How one engineering student’s idea became a reality thanks to Hope Technology.
Words & Photography Chipps
Maxime Lallemand loves riding bikes in the French mountains. He loves racing enduros, and blasting down mountains flat out. The only trouble is, he’s always had a bit of a weak grip on one hand. Not enough to stop him from hanging on, but enough to make constant hauling on the brakes an issue on long descents.
Being an engineering student, he decided to see if he could engineer a solution to his problem. Other riders and engineers have looked at this predicament in the past and there have been many different approaches; running two separate brake levers stacked on top of each other or combining a single lever with two reservoirs. Each solution comes with its own issues. Two brake levers tend to take up a lot of room on the bars – and with a shifter (and dropper lever) sharing that side of the bars too, things get crowded.
The ‘two calipers from one lever’ solution also brings its own issues. How do you set your brake bias? 50% front and 50% rear? 70/30? What happens if you’re on steep shale and need less front brake? How do you endo? How do you skid round a corner without high-siding? You could have a bias-adjuster, but how would you adjust it while trying to descend a mountain with that much going on already?
Let’s just make one
For Maxime’s engineering college course, he set out to try to get a single lever system, with dual master cylinder, to work but it turned out to be very fragile and hard to adjust for front/rear bias.
Going back to the drawing board, and with a new enduro bike to ride, Maxime spent the next year riding using only the front brake. With predictable consequences. So he decided to re-visit his project – searching the internet for people who sold the internals for brake levers. He bought some parts and reverse engineered a double brake lever with two diaphragms and two independent circuits.
With the help of his dad’s engineering company (tinkering runs in the family it seems) Maxime machined a brake with two stacked levers, of differing lengths, running from a single body, but with twin fluid reservoirs. This would allow independent brake control, but with a smaller handlebar clamp than running two separate levers.
With the prototype built, Maxime set about testing it in his native French mountains. A chance meeting with Blake Samson and Nico Vink in Chatel Bike Park saw his idea appear on a big Youtube channel and two weeks later he found himself talking to engineers from Hope Technology’s office in Briançon.
Now, with access to Hope internals, he could make his lever more reliable, but with college placement time approaching he chanced his arm and asked if Hope would give him a six month placement in its R&D lab, rather than at the French ball bearing factory that his college had arranged for him.
Hope took him on at the beginning of 2019 and Maxime moved from France to Barnoldswick in a quiet corner of Lancashire. It was a big move for the young Frenchman, without a great grasp of English, but he gamely took it on and was able