to YT?
I studied engineering and I worked in the automotive industry for eleven years for suspension systems, steering systems. It is a huge company, it is called the Schäfler Group. I was working at the beginning as a normal application engineer and then I got my own project and became a project manager.
It is interesting you have that kind of technical background coming from another field. Did it help?
Yes, that is the point, when you talk to Markus who has a long history regarding marketing and I have eleven years of experience in making products, industrialisation process, quality process.
How different are the process and demands in mountain biking compare to automotive?
For YT, we follow exactly the same strategy, processes and rules as in the automotive industry. The business, in general, is a bit different as you have the components manufacturers influencing the market so strongly. In automotive, it is mainly the big OE who are the influence, and some components like Bosch with their ABS systems, they would not influence the market so much. In mountain biking, every single component manufacturers could have an influence and impact on it, and the process and communication and also the business behaviour. But if you see over the past few years, it becomes more and more professional.
20 years ago, you could simply choose the tubing and decide what angles. Each year it gets harder to come in the market with a new suspension bike, is it something you found out?
When we started to do our first suspension bikes, we tested a lot of suspension bikes and there were easily 90% that were out of the discussion for us. In 2009 I was asking the suspension suppliers, especially for the rear ends, to send me data from the shocks regarding how much force you need to compress the shock under a certain speed, because it is what we did in automotive, to double–check the kinematic function with the basic spring and hydraulic behaviour of the shock. I was shocked to be the first guy in the industry asking for that at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009.
Is it more standard now, are other companies doing it?
Yes, for sure, I think so. I am not working with other brands. The suppliers have had this information since forever as they have to test the shock and they do dyno tests and durability testing and compress the shock under different pressure settings and it is just getting the data out of these tests.
How much have YT's bikes evolved since the beginning?
We had a little bit of success and we put everything back into the brand. We started to open our own tubing moulds and start the first alloy hydroforming tubes for downhill bikes and after for our super enduro bike back in the days. It was the Noton, then Wicked came. The 2011 Noton was our first modern enduro bike, we had a reach in medium size for 428mm and the stack was 585mm. At the time, we were definitely the leaders there. When you check geometry nowadays, they are quite similar to the 2011 Noton and we discussed and decided geometry at the end of 2009. That was always a big thing, to figure out what to do, this was also the time of the super short rear ends were quite popular and everybody thought a short rear means fast cornering, which is not and everybody more or less knows this nowadays. The point is you need to find a balance on the bike, which is the most important. There is a limit where you can say a bike is too long, the rear end is too long or a bike is too short, it is definitely something you can say. But you cannot say the bike an RC length of 435mm for 27.5" is short or long one, you cannot decide, you need to see the whole load distribution, reach, stack, what kind of cockpit is installed, the rise and backsweep of the bars, the length of the stem, it is the combination of the components. This is one of the key things that leads to a successful YT. First we concentrate on components on the bikes, when you get the bike out of the box, then on the track, at a race, whatever and you do not need to switch components. We spend a lot of time to find how before we ship the bikes to the consumer, how many spacers do you need underneath the stem, what kind of possibilities do you give the end user? What kind of clearance, what kind of rise up, backsweep and finally we did it quite often really, really good. So, we learned over the years how important it is when you do complete bikes to really think about every single component, especially the cockpit. Considering the components, cockpit, position, load distribution as a whole thing. That is really important to make a stable bike and what we heard over the last few years is that when you hop on a YT you feel comfortable from the beginning on, and that is the biggest compliment we can get from end users, magazines.
A lot of bike designers talk solely about the frame, not including the bars and the rest of the components.
You have to consider it. We discuss it a lot, we have the discussion on how far we can go with the reach? We have some enduro racers, we have some semi-pro enduro racers inside the company and they go for what I call the UK-style. They want to make it longer and faster, but it is a bit different fot the US. Different end consumers who are not that familiar with it like the European guys with this longer reach and they are not the biggest fans of it. That is what you see in US brands, they slightly increase the reach of their bikes.
What do you see as going too far? For instance a bike like the Mojo Geometron.
When you have the right track, it is a monster, it goes fast, it is stable and still under cornering it is good. If you are an experienced rider and you have the confidence to do extreme load distribution. But honestly, how many normal end consumers have this ability to do this extreme load distribution on a bike? So, yes it is interesting, but on the other hand, if you do normal trail riding with this bike, how hard it is when you sit and pedal to get pressure on the fork? You see crazy steup from the saddle to get the load on the front wheel for climbing for just normal trail riding, it is pretty hard to ride. For a really good rider, they have good fun, they can manual, they can corner, but the average rider and also the rider with good skills, it is not the final thing. There is definitely a limit and there is a balance between.
How close to the limit with your bike now do you feel you are now? Have you got as far as the limit you ever wanted with the reach?
