Originally posted Aug 30, 2019
It’s a big deal to see a machine that began as a pencil sketch become a physical reality, especially when the benefits of defying the current paradigm are not immediately apparent to many.
The idea of coupling modern design software with advanced carbon composites manufacture to address the limitations of telescoping fork performance was not without its detractors. “Telescoping forks do a great job these days. It’s incredible what people are doing on them and how fast bikes are becoming,” some argued. Others said, “You’re going up against huge players in the industry and well-established ideas of what a bike should be. This won’t be for the faint of heart.”
Those concerns were not unfounded. But every time I looked at the potential for linkage front suspension to offer improvements that would really benefit riders, there was clearly something there: An axle path that would do just about whatever I wanted. Reduction in brake dive. Similar leverage and motion ratios front and rear. Better retention of wheelbase throughout suspension travel.
Would it work, though? Would the end-result justify the cost and commitment involved in tooling for carbon fiber, which was the only material that seemed realistic for production? Would the bike ride as well on the most challenging trails as it had ridden a thousand times in my head?
In March of 2019, the Structure management team decided to find out. We visited our partner factory in Taichung, Taiwan to examine the first sample SCW1 frames out of the molds. We needed to see with our own eyes and ride the bike to know the truth, whatever it might be. I admit I was as nervous as an expectant father. Maybe there would be a fatal flaw in the design despite painstaking attention to every detail (we hoped) by a large team of engineers. Maybe there would be a frame component that required major redesign, or the bike would weigh 40 pounds or ride like a pig. Our previous alloy and rapid prototype bikes had indicated that everything planned for the production bike should hit the mark, but you never know until you put your own ass in the saddle and on the line.
From the moment we started down the trail, the SCW1 felt special. Smooth. Longitudinally stiff but with outstanding small bump compliance. Composure everywhere. Noticeably less dive under braking, but not at the expense of handling. The bike tracked precisely and just wanted to go. Were we biased? Maybe, but we had an extensive checklist of details to examine critically and a reference bike with up-to-the-minute geometry to catch us out if we were making excuses.
Our first time down the hill, I was on the SCW1 and trying to pay attention to the trail and to everything about the bike at the same time. Rick, one of our management team, was on Joe’s bike and seemed to be loving it. He also seemed to be keeping up just fine, although we weren’t pushing hard yet.
With one lap completed, we swapped bikes, and I had to admit right off the bat that the new bike from the other brand had a lot going for it. The rear was snappy, pedaled efficiently, felt dialed, and had a fresh 36 mm telescoping fork up front. Time to step up the pace.
When we got to the shuttle van, Rick was all smiles. “Damn, this bike is fast! I really didn’t expect it to be this good without something needing to be tweaked” he said. Then he lowered his voice, almost as if not to jinx his next words.
“I gotta tell you...This is a podium bike.”
I’ll never forget that moment, because I thought so clearly to myself, “Man, that would be awesome. Maybe someday…many months from now.”
Fast forward one week. After a whirlwind flight back to Calgary, Alberta followed by a long drive to Monterey, California, we were at the Sea Otter Classic. Before the trip to Taiwan, we hadn’t even been sure we would have bikes at the Classic, but with a bit of luck and expert help from the staff at Bow Cycle in Calgary, we had managed to get two complete bikes together in time for the festival, where we planned to show off bikes, do some riding, and meet with the press to the extent possible.
What we could never have planned was to have two separate racers come on separate occasions to our booth, briefly ride the SCW1 on asphalt, and sincerely ask if they could swap their familiar, well-prepared bikes to race the SCW1 in Cat 1 and Cat 2 DH and dual slalom events.
With a hard swallow, we said yes.
Podium bike indeed.