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Interview: Dave Weagle

By Douglas Cook
doug@descent-world.co.uk

At any point in our sport there have been a few products that are must have items, in the past purple anodising, Panaracer Smoke and Darts, the first V Brakes……… The past couple of years have seen there fair share of things in our little world creating a big buzz; green bikes, e-thirteen chain devices and Iron Horse all spring to mind as being much talked about, and all come back in some way or another to one man; Dave Weagle. We asked you for your questions and you did not disappoint, it’s long but a good un.

DW: The bike world now knows you as producing some of the hottest designs on the market for all sorts of riding but bicycle designer extraordinaire is not really a recognised career choice from University, how did you get to where you are now?

Dave: OK, wow, this is going to be a long one! Sorry if this turns into a life history, but it’s the only way I know how to tell it like it really is!

For me it was really an evolutionary process starting when I was a little kid. Growing up I was always way into motorcycles, dirt bikes, and really high end RC cars. I used to draw dirt bikes all the time when I was in second grade or so. I bought my first motorcycle magazine subscription with money that I earned from my paper route when I was 8 or 9 years old. Racing R/C cars was like a drug to me growing up. An older guy who lived up the road from me was the best driver and tuner at the R/C tracks in our area. He really taught me how the suspension on my cars worked, and how to tune them. Those were some truly invaluable lessons and I was really lucky to have someone be patient and teach me. I was really into drawing and just creating for as long as I can remember. I spent my free time drawing and dreaming of new things for my RC cars. I built my own suspension for my race car (an RC10 for those of you who know cars) when I was about 12. I don't think it made a difference to the car, but it was a lot of fun to build it and bring it to the track. With high school came muscle cars and lots of time spent working on that. I still raced R/C cars, and I was getting into designing my own parts and modifying the heck out of the cars.

Skip a few years, to college. When I was in college, I couldn't afford a dirt bike or mountain bike, I was lucky that I had my old BMX, and I rode that around Boston every day with my friends. I used to ride my bike a lot to blow off steam from classes or when I was pulling all nighters working on the SAE mini baja project. A friend of mine who worked on the baja team had a sweet ti Merlin and was good buddies with the Independent Fabrications guys. At that time I was the guy designing the school's car and overseeing fabrication. I was heavily into analyzing suspension systems using vehicle dynamics equations, and trying to build the most efficient structures and drivelines possible. I got really heavily into vehicle dynamics, composites, etc. around then, I was like a sponge for this stuff. I had aspirations of working for an F1 team. That Merlin and the bikes at IF just amazed me because of the level of manipulation in the materials that they used: butted tubes etc., cool stuff to me. I started to really look into full suspension mountain bikes, I wanted one so bad, but there was no way I could come up with enough money to buy a bike. That might have made me want one more, I'm not sure. I was designing my own CVT for our baja car, and somehow I became somewhat obsessed with designing a CVT transmission for a bike, and I spent a ton of time researching that. I started looking at the bikes and how to apply my new driveline ideas. As I did that, suspensions were there and getting a lot of attention in the magazines, and naturally I wanted to understand those also.

Around then I met a beautiful girl (Linley, who I later married), decided that there was no way I was moving to the UK to pursue my F1 dreams, graduated and landed a job at a company designing tactical robotics for the US department of defense. I finally had money and the first thing that I did was buy a bike, a first generation Santa Cruz Superlight with a Z2 BAM and first generation Hayes discs (there were no disc tabs on the frame actually). I started racing downhill and dual slalom immediately and fell in love with the sport. From there I started to get pretty heavy into suspension analysis for bikes. I had some ideas that were just completely radical compared to what existed. I ended up having to basically write my own terminology because the terms that I needed to work with did not exist in any reference that I could find. After a huge amount of work and refinement, these ideas became dw-link. Because of my day job, I was getting into FEA (computer aided structural analysis) and I started to apply that to bicycle frame structures. At this point I had a pretty solid structural and kinematics background going for someone my age, and I guess then the stage was set for me to start building bikes and parts, I just didn't know it at the time.

So that’s it. Wow, that was comprehensive, but it’s all out there now! Whew!

The Evil Imperial

DW: What made the bike industry your choice of career, a love of riding or looking at other designs and feeling you could do better?

