An Interview with Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles!

In middle of July 2010, we got a chance to preview Pivot Cycle’s new and exciting project – their new Trail bike – the Mach 5.7, at the time yet an industry secret.

Read on….

Q: When and how did the 5.7 idea come up?

Chris: Both us and our customers were very pleased with the Mach 5, but even with this success we are always working to develop and move the sport forward. We started working on the 5.7 about three years ago, not long after the current Mach 5 was released. This is the case with all of our bikes. We are always working on the next project, or the next improvement. Sometimes this is a small update from year to year and sometimes it is a completely new design.

Q: And how was the 5.7 (inches of travel) decided upon?

Chris: We were going for the 5.5-6”range, as I felt that travel longer then 6” would make it too close to the Firebird and take the bike out of the category. The 5.7” travel was chosen because it gave the bike the ideal ride feel we were looking for and it matches well with fork travels between 140-150mm. Also, With DW suspension (and most any suspension design), the rear-travel has some affect on the pivot location, which in-turn determines the overall structure of the bike. The increased travel contributes to the Mach 5.7’s more compact frames design with a stiffer, lighter rear triangle, and lower overall center of gravity so there are many things we look at when tuning in the exact travel numbers.

Chris on-board his Mach 5.7.

Q: If you had a perfect bike, would you still consider refining it for marketing reasons?

Chris: This is somewhat irrelevant, since I don’t think any bike (mine or others’) is perfect. After all our testing and development, when we have the bike totally dialed in, there are certain aspects of the bike that are near perfect for the time, but things are always changing. Technology, performance and expectations are all moving targets. There are always details to be improved. When we finish a new design, I already have started working on ideas for the next generation.
Also, we don’t design parts of the bike for purely marketing reasons. Everything has to have a clear benefit to the rider. That said, we are here to design the best bikes possible for the rider. If we are providing what the rider wants then we will be successful.

Q: Does the constant improvement displayed in bikes of the big brands pose a problem for Pivot?

Chris: Big brands bikes have indeed gotten better. This poses a problem for really small highly-priced brands which do not offer any real advantage and do not have the engineering resources need to keep up. It is even more of an issue for the mid-sized companies which need to compete directly on price in every category but don’t have the marketing budget, the buying power, or the product development resources. For Pivot, it is not a problem. We are a very strong engineering and product based company run by true cycling enthusiasts. This is not just our business; it is our life and our passion. I’d like to think that we will always be quicker to respond and that our size and our connection and relationship with our customers are our greatest strengths. I also believe there will always be customers that will appreciate that difference in quality, detail, craftsmanship and engineering between a Pivot and that offered by the big brands.

The Mach 5.7 has to match up to big expectations.

Q: What if you couldn’t always make better bikes?

Chris: First, of all, I don’t think that is likely or even possible. There is just too much going on and we always coming up with great new ideas. Hypothetically, If there was ever I bike out there that I would rather ride then my own then that would be a huge problem. It would mean that I lost the passion, drive, and focus that motivate me everyday. Some years ago, in addition to the bike frame business, I was a successful component manufacturer. Among other things we made a really nice crankset which I believed was one of the best of that time (it was called the Cyborg and was also sold under the AC components brand).
When SHIMANO came out with their first XTR crank I realized I would no longer be able to make a crank substantially better then theirs, so I pulled out of that business. It was not my core business and we did not have the focus in that market. Bike frames are another story. Although I may have a cool component idea that we pursue from time to time, bikes and primarily suspension frame development is my core business and has been my passion and focus for the last 20 years as I expect it to be for at least the next 20 years.

The new bike is almost half a pound lighter.

Q: Pivot frames seem to be very technologically advanced. One could argue that in that sense they even display “too much of a good thing”. How do you decide upon the need and validity for a certain new technology?

Chris: Actually, I tend to refrain from use of any technology that does not bring a real benefit. In most cases this benefit is immediate, but sometimes it is less apparent at present time. Such for example is the case of the Tapered Headtube of the new Mach4. Current short travel forks and the related tapered steer and headsets pay a weight penalty over the current standard 1 1/8th version, yet we know that it won’t be long until manufacturers come out with forks that make use of the larger diameter steerer to create much lighter and stiffer forks.

Q: Why did you set on developing the press fit BB with Shimano, for example? Why not use the already existing BB30 standard?

Chris: For number of reasons actually. The BB30 standard is a 10 year old plus design that really doesn’t address the needs of the mountain bike. On mountain bikes there isn’t an issue with riders asking for a narrower cranks and their have not been any major durability issues with the external BB bearings from Shimano, FSA, Race Face, etc. In regards to durability, I don’t feel that BB30 bearings placed so far inboard and the lack of sealing to the system compared to the Shimano design is really all that appropriate for a mountain bike. It was developed as a road system because it has some true advantages there.
The biggest reason for us to develop the 92mm wide system is because it gives us a lot more room to work with on the frame. We can have a larger downtube and a wider seat tube area at the BB as well as better support for the frames main pivots. All this adds up to a substantial increase in frame stiffness and overall pivot durability. Also, the design actually fits within existing standards. A traditional 68mm BB with Shimano cups and spacers installed measures 92mm to the outside of the bearings. By simply developing a system putting the bearings inside the shell, we can widen the bottom bracket housing and increase its diameter. From, a durability standpoint it is better because the bearings and crank spindle are housed and supported by the frame as far out as possible. Nothing needs to change with the crank from Shimano, FSA, Race Face, SRAM/Truvativ, etc. Almost every crank on the market is compatible and Shimano, FSA, Race Face, SRAM/Truvativ, and Enduro all make compatible bottom brackets for the system.

The Firebird has a floating front derailleur.

Q: Looking at the details of your frames, one would conclude that you are a great believer in the “Money is no Object” approach. Is this true?

Chris: Not at all! Price is really important. However Value for the price is what sets us apart and we believe is one of the key drivers behind the success of Pivot. We are a bike company that competes against all the other bike companies and our goal is always to provide tremendous value for the dollar. We design and manufacture bikes that sell within a reasonable price difference of a similarly spec’ed big-brands but provide more value. In many cases, for the weight, and component spec we are often less expensive. I won’t point out specific examples, but when looking at some of the larger brands highest end models, we have a clear price advantage.
In regards to the design of the bikes, we don’t cut corners. There is no advantage for us to use a bushing or a cheaper bearing in a place where we know the high end component will make the bike last a lot longer even though the rider can’t see it. In this, case, if the value is there and the performance benefit is clearly worth the extra money then we will always take the high road. Take a look at a Pivot frame that is 3 years old vs. a suspension frame from any of the big brands and the value is instantly obvious. Ours rides like new and the others are ready to be replaced. In the cases where we are slightly more expensive, I believe the customer will see we have a tangible edge over the other brands’ bikes and that that edge is worth the price difference. I will not make a bike that will have to sell at too big of a price difference and any price difference needs to be clearly justified.

Spare me no details: The Mach4 lower link is made of Aluminium and Carbon, and is supported by 8 bearings.

Q: Why?

Chris: I do not envision Pivot as a brand that sells very expensive bikes to very few people that can afford them. I want to create the best bikes possible and to be able to sell them to as many people as possible. Having started not much more then 3 years ago, we are still a small company, but we are already bigger then many other well established high-end brands and we expect to grow considerably in 2011 because of the Product, Service and Value we provide to our current and future customers.

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