Steel is Real Builder’s Interviews #4
Production Privee’s Damien Nosella
Interview by Jamie Edwards / photos by Callum Philpott
Our latest interviewee in the Steel is Real Builders series is Damien, one of three people behind the made-in-steel Andorran brand Production Privee.
Damien flew over to the UK especially for the Steel is Real event. He was freshly hungover from a drum and bass night with his UK dealers D&D but was still happily hammering out laps with Production Privee fans and passionately chatting about all things steel bikes.
Damien did an amazing job, for me at least, of making everything they’re doing sound like way more than just making bikes. He uses the words ‘adventure’, ‘fun’ and ‘commitment’ throughout and talks about the importance of telling stories and taking inspiration from those stories into their design. I like that. What’s a bike without a bit of adventure and loads of fun after all, right?
Introducing Mr Damien Nosella ladies and gents.
First question then, who are you?
I’m Damien. I’m living in Andorra. I’m the co-founder and co-owner of Production Privee.
What can I tell you? I started working with David in 2011 after working in several brands and a long adventure started doing some components and sponsoring Cedric Gracia. He’s a nice a fellow, he’s good on his bike and he knows how to drift!
It’s a funny story, we only had a direct mount stem and one day at CG’s bar he saw the stem and said “oh it’s nice, can I try it?”. He tried it and he felt like it was stiff and he said “hey guys, if you’re doing a handlebar next year I’ll ride for you”.
That’s how Production Privee became serious, we started doing components and we always wanted to do a hardtail. It all began with that and we sold our first product after one year of development in 2012.
It’s a funny story, we only had a direct mount stem and one day at CG’s bar he (Cedric) saw the stem and said “oh it’s nice, can I try it?”
And tell me a bit about the company, about Production Privee.
We are three, working full time. Rosa is our assistant, she’s in charge of everything. Logistics, accounts and stuff. There’s also David and I, we share all the work on the sales. I’m designing the bikes but we also share the work on controlling production. It’s a small company so you have to do everything.
What were you doing before this?
I used to work with MBK designing the trials bikes. Then I worked for two years at Commencal and was in charge of parts and accessories.
I did a pretty long engineering study in Material Science and Composites Engineering and a masters in Engineering and Designs.
Tell me about your bikes.
We’re really focused on the fun. We like to have fun on our bikes. We live in the mountains so that’s what we want to make transpire.
All that is packed into what we think are well thought bikes with nice looks. We all enjoy having a nice bike so we take a lot of time on designing stuff and on the paint. The paint designs are awesome and very hard work, you see the Shan GT, it’s three tone painting and is all made by masking.
We’re really focused on the fun. We like to have fun on our bikes.
On the technical bits you have a nice yoke made by casting to keep some flex whilst being really strong. There is a lot of inspiration from car racing and motor bikes – like the Gulf paint job or from 90’s F1 teams.
We like to have stories to tell, I think that’s important. It’s a big adventure for us and it’s already a big story for us and we try to bring that to inspire our engineering and the details.
What have you had to sacrifice to get where you are now?
Big question! I don’t feel I’ve sacrificed anything.
We really feel that we are winning at life. I don’t know how to say it, I’m not good enough in English. We are designing bikes, we’re making a modest living out of it but a living is a living. We’re designing bikes, riding bikes. It could be worse!
How make or break is Production Privee for you?
I haven’t figured out what happens if this doesn’t work out. So far, so good and we are going step by step.
This year we’ve improved our range with the full suspension bike which was a big thing for us. It was almost two years in the making. The first customers had the bike in May and everybody seems pretty happy so we’re pretty pleased.
It’s a bike that we thought of four years ago. We wanted to translate the hardtail philosophy into a full suspension bike – the simplicity, the fun of it and not necessarily only doing a ‘race’ bike. We like to ride our bike in any conditions, anywhere. Trail, downhill, enduro, enduro racing and we wanted to a bike for this.
We wanted the simplicity of the hardtail which is why we opted for the single pivot. We even thought of changing materials and in the end when you look at it steel ticks a lot of boxes. It’s reliable, it’s dynamic. We work on what we call the ‘mechanical grip’ of the bike.
Its really common in motor racing to have a chassis that flexes and it allows the vehicle to get some grip and that’s what we worked on with the bike.
And yeah, that was my next question. Why steel over any other material?
Like I said, if you want a reliable bike which gives you grip and confidence …Steel is an awesome material.
You know there are two things for the big brands to say to sell bikes? “it’s lighter and it’s stiffer”. Obviously that’s not what makes a good bike <laughs>. Maybe for Aaron Gwin or for the finest competitor they need something stiff. Those guys are hitting their line to the millimetre.
You know there are two things for the big brands to say to sell bikes? “it’s lighter and it’s stiffer”.
Obviously that’s not what makes a good bike
For the average Joe, and even for some competitors, if you want to ride all day long you don’t want to have a really stiff bike that’s not forgiving.
What you need is a bike that takes you by the hand and brings you to the next obstacle and to the next turn.
And describe the feel of your full suspension bike to me.
It’s a lively ride. But it gives confidence and it’s tolerant.
That’s what’s awesome about steel bikes. You can get that right amount of flex, it’s quite easy to achieve because steel is strong and you can work on so many aspects – heat treatment, thickness of the tubes. Somehow it’s easier than designing an aluminium bike.
You need to have big sections with an aluminium bike to know that it’ll be stiff enough. It’s hard to find this balance with aluminium. With a carbon bike you need to put a lot of engineering to achieve the right amount of flex.
In my opinion, in the market of carbon bikes, they’re doing it a bit wrong.
In my opinion, in the market of carbon bikes, they’re doing it a bit wrong. It sounds a bit not modest but I think people should really think about having a bike that helps them instead of fighting with the bike.
That’s what steel bikes in general can give you. <laughing> And especially our bikes, they’re the best!
And when you sit down to design your bikes. What do you consider?
The first thing is geometry obviously. And then I think for the rest it’s a package.
You can’t consider a bike only on one side of riding. If I make an all around bike you can’t think about only making a ‘race bike’ you need to think about all aspects. It goes to the suspension kinematics to the simplicity of setting up your bike to the maintenance.
I think that if you have to go to the shop or if you have to maintain your bike too much, it’s not good. We want people to ride their bike instead of fixing them.
And where are your bikes made?
They are made in Taiwan. We have a flat there, we have a scooter, we spend maybe 4 – 6 months a year over there. We are doing all of our prototypes in France at MILC which is a nice workshop by some cool guys we used to work with at Commencal called Thomas and Aulne.
The workshop is a venture with Antidote Solutions which is Alex Guiral and Fred Bernard which are the famous designers behind Sunn and Commencal. They are welding frames, and protoypying and doing some smaller productions.
We are based for production in Taiwan, mainly because from the beginning we wanted to export easily and Taiwan is awesome and dynamic and the guys are really skilled. You have to imagine that in the radius of 50km you can do everything you want.
Your dealers at D&D really want me to ask this. What did you do last night?
Uh …the D&D boys took me to Brighton for a drum and bass event <starts making drum and bass noises>.
Yeah … <laughs>. It was a bit wild and we ended up on a roof top party. It was nice!
And what’s next for Production Privee?
Well for David, Rosa and I it’s just continuing the adventure, doing more bikes and having fun.
Having fun, riding bikes and making people happy on our bikes.
It’s a long adventure and it takes a lot of commitment but it’s cool.