Dave: It is definitely a bit of both, but realistically, I don't think that love of riding alone could have let me make a career as a competent designer in the bike industry. Based on what I had learned from suspension and structural analysis, I was sure I could build some competitive race bikes. A couple close friends and I started Evil Bikes with that goal in mind. I never really sat down and said "I want to start a bicycle component company and make a career out of it." It's funny, because now, developing new bicycle components is one of the things in life that I enjoy the most. The birth of the component line is an interesting story. When I started racing local DH and slalom (Trail 66 RIP), we were riding in torrential rains every weekend. It was nuts. The tracks were muddy and rocky. Like everyone else, I bought the popular chain guide back then for my bike and set it up. I was psyched; I had a real race bike!

That lasted about a day.

With the rocks and mud, I destroyed 3 of those damn things in one season. I got so fed up that I designed my own chain retention system from the ground up for my friends and I. My goal was to build not just a guide, but something that could keep the chain on through extreme conditions and still be lightweight. I tried a ton of variations, and eventually, the prototypes used full polycarbonate bashguards. That was unheard of back then. My buddies and I all beat the heck out of these things and we went a whole season without a failure between us. A lot of local riders wanted them, so we decided to build a short run of guides to sell for Evil. From there riders got really fired up on the product, and it sort of snowballed worldwide. I guess that a lot of people were as frustrated as I was, and that cemented in my mind that I could build successful products.

DW: Is your work now exclusively in the bicycle industry?

Dave: Yeah, most of it is right now. I just don't have time to take on a lot of new outside projects with everything I have going on right now. Plus, I really LOVE what I am doing with bikes, so I don't spend a lot of time looking elsewhere. I've had a few offers to go back to work in the defense community, but so far I haven't bit on those offers. I spend about 15% of my time working on writing patents. I've been burned too many times now, so I really work hard on that. Related to patents, I do have a couple outside things that I have been working on, but those projects are super secret right now. Hopefully in the near future I can break the silence on that stuff. It's pretty exciting.

DW: What companies are now benefiting from the DW touch?

Dave: I am the president and technical director for e.thirteen components and Evil Bikes, and I work as an outside consultant for Iron Horse Bicycle Company, and Independent Fabrication.

DW: What other bikes or designers excite you at the moment? Are there any designs or ideas you are excited about that will be hitting the market in the next few years?

Dave: To be honest with you Doug, I don't really know a lot of other bike designers, although I would love to. There are various bits and pieces out there that I think are cool. A couple random ones off the top of my head; I dig the shock mount that Joe Graney from SantaCruz built for the VP Free downtube. That thing is slick from a manufacturability standpoint. Aesthetically, I like some of the lines on the new Specialized Enduro; the sculpted brace the shock passes through on that bike is a nice looking piece. There are some smart features on that new Enduro for sure. Frame wise, I am really excited about the new generation of long travel trail bikes that are coming out. I think they will be a lot of fun; I can't wait to get on one.

DW: What's the difference between Evil and e.thirteen? Why drop the Evil name from the components line up, are the rumours about pressure from Christian groups to change it true?

Dave: Pretty simply, e.thirteen was started to build components and Evil for frames. When we started with Evil, we aspired to build nasty DH race bikes, but as we started to move forward, a few good friends of mine and I started to really get into riding in the city and out in places like Lynn Woods and Vietnam in Massachusetts USA. We decided to build up some hardtail frames that we could use in both places, and they ended up being so much fun that Evil just kind of snowballed from there. Around then, we were building the first chainguides, so we did those under the Evil name too. We went to Interbike 2001, and there was a crowd around our little 10x10 booth for the entire show.

We were super excited because a few OE bike makers were interested in running our original Security guide on their production frames. Then after the show, we found out that the Evil name apparently was a big detriment to being able to advertise etc. in some magazines, and based on the success of the Security guide, we figured it was best all around to start a new company altogether that worked solely on components. Although e.thirteen and Evil are under the same roof, the companies are separated in just about every way possible. I think the best way we put it is that we view them more as partners than siblings.

e.13 - SRS Chain Guide

DW: Intense, Iron Horse and Specialized have now either moved away from the traditional 4 bar horst link design or made some radical changes to it, has it had its day?

Dave: Well, you have to figure, Horst link was designed and implemented when rim brakes were king and hardtails were the status quo. For what it was, when it was, the Horst link was pretty cool I think. Basically it was the first cognitive effort that I am aware of that actually separated acceleration and braking performance so that they could be individually tuned. The realization that this was possible was a foundation point for every other system I think.

Despite the changes in the Horst link's looks over the years, the variance in what each Horst system does is less pronounced. The 2003-2004 SGS DH frame is a Horst link bike that I tuned, and it performed pretty well I thought. I think that Horst link will be around for a good amount of time, probably with some more changes in shock placement. It's a system that has some merits grounded in physical reality for sure, and that is a rarity in the bike industry.

