girodilento interview: James Olsen bike designer

For me, part of loving great bikes also involves being interested in how they are designed. I’m fortunate in that thanks to this site I’ve met a number of the UKs leading designers over the last few years and I thought it might be of interest to find out a bit more about the some of the people behind the bikes we ride.

Pre-production Pinnacle bikes ready for sign off

Pre-production Pinnacle bikes ready for sign off

With this in mind I reached out to James Olsen, who is currently the man responsible for the design of Evan’s cycles increasingly well regarded Pinnacle range and Sir Chris Hoy’s Bike range. Prior to Evans, James spent many years at Genesis bikes and was responsible for the terrific Genesis Equilibrium and Croix de Fer, which have been big sellers and loved by owners since their launch.

Early days and Genesis

I began my discussion by asking James how he ended up designing bikes and he told me that it was being in the right place at the right time when he was working at Madison. James had already had a couple of custom frames made and was interested in frame geometry. He was given a chance to design a frame as a side project for the Ridgeback brand around 2006/07. This work led to the creation of the Genesis range, which launched with around 6 models. Interestingly, James’s current employers launched the Pinnacle brand at around the same time.

Genesis was originally focused on mountain bikes and the Equilibrium came a little later. The idea of Genesis was to compete for a different buyer than the traditional Ridgeback customer. James explained that he put together bikes he wanted to build and ride. Then when they got dealers and their staff to try them, they liked them and bought them. In fact a number of the early models quickly sold out, which helped give Madison and the team confidence to move forwards.

James told me that the Equilibrium and Croix de Fer were big surprises in how successful and popular they were. Neither were the first steel bikes with drop bars, and the Croix de Fer wasn’t a typical Cyclocross style bike as it was more designed for exploring rather than racing. The Croix de Fer has gone on to be a big seller and a well-loved bike for Genesis but it polarised people in the early days who either loved it or hated it.

The Equilibrium emerged from some of the custom frames James had previously had made for him. Whilst James liked the idea of a titanium frame he was also keen to see if they could produce a cheaper steel frame that could ride just as well and offer comfort at a lower price. The 520 Equilibrium was the second design and launched in 2009 at the same time as re-launch for the Genesis brand.

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The Genesis Equilibrium 20 I reviewed in 2014

James’s view is that brands like Genesis and Pinnacle have benefitted from the growth in cycling in the last 5-10 years bringing new riders into the sport. Not only that but the recession helped brands like Genesis and Pinnacle thanks to good price points, the cycle to work scheme and cycling being an escape from the day to day for many people. There were also more people looking for second bikes or touring/commuter bikes and this was all good for the UK cycling industry.

James sees the UK cycling market as becoming less race oriented over time. Wider tyres and disc brakes are helping people see that they don’t have to a have bike like pro racer to have fun, go fast, be comfortable and have adventures on. James advice to us all is to buy a bike that works for you than necessarily what you see pro cyclists racing on.

Sportives also continue to increase demand for non-race bikes and whilst the race side is still there, there is a big swing to making great bikes for people focussed on enjoyment rather than pure speed.

Pinnacle

Pinnacle Dolomite 6

Pinnacle Dolomite 6

Pinnacle had begun back around the time of Genesis’s launch with a big range of bikes and had perhaps brought a different mindset to the Genesis strategy. James said that after moving from Genesis where they’d designed bikes they wanted to ride, he had to get his head around a different approach at Pinnacle. This meant looking through the range and designing bikes for other people.

Pinnacle were working on a re-brand when James joined the business and his first focus was to simplify the brand, which is also reflected in how the bikes look now – with strong colours and simpler aesthetics.

James focussed on designing Pinnacle bikes that are fun to ride, good value and suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced riders. Once again, as well as making them fun, James worked on making the Pinnacle range bikes that he wanted to ride too.

Proof of the success of this, James told me that there are now a large number of Evans staff personally buying and riding the Pinnacle bikes and that they don’t get extra discounts over other brands the shops stock – they’re simply liking them enough to buy and ride them.

James told me that working with Pinnacle has got him enthused about aluminium as a material and the quality of ride and comfort they’re able to engineer into the bikes now. Pinnacle frames for 2015 feature more extensive butting, with thinner walls and lighter weight but also have an enhanced ride quality.

2015 Pinnacle Arkose 4

2015 Pinnacle Arkose 4

It used to be that it was more expensive to build with aluminium than steel but that’s now reversed and with aluminium James says that they’re able to produce a lot of the comfort of steel but at a lighter weight.

James told me he’s been very pleased with the reviews the Arkose and Dolomite have been receiving from the press and customers and that he’s very happy with how these bikes ride and are specced now. The model that suits James own riding preference is the Arkose and he told me that he happily has these in his garage and that he chooses to ride a lot more miles on them than he expected.

Hoy Bikes

James told me that he felt it had been a real privilege to work with Sir Chris Hoy to design the range of Hoy bikes. He also said that it was the first time he’d felt like a custom builder as his task was to take what Sir Chris wanted for the bikes and create designs that brought this to life in the riding. Sir Chris’s key criteria was performance and one particular aspect was getting the bikes to corner just right.

One of the memorable moments of working towards the launch was taking some bikes to a track and riding with Sir Chris and following him to learn how to corner as they made sure that the bikes were exactly right for the Hoy name.

Hoy Fiorenzuola track bike

Hoy Fiorenzuola track bike

Sir Chris’s attention to detail went as far as making sure that each size frame has a level of stiffness right for the size of rider and that the resulting bikes are something that James is very proud of.

Hoy Kids bikes

Designing bikes for children was hard as James had no personal point of reference. They started with the 650B bike as a scaled down adults bike. The goal was to make the best kids bikes they could and do them in the way that they believe will be best for the kids who ride them. An example of that thinking was using push button shifters as they felt these would be easier for kids to use. Feedback so far is that this is the case.

James said that they feel that Evans should be a great family bikes retailer but the success of the Hoy children’s range has surprised them in a good way as parents have really taken to the products. Great kids bikes help kids feel good about riding, so it was a satisfying part of the range to design for. The Hoy childrens bikes are made to the same quality and in the same factory as the adult bikes, which is something a lot of potential customers will be interested to know.

A photo from Jame's solo ride to Eurobike last year. Better than flying!

A photo from Jame’s solo ride to Eurobike last year. Better than flying!

I asked James what bikes he was personally most fond of and he told me that he’s really enjoying the current Arkose 2 and 4 with the Equilibrium a high point back in 2010. James also told me that he’s been really pleased to find that the Evans Cycles senior management are all keen cyclists and have completely supported in him in building quality bikes at good price points rather than solely focussing on profit. High quality is key to the growing success of Pinnacle and Hoy and James is delighted at how the staff at Evans have also got behind the product, choosing to buy and ride the bikes themselves and becoming enthusiasts too.

Interestingly, Evans Cycles have just released a video featuring James as well: