Interview: NAHBS Winner Altruiste Bikes

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When we received the images from the North American Hand Made Bike Show (NAHBS) we didn’t get any accompanying information. Just a massive folder full of images of many, many different sorts of bikes, sprung from the minds of an array of framebuilders. So, when Gabriel from Altruiste Bikes, winner of the Best In Show award, got in touch with us, we welcomed the chance to find out a bit more about the bike – and the brand – behind the images.

The prize winning bike, in its natural habitat.
  • Who is Altruiste Bikes? Is it Gabriel, or Gabriel plus a gang of others?
The man himself

It’s a one-and-a-half-man show! Meaning that it’s mostly me, with my wife and a few awesome friends who help once and a while. Although that’s probably going to change with the NAHBS fallback!

  • Obviously you’re now famous, having won best bike at NAHBs, but where have you been all our lives? Have you been well known in another cycling niche outside mountain biking, or have we just not been paying close enough attention? What’s your history up to this point?

I don’t think I’m famous just yet! I worked for Dobermann Bikes from 2006 to 2010. I started as a welder and ended up being production manager and the designer. We built street/park/jump mountain bikes, as well as a DH frame. I think BalfaUK still has a couple.

In 2010 I moved back to the Canadian East-coast, where I’m originally from, and started work on the Altruiste Bicycle Company. I finally got things running in september 2014.

I’ve been building mostly track frame and gravel/touring frames. I also build the Partymaster for the boys at The-Rise. But lately I’ve been going back to mountain bikes, with the Zydeco Slopestyle frame that’s been doing very good. I’ve had this vision and decided to try something new for NAHBS!

The Zydeco Slopestyle frame. Image Courtesy of NAHBS/Brad Quartuccio
  • Your enduro frame won the best in show, but we’re pretty vague on the details. Could you run us through the geometry, design features… and maybe let us know if it has a name? Will it be for sale, or going into production?

It’s my take on the modern enduro, do-everything, basher of a bike! It has 150mm of travel, 65 degree head angle, 1264mm wheelbase, 453mm chainstays, 480mm reach, 626mm stack, and plenty of room for 29X2.6 tyres.

The frame has its pivot concentric with the BB to eliminiate hardware, keep the weight low, and keep the suspension extremely active.

I’m starting with a batch of 10 numbered frames with special badging to commemorate NAHBS. They’re going for US$3500, with included shock and BB and choice of color. They’ll be available early summer.

As for a name, we have a short list. We should decide on something pretty soon! [It now looks like it’s being christened the ThunderChicken!]

The workshop: not clinical.

If that concentric pivot interests you, here’s Gabriel’s explanation of what it’s all about:..

My philosophy with the concentric pivot is that the suspension is completely free from chain tension, therefore there’s no pedal feedback to break traction. Suspension designs that rely on chain tension for ”anti-squat” or ”anti-bob” lose their suspension characteristics when pedal force is applied. Which can lead to traction loss. A BB-centric pivot is completely disconnected from pedal input, and is therefore free to grip. My belief is that it’s more energy efficient to bob and have traction, than to have a firm pedaling platform and skid. You lose more energy skidding than bobbing. Also, with oval chainrings and modern shocks, pedal bob can be turned down quite a bit.

Using my pivot design eliminates the use of secondary hardware for a swingarm pivot. The only extra is a second set of R12 MID BB bearings. There’s no extra bolts, axles, or pivot housing. There’s also very little extra welding as compared to a hardtail. This design uses the most of steel’s properties to keep the weight low and to keep good ride characteristics. We can exploit all of steel’s qualities in a double suspension package with a minimal weight penalty.

The BB-Centric pivot has a forward axle path. Some would say that’s a bad thing, but I’ve realized that it’s quite the opposite. Forward axle paths have very little brake-jack, but most importantly, it keeps the rider’s center of gravity centered on the bike as the suspension cycles. The ratio between the front-center and the chainstay length stays constant as the fork and swingarm cycle through their travel. As opposed to a bike with a rearward axle path, where the rider’s center of gravity will move forward on the bike as the suspension cycles.

On the trail, this means that the bike feels very ”neutral”, and requires less input from the rider to keep its balance. Riders have reported less fatigue, although steel’s dampening properties probably have an impact on that as well.

Lots of food for thought there – do you think Gabriel’s on to something? Let’s find out what else he was thinking when he designed this bike.

