Interview: The Athertons -
In the biggest surprise move of the winter, the Athertons have started their own bike company and will be racing World Cups on bikes they have designed and built themselves. The Athertons have some big plans with talk of ebikes, additive manufacturing and disrupting the industry in the press release.
We quizzed Gee, Dan and Rach on some of the finer details:
How long have you been working on the development of the bikes you will be racing this season?
GEE:Over the years, we've been involved with developing quite a few DH bikes for companies, so we've been learning that process for a long time. Affy has always had this dream in the back of his mind and has many conversations with longtime friend Ed Haythornthwaite. The work on the Atherton DH bike has been an intense process; over the last few months we’ve worked with Ed and suspension designer Dave Weagle to develop our prototype as quickly as possible. From talking about what we want the bike to be and feel like, to going over CAD drawings and data, it’s been a whirlwind of everyone’s best work to get the bike to the trails.
How many bikes will be in the initial product line?
DAN: We’re still finalizing that initial offering but we’re planning to release the DH bike and we’re already testing and developing a few different trail bikes. The important thing for us is that they’re fast, fun and something we’d be excited to ride. Once we’re at that stage we’ll get them out there.
Rachel, will we see you on a 29" DH bike this year? Or maybe a 29" front / 27.5" rear wheel?
RACH: I've been spending a lot of time on the 29er this winter and I’m loving it, I think it’s a wheel size you need a lot of time on to adjust your riding to be able to race, but it feels ace!There is certainly the option now to run a 27.5 in the rear for racing, but it needs more testing, and testing is something we’re going to be doing a lot of with the new bikes!
Are you worried about using a bike that has no World Cup pedigree?
GEE: Of course it’s always a concern getting on a new bike for the first time, especially one that’s unproven on the World Cup circuit. But the guys who have designed this have a pretty impressive track record, Dave Weagle probably has more World Cup wins to his name than any other designer out there. Couple that with engineers and technology from Formula One and the aerospace sectors and you have a pretty awesome package- and we aren’t inexperienced ourselves! World Cup pedigree is definitely something that we can bring to the table. We know what we want from a bike, and how to translate that into design adaptations. We’ve done it so many times with a lot less flexibility than we have now. With this team around us we’re confident and excited for the challenge, even more so with the advantages of additive manufacturing – if we do need to make changes we can do it quickly.
Tell us more about the bike that Dan built back in 1992…
RACH: We'll have to just show a picture! It was a race between all the different schools in the country, you had to build a bike with four wheels and race it. Dan and his team won but they got disqualified because it was supposed to be a four-wheeled vehicle but his was basically an awesome two-wheel bike with stabilizers that didn’t quite touch the ground - he’s come a long way since then!
Will the bikes you're racing be the same as the bikes available to the public?
GEE: That’s the plan! We’ve always been a bit confused by brands that don’t offer the same bike to consumers as to racers! We’re aiming to offer a wide range of stock sizes and also the option to go full custom. One of the most impressive things about additive manufacturing is that every bike can be customized, so, if people want Gee’s Fort William race bike or their own version of Rachel’s race bike with a slightly steeper head angle, we can make it for them.
How did you meet Piers Linney and how did he become a co-founder?
GEE: We knew that Piers was into his mountain biking and we knew all about his achievements, especially with respect to helping and guiding start-ups! I got in touch with him and asked if he wanted to hear more about a plan we had. Straight from the off he loved the idea and had some really impressive ideas about how it could work. A startup like this is a difficult thing to do, and you need people who are the best at what they do in their respective areas, in our eyes Piers was exactly this.
What will Piers Linney's role with the company be?
DAN: Piers will chair the board and help us to spot opportunities to develop the business - There are going to be a lot of challenges getting this off the ground, and the financial aspect to a startup like this is very unique. Piers has a lot of experience with this area and can help us realize it.
What is the business model? Direct to consumer, retailers, etc?
GEE: We’ll be selling direct to consumer. With high-end technology and the potential for customization, we feel we’re best suited to an online direct to market platform. There’ll be an option for anyone who wants it to design their own bike on the website, it’s also a way of making sure that everyone gets the best possible price and the best possible service.
What markets will the bikes be available in?Worldwide! We are looking forward to taking the brand to places that the World Cup circuit doesn't always take us to.
You mentioned e-bikes. Are you developing an e-bike? If so, what markets will it be available in?
DAN: Yes, down the line we are definitely keen and It’s firmly up there in the development plan. We need to do a lot of testing first! We want to fully understand their strengths and weaknesses before we commit to bringing one into the range but we think that custom geometry will be a strong attraction in the ebike market.
What other projects are you working on these days besides the bikes?
DAN: We’re still working on our Dyfi Bike Park project which we are getting very close to realizing and, of course, preparing for the World Cup circuit which is a huge focus.
How will you three be involved in the day to day running of the business?
GEE: We will definitely be very involved in all the key decisions from design and direction of the brand, the priority of products for launch, to graphics and colors, to the events we attend. We each have bikes we are passionate to see to market. For example, Rach is passionate about the kids’ bikes...this is not us badging someone else's vision, this is our dream, and we are all going to be making it happen.
Is the plan to focus on running the business once you retire from racing?
RACH: I’m sure we’ll all grow into roles that are relevant and suited to our skills when the time is right. For now though, its all about the racing, and getting the bike out there.
How will you "disrupt the industry and shake-up the large corporates”?
DAN: It’s the technology that will do that. Additive manufacturing (which is basically 3d printing with titanium powder) enables 100% customization, the ability to be reactive and a quick production process that sees no need to be sitting on stock is a new approach for bikes. We’ve got some serious brains on board too, and they aren't afraid to look outside the standard bike industry box.
What is the most exciting part of this new venture?
RACH: I think for me it's seeing people riding an Atherton bike. I meet so many people - kids and adults, year after year at the races. You see them grow up and hear their stories of how their riding is progressing. To see them doing that on an Atherton bike would just be incredible.
GEE: Its the chance to use years and years of World Cup experience to develop bikes that people can ride themselves and to show them what you can do with a frame when you have such versatile technology.
What is the part that makes you the most nervous about this new venture?
GEE: This is a genuine startup, and the challenges that come with that are going to be tough to navigate Whether its the financial side, developing the technology, or just working with a whole new crew of people. It's a daunting thought, but we believe in what we’re doing and as it has always been the case through our careers, that is the main motivation.
Can you foresee a time when there will be an Atherton Bikes World Cup DH team that doesn't have any Athertons as riders?
DAN: That’s a big reason for us starting a bike brand. Mountain biking has given us so much and we want to continue to give back to the sport and be involved. We started The Atherton Academy to bring on new talent and over the last few years we have helped riders like Martin Maes, Taylor Vernon, Kade Edwards, Mille Johnset and Luke Williamson and that’s really important to me. We have also started Dyfi Bike Park and combined with the Bike Company, I am hoping we can create a strong base for young talent in the UK.