The Hope HB130 was the second bike to come out of Barnoldswick and we caught up Rob Dodsworth to see how the project came together.
Pete spent a day down in Barnoldswick with Mr Hope HB130 himself, Rob ‘Doddy’ Dodsworth to see what they learned from the HB160 project and how the HB130 came to life.
How did the HB130 project come about?
It was a logical move really, from doing the HB160 to begin with, it was a logical move to keep making bikes. Not so much to make a range of bikes, but to make more of the kind of bikes that we wanted to ride. When we started with the HB160, we wanted to make an enduro bike, because at the time we were riding and racing a load of enduros.
People from the factory, members of staff, they were all racing enduro, guys like Simon and Woody were wanting to race the Enduro World Series, and wanted to make their own bike.
With the HB130 it was just a logical move to make another bike. To make a bike that suited the kind of riding we’d been doing recently, longer trail rides and big days in the saddle, longer geometry and 29ers fitted that kind of riding and the trends we were seeing.
It all begins with a chat around a table and we discuss what we think we should do.
What did you learn from the HB160 project that carried over into the HB130 development?
If you start with the carbon lay-up, we learned how to cut the different shapes and how to layer up the material, and also where you can take it away. You can add material into places like the bottom bracket to make it stiffer or we can change the way we did the rear triangle, if we wanted more flex in a certain place, or make it stiffer with different amounts of material.
With the HB160, it was the first bike we ever made, so naturally you’re going to learn a lot more from that.
The HB130 geometry is quite different to the HB160, which was conservative. If you read any of the reviews, it is a conservative bike. It’s not to say it’s a bad bike, or the geometry was wrong, but since we produced the HB160, there’s been some trend changes within the industry, so you learn a lot about geometry from different bikes but really the biggest change was the carbon lay-up.
The way we made the moulds and the tooling changed as well, to try and make it not as chunky and boxy as the HB160, and perhaps a lot of the processes that the customer doesn’t see behind the scenes. In the way that Guillaume has designed the bike and it’s come to fruition a lot faster.
You also work out what works well, like the bonded design of the rear triangle and that 130mm hub works really well for us. Typically, people are getting a lot more life out of bearings in the frame and the hub, so that definitely carried over from the previous bike.
How we marketed the bike changed as well, as well as all the production systems in the factory work, all of which works better now than it did with the HB160. Customers have expectations on when a bike is available and waiting 10 weeks for a 160 was acceptable as it was new and fresh, whereas now waiting 10 weeks is a long time.
So definitely a lot of changes and a massive learning curve.
What’s the first thing you do once you’ve decided you’re going to make a new bike?
It’s relatively simple actually. We have a chat about what kind of area we want to aim for, so with the new bike, we decided we wanted a mid-travel, do it all, 29er; then we decide on the other elements, like the carbon front triangle, a bonded alloy back end, then we create a database of all the geometries of similar bikes on the market at the moment as that’s what people are buying now.
For example, we’re working on future bikes, we’ve just bought in four bikes to do some research on what we think we might do next.
After we’ve the bikes in, we pass them around different people and get their feedback on them after riding them. To simply pluck a number out of the air doesn’t work. You know if a 1245mm wheelbase is ideal, and you go ride a Specialized Enduro with a different length back end, and a different wheelbase, you can relate to it in real terms.
Once we’ve ridden all the bikes, we have another sit down, Guillaume will then start to formulate the different ideas on geometries. So for example, for the HB130 he looked at different frame designs and linkages, and we had to factor in what you have to pay for in terms of licenses for certain linkages, what’s available on the free market, and also what kind of components are available like fork and shock. You then have to look at ratios, and Guillaume will collate all this information together.
If he started this process in October, it might not be until January until he has a proper design in place that is ready to press the go button on the first prototype.
It’s also worth adding that Guillaume is not just designing the bike, he does everything for us, including e-bike components and everything else we’re developing as well.
There isn’t an awful lot on this bike that’s not made in the UK?
Forks, shock, cassette, rear mech, chain, saddle, seatpost tyres, spokes… That’s not an awful lot of non-native parts compared to other brands.
That is a large part of the unique selling point, that it is a UK-made bike and you can come to the factory and see it being made. Each one is made for the customer, which is quite special in this day and age. Everything needs to be next day or as fast as possible these days. It’s quite special to savour and wait for a product to come to fruition.
Does adding a flipchip make designing the bike easier or harder?
Part of it is people liking the idea of having two bikes that do the same thing, but in terms of the reality that the amount of change that the chip gives you, it’s pretty minimal really. It’s more just to give people the option.