No, we can go, for the new developments, we increase the stack and also the reach. The point is that when you increase the reach, which is the discussion at the moment, then you also need to consider the stack position, because the stem is installed on the fork and the fork is installed on the headtube angle. If you use spacers to bring up the stack then you reduce the reach, you need to find the sweet spot because people complain that they want to have a longer reach but the stack is too low and what do they do? They change spacers under the stem and the bike becomes shorter again and a 5mm spacer converts to 3mm less reach length. The rise of the bar is good, because it will not influence the reach, but when some people tell me the reach is too short and they go for bars with a 9 degree backsweep and they say they like it because they have less pressure on their hands, it is fine but do not complain about the reach. That is why you need to consider what kind of handlebars you install. We are not the greatest fans of using bars with a huge backsweep, we consider that, but it is tricky. When it comes to the discussion of how far can you go, you need to ask how does the setup look? What is your main focus? When you go trail riding, you need to find a balance and you need to consider everything.
What do you find a compromise with the suspension layout that is aggressive for racing but also comfortable for end consumers?
When we look at our comp bikes and on the pro versions. At the comp version, we use shocks we a lower high-speed compression setup and which allows you to have less progressivity in the frame including the shock is smoother compared to the pro versions. That gives the normal end user this plush feeling and is a more sensitive feeling that you obviously need when you are not that fast on the track. With the pro versions, you have mainly shocks that you can adjust the high and low-speed compression to adjust the sensitivity and the mid stroke feedback from the bike and finally depending on the track and on your riding style, the progressivity of the bike. That is the point. We do not have entry-level bikes, we only have race ready bikes, for bikes which are in the comp version, we use shocks which are easy to handle. We also discussed it as a lot of consumers are, not confused, but it is a bit too much and they should understand what high speed means, what low speed means, and how they should combine this information with the situation on the track. A lot of time on the track it is a combination of low and high speed and, what is more important, is the position on the bike. If you have your sweet spot on the bike, the suspension is for sure important, but the sweet spot, to have the right load distribution according to your speed, according to your strength, that is the most important thing. And when you reach a certain level it absolutely makes sense to have options on the bike to adjust it.
Consumers with a lot of money want the best bikes but not actually the ones that suit them.
You could not say which have money. The sport is technical and everybody is still influenced by the marketing stuff, even me who is part of it. That is going on and it is a natural habit to want to have the good stuff. It is not to say that if you are not an advanced rider you should not go for pro stuff, no it is ok. You can adjust your bike according to the base settings and then you are happy, that is ok. But if you then think you could start playing with the compression, the rebound, the load distribution and air setups, when you think you find what is your sweet spot, in most of the case that is not true. First you need to develop your own feelings on the bike, how you can push the bike, what is the better position for you, learning how to corner fast, getting this load distribution, moving your body on the bike, those are the main things.
As a small company, the sudden influx of wheel sizing and axle standards… Has it made a few headaches for you guys in which way to go? Obviously, as a small company you can only have a limited number of carbon molds?
Basically, we are a gravity-enduro-based brand. We just do bikes in more or less these categories. There was a thing when 27.5” popped up but it was not confusing for us because from the beginning on we realised that it is not the same philosophy and discussion we had with 29ers because the difference in the contact area between the track and tyre is not that big between 26" and 27.5". It was just the option that meant you could lower the BB that means you can center the rider deeply into the bike without losing clearance and that was from the beginning on absolutely the point. That is a benefit and we immediately started our testing with that and we quickly found out at the beginning, I don't know, four years ago, we just installed 27.5" wheels on 26" bikes. We did some testing and saw that it goes over roots a little bit better and it was not so drastically different. When we did the new geometries and we saw that we could lower the center of gravity by over 1.5cm, which is huge, we immediately recognised that was the thing to go with.
We see a lot of hate for the Boost standard in the comments at the moment. My feeling is if you look back five years ago and what we are riding now, you would never go back from what we are riding now to what we use to ride. It has always been these little steps, but there has always been resistance at each step and maybe we are seeing that for the Boost standard. Do you see that as a good evolution?
The Boost standard allows you to create new geometries. Without it, there will not be aggressive 29ers. You always need to consider that when you want to have an aggressive bike like we at YT understand, and some other brands try to understand, and you see the dimension of a 29er wheel, what should you do? How could you fit a front derailleur? How could you fit a crank? How could you create clearance between the crank and the rear-end? The Boost 148 is just 3mm, but if you look at modern mountain bikes, 3mm is the borderline between what is possible or not. It is exactly the point when you see compact bikes. Look at, for example, enduro like 29ers with long travel and short rear ends, without Boost, or without new ideas, modifying or doing something different, forget it.
What do you think of current pace of change? Peoples’ issues are with the change of pace, a couple of years ago we got rid of 26” wheels and now we are getting bigger. And suddenly the hubs are wrong and I think people feel the pace is almost too fast at the moment.
If the hub is now 148mm, with the Boost standard, it is exactly 3mm, change in the chainline and then you have a bit more space between the flanges of the hub. Then you could design, calculate, market, some better stiffness, in combination with the rims. You could really design good wheelset, but there are only two or three brands on the market at the moment you are using the benefits of these few millimeters. Then when you think about new carbon fiber rims, the stiffness of the wheelset, everybody needs to double check and that's why I understand some concerens about the change of the hub, does it really benefit the wheelset? Yes and no, but for the frame and bike development, to get a bit more clearance, a bit more space, it is definitely necessary.
People do not like to buy a new bike and suddenly there is something newer.
For example, with E*Thirteen, we work quite closely with them and they considered the new Boost standard as they use big diameter, wide flanges and they considered what can they do. They definitely can see a benefit.
The popular conspiracy theory is that all of this is to get people to buy new bikes, maybe they do not see the evolution. They do not see the bigger picture.
It is a bigger picture, exactly. What you see what was going on five years ago and now, you have now trail/enduro-style related bikes with headtube angles which were five or six years ago good for a downhill bike and these bikes still climb like hell, they have really nice load distribution, so it is cool. You have enduro bikes nowadays which ride downhill like a downhill bike five years ago. And still you can go up, you have clearance, you can make a good combination of reach and rear end, for good load distribution. So all these small things are really good, but I understand the end consumer that they are a bit concerned. Our industry is a bit different to other industries because there are people into the technical things and there are no other sports where all the small technical developments will be discussed and used as marketing. There is a small thing and a day later, the whole crowd start to discuss it, on one side it is a bit tricky for the industry but on the other side, how cool is that? How much passion do the end consumer put into these products. It is awesome.
In moto they do not make such a big deal in changes from one year to the other.
No, nothing. KTM changed from single pivot to a linkage system. They had been using the same standards forever and they modified something and nobody is talking about it that much. But in mountain biking, the angle of a spoke will cause a discussion, or 3mm wider hubs will cause a discussion. I totally understand because a lot of the technical marketing points which are communicated, for example, stiffness, who could decide which stiffness is good or bad? Some professional riders will tell you it is way too stiff because under hard cornering you lose grip. On the other hand, when you look at magazines, like the German magazines, they go on the test rigs and check the stiffness of the frame and they make a ranking and they say this frame is stiffer like this, like that. How does this appear to the end consumer? It is stiffer equals it is better, but, in reality, it is not always better.
Is that tricky for a brand like YT, who have many consumers buying the bikes without having tried it before, they making their choices based purely on the numbers, not on experience.
First the magazine and the reviews are one of the key points and secondly, our tour which we do every year. We have this big trailer, we have over 25 bikes at every event we are going to and most cases more than 30 bikes in all sizes and setups. We also have a setup station so everyone who is visiting us at events like Lago di Garda, Dirt Masters, we have events in Germany, Austria, France, UK, Sea Otter, Whistler... This year we will have way more stops, so the consumers can double check the reviews with their own experience and that is the key thing.
What do you see as the next development that is going to happen? And what is the next development you would like to happen? What will the Capra will look like in five years, or how far ahead can you say?
At the moment, travel is again a big topic, we already know, we have been discussing for over a year, is freeriding coming back? Yes, it is definitely coming back.
What do you mean by freeriding? As the understanding from the US and European understanding are different.
I think that the point is to have one bike that you can go to the Alps, to these hundreds of bike parks in Europe and you can go riding, but you can use this bike for doing after-work rides with your buddies and you do not do this under a racing feeling.
Maybe not so much focus on efficiency as with an enduro bike?
The efficiency is also here. Nowadays you see the Lyrik and the Fox 36 with 180mm travel, both forks are stable as hell in the mid-travel and you have the option to do everything with these forks. They are below 2kg. At the rear end we already proved that 170mm works, no problem, and you can also have 180mm at the rear end with stable platforms and you can go riding normally with the bike, you have one bike you can do everything and if you are a bit more focused on doing some stunts or doing a bit more crazy park later, there you go. It is not efficiency-related but it is still that you have a single ring at the front and you could run it with a chainguide and in the rear you go 11x, or in the future you go 12x... You can go uphill, downhill for sure, small compromises regarding the gear ratio. I do not see a compromise, it is a huge benefit. Because when you see it at the cockpit, what do you have? You have your lever for the dropper post and then you have a trigger for the rear shifter and that is it. It makes biking easier and you can focus on the things that make fun, shredding the trails.
What would you like to see change or evolve?
We are exactly in the hot spot of developing bikes, and the bikes we are doing at the moment, the ones we have in development are exactly what we want to have. I do not want a DH bike with 3.0" tires and a center engine, plus a parachute and an automatic bike pass, plus my Facebook with me. I do not want that. What I like to have, what I like to see are aggressive trail bikes, with both wheels dimensions, 27.5" and 29ers, that is what I would really like. Tire development is a huge topic, and rim developments, a system developed together, that is what I see as a huge thing - to make real systems. Because at the moment, some are developing rims, some are developing tyres, but nobody is considering the whole system.