McGrath bikes, Innerleithen Iron….
I’ve seen a few home-baked bikes in my time, some that have been lauded and some that haven’t lasted, some that bent and some that braved the worst! It’s a fierce world out there and as such it’s a brave man who takes the welder by the neck and tacks that first tube junction together. So it’s all the kudos we can give to let the world know about folk of this type. Ladies and gentlemen we give you the Phil McGrath show!
Ok, so this is not a bike test, but a wee get to know you, kind of a few questions before we get the full lowdown on the bike, looking to squeeze every idiosyncrasy, every up, down, in and out from the much talked about McGrath bikes.
From the get go, Phil and Lynne have been more than willing to chat about these bikes from the off, weather on the hill, or round the back of the I-Cycles shop in Inners which is fast growing a cult following for their approachable attitude to all visitors. The talk on our forum prompted us to fire over some questions to this entrepreneurial enterprise and see what we got back……..so here you go, your questions answered.
Why did you decide to build the bikes? A full on multi-linkage full suspension bike, that’s a big step for anyone? What’s your background?
I’ve always been interested in bike design from years ago when I used to ride BMX, to now riding mountain bikes. After buying a frame that was far from being straight I thought I could do a better job myself. I kind of half heartedly began designing a frame about 4 or 5 years ago, but never really got round to doing anything about it. Then my work were looking for people to take voluntary redundancy so I jumped in with both feet and decided to spend the next year travelling around BC Canada with Lynne, biking and boarding, the best thing I’ve ever done.
It was while I was over there that I decided if I was going to make any frames I was going to do it with a view to making a living out of it. I worked for 18 years with the same company, from the shop floor working on CNC machines, then in environmental testing which involved vibration and shock testing, and then onto mechanical designing for the last 6 years, so I just hard to turn what I had learnt over the last 18 years to bikes.
The project must have been time consuming, how many hours, days, weeks, have you put in? Can you give us a basic timeline?
The first prototype was finished exactly a year after we got back from Canada, but there was a few months in there when I was looking for somewhere to make it and to learn how to weld. The frame took around 5 months to design and 3 months to make, this isn’t too bad considering I made every part of the frame without the luxury of CNC machines and it was sometimes hard to put an honest days work in, about 4-5 hours most days, but Lynne and Steve would argue its about 2-3 hours!! Even more so when I moved into the back of I-Cycles, too much coffee drinking!
We understand you have two final bikes and one ‘prototype’? What are the fundamental differences between the two?
All three bikes are prototypes. The head angle on the first one was too tight so I decided to do another to get the angles right. Then Steve wanted one which I made a bit bigger. This wasn’t a bad idea as it meant other people could try it that weren’t a short arse like me and it saved money on kitting it out. The second two frames were also a couple of pounds lighter.
Is steel the final destination, do you intend to switch to aluminium at some point?
I intend to go to aluminium next. Now that I know the design works well, the plan is to get a few aluminium protos on the go for testing throughout the year. I’m just in the process of ordering the material just now.
Why did you chose to develop the type of suspension linkage that you did, what type is it closest to, and what makes it just that little bit different?
I think I just wanted to do something different, I didn’t see the point in copying something else. I had seen similar looking single pivot suspension designs where the wheel is mounted to the seat stay and the chain stay is just a link between the seat stay and the rocker. I thought it would work better if the wheel was mounted to the chain stays. This makes it probably closest to the FSR linkage except it is flipped upside down. This lowers the centre of gravity and changes the wheel path so that it goes back and up, which is good on the square edged bumps and also reduces the brake jacking like the FSR. I’ve applied for a patent on the suspension design as I believe it’s a unique linkage.
When did the hardtail appear and why? Was it the firstborn, or did you decide the make it as the big bike was coming together?
The hardtail appeared last September after Lynne wanted me to build her a frame for dirt jumping. It was kind of quickly put together, she lacks a bit of patience! But it’s a nice little bike. I’m now making one for myself but I’ve changed a few things, such as the drop outs. I’ve got material for a few more and intend to sell these too once they’ve been tested more.
Do you have a rider / riders to put on one for this season? If so what are your hopes for the year ahead? If not, why not?
I don’t have a rider for this year. I was hoping to get the aluminium frames ready before getting them on the race circuit. We’ll see what happens with those first.
Ideal world: where would you like to be with this project, say 5 years down the line?
I hope within five years that I would be able to make a living from selling a variety of bike. I don’t think that’s too unrealistic, I just have to put a lot of effort into it.
Most of us know your other half plays a big part in encouraging the fairer sex into the world of mountain biking. What part did Lynne play in the project?
Lynne has played quite a big part in it. She has always supported me and been encouraging and made sure I set some kind of targets to keep things moving. Shes also been putting the hardtail through its paces, oh and she came up with the name for the hardtail. Not sure if that’s a good thing?!
Finally, having seen this project through to your own branded, fully operational bikes, would you have done anything different?
I probably wouldn’t change anything. It’s been a good project and it’s a pretty amazing feeling when you ride a bike you have just built for the first time and it works, a bit scary too!
The inevitable “who would you like to thank” question:
Thanks to Steve Deas in I-Cycles for getting such a big shop that there was enough room up the back for me (even although it’s the coldest room in the building!) and Sally Kemp from Murray and Burrell for getting me a small workshop in Gala to get things started.
A quote from Phil on our forum:
“If you want to know anymore come into the shop at weekends and I’ll happily have a chat with you. I’ll also be at most uplifts at Innerleithen if anyone wants to try it out.”
Posted by Allan Doyle