As far as the design goes, it’s quite easy to implement as we machine the parts for the rocker in-house. It’s far easier than re-machining the mould to change the head tube angle for example, or even redesign the rocker. Compared to other brands, we can change these pretty quickly. The flip chip really just gives you a little bit of extra leeway.
How hard has it been to nail down frame sizing?
That’s a big one. Going back to the 160, a lot of people were sizing up because the top tube was quite short. Frame sizing is super important and some people have it in their mind that they should be a medium and if a medium doesn’t fit them then they write that bike off.
We haven’t done a small because we sold so few small HB160s, so we didn’t see the need to produce a frame in small. That combined with quite a lot of the sizing issues from the HB160 with the HB130 like the seat tube is a lot shorter, meaning that people who might perhaps ride a small, can ride the medium (like Pete did at the HB130 launch) and enjoy a bit of extra reach.
How many prototypes did you go through before the production frame?
Four prototypes of the HB130 were made to cover minor tweaks.
Once you have the frame design nailed after prototype number four, what happens next?
It’s quite a lengthy process getting the prototypes, even though we are lucky in that we can do it in-house. Between prototype two and three, we just chopped a piece out of the existing mould and dropped a machined piece into it to change the design of the head tube.
Because we’re quite a small team, once Guillaume has designed the medium mark four, he’ll scale it up to do the large and extra large, which takes quite a lot of time. In the meantime, he’ll have passed that on to the tool room who will machine the moulds, which is in two halves, a male and female, which is a week’s worth of constant machining by a Haas CNC machine.
You then have to replicate that on the large and extra large moulds, so you have at least a month’s worth of machining on the moulds, and that only produces one mould per size. You’ll then need the tooling for the bottom bracket shape, the shock mounts, tooling for rear triangle sections needs made, you then need to develop a tool to hold the frame in the milling machine to cut the holes out, then the sanding and polishing process need to be worked out as well as decals.
All that comes before you’ve even considered the component options…
My job is basically to get all the dealers involved. So you have to let them know there’s a new bike coming, how much it will cost, what the price points are, option prices, then order all those parts.
As we’re quite a small company in the grand scheme of things, ordering 100 forks from Fox three months in advance sees us well down the pecking order, which is very different to me ordering a 50 130mm hubs that I know will be ready in the warehouse in a week’s time.
All that comes before the press camp, before we’ve even assembled a bike, or iron out any teething issues. We had an issue where the Fox posts would bind in our seat clamps, so we had to redesign a new seat clamp to work with them. Guillaume drew the new clamp in a week, and at the press camp in August was the first time they were used, that’s just how we work. If there’s a problem, we know we can sort it.
Once everything is signed off, and the guys know they have enough parts to build a bike, then everyone goes to work getting the Hope parts assembled so there’s bike kits ready to assemble a bike.
Where in our own little world here, so getting parts from Taiwan seems to take an age compared to how fast we can get the stuff we produce together.
Do you deliberately over-design the bikes?
We always want to exceed the necessary certifications, and there will always be people that ride things harder than they should, but we definitely design bikes to last. In the bike industry there is a mentality that something will only last you two years then it goes in the landfill.
During testing we look at a lot of different things. Stress tests and repetition tests, much like riding a bike, and go above and beyond, and try and replicate what people will do on the trail.
With the bonded back end, the alloy would go before the bonding. Some people would frown upon that, but when you take into account modern adhesives and the way we machine the alloy sections, if you can get that bonding process right you can build something really strong and durable.
We warranty the bike for life, to the original owner, so we’re backing ourselves and would be pretty impressed if folk were to break the bikes.
Is there anything from the HB130 development that you’ll take forward to future bikes?
The shape of the tubes and the aesthetic of the bike we’d carry on. It’s a good looking bike and the shape is something we’d carry over. We’ve only been selling it since August, so it’s a tricky one but everything is working pretty well.
On a future bike, we might not make the 130 x 17mm rear end to make it easier for people to build a frame up, but then do we take ourselves away from what we feel works?
With regards to geometry and pivot points, types of shocks, there’s plenty of options and variations… Or do we add a motor?
Favourite moment from the HB130 project?
Getting to ride the first version and thinking, “this is f*ckin’ cool”.
Only disaster we had was waiting for parts to get the complete bikes out to customers which meant we missed our original deadline… Other than that, nothing really.
We’ve sold over 400 HBs in total and we haven’t had any back due to manufacturing defects.