April 2017 

The birth of the Craftworks Cycles ENR - The color of excitement is not jade – its anodised black with white stickers.

Most of you following the rants and ramblings here most likely know some of the details going on behind the scene since the last bikes that were released.. Here is the inside story how I-track and Craftworks joined forces to bring you the new ENR… We can safely say we were more excited about the possibilities rather than being “jaded” as a certain magazine may have suggested.

Hugh of i-track had quietly building his own brand of cutting edge suspension design in Adelaide. An engineer by trade Hugh had started building some impressive prototypes for extended testing. He knew he was onto something. After working with a few mountain bike brands from around the globe to license his design, Hugh decided building the product himself would lead to even more satisfaction than having others build his layouts.

Next step.. who did he know on his doorstep that might be able to point him in the right direction of making his own product? Basing himself in Taiwan, where the majority of high end mountain bikes are from and working with long term partner and manufacturer Pacific Cycles, Kain had direct access to producing product for both clients and Craftworks Cycles. That seemed like a good place to start. Hugh decided to hit up Kain about the ins and outs of producing high end mountain bike frames. Super keen to see more home grown products being available, Kain decided to assist with productizing Hugh’s designs.

It was about this time Kain was slowly working away on a new version of the FRM, based on the horst link the same as the original version was comprised of to compliment the single pivot lineup of the FRX. Kain was in no rush to get the new product out being a bit slammed for time working on a client project on another corner of the globe. He wanted everything in place before revving things up again.

Kain and Hugh started working towards making the first of the I-track models available to the public. Having a virtual beer over skype, a close few iterations away from a production ready design, Kain and Hugh started to throw the ideas of working together. It seemed pretty obvious looking backwards. Kain needed help with looking after with operations back in Oz, Hugh wanted assistance in manufacturing his designs – between them they pretty much had it covered.

Kain offered Hugh a deal: “I will help you get your product ready for production no strings attached. We will make prototypes and at that point if we like working together let’s see what we can put together. If not, let’s get you started with your product and we can do our own things.” The prototypes landed, where built and rode. They rode like the kinematics suggested on the box – have your cake and eat it too – reward axle path with great pedalling characteristics from the anti-squat properties. A world first - a long travel enduro bike with a pulley wheel. It was about this time 1x11 groupsets were taking off so having a pulley didn’t limit options. It was a no brainer to replace the Craftworks FRM with the home grown suspension design and for Hugh to become part of an Adelaiden iconic mountain bike company.

 

 2013 Interview with Craftworks Cycles on past and future

Jon Lang, writer for UK Ski and Boarding magazines, dropped us line regarding writing a piece for an aussie magazine on Craftworks Cycles past and future. We were more than happy to spend some time with him answering his questions – just the magazine didn’t end up publishing it as most likely wanted they wanted us to spend some $$$ on advertising too!

Enjoy the read (it is a draft so excuse the errors) and let us know if there are any more questions (via facebook works) and I will do my best to answer them..

Over to Jon (JL)

Pull up to a trail head or car park in the US, Canada or UK, and chances are you’ll see a locally designed, if not locally built, bike. Santa Cruz, Turner, Yeti; Transition, Chromag, Cove; Orange, On-one, Whyte; all of the above are not unusual in their respective home nations. But in Australia?

For some reason the “shed science” or “backyard built’’ tradition hasn’t really translated across to many real, tangible brands on the mountain bike scene. There are, of course, a few exceptions. And one of the longest running of those is Craftworks Cycles, from South Australia. So, who better to ask about the trials and tribulations of creating home-grown products, than Owner and Designer, Kain Galliver.

JL: So first up, a little about Craftworks: how old is the company, where’d it come from, how’d you get involved?

KLG: It is so easy to lose track of time – quick math it is coming up to 17 years! Craftworks was founded by Robert Crafter back in 1996 with a model called the Access. . The company was born out of the want to give Australian (as well as international) customers more options when it came to quality mountain bikes – but at more reasonable prices. Back in the mid 90’s Robert Crafter was working for Repco, importer of brands such as Diamond Back. In this time he saw a lot of how to run a bike company and how some of the big wigs got it wrong. This gave Robert the confidence that he could really offer something a cut above the rest.

The name Craftworks was originally tongue-in-check from Rob’s buddies who saw the conflict of interest as he was importing his own brand and working at Repco. Through the next few years the brand expanded around Australian and then onto the global market with models like the XCR, Rail, FRM125 and DHR208.

In about 2002, I moved to the city (Adelaide) to study and worked part time at Bicycle Express. Bicycle Express was like the home turf for Craftworks so Robert would be in often checking out how things were going and getting feedback on new prototypes. It was about this time I was due to trade in the Kona hardtail as it wasn’t good for business riding something we didn’t sell. After checking out the options I ended up on a 2002 FRM125. The FRM was such a progressive bike for the day as there weren’t a lot of options for long travel trail bikes that could hit the bigger stuff and still be pedalled like a XC bike – this was the perfect bike to ride the Adelaide trails. Of course when you work in a shop you end up selling what you ride.

