Interview: Chris Porter – On Losing And Then Finding His Mojo?

by
November 23, 2017

It’s just over six weeks since news broke Mojo Suspension would no longer be distributing Fox in the UK, and three weeks since new distributor Silverfish took on the former Mojo workshop and staff to continue service support. One of the big questions that’s been hanging over it all though is: What next for Chris Porter? There’s been little news other than the emergence of the name “Mojo Rising”. We caught up with Chris to ask about… everything.

“People will realise that money is an illusion and that if we all just stop using it then WE have the power, not the powerful.

Mojo Rising

ST: There’ve been a few reports you’re doing something else with the Mojo name. “Suspension expert continuing to work with suspension” seems perhaps a foregone conclusion, but can you share any further details?

CP: We will definitely be doing something else with the Mojo name and yes, we’ll definitely be working with MTB suspension.

But we won’t be starting a service centre again. When we started Mojo in 95/96 we were probably the first people doing that suspension servicing and upgrading as an independent in the UK. Back then it was necessary and there was that gap. Now there’s loads of people out there doing a good job at all different levels of suspension service from tuning shops to service guys to mobile service and branded support service.

We’ll be doing a range of (hopefully) interesting things and we’ll be doing them under the Mojo Rising banner, it seems appropriate. We have a couple of designs currently being drawn up and machined which should be very interesting to hard and heavy riders. They’ll be products that will bring more performance, longevity, utility and adjustability to the Fox products that we have been used to dealing with and improving for the last twenty years. The first product we will do is kind of obvious but I’ll let you know more when we have built and tested the kit 😉

And we’ve still got a headfull of ideas to work through.

Eurobike 2017: Nicolai Ion G13
Geometron have been collaborating with Nicolai and launched their first bike together in 2015.

GeoMetron

ST: Before Fox and Mojo parted ways, was GeoMetron already something you were starting to put more time into?

CP: In short yes, but there’s a deeper reason!

The GeoMetron journey started as me and Tim (Mojo Tim, now Silverfish Tim) wanting to get the bikes we wanted to ride in the ‘noughties’. Downhill bikes were cool at the time and much more interesting to ride than the trail bikes, but the trail bikes allowed us to do laps and explore. Things came to head when I decided to take my trail bike to Innerleithen to race an SDA race. I figured that the tedious soft tyre, pedal along the tarmac to the uplift, the queue for the uplift, the bike smashing bike stacking, the drive ‘nearly’ to the top and then the climb up to the start was bad enough. But when I factored in the track full of people who just got off the buses it just made sense to pedal up the front of the hill. In the end it turned out to be a smart move because I took less time going up, was warmed up at the top, had a clear track and got in more runs than ever before…

The handling was hooky… But I figured if we could make a bike with DH bike angles but with a decent seat angle why wouldn’t you just ride that?

Chris Porter back in 2007.

Fast forward to 2014 and the depths of the CTD/Chain Reaction/Grey Market crisis! We had people trying to attack our Fox sales from all sides and so much product being sold off cheap, we were getting a proper kicking and we had to put in some of our own ‘rainy day’ money to save Mojo (and jobs). It was also the start of the ‘bike kits in boxes’ business where the ‘brands’ started to punt out components in boxes to get around the 20% import duty on complete bikes from the far east. Another factor was the brands moving to these complete bike ‘kits’ to force the customer to buy a complete new bike rather than upgrade with the hot new component. It started with 29ers, then 27.5, then wheels standards, etc, etc, etc… So we sat down with Fox and just explained that we needed some support from them! Kind of ‘if you want us to fix all that broken Fox stuff for the big brands (at a cost to Mojo – the warranty amounts never covered it) then can you explain to your OE customers that the aftermarket needs some empty head tubes.’ Simple as that.

Well, we didn’t get any help so we had to help ourselves. The GeoMetron brand was an attempt to build our own perfect bike, but the urgency came about from our desire to produce our own empty head tubes. We built them, it worked and now we have a brilliant new partnership with Nicolai, a company who cares about our business and our relationships.

fox float 36 rc2 fork kashima
The parting of Fox and Mojo seemed sudden, but a lot had been going on behind the scenes.

