Nukeproof have just released details of a tweaked Pulse that Team Chain Reaction Cycles-Mavic will be racing in 2017.
Pete chatted to Ali Beckett – the man behind product development at Nukeproof – to get an idea of what goes into the design of their bikes.
Let’s start at the start. When did the idea to update/improve the existing Pulse come about?
Good idea. I think we are very fortunate to be involved in a sport/industry that is evolving so quickly and has seen some fairly huge leaps forward in recent years in terms of technology, customer expectations and even the route to market for a lot of brands.
It puts product managers under a lot of pressure to stay constantly in touch with the customer and the race scene to try and ensure the products are as good as they can possibly be.
We are constantly looking for improvements in all of our products whether that might be a bike frame or a pedal or handlebar.
The Pulse has been a constant evolution, originally starting out as our first DH frame named ‘Scalp’ (after a local DH track called Moneyscalp), and the bike you see now is just another step along this development process.
We leverage our top level athletes a lot when it comes to our product development, and they always want that next product which might help them shave a second off their race run.
We work closely with our partners such as Sram who play a big part in our world cup race program, and when they came to us with some information on product developments at their side, we were keen to do some testing.
That’s really all it is at the moment. We tend to do our testing in public most of the time, and the team are just trying out some new technologies and giving us feedback on what sort of direction to take the product range in the future.
What parameters to work to before you started?
Before we introduced the current Pulse frame for 2016, we had a lot of feedback about its predecessors to take into consideration. I guess with any development project, we always try to find a balance between the successes we have had, addressing any weaknesses we are aware of, and balancing the introduction of new technology or advancements in the feedback we are gathering.
So how do you even start a project like the updating the Pulse?
So what most customers maybe don’t see, is the time involved in bringing a product to market. We generally work around 2 years ahead in order to factor in enough time for design, testing and gearing up for production. By the time a product comes to market, we generally already know what we want to do to make some slight improvements to it for the next version.
The race team are an invaluable asset for this as we can get these guys testing a product and generally they will show up any issues much quicker than you or I could. (No offence intended on your riding style Pete!)
Some things that we always keep an eye on are what our partners are working on so that if they make a huge technological break through in 1 key area, we need to try and remain flexible in our design capacity to ensure we consider the benefits of such advancements.
Can we talk about the overall design of the frame?
Sure. The skeleton of the Pulse frame has remained pretty much unchanged since its initial conception as the Scalp frame. It’s a single Pivot design, with a Linkage driven shock. That gives it some fairly unique ride characteristics and has allowed us to really focus in on the rear shock performance.
We haven’t gone down the slightly safer route of a 4 bar design like many other. We chose to tackle the tricky job of engineering some real suspension performance into the frame using our 3 stage fallout linkage.
One of the more recent improvements we have been able to introduce was some additional compliance into the frame which came from feedback we got from the older 2014/2015 design. That frame was super stiff, and although a lot of people loved the feel of it, we felt that a little extra compliance in the frame would prove beneficial to everyone.
What elements did you keep from the old Pulse design?
Like I mentioned before, the linkage design remains pretty much unchanged apart from a slight adjustment to account for the move to 27.5” wheels.
The geometry has evolved slightly with a slightly longer front-centre across all sizes.
One thing we are very keen on is ensuring the cable routing is well thought through on all of our bikes. A lot of our design team come from a race background so we know the importance of having easily replaceable gear cable housing as well. The cable routing on the Pulse remains relatively unchanged for many years now despite being in its 3rd design iteration.
How do you pin that down and say “yep, people will like this”?
We have always tried to stick by our own objectives of making bikes that we want to ride. If we ride the bike and get stoked on it, don’t really care what everyone else thinks. That generally works out well for us… so far anyway!
We have a lot of athletes and ambassadors that we use to verify our products before bringing them to market too. One thing we don’t try to shy away from it testing in public. Ultimately we want a new product to stand the test of time and it’s just not that easy to get miles on a product in real world conditions behind closed doors.
If our fleet of staff and ride testers are happy, then we are confident in the product and will be happy to take it to production.
So how does the process go once you’ve got a design nailed?
For a frame, it’s a long and complex process for sure. Once we have a design nailed down that everyone is happy with, we try to cobble together a rough prototype to do some ride testing on to verify that we haven’t got anything drastically wrong. Usually this involves some expensive CNC machined parts and borrowed tubing from other bike models to piece something together.
From there, we start to open our own tooling and get some proper sample frames made up. These then go to test again with our test team, athletes etc and we gather feedback on the performance for any final changes.
There is a lot of tooling when you are making a fully bespoke frame, and it doesn’t come cheap, so we have to pay particular attention during the design process to try and ensure we have thought about every step of the manufacturing process and not just designed something that looks nice, but can’t be produced!
After that, we head into production, usually with a smaller pilot run to ensure that every piece of the process is properly functioning and that no mistakes are being made anywhere along the line.
How did you guys test out your design and your ideas?
All new designs go through lots of virtual testing before any metal is cut. Our in house designers
will interrogate all designs, they will check compliance with every conceivable 3rd party component to ensure full clearance etc, and perform FEA (Finite Element Anlysis) on each product based of real life test results that we have built up over the years.
It definitely gets a little easier each time we design a new frame. I guess we know what to look out for now after the last few years of experience, however its always the small things that catch you out at the final hurdle.
At what point did you know it was ready to go and get into production? What happened at that point?
I don’t think we ever really “finish” testing. It’s a constant and ongoing process even with products that are 2 or 3 years old. Generally we get to a point where everyone riding the product is happy with the performance, and we have addressed as many things as we can to an acceptable level.
It would be easy to continually refine, prototype, test then repeat this process year after year without ever reaching production. At some stage you have just have confidence in what you have done and press the button.
Once we have signed off a frame, rolling that into production requires a lot of tooling, forecasts on how many we think we want to sell, and communication. I think communication with the factory is the single most important factor there is when manufacturing a complex product like a DH frame.
This isn’t the first frame you’ve designed with Nukeproof, does it get easier?
I guess the process doesn’t change, but we do become more aware of what to watch out for and how to manage the timelines better year on year. I guess each time we design a new product, we try to put what we have learned into that project, and we try to push our capability too, so I wouldn’t say it gets “easier” each time. We are still a very young brand and our learning curve has been a steep one. We have lots of ideas however and I can’t wait to bring them all to market.
Did you nail it first time or is there anything you’d like to have done?
I am really happy with our entire range of frames right now. There are always things I would have like to do differently, (like squeeze a water bottle cage inside the Mega front triangle!) but I feel the latest evolution of this Pulse frames is going to be another step forward in terms of performance for sure.
And what’s next?
More of the same really. We have some really exciting projects that we would like to do, but for now we just want to offer the best package possible to our customers, and try to improve the overall experience when riding our products.