For the next 2 years I sold quite a lot of Craftworks bikes and got to know Robert well. A couple of seasons went by with no new models from Craftworks and rumours were floating around the future of the company. The long story short, Rob was too busy to focus on Craftworks with the rapid growth of his partners IT company combined with having little Crafters to deal with. I decided to have a beer with Rob and see what was going on behind the scenes. Basically with Rob’s family and other business commitments it wasn’t feasible for him to travel to Taiwan to develop the new products – all the development needed to be shifted back to Australia.

This is where I came to be part of Craftworks in 2006. We teamed up and continued where Rob had left off – the FRX and S1 were refined production version of prototypes that were developed before I started.

JL: Crafty has more of a gravity focus; a DH team with Nathan Newell and some up-and-comers that ride SA series and some National rounds. Clearly, racing plays a fairly major role in Crafty. Will this expand into the newly burgeoning Enduro scene? SA locally is just getting a series up and running; and the FRX looks like a great bike for that type of riding.

KLG: Craftworks has always been part of the local racing scene – especially helping out up and comers through the sport. You might have heard of a Mr Hill? He was one of the up and comers in the early years. Racing and training for DH was crucial to the development of the brand. Most of our DH riders tend to spend a lot of time training on their trail bikes too. – The FRM125 and FRX series was a developmental answer to a product that could put up with the abuse of DH training. So in a sense these bikes are already ideal for Gravity racing with a slightly different than factory component specification.

JL: It sounds like it would make quite a Privateers set-up, for the Gravity disciplines.

KLG: Riding exactly the type of trails the gravity events are now held on really shaped this bike.. The changes from stock would be a single ring/dual guide up front and possibility a bigger set of forks if you want more travel than the standard 150mm. The FRX did come with an option of ISCG tabs.. but they already sold out for this year.

JL: How about XC race stuff? Is that something you look at? Or is it too hard to compete or be different in that arena now?

KLG: Craftworks has always been geared towards more aggressive aspect of mountain biking. This is something we are a little mindful entering into XC market. I guess we are a little selfish here at Craftworks at the moment, first of all making bikes we really want to ride – at the moment a XC bike isn’t on top of the list. As the company grows we will certainly revisit this category. For the moment we prefer to race XC on 6in bikes for fun.

JL: One of the things that is becoming a big trend at the moment in the new bikes coming through is 650b wheels. And interestingly, there have been sightings of Crafty prototypes with this wheel size too. Is it an evolution we are likely to see for Crafty? Is the 26”dying? What about 29ers?

KLG: At the end of the day the consumer will decide based on their personal preference. For the moment I think there is a place for all 3 wheel sizes to exist due to of the diversity of Mountain biking and riders. We all have personal preferences of how we think a bike should ride. The simple fact if the handling traits of a wheel size/bike geometry suits your riding style it may increase your confidence and possibly make you a faster rider. I’ve heard all the arguments for all wheel sizes and they are all based in the world of subjective. Our personal opinion for wheels sizes is based on the riding style we like to do – to simplify 29er least aggressive to 26 to most aggressive. The rider relative to the wheel size is plausible as well. Wheel size is really just another geometric attribute that can be played with and settling on one size is like dictating that everyone should have 66deg head angle – it will be too upright for DH but too slack for XC.

We have been are playing around with different wheels sizes however we are in no rush to rule out options. Currently we do have a kit available to convert the FRX V2 and 3 into a 650b wheel size, however it is only for the single front sprocket drive trains like XX1 and X01

JL: What about other ‘industry influences’? Pedalling platforms in rear shocks must have helped with you single pivot suspension design – how have the ‘two by’ - and now with SRAMs XXI single ring - set-ups affected what you do? I mean, someone riding one of your bikes will have likely searched around for your gear rather than just riding what was taken off the shop floor in the right size, price, colour. Any other less seen things that have moulded your design process?

KLG: Robert brought a unique perspective from his motocross background that influenced a lot of Craftworks direction. Starting a mountain bike company during the experimental years of mountain bike design, Rob certainly saw the parallels that motorcross went through. There was a lot of crazy concepts that came and went.. In the end, both motorcycles and mountain bikes ended up kinematics each respectably in a very narrow zone that worked. Single pivots were certainly revised by a lot of companies due technology changes in suspension. I say changes as the platform shock wasn’t necessarily a step in the right direction, however it did open the door to further understanding and development of the single pivot platform and better shock tuning.

Still today some of the most winning bikes are in essence single pivot or having kinematics that aren’t far off. The switch from FSR to single pivot was a way to increase durability and reduce weight at the time.. But it certainly won’t be the only platform we will offer in the near future.

Changes in drivetrains have certainly favoured single pivots or any bike with instant centers that are not projected way out into space. All frames if you like it or not are a compromise based on an average of the diameter of the front chainrings. Luckily the compromised suits the dynamics that are most probable in each gear. Eg small ring more anti-squat for climbing vs less when hammering in the big ring at high speed with less weight transfer. At the end of the day the current S1 and FRX were designed thrashed day in and day out without hassle – and handle as well as anything else out there. The people that search out our product tend to appreciate this aspect of our product

JL: There was also talk of a commuter bike before now: what’s the go with that? Any other ‘different’ stuff you guys are looking at? CX or fixies for the cool kids? A Fat bike? Components at all?