  • What inspired the curved seat tube? Was it a solution to a problem, or an aesthetic feature you wanted to use? Or something else!

My defining concept for this frame was to build a steel double suspension frame with as few pieces and welds as possible. Fewer welds = fewer welds to fail. One of the ways I achieved this was to offset the shock to the left and curve the seatube to the right.

 

  • What kind of tube joins did you use? Do you have a favourite, or do different techniques have different qualities that mean they’re suited to certain designs?

I work exclusively with TIG welding. With the tubing I use and the bikes I build, I find it’s the strongest way to build a bike.

 

  • How much of the building is done in your workshop – do you build and paint all your frames? What, if anything happens off site?

Almost everything is done at the shop. I sometimes outsource parts like headtubes and some drop-outs, but I try to machine as much of the frame components in-house. I like the flexibility.

As for paint, I outsource most of it. I’ll paint a few frames a year, especially if the client requires something funky! It gives me the chance to get the creative juices flowing!

Two greens AND orange? There are no rules in this world.
  • What do you offer – is it a completely bespoke service, or a choice from a small range of models? Who are your customers – are they all individuals buying for themselves, or do you build for any other brands?

My clientele is well spread-out internationally. Local sales are rare since I’m in a sparsely populated region of Canada (the nearest city that is 40km away, Moncton, has maybe 175,000 people). I’ve sold frames to a few bike shops as well, mostly in Asia. Although the large majority of my sales are directly with the cyclist.)

Like I’ve stated above, production is split rather evenly between subcontracting work, bespoke frames, and my production models. But, again, this will probably change now that I’ve had success at NAHBS.

  • Do you have any other mountain bikes you’ve designed, or is this the first?

With Dobermann, other than the Pinscher, we had great success with the Stella DH rig, and the LePink Slopestyle frame. Both sold very well, and there are quite a few still out there being used regularly.

With Altruiste I built a few custom MTB hardtail frames, and of course the Zydeco, which is, in all essence, the LePink’s evolution as my vision of the ultimate jumping MTB frame.

  • You had some other bikes at NAHBS – was the enduro bike the one you thought was your best before you went?

I didn’t build any of the bikes to win anything. I had a few things I wanted to try, and was mostly looking forward to getting feedback from people. Nobody had seen the Enduro bike before, so I was definitely curious to see how people would react. Never in a million years would I have imagined it to win best-of-show!

It’s worth following Altruiste Bikes on Instagram, there’s a nice mix of behind-the-scenes life stuff and in-progress build stuff.

  • You seemed quite overwhelmed to have won. Was there another mountain bike there you’d have given the rosette to?

There are to many too many to list! The quality there is unbelievable. The other finalists who were with me in the best MTB category, No.22 and Sklar, both had amazing bikes. The titanium 36er from Black Sheep had an amazing amount of work. Just the hand-formed ti fenders could have stood on their own. Fenix had a very cool folding double suspension bike. Porter also stood out with their metallic blue commuter MTB. It’s impossible to pinpoint just one!

  • How do you decide what to design – is it based on customer requests, whatever takes your fancy, a ‘can we’ approach to engineering… what? Do you just build it and hope the customers come, or do you build things you think will sell well?

Usually my customers contact me because they like my style and what I do. I have a very specific vision of what a bike should be and not everyone gets it, and that’s fine. I’m definitely not trying to please everyone and do ”what sells”. I wouldn’t be building from steel if I did!

I had wanted to build the enduro frame for a while, and it took a friend/client with an idea to get me to do it. We put our heads together and came out with the end-product. A lot of my projects go through that same process.

  • Are your bikes the result of prototypes, test rides and more prototypes, or do you design it all on paper, build it, and see what happens? What’s the process from getting from idea to final bike? Or is it ever final if you’re making each one by hand?!

Through the years, I’ve acquired the experience that allows me to try new things with confidence. I’ve had enough designs fail to know what works. I also keep my designs as simple and clean as possible, which helps with reliability.

Experience means Gabriel knows what works.
  • What’s next? Are you going to buy an island and retire, move to a huge new workshop and start mass production, put the award on the mantelpiece and get on with the next build?

The orders have already starting to pour in a little bit quicker! So in the short term I’d love to properly hire someone. I need to make sure I can stay productive even with the extra orders.

I don’t want to get too big, and I especially want to keep things fun!

Thanks to Gabriel for chatting to us.

 

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