Big Guy Little Guy

ST: A lot of people want to know what led to the sudden ending between Fox and Mojo. Some of the conspiracy theories flying around forums at the time were wild. What do you want to say about all that?

“We got such an amazing amount of support and goodwill and good wishes from the bike industry it was like a massive digital group hug. Cheers all it was greatly appreciated!”

CP: I’m not going to use this as a forum to vent my spleen or to bleat ‘poor us we’ve been shafted’. Worse things happen at sea! I prefer to look forward not backwards so I’ll be brief.

Fox made an offer to buy Mojo which was (in our opinion) insultingly small, the first offer was a shock it was so small. Fox used the winding down period of the distributor contract to make a slightly improved offer seem like an offer we couldn’t refuse. That offer was opaque and very restrictive personally. Just before the contract expired (after we’d spent the equivalent of two technician’s yearly wages on legal fees) the offer was reduced to less than the value of the stock we had on the shelves.

We refused the offer we couldn’t refuse and carried on looking after warranty until a new distributor could be found.

We tried to create an ’employee owned’ structure so that we could transition the (then Fox based) service centre business on to the staff. We proposed that they would get ‘everything’ apart from current model year finished goods completely FOC as long as the management structure was flat rather than pyramid shaped. ‘Pyramid shaped is full price, flat is FOC’. That didn’t work out! Despite me and Susie offering to work for nothing to help them get it up and running and despite meetings in the diary and contacts with three or four other suspension companies. There were lots of internal manoeuvrings and shenanigans going on, that’s all I can say. 😉

We virtually gave away the servicing business to allow a smooth transition to Silverfish, but now we are free to do what we want and say what we want (not that I ever really toed that line I suppose).

It was more complex than that obvs! Some people behaved quite badly, from all the different corporate and non-corporate actors involved, but also some superheroes and friends emerged too. We’ve had sleepless nights, been accused of all sorts but we know a lot of really good people at Fox and don’t want to colour our relationships with individuals rather than corporations.

Funny that the word Cooperation and Corporation are so similar and so different.

So apologies to anyone who got a holding ‘answer’ during the last year regarding help, sponsorship, employment, new projects, etc. Haven’t really known whether we were coming or going! Now we can’t afford it 😉

When we finally dropped the 1/2 price 2018 finished goods bombshell on the Mojo website, people were pretty quick to figure out what was going on! during the next 24hrs we got such an amazing amount of support and goodwill and good wishes from the bike industry it was like a massive digital group hug. Cheers all, it was greatly appreciated.

Our own columnist George Thompson has ridden a Geometron G19 for downhill races.

ST: Were Fox displeased with the extent to which you were modifying their products?

CP: Blimey! If they were displeased with what I was doing before they’ll be apoplectic when they see the new stuff. To be honest I’m not really sure, they were not the most communicative after the flotation as a public company on the Stock Exchange. Quite a few of the mods and improvements we made would go quietly into production afterwards. All to the good.

Offsetting The Problem

ST: Transition went all in on shorter fork offsets for their 2018 range. You’ve been testing shorter offsets too; is that a line of inquiry you’re continuing?

CP: The shorter offset thing came about because of the glaring hole in Fox’s line up for over a year of the 27.5 version of the 36… I made a few versions of 36s with braces cut away for clearance for the bigger wheels and a mudguard (v important in the UK!). They handled extremely well, especially at speed. When we finally got the ‘new’ 36, as good as the damper was, as good as the air spring was, the handling was not quite as composed as the old one especially under braking into turns. I did some back to backs and found the handling of the older one was better. The 37mm offset was pretty much the only major difference. As luck would have it, Fox had actually used a modular approach to the stanchions (as a man who had a warehouse full of almost identical ball bearings, grub screws and springs I can tell you that was unusual) and all of the offset was in the crown, so I simply whacked a 37mm (26 inch) offset crown on my 27.5 lowers and the handling was back.

That prompted Seb Stott (Bikeradar’s ‘Mr Science’) to do a piece with us on riding three different offsets on the same track on the same fork. We also started to sell our GeoMetrons with the short offset option.

Lars at Transition contacted [me] after he’d read that article and tested with shorter offsets and longer bikes. He wanted me to help put into words what he was feeling on the trail, to clarify in his own mind why it was better when the industry orthodoxy seems to think it should be worse and also to justify his theory up the food chain at Transition I guess.