KLG: We did a limited run on the commuter bike and I have one as my ride to work bike. There were plans to hit the mass production button on that model, however due to some different opinions within the company it didn’t go ahead.

Previous to the commuter bike project, Rob wanted to pursue something with his first love – motorcycles – so we took the opportunity to find some new blood to freshen things up at Craftworks while Robert went off to do his own thing. In this time we released the FRX V3 and were set to launch the commuter bike. We ended up pulling the pin due to Craftworks not being a great fit for the new directors. I ended up acquiring the rest of the company back and am now currently focusing on what Craftworks is and should be piece by piece.

In terms of product there is heap of things I have been playing with – everything from gbox dh bikes to 27.5” hardtails… But the products we will release will be true to our no bullsh*t approach as always.

JH: No BS writes off the urban fixies then? Has Robert brought anything to you from the motor industry that you can see being incorporated into CW? Transmissions like GBox are in that sort of field after all.

KLG: Fixies certainly have their place however we cannot compete with a lovingly put together bikes you can piece together from hard rubbish. Rob is certainly a tinkerer but more so with motorcycles these days.. Maybe a transplant of a 125cc 2 stroke to an old DHR frame? On a serious note we have mucked around with some GBox arrangements – one for example is a single sided swingarm, integrated 5sp.. but it never got out of Solidworks and wont until a IG hub can shift down better under load..

JL: It seems strange that there aren’t more Aussie designed bikes on the market, what’s your take on that? No one would think it was an easy thing to do, but is it somehow harder in Australia, than say, the UK where there are probably more than their fair share?

KLG: I also pondered about this fact too. I think a lot of it has to do with timing and the size of the market in Australia. Proper trail access for mountain bikers in Australia is a relatively new thing and probably limited the sports growth in golden days of mountain biking – think Tom Ritchey to Shaun Palmer era.

Before trail access, we were seen as a bunch of kids “out wrecking the bush” As this wasn’t the case in the back county of UK the market was much bigger. The size of the market in the UK/US in the early years probably created enough demand for riders to start making stuff in their shed/start a small business, grow enough to expand their manufacturing facilities and then onto manufacturing offshore. I guess this didn’t really happen in Australia to the same degree as in the US and UK as there was little demand.

Now it is also much tougher to break into the market for many factors. The R and D and marketing budgets of the big boys is hard to compete with. Manufacturing in a successful business requires a strong relationships with suppliers and is something you cannot create overnight, however it’s crucial to the success of your company. Being a new or small guy it is easy to make mistakes in the design and manufacturing that can literally put you out of business overnight. We have seen many brands come and go and most of them go due to lack of management with overseas vendors or underestimating the importance of the process engineering - well executed CAD models are one thing – being able to achieve the design in production is another.

There is certainly a crop of catalogue based frame design companies making small modifications so they don’t look exactly the same – actually some of the major boutique companies are playing the same game – it is just not as obvious.. Most the catalogue frame vendors do a good job of zoning where they are sold in the world so it is not so obvious… But the world is becoming a smaller place and it is hard to get away with the off the shelf frame without noticing! Craftworks first production frame called the “Access” was not entirely designed by Craftworks. But these catalogue frames didn’t stand up to standard Aussie abuse so the design process evolved to more and more development in Australia – until where our frames are 100% developed and tested virtually before samples were made.

Looking back, this is where Craftworks has been lucky. Rob went shopping for a supplier back in the 90’s and ended up working with a supplier that is responsible for pioneering a lot of the mountain technology that you see today with people like Peter Denk (now Cannondale). That relationship continues today, stronger than ever as now I also work for the same supplier as Chief of Design and Development.

JL: So tell us about that – obviously you must then work to a number of different requirements, for different clients. Does that make it easier or harder to keep CW moving forwards?

KLG: We are a major part of the team called Section Zero as which is charge of creating future products internally and for clients. . Section Zero is just simply the name given to this department as it is everything that happens before Section One – which is manufacturing, Section 2 is finishing and Sect 3 is assembly..

In the last year we have chalked up 6 global design awards in the projects we have been working and I hope this success with continue with this year’s projects that will see daylight in the near future. Craftworks Cycles somewhat has been involved in design development on a smaller scale for other clients for quite some time; however it was never seen as a major part of the business. Recently, this part of the business has just been expanded, by taking on development and design spanning different industries such as, consumer/electronics, automotive, mobility/medical and of course cycling.

Having access to cutting edge development facilities, cross industry connections and experience can only open up more potential for Craftworks. On the other hand, finding time for everything is the challenge for the moment. Finding the right partners to put in key places is certainly the best solution to continue sustainable growth. Unless the right mix of people just happen appear to launch into a much larger operation, we are happy to keep Craftworks a smaller boutique brand as it has certainly been sustainable for the past 17 years.

 

 

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