DW: Do you think new shock technology from the likes of Progressive Suspension has led to lazy bike design with the shock making up for the shortcomings of certain designs?

Dave: Hahahaha, that's a loaded question! There is no doubt that the CV/T and SPV / SPV+ / Propedal Technology has changed the playing field a little bit. In the simplest sense, the shocks all feature some sort of position and velocity or acceleration sensitive damping variation. This means that the shock can have more damping at different parts of the travel, or during different shock shaft velocity conditions.

Really though, a dw-link suspension is designed to eliminate the need for any extra compression in the beginning of the travel, can have an advantage in terms of traction in corners, under braking, and on the climbs if tuned properly. dw-link is unique in that it uses the new shock technology to act as an end travel hydraulic ramp-up. This gives a super supple ride in the beginning and mid travel, and big hit absorption also. That just is not possible with a standard non position sensitive damper without using a linkage to manipulate leverage rate expressly. It gets complicated pretty quick from here, so I'll stop with that. Bottom line is that I think the new shock technology has benefited the sport in a huge way, and made it possible for a lot of manufacturers to field bikes that perform really well on the trail. That works out sweet for everyone.

DW: There is such a buzz around the Sunday and the DW link design; I am going to have to devote a few questions to it. How did the DW link design come about, is it something you worked on for years before release or was it a flash of inspiration one day?

Dave: I am so psyched to hear you say that. I am so excited to hear how positive all of the reviews from riders have been, that means a lot to me for sure. I feel so lucky to be in a position where I was able to see a concept that was so complex and really unheard of through to a finished product and have it impact so many people in a good way. It's awesome for sure.

DW-Link started off as a theoretical ideal. I saw that bike companies the world over were marketing bicycle suspensions as zero-bob, bla bla bla. I analyzed the heck out of these bikes using kinematical and dynamic modeling techniques. My models were all based on principles of physics, principles that we as humans basically know to be true and applicable to the earth that we live on. I decided to try to break down the problem to its base elements and start from there. There was really no text that explained in any way what I was trying to do, so I spent a huge amount of time pouring over kinematics textbooks and writing my own geometric formulas. I have more kinematics books than anyone I have ever seen! hahaha. The marketing material and the physical models that I made just did not add up. For a long time I thought that I was doing something wrong actually. I consulted with as many kinematics and dynamics professors at universities in Boston as I could.

In the end I came to the realization that there was a very good possibility that I had completely modelled and come to understand human powered vehicle dynamics in a way that hadn't been previously published. I made many attempts at this theoretical ideal before I arrived at the system as you see it today. Compared to the final system, some of the attempts for example, may have had equal acceleration performance, but lesser braking performance, or equal braking performance but more pedal feedback and less structural simplicity. The list goes on and on with every variation in between. The final system that became dw-link combined acceleration performance, braking performance, small bump compliance in the beginning of the travel, big bump compliance in the end of the travel, cornering performance in the middle of the travel, low pedal feedback, structural simplicity to build lightweight and strong frames, and as few pivots and moving parts as I could get away with, all in a package that was tunable to different applications like XC bikes and DH bikes.

I really view it as a mechanical symphony of sorts, there is just SOOO much going on in each of these bikes. All in all, from inception of the project to the time where I was ready to design a frame using the system took about two years of my life. It was a lot of fun. That was several years ago, and since then, I have actually applied for patents on two completely different and new suspension systems in addition to dw-link. I expect DW-Link to be around in the bike world for a long, long time. It's not a figment of some marketing department, the suspension actually does what is claimed, nothing more, nothing less. The physics behind it really is timeless, and there are wide variations possible within the system allowing adaptability to specific applications. It will be a lot of fun to watch and be a part of how things move forward.

Iron Horse's Sunday WC w/DW-Link

DW: What are the main ways in which the DW link design has evolved from the original design seen on XC/Trail bikes to the version now seen on the likes of the Iron Horse Sunday?

Dave: When I started working with the guys at Iron Horse, they worked very closely with their manufacturing factory to develop frames. The factory would suggest designs, and they would modify them to fit their needs and produce a bike from it. This was somewhere around the year 2001. I raced downhill with a couple of the guys who worked at Iron Horse in the local series, so you know how it goes, I was always playing with some new thing, and it was a pretty tight-knit group of people, so everyone knew what everyone else was up to basically.

