5 Mins With: David Turner

by Chipps 2

David Turner: ‘A few minutes of your time’ by Marcus Farley.

The legendary full suspension mountain bike designer chews the fat with Singletrack. Amongst other things, he talks about product development, his partnership with suspension designer Dave Weagle, why his bikes work so well in UK conditions, and why he isn’t going to blow smoke up our arses!

David Turner doing some joyful product testing in the Californian mountains
David Turner doing some joyful product testing in the Californian mountains

You’ve had a busy year with bikes, what were the highlights for you?

Testing the DHR with dw-link has to be the highlight. With a non-dw, 2008 model to compare side by side, riding it was good to wrap my head around the difference between the dw-link bike and the TNT version. After it was said and done, I went slacker and lower than even the proto for production. This was more radical than I ever thought possible, as my perception was based on the older bikes. The crazy thing is that even going lower with the bottom bracket, I still have not had a problem hitting cranks in the rocks, but the bash ring was getting rung more.

What’s in the pipeline?

Right now, Job #1 is DHR production. My engineer and I are working to drop some weight, beef up the only weak part of the frame that a full year of R&D exposed and bring the stiffness up a little higher in the crank area. After that we will have had enough dirt time on the RFX to know what should be done and that will be worked on next.

29ers are a fad, or you’re fully committed to them?

29ers are not a fad. I think many riders will be disappointed if they do not take over the world, but I certainly think they have their place. This fall, I have ridden the Sultan more and I can feel where the 29 has its advantage. I think part of my increased appreciation has to do with the dw-link. On the new Sultan, the dw-link bike has quicker acceleration (than a non dw-link 29r) due to notably less squat (bob, whatever), this helps overcome the delay due to the higher rotational weight of the 29er wheels. In some terrain, the advantage of the 29 is hard to believe, as it will go so fast.

Handmade design vs mass production, And is it deliberate that you have a non-model year approach to bikes?

With mass production companies, they need to either create BNG {Bold New Graphics – bike industry slang for ‘Nothing new to see here, so let’s put some new stickers on the bikes’} each model year to out-style the previous stuff, or create an all-new model in the hopes of making previous customers buy something new every year or so.

I try to make changes only when there is a definitive advantage, with the current case in point the dw-link that we introduced last year. It pedals better. I sell pedal bikes, so when I test rode an Ironhorse years ago, I knew that Dave Weagle had something others did not.

Non-model year approach? Well, we do introduce new models when we need to, and mostly we try to do that in conjunction with the rest of the industry. But we do NOT have a frame revision schedule every year in the pursuit of planned obsolescence just for the sake of marketing. If I have done my job well, there will be little to no changes for years. Most model segments are not changing fast enough to demand a notable change every year, so a lot of changes are pushed on to the customer to buy based on the fear of owning an outdated bike.

Why should we buy your frames?

Why buy a Turner Bike? For one, they handle better! I spend a lot of time with test riders on each model to come up with geometry. My job is to know which testing input to listen to and then incorporate that into a frame spec from geometry to construction. I communicate with a large pool of riders, yes even some from the UK for product feedback. I work with them based on what they have ridden in the past and how well I think they represent a given market. I promise some riders will not be happy, but a vast majority of riders will quickly feel right at home with the Turner bike, which to me is an absolute endorsement of a proper design within an intended use.

You continue to put function above form. Discuss…or is that not exactly true?

Well form certainly follows function in my design, i.e if a tube can be straight from one junction to the other then it WILL be! Bending tubes for aesthetics is pure folly, but I also certainly have an industrial look that I strive for. Everything we have been doing here for the last few years has been with the help of FEA {Finite Element Analysis}, and the management of structural stress is something that also contributes to our form.

I would be lying if I did not say that keeping an eye on this ‘look’ was not part of product creation, as I follow our little industrial form even if it does not match the standards of the day, which is why we stand out.

Bicycles help us reduce our carbon footprints, how carbon neutral are your production facilities?

Hmm, bicycles only reduce our carbon footprints if we use them in place of a more complex machine, and in that case bikes rule! I am not going to blow hot air up your arse about enviro friendly insulation in the walls and ‘come watch the meter go backwards at noon’, to make you buy my bikes. We lease a fairly typical office/warehouse, we recycle everything that we can from shredded paper to packing material and soda cans. All our trade-in frames are dis-assembled and recycled etc. and all our shades work to keep the summer sun out to reduce the air conditioner running time. But, we are in the manufacturing business, maybe not directly in-house, but we buy frames that were made in a factory from alloys that were mined from the earth and use energy to produce from the first step to the final shipping to our customers. The most important thing to do is ride a bike everywhere we can, whenever we can. I do my best to design bikes that will out-last most on the market, which does not always lead to the lightest frames. I feel if riders are not forced to replace their bikes as often, that reduced impact does have a positive effect on the enviroment.

Looking back on your career, which was your most innovative design?

DHR #1 always pleases me to look at. That was 1999.

The coolest product you saw at Interbike was?

The Droid from 661. It is a neck brace integrated into an upper body protector. Certainly more motocross oriented, but I see this as a step forward in rider protection that DH will benefit from in the future.

What influences the smart new colours that you keep coming up with?

Riders ask for a custom color that we then see and think it’s cool and add it to the list!

As a Californian (where it rarely rains), how come you manage to make bikes that work well in the UK and Pacific NorthWest? Or do you always think globally?

I do listen to riders needs from all over the USA and the world. As a racer in the ’80s, I traveled around the US and saw the conditions others ride in all the time. In the ’90s I traveled to Europe to the World Championships and saw the mud and the pressure washers in the pits, and that confirmed why I put grease fittings on the pivots from the first bikes onwards, and have designed in better than average tire clearance on the bikes.

For more of Turner’s creations visit www.turnerbikes.com

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