If Lars is reading this, dude! Get sub 63° on that head angle, put a bit more front end in and you’ll love it even more.

ST: Are there any other suspension brands you’ve got your eye on?

CP: Maybe, maybe not? 😉

Fort William World Cup 2017
Jack Reading taped lead weights to his Geometron frame this year, to change the sprung/unsprung mass ratio.

He Aint Heavy

ST: Jack Reading spent some of 2017 experimenting with lead weights taped to the frame of his Geometron G19. Have you spoken to him much about that, and is it something you’ve tried out yourself?

CP: Jack put in because I wanted him to! We tested with that years and years ago at Fort William and it was amazing just how much difference it made on the rougher parts of the track. Fatigue was reduced, you could use even harder settings for more speed and stability and it was quite literally loads faster on the stopwatch. Getting other riders and racers to add weight to their bikes has been a challenge over the years so my ‘not quite top tens’ at the Masters Worlds have remained the only ‘leaded’ results. But fair play to Jack, he finally did try it (a year after we started the experiment!) and timed it and stuck with it.

As Jack’s wheels got heavier (with the addition of ProCore) I wanted him to simply add enough weight to keep the sprung/unsprung mass ratio the same. Heavier wheels simply feed more energy into the chassis.

It’s the same as taking the rear derailleur and all that unsprung gubbins off the rear wheel (rendering that lighter) and sticking it in the chassis (rendering that heavier) which always improves suspension, it’s called a gearbox and Honda found it out years ago. The suspension on the RN01 was sublime.

In fact, this is one for Steve Jones at Dirt mag (or wherever?!). Mojo was in the frame to distribute the Honda DH bike and we had one delivered to Mojo towers in a full sized, padlocked packing crate direct from HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) in Japan 😉 Someone came from Honda Europe to unlock it so that we could test the bike for technical and commercial feedback. Steve was coming to visit Mojo that day, so as Steve was walking in the front door, the Honda was going out the back door and into the van to be ridden at Cwmcarn. Sorry Steve 😉

Honda RN-01
The Honda RN01, which debuted under Greg Minaar in the mid-2000’s. Over the years, its weight was listed as either “Under 18Kg” or “Over 17Kg”

“On a vehicle where almost all of the suspended weight (the rider) cannot be viewed as simply sprung mass and is mobile and active across the chassis from front to back, suspension is more about rider inputs than bumps.”

The Next Big Thing

ST: There’s been some talk recently of the bike industry slowing down in terms of innovation; that a lot of things are now simply good enough. Do you think that’s true of suspension?

CP: I don’t see much innovation in the big players. E.F. Schumacher (author of ‘Small is beautiful’) thought large organisations incapable of innovation due to their size and structures and I think you can see that in the MTB industry. There are a lot of patents, but not much innovation.

We still have derailleurs hanging off the rear wheel, we now have three tubes of diminishing sizes to lift the seat up and down and a bicycle with suspension that goes faster (Gwinn Leogang) with no chain and no power at all. Thirty or so years into the sport Gwinn nearly lost this years title due to a puncture. The ‘engineers’ literally only need to keep air in his tyres for 6 races.

There’s a lot of new stuff but not much ‘development’ happening. On a vehicle where almost all of the suspended weight (the rider) cannot be viewed as simply sprung mass and is mobile and active across the chassis from front to back, suspension is more about rider inputs than bumps. We have tons of different types of check valves, poppet valves, sprung valves, dump valves and shims and one way holes in pistons are still the best way of doing it. Just not many people with the patience or understanding to improve them incrementally. Maybe it’s because the piston and shim technology is not patented or patentable?

Personally, on my bike, very few components are un-modified. At one point last year I think the FLOAT X2 was the only truly un-modified part (but also un-recalled, so I could use the springier rubber spacers and more of them – at my own risk, obvs. Then I figured out how to make the negative chamber ramp up a bit so the initial touch was a bit better, so that’s no longer stock either. To be fair, there are a lot of really good products out there, but they are working within the confines of the industry and I see actual degradation of performance in some cases not improvement… Boost… from a 20mm axle with pinch bolts to a 15mm QR where the axle isn’t actually fixed to the fork lower at all. The reason for the QR, oh yes, it’s because we haven’t fixed the puncture problem yet. hee, hee, hee.

