The Sonder Bikes Transmitter gets the longer, slower, slacker treatment and now sports a 150mm travel fork. Pete chats to designer Neil about the latest updates.
Sonder’s plus sized 27.5″ wheeled alloy trail hardtail gets modernised and now has a 150mm fork out the front. We grilled Neil at Sonder about the process of updating the Transmitter.
Where did the inspiration for the updated Transmitter come from?
A few years back, after riding the first transmitter carbon for a while I plugged a 150mm, 46mm offset fork into it to see how it handled, it was great fun and you could definitely charge harder, but it did get a twitchy at speed, the front end just became too short.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with this bike?
I knew I wanted to broaden its capabilities by making it a bike that could handle a more aggressive riding style but at the same time was just as competent going for a big pedal in the hills.
I didn’t want to fit a 2.8” rear tyre as standard. The smaller casing of a 2.6 tyre can be pushed so much harder, in corners the shorter sidewall means it holds up better, then in the rough stuff the slightly higher pressure means you’re not going to ding the rim on every rock you hit.
How has having the rest of the range under your belt made the new bike harder or easier to come by?
When I started work on the Signal and rode the early samples I didn’t think I’d ever want to ride a 27.5” hardtail again, it’s such a steam roller and so much fun. Since then I’ve spent most of the year riding my Evol long term loaner and its made me really appreciate what a slightly smaller wheel brings to the table.
This spurred me on to get cracking on a proper revision of the Transmitter, making it into the hardtail trail bike I want to ride, hopefully everyone likes it as much as I do.
A hardtail is very different from a full suspension frame, what did you learn with previous bikes that could be carried over?
Basic stuff really, we’ve picked a few bits on the Transmitter from other bikes in out range, the cable routing down the downtube is pulled from the Evol as we found it works well and gives a nice clean look. The chainstay sizing has come from the Signal, again, it’s something that works and makes sense.
Did you have a material in your head before you started?
It was only ever going to be aluminium, the original frame worked so well in that material we saw no reason to change it, we even stuck with the same tubeset.
How have you learned from mistakes made and customer feedback. Were there any of either that stood out?
The original frame was pretty solid so we only had a few small issues with it, I think 3 or 4 frames cracked on the chainstay/dropout joint so we’ve changed to a sturdier dropout that won’t flex anywhere near as much.
The other two things are more things I thought needed changing, while the matt paint jobs looked good when new they didn’t age well, showing every slight ding or scratch and just generally being difficult to get properly clean.
Also the cable guides, from a bike builders point of view they were a fiddly pain in the arse, I’d much rather build a 10 bikes with internal cable routing then bolt 11 guides onto 10 frames.
How do you go about making a good alloy frame compared to the run-of-the-mill one?
The main thing was going over to visit the factory, I sat down with the director, went over designs with him and his team then had a full walk through of their production process.
Being able to see batches of frames go through every stage and see the quality of work (how perfectly the tubes fit together was particularly impressive, a well mitred tube will obviously give a stronger, stiffer join) really gave me confidence that we were working with the right guys to get the best product possible.
How hard was it to start afresh?
It didn’t feel like a fresh start, obviously we did have a drawing to work from but as I’d spent so long riding other bikes I already knew what I wanted the Transmitter to be, I did initially make a more extreme sample just out of interest but all that did was confirm what we’ve done is the right thing, we didn’t want to jump on the 62 degree head angle 87 degree seat angle with a 600mm reach bangwagon, I think we’ve hit the sweet spot for what most UK trail riders will need.
What form did the latest technology take and how did you incorporate that into the new Transmitter?
Erm…. Dunno really. The Transmitter was already a pretty modern bike, other than the super short offset forks that are now available nothing else new has come along that would have an impact on frame design. We did try the super short offset thing but preferred the feel of a frame designed around the current 46mm standard, so that’s what we’ve stuck with.
Was there anything on previous bikes you were hoping to do that only became possible with this frame?
Not really, everything we’ve done here has been possible for a while, its just that now was the right time for us to pull it all together and get it done
How hard is it to nail down bike spec and how did you go about narrowing down the options?
Pretty easy to be honest, we stick with SRAM and Rockshox as we believe their components are the best available, we stick to pure groupsets as that the right thing to do and everything else is spec’d because its what we ride, so a good quality wide bar, tough, fast rolling rear tyres with light and grippy front ones. With our finishing kit we spec the stuff we have ridden and know is up to the job.
How difficult was it to try and future-proof this frame?
Not very. I don’t see any drastic changes coming anytime soon that would render this bike out of date so I’m not too worried, plus, a year down the line if something new does crop up parts for the frames we’ve already sold aren’t going to go away and if we feel the need we can be quick to react and update the frame to work with whatever the next fad is!
Was picking a wheelsize an issue?
Nope, this was always a 27.5” bike, we’ve the Signal Ti if people want a 29er and we’ll have a more wallet friendly version of that coming later this year.
How many people make up Sonder and what do they do?
Myself (Neil), I design the frames, source components dealing with UK and international suppliers, spec the bikes. On top of this I also deal directly with customers for more technical enquiries, custom builds or full custom frames and also keep an eye on orders and the build queue.
Liam is my mechanic, building 90% of the bikes that we sell from scratch (I chip in with the other 10%). I’ve worked with him in a previous life and as soon as I had chance brought him on board at Sonder, hes a great mechanic, super reliable and I know I can just leave him to it. He’s not starting to take on a bit more and is now handling training for store staff as well as getting to grips with the order system and build queue management.
We do obviously work with other departments within Alpkit such as marketing, customer service and purchasing, but for now, its just 2 dedicated staff.
Beyond the development of prototypes, what form did your testing take?
The frames are EN tested in the Far East, so we know they’re up to the job, we then just get out and ride them as much as possible, there’s no better way to get a feel for a bike than riding your local trails that you know like the back of your hand. We also get some of our ‘Alpkiteers’ on them as some of them aren’t kind to kit and ride hard.
Where next for Sonder? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
We’ve just employed a dedicated Sonder customer service hero, he’ll sit in the customer service team and take over most of the customer contact, he starts next month so there is a pretty good chance if people call up then they’ll speak to Tom.
He’s has good experience in the industry, is a keen rider and also Cytech qualified so hopefully he’ll be able to relive a bit of pressure in the workshop as we start to ramp up into the summer months.
I imagine the next new recruit we’ll need will be a mechanic to work with Liam full time building and dispatching bikes, probably in the next few months.