The guys there knew that I was developing some suspension bikes for Evil, because I had been taking some heavy duty polls from local riders in relation to bike metrics and situational performance requirements. They had a bike that they were working on, called the Hollowpoint that had some features that they really liked, and some that they really didn't like. They asked me if I could come up with some modifications that could improve suspension performance without making radical changes to the front triangle and rear triangle structures that they had already been testing. I was able to work some of the key elements of the dw-link design into this new frame, and the changes that I made to the bike, although drastic, didn't affect the structural integrity so much, so they decided to move forward with it.

The Hollowpoint and Sunday share many of the same features through the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the travel, but the newer layouts have improved braking, and late mid to end travel impact absorption. Over the last few years I have been able to tune the systems through testing and more analysis. The new bikes incorporate all of the improvements that that were developed over the last few years. The first of the "new generation" dw-link bikes was the Independent Fabrication Tungsten Electrode frame that was shown at Interbike 2003.

DW: There has been a huge buzz around the release of the Sunday, do you think it would have been so highly anticipated without Sam Hill and the rest of the Madcatz team? Has the excitement about your products surprised you, there has been a big buzz around a lot of your stuff, particularly the SRS guide and the Sunday frames.

Dave: I think that the involvement of the Iron Horse MadCatz team helps their chassis development and marketing program in many ways. Really, the input of the guys on the 2003 team helped to shape the Sunday's frame layout and geometry. The team was actually supposed to be racing on the bike in 2003, but it took forever to get the prototypes built, so the program was pushed back a year. With the input on the SGS frames from Sam, Bryn, Jared, and Nathan, we were really able to put together a race frame that we thought would give the guys a measurable advantage on race day. Sam, Bryn, and Mathieu pinning it on the bikes in 2004 definitely helped a ton.

I mean, they put together one of the longest streak of podium finishes for a DH frame that I can recall. All that on prototype frames was pretty remarkable, and I think that a lot of riders and racing fans took notice because of that. On the SRS and DRS chainguides, I think that the buzz surrounding them is there because the things actually work regardless of the situation. They don't really require much maintenance at all, the pro mechanics all rave about that. In my experience, that's pretty special for a chainguide. I guess I am not surprised as much now as I was in 2001, but it still makes me really happy to hear when riders talk about how the products have made their riding or racing more fun. That's really what it's all about for me.

I test a LOT, so when a product hits the market, I expect that it will perform in a certain way. When a new product is released, it is usually something that I have been working on and testing for 2-3 years, so I am always a couple steps ahead of the current generation.

DW: The way the shock rear mount pivots on the same bolt as the rear swing arm is genius. Now imagine if like the Rotec a swing arm pivoted around the bottom bracket as did the shock? i.e if the shock had an enlarged eyelet that went around the BB axle? How good an idea would that be?

Dave: Thanks! Hmmm. Well, I'll be honest, it's not something that I have tried or plan to try anytime soon. I guess structurally it could be somewhat interesting, maybe even advantageous, but from a kinematical standpoint, and from the standpoint of the practicality of building a custom shock and holding all of the tolerances that you would need for such a layout, I think that the current systems may be a better compromise.

DW: For the untrained eyes out there, can you give us a brief overview of how the DW link design differs from those from Edge, Giant and Intense/Santa Cruz? What are the merits and drawbacks of each?

Dave: Oh man Douglas, that could take all year! Here's the simplest explanation that I can think of:

DW-link is very energy efficient, more so than any other suspension system that I have ever been exposed to. It's supple under power, smooth in corners, soaks up the big bumps, doesn't have perceptible pedal feedback in the gears you use the most, and can be used to build a very stiff, strong, and lightweight frame structure without a lot of fanciness. This means that all of this can come at a somewhat affordable price to the end user.

The technology behind dw-link is based on principles of applied physics, and data gathered in the real world under real world riding conditions. It's not based on a figment of some marketing department guy's imagination. I honestly challenge any rider out there to try out a dw-link bike, take the 2 minutes to set it up so that the suspension is tuned for you, set the bike up so that it fits you, and take it for a ride. I can almost guarantee that you will come away from the ride with a smile, and that's the key to it all.

DW: How far does your involvement with Iron Horse go? Does it stop at the bike design stage or do you have any involvement in the marketing side of things or the putting together of the race team? What about with the other companies you work with, are you merely involved in the product design stage?

Dave: Basically I am an outside consultant for Iron Horse and Independent Fabrication. I work in my own outside office, and I have no real control over anything other than suspension and chassis layout. I work very closely with damper manufacturers on suspension components for the bikes that I am involved with, but that's about it. For Iron Horse, I got involved with developing a lot of frames from the ground up for 2005, but once they leave my computer, that’s basically it for me.