Pole Evolink rear
Was Boost really an innovation?

ST: You’ve been less than positive about 29ers in the past. What are your thoughts on them now, particularly since downhill racers and manufacturers started experimenting with them at World Cup races this year?

CP: Greg’s going really well on his, not that many others really. The ‘shock’ of Greg winning Fort William on a 29er seemed quite familiar given how many times he’s topped the podium there before 😉 Danny didn’t look comfortable on his did he? 😉

At speed it will take more energy to rotate bigger wheels. They will work better in some places. I run a 29 front wheel because it helps in low to medium speed sections and doesn’t upset the handling or the faster sections. The rear wheel is still a 27.5 wheel because let’s face it, if a 29er wheel doesn’t slow down on a bump face then it won’t speed up on the backside of that bump either. Capisce?

So, the teams tested 29er wheels in their current downhill bikes. If we believe the marketing they were always massively faster on their test tracks with claims ranging from 1 second a minute to 4 seconds a minute. They tested with the ‘enduro’ tyres which were available at the time, they used 27.5 forks cut for clearance and shortened in travel, even so the head tube would have been higher. The rear shocks were shortened to bring the bb height back down and to allow for clearance in some cases. So they had lower, slacker bikes with shorter offset forks and lighter, harder compound tyres. All really good stuff for speed.

When the ‘production’ versions arrived and the riders were back to full travel and arses started to rub tyres, back to soft, heavy tyres and times started to slow, back to steep head angles and larger offsets and the riders started to pedal out of corners again (usually signifying that the front wheel is pushing and slowing down) it seems that the 29ers have been caught up and passed by the 27.5 bikes again…

Skinsuits, gearboxes, tyres (punctures), geometry, rolling friction, suspension/chain/bump interaction and aerodynamics. These things will all bring more than a bigger wheel I think.

Sensors and other assorted electronics seem to be creeping into more bits of bikes.

ST: Sensors and assorted other bits of tech seem to be slowly creeping into and onto everything. Do you think electronics will make their way inside mountain bike suspension, or stay outside like (for instance) Shockwiz? Are you curious? Excited? Or would you prefer everything stayed purely mechanical?

CP: They will make their way in. It’s part of the dumbing down of everything and the de-skilling of humanity at every level. I don’t know how an electronic device knows what a rider needs from a bicycle when it doesn’t ride. I can see that if your suspension is set terribly then something like a Shockwiz could make it better. a better dealer structure with better trained staff would be even better still.

Not sure about electronically controlled suspension… It’s just another way of taking autonomy away from the user… I used to be able to set the points gap on my old Toyota Hilux (and needed to most trips!), now it has a cover over the engine and my only access is via the dealer.  It’s a problem that doesn’t need fixing, just make what we have work better.

That said I’m looking forward to the day when people are messing with each others suspension from apps on their phones. 😉

focus jam emtb ebike
Less fun than a motorbike?

Ee-By-Cycle


ST: What do you reckon to ebikes?

CP: Motorbikes are better, and if you look at the conditions in the African lithium mines then you will never buy another battery powered device ever. [Most of the worlds’ Lithium comes from South America and is not in fact ‘mined’ but is pumped from underground pools which are then evaporated by the sun – ED]

Of course they are fun, they are faster and easier up hills! But motorbikes are better.

They will cause all sorts of access problems for bicycles and don’t expect the off-road motorcycle fraternity (if there are enough left to be called a fraternity) to come running to help.

ST: What’s excited you the most in the past few years?

CP: Bikes, off-piste track explosion (it’s actual factual democracy in action in the forest – take control ;-), guitars, Spanish pyrenees and friends.

Money is a myth

ST: What do you think will change in the next decade?

CP: People will realise that money is an illusion and that if we all just stop using it then WE have the power, not the powerful. If we all just stopped paying our mortgages for a week the whole global sham would unfold and collapse, the banks would last a day or so…

Probably not, probably will still have a rear axle of smaller diameter than the front and will still be stopping while your mate fixes a puncture/derailleur in the rain. Or maybe he’ll just have to do a ‘firmware’ update with a dodgy 3g signal for his electronic suspension 😉

ST: Thanks Chris!

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