Privateer Bikes launched their 161 enduro bike recently and we took a look at the process of how the bike went from concept to reality.
Pete had a catch up with Privateer Bikes’ Sam Meegan to chat how the Privateer 161 was borne of office chats, and how they brought it to being a sellable product.
What was the starting point for the 161?
It had been ongoing idea for some time, stemming from conversations between us in the office, looking at new bikes and pointing out what we like and/or what we’d do differently. The normal discussions that happen here on a daily basis.
Eventually we realised a common theme between us – progressive geo & aluminium. Something that could stand up to race abuse whilst not costing an arm and a leg.
The benefit of how The Rider Firm is set up, means we can work on and explore new projects without distracting our established brands (such as HUNT or Cairn). Essentially it allows us to experiment, taking “what if” ideas to fully fledged products in their own right.
Once you had made that decision, what happened next?
With the idea sown, it soon gathered momentum as we started to piece together the who, what, how and why. It’s always important to us when developing new product to have a clear vision in mind. It’s easy to veer off course, but if you know which type of rider you are serving, the decisions become much clearer.
With the rider and outcome in mind, we began work with industry veteran Alastair Beckett (Redburn Designs) to lay out our priorities and design considerations. It’s only once you put it all down on paper you really realise the scale of the task ahead.
Who is involved in that process and what do they do?
The whole office gets involved in way one or another, but the project is led by a small core group who handle everything from branding & web design to product specs and testing.
As a small company, our roles are often split across multiple brands, which can feel like spinning plates at times, but it keeps you on your toes and builds a great wealth of shared knowledge.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with the 161?
This mostly comes from our previous experiences. Between the team and athletes, we’ve all ridden a bunch of bikes, which allowed us to cherry pick key aspects to include or avoid. We’ll always listen to everyone as it’s often the small pieces of feedback that make all the difference – head tube guides and their position for example.
This info was funnelled into what became our ‘priorities and design considerations’ sheet which effectively guided us.
How did you arrive at the frame layout?
Once you lay out exactly what you want to include, it will inevitably steer you in a certain direction, from there it’s about your priorities. The ‘must haves’ will dictate your final design and the ‘be nice to have’ items are fitted around it.
We basically created a very complicated jigsaw for Ali to assemble. The essential parts he custom designed to our requirements, then we used standard tubing to fit between. Whilst this sounds easy, it’s a very time- consuming process to find exactly the right tube, in the right dimensions. Pretty sure we caused some sleepless nights for him…
When we’re spending the customers’ money, every decision is sweated over, as anything custom means more cost and more cost means a higher price. Why spend this money if someone has already created a quality tube set we can utilise to our needs. The question ‘Is this the best option for the rider?’ comes up a lot.
Was it hard to narrow down suspension platform options?
Yes and no. We went through all sort of ideas and platforms, but in the end, we wanted to create
something that will feel familiar and easy to tune. The geometry is pretty out there, this way the rider can focus on themselves and the trail ahead, without being concerned about any odd suspension behaviour.
How did you nail down the geometry and sizing?
Similar to before, it came from group experience of other bikes. We looked at the bikes we felt confident on, tried to distil the numbers and then looked in our crystal ball to decide where the industry was going. Once again, we used Ali’s experience to help guide us – we had a lot of numbers, but separately they didn’t make much sense until he connected the dots and put them into a 2D diagram.
How many prototypes did you have before you settled on the production chassis?
I think we had about 4 prototypes in total. There was one very early one that doesn’t resemble the current bike, but it helped us hone some of the geometry. From there they were pretty close to the production model, but between various riders the focus was putting the distance on them to find any kinks we needed to iron out.
Matt Stuttard was key to this testing, same with local racer Liam Saint. Both can hit lines faster and harder than we’d ever dream of, so if they were happy, we were happy.
Beyond prototypes, what form did your testing take?
In addition to physical ride testing, all the frames in their variations went through ISO testing to ensure they meet safety and performance requirements. Our frame fabricators, Genio, have their own in-house testing that sits above ISO. So not only did they pass industry standards, they also passed Genio’s stringent testing protocol.
We also 3D printed some frame parts to test for clearances and fitment. By printing them we could quickly see if the change worked or needed further refinement. Being able to quickly and accurately test something was incredibly useful.
Did you have any outside help for testing?
Aside from athletes, we also worked with some friends within the industry. Tapping into their knowledge really helps us, it can range from small tweaks in spec choices to bigger nudges to get us on the right track. Staying open and receptive to feedback is the best way to improve.
How did you settle on the spec for the complete bike?
As with everything during this project, the spec choice was looked at from a rider’s perspective. It was about mixing performance and durability, which led me to choose Shimano’s latest SLX drivetrain for its workhorse nature, but with the added performance an XT shifter brings.
Similarly having top of the line Rockshox Ultimate suspension was key. Aside from the frame itself, suspension is the most expensive part to upgrade aftermarket and has a huge influence on ride performance and rider confidence.
The parts, and brands, were chosen with the same attention to detail and ethos as frame decisions. Although pricing is key, we do not build to a price, instead making a series of sensible choices and working lean allows us to offer competitive pricing.
Did that affect any decisions you made on the frame design?
Other than working with Rockshox for the Superdeluxe shock, all spec choices came after the frame design. We wanted to focus on getting the frame right, as components are much easier to tweak but any frame choices are a serious investment. It’s critical to get the frame layout and kinematics sorted as no amount of good spec can cover this.
In saying that, it is hard to fully switch off from mentally building bikes. I had a rough spec in mind from the beginning, which gradually developed into the spec offered.
It might sound a bit cheesy, but nothing beats the feeling of riders sending us messages and photos of their riding experiences. Some of these riders have been with us from the very beginning, others only a little while, but each and every positive message we receive really makes it all worthwhile.
Hopefully we can start to get out and actually meet some of our Privateer family on the trails soon.
I’d like to think we avoided any major disasters, but I will be honest in saying it’s been a steep learning curve for us all. It’s mostly process based, but there were a few kinks we can iron out and learn from to ensure we’re better serving riders into the future.
Product wise, the decision to change the seat tube junction was a big step for us. We could have gone to production sooner and avoid the costs involved, but it didn’t sit right with us, the frame just didn’t have enough insertion depth. That change allows more riders to run the post they want.
Anyone to thank?
Too many to list, we’re thankful for the all generous support we’ve had throughout. To everyone who helped and guided us, thank you.
An especially big thank you to the riders who supported us, without you none of this would be possible.