They handle all of their business including the team and sales etc... on their own. Now that the bikes are out there, it's pretty hands-off for me. As the race season heats up, I am sure that the team will have input, and that may necessitate some minor changes here and there, so I will most likely oversee that. I have been focusing most of my energy on e.thirteen over the last few months, and that will continue.

DW: Is there any riders out there on competitors bikes that you would love to see with one of your designs between their legs?

Dave: Oh man, for pro riders? The list goes on and on. Greg Minnaar, Kirt Vories, Nathan Rennie, Steve Peat, Cedric Gracia, Anne Caroline Chausson, Nico, Shaun Palmer, Lance Armstrong, Aaron Chase, Jordie Lunn, Jill Kitner, The Athertons, I could go on like that for days. There are so many great riders and great people out on the circuit. I am just so psyched to have some of the best riding on products that I developed.

Honestly though, I am most psyched to hear it from the non-pro level riders who are out there riding hard and paying for their equipment. When those riders write to say that they haven't replaced their chainguide in 2 years or that their dw-link frame is the best climbing bike they have ever owned, that makes it all worth it for me. That's the best, seriously.

Available for download at an evil website near you, now!!

DW: Will we ever see a full suspension Evil frame?

Dave: You know, I am not sure. So far the arrow still points toward no, I mean, we are really content just making hardtail play bikes for Evil and in limited runs, but hey, life is long, you never do really know I guess.

DW: What other kit will be coming from the DW camp in 2005? The masses are asking for coloured SRS bashguards and titanium chainrings/bashguard combos amongst other things.

Dave: For 2005, the latest and greatest includes the new ALI bolt on Boxxer stem, which is ridiculously light, and length adjustable, and a few other products that we debut at Interbike '04. Our long awaited pedals will be hitting sometime this summer assuming manufacturing goes as planned. During the race season, we will be testing some new 2006 products for sure. These include a new gearbox system that is way off the map compared to what people have tested previously.

We'll also be testing a new chainguide system that weighs in at under 200 grams, easily making it one of the lightest ever built. The SST micro chainguide is slated for production; I know that a lot of street riders will be excited to hear that. There's a whole host of new and cool stuff that we are working on, it's shaping up to be a really fun year for e.thirteen product development.

DW: What bike are you riding yourself at the moment, how much chance do you get to actually get out on the trails?

Dave: Right now I have 30 something inches (.75 m) of snow at my house. I haven't even seen dirt for a month! I tried to ride my Sunday in it a couple weeks ago, and that turned out to be an insane decision. I built a snow jump out of this snow bank in my yard, but the run up is pretty icy and sketchy. I almost wrecked myself trying to try a 180 using it like a spine on my Imperial, so I gave up on that thing. Recently I have been riding my bikes in a circle in my garage.

I tested them all out and after timing laps, I am definitely fastest around the circle on my Imperial. I try to get the front tire to push a little the entire way around; I work on just controlling the slide. I don't know if it has any application on the trail, but I do it for the heck of it. Hey, have you ever tried to ride in a circle no hands? That's a challenge for me. Also, try out steering with one hand on the opposite grip. Holy crap that's hard. OK, so I am really dying to hit the trails. I was looking forward to Answer Camp and RockShox camp this year, but I got way too busy and I couldn't make it out.

DW: And finally......Who would win a maths contest between you and Keith Bontrager?

Dave: I have never really been one for straight up academic competition, not too much like the real world, you know? I think I would just forfeit victory to Keith and then we could go ride our bikes, find some good food somewhere, and drink beer.

Thanks a lot for the opportunity to do this interview Doug and the crew at Descent-World. Your site is one of my favourite on the internet, and one of the few that I make sure I check out every day. Thanks a lot to all of the readers out there who cared enough to read this lengthy interview; I hope that we made it a worthwhile read for you! See you on the trails, and enjoy riding!

Big thanks go out to Dave for one of the most in depth interviews we have done here at Descent-World, you can check out his work at:

www.evilbikes.com
www.e13components.com
www.ironhorsebikes.com
www.ifbikes.com
www.dw-link.com

For 2005 the DW designed Iron Horse’s will be available for the first time in Scotland through www.alpinebikes.co.uk, hit the link for your nearest store. You will also be able to check out the bikes at any of this years SDA races between the legs of Alpine Bikes/Iron Horse team riders Robert Pollock, Peter Reid and down South piloted by southerndownhill.com rider Joe Finney.

 
 
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