Alex Dowsett from Israel Start-Up Nation hosts a live Q&A with Factor Bikes and Black Inc owner, Rob Gitelis.
Read a selection of answers from the event below:
What will the next manufacturing innovation be in road bike frames?
I think we’ve reached the pinnacle of aero and the pinnacle of weight and so I think now it comes down to integration. Getting more of things like the electronics integrated into the bikes or understanding the way the wheels react with the bikes or things of that nature. So it becomes more of a complete package. But I don’t think there’s a lot of gains left to be made in aero or weight, especially when we have the UCI rules that we have to deal with.
If the UCI loosens things up and we can start to change tube shapes or take things away then there’s still some room, but under the current parameters, there’s really not a lot left to do.
What do you think the biggest limitation and carbon manufacturers that need solving?
I think the biggest limitation is that it’s all still made by hand and it’s all still very much a labour-intensive product. Nobody has figured out how to automate it yet. There are other industries making basically plastic parts that use carbon fibre, but they’re not super lightweight bicycle frames.
It means that you have to have a certain bit of redundancy in the product to make sure that it’s absolutely safe. Because one human is different from the next human and a matter of just a couple millimetres difference can totally affect the product, the way that it’s built. We still need to account for that and so I don’t really think that’s going to change anytime soon.
How durable are your frames and what testing that goes on with each one?
Right now there’s an industry-standard, it’s called the ISO standard and it’s actually quite good. What we try to do, from our lightest weight to our more heavyweight ONE frame, they still need to pass exactly the same test and we test to 125% as a minimum of the ISO standard. So we’re going 25% above. For the ONE that’s a pretty easy task for the O2 VAM, a 700-gram frame, it’s obviously a lot harder for that frame to get past 125%.
But we want all of our products to be able to achieve that minimum goal. None of our bicycles would ever break from a standard riding condition, but obviously a 700 gram O2 VAM in a crash scenario where there are multiple pilots, that’s when we might see that the frame is a little more fragile than a ONE because obviously it’s a lot thinner. But as you know, durability wise, if you don’t crash and you don’t have a bunch of bodies landing on top of you, the bikes will run essentially forever.
How do you deal with misalignment discrepancies with bottom brackets and be sure you don’t get problems like a creaky bottom bracket?
We still believe in the press-fit bottom bracket. The press-fit bottom bracket gets negative feedback from some other brands because it is a very highly toleranced part. And so rather than going to a threaded bottom bracket, we still believe very much in a press-fit carbon bottom bracket. Our bottom bracket is not drilled it is actually moulded to the specification and it’s one continuous piece. So there is no concern about alignment because we’re not coming in drilling from both sides. It is made together in the mould and is one continuous piece and so it is directly aligned with the frame, left or right. They’re exactly the same and we do a very good job holding the tolerance. Unfortunately, some other brands less so and so then it gives a little bit of a black eye to the press-fit bottom bracket. But we really don’t suffer that problem as some other brands do. A lot of times, brands go to a threaded bottom bracket and then back. Threaded is actually cheaper to make than what we’re doing. A lot of people think the press-fit is cheaper, and in fact, it’s not. The threaded one is actually less expensive.
How big a part does the carbon layup play in the unique feeling and rider experience of the O2?
I think there are several things that play into what makes a bike feel as it does. The first one is actually the geometry and we’ve been working very hard on it. Originally that geometry was defined by one of our engineers, Inigo Gisbert. He spent a lot of time working on that. And then what you get from the laminate material is that very lively feeling if you do it right.
It’s kind of a combination of those things; proper geometry, proper setup and a really lively laminate feeling. The way to get a very lively laminate feeling is we quite a few different materials mixed together. We’re not just using one single material.
Will there be an O2 VAM without cables?
When we started the O2 VAM, the goal was to have the world’s lightest disc brake frame. And what we can see is obviously many companies can produce bikes that have hidden cables. Had that been one of our goals, we could have achieved that, but our goal was the world’s lightest disc brake frame. And in order to have the world’s lightest disc brake frame, we chose to have mechanical shifting, which is important. because some people want to go that one step further as well and have rim brakes
When you add those two things in there, it’s not possible to have those with fully hidden cables. The other thing is we look at most of those bikes on the market now that have fully hidden cables and it’s at least a hundred-gram weight penalty for the upper bearing, the special stems, many things required in order to have those hidden cables.
There’s a famous saying, and it didn’t come from me: “Just because you hide something from the wind doesn’t make it aerodynamic.” I kind of really take that to heart. So I’ll be honest though, we are looking at it but it’s still not decided.
Do you think the market or the industry is going towards disc brake only?
I think when we look at the aero bikes, they’re fully disc brake. When we look at something like the O2 VAM, there are still people that want to build a sub-six kg bike. Those people are still looking for mechanical rim brake bikes to get to that weight. And so there’s still demand and we see about maybe 20% of our sales are rim-brake still.
Is there really a risk of cracking the top tube if someone sits on the O2 VAM?
Our concern is not so much someone sitting on the top tube at a stoplight, our bigger concern is what we call the super tuck. You know the guys that are descending on the top tube. So you have basically almost all of your weight sitting on the top tube, and if you do happen to hit a pothole or something like that, it is very thin. And it is possible to cause some damage, the bike is not designed for that case scenario.
The bike is designed to function as a bike, not as a chair.
Can you explain the split down tube on the ONE and SLiCK?
The split down does have a slight aero benefit but it is more about stiffness. If we look at most time trial or aero road bikes, they have very deep, very thin down tubes. And by going very deep and very thin, they’re not very stiff. And so what we’ve done is with the same surface area as a very deep, very thin, airfoil down tube, we’ve made two separate airfoils that have the same surface area. But because they’re both fully complete, it’s kind of like having an eye beam running down the centre between the two down tubes. You don’t lose any aero efficiency, but you end up with a much stiffer bottom bracket area, much stiffer down tube and much better control. This is very important for a time trial and for your standard aero bike.
What’s your dream?
My dream is that Factor is an end to a mean. We want to support some charities. We want to support some young riders. We actually do support young riders. We do support charities. We do want to get more people riding bikes. We do want to help build the sport.
And so, my dream is that Factor can continue to grow so that we can continue to do things like that. A lot of people know about Israel Start-Up Nation, but they don’t know about Team Parkhotel Valkenburg, the ladies teams that we sponsor and they don’t know about the development teams that we sponsor. One of them is Israel Start-Up Nation, but another one is Team California, an under 21 team in America. And then we have Instafund, which is a ladies development team in Canada.
And so a successful Factor is my dream so that I can continue to do that.
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