When developing a new bike, which steps do you have to go through?
First step is creating. We have to determine a customer target. Engineers, designers and marketing executives work together on that part. We have to agree on a global objective, a global idea and a targeted cost. Depending on the targeted cost, engineers search for technical solutions and state on a possible real cost.
As soon as the global objective has been determined, designers prepare drawings and we then take a decision on the definitive design.
Then, we work on an actual clay model. We need three to four weeks to make it. First feedbacks and adjustments come from this model’s analysis.
Once we have validated the model, we draw it again thanks to a CAD program. We defines sections, we measure each tube’s shape, height and dimension. Our program computes all of these data again.
After that, we work on the frame’s structure. We take a decision on the braids we should use and their positions thanks to the different fibers types we have.
We then manufacture our first prototype, and we test it: lab tests at first, followed by field tests. We process many lab tests to check the frame’s rigidity, endurance and resistance. Those tests make it possible for us to make adjustments, by adding rigidity on some frame parts thanks to other more braids for instance.
In the long run, field tests provide insights regarding actual feelings that we can’t analyze thanks to lab tests.
We have to pass standards tests, but we generally go even further to guarantee our products’ quality.
Once we have validated every step, we start producing our frames in every size.
The “Alpe d’Huez” bike is the lightest bike Time has ever developed, was that your global objective at the beginning of the project?
Weight was one of the criteria we wanted to work on because we wanted to create a bike designed for long climbs. However, that was not the main criteria in our minds. We wanted to manufacture a frame that would be light, reactive, vigorous and comfortable in the same time. The combination of those elements makes it possible to get a bike with a balanced behavior. This particularity makes Time bikes’ legend.
When creating a bike, do you sometimes have to face surprises in terms of weight, rigidity and performance, or do you settle everything at the beginning?
No, we do not. Obviously, we cannot anticipate everything and we often face things we did not expect. Several departments work the product’s different parts and we have to put all of this work together in order to have an optimal result.
Every time we make changes on the product, we have to go through other test and validation steps, this extends the development time.
What is the difference between a bike designed for climbing and a bike focused on aerodynamics?
We do not work on the same geometrics when we focus on aerodynamics. The rider will need to be very low, put a lot of strength on his pedals and stay in packs… Climbers behave very differently.
For mountain rides, the bike needs to be reactive, light, comfortable and very precise regarding descents driving. This is a very different effort. We have to find the perfect balance between all of those elements and rigidity. If the bike is too hard, it will not provide enough feelings to the rider. The bike has to be one with the rider; it has to react to any push. The rider needs to feel that the bike reacts instantly.
You have a unique manufacturing process as you make carbon fiber braids that then create a frame. When creating a climbing bike, which kind of braids do you use? Does it differ from other bikes?
Indeed, our RTM manufacturing process makes it possible to be very precise on the frame’s characteristics which depend on the initial choice regarding the fibers we use. We can choose between 25 different types of fiber, each of us has different characteristics. We need around 7000 braids to manufacture a frame.
All of the frame’s future behavior depends on this initial choice and on the braids’ manufacturing. The places where we put those braids and the way we put them are very important to get the frame behavior we are looking for.
According to our lab tests, we make slight adjustments on the fibers we use and the places where we put them.
Regarding the Alpe d’Huez 01, we mostly use high modulus fibers (60%) that are very rigid and resistant. We also use high resistance fibers (37%) that are less rigid. We also use Vectran fibers (3%) to absorb vibrations and provide more comfort.
You have been using the same manufacturing process for 30 years now. You must have a great choice of fibers and braids now. Is that something you work on every time you create a new frame, or do you use some of your “old” fibers and braids?
With 30 years of research and development, we obviously have an enormous braids library. We have around 100 of them, each one having different characteristics. However, when we have a special need we create a new one: this is custom-made.
For the Alpe d’Huez 21, we developed a braid by using basalt fiber because it absorbs vibration. Rossignol racing skis have the same technology.
As an engineer, what does that technology change in terms of work, compared to competitors?
We start from the bottom: a wire, a fiber. Then we have to study the impact it will have on the bike’s behavior. The process is similar to jewelry or haute couture: we carefully chose each piece and put it as a very precise spot. If we move this piece, all of the bike’s behavior might change. We have to be very careful on our operating method we use with the people in charge of creating the braids.
Another very interesting part is that we go through every manufacturing step: from the initial brief to tests and then production.
Your factories are located in France, how does it help you in your daily work?
This brings unique productivity and comfort. Following tests, we can achieve lab and field adjustments very fast, as well as talks between all the people involved in the project.
We also have permanent control on the products we manufacture. All of the people working with us – commercials, engineers, designers… – can see the product and give their opinions. This is the big benefit that makes Time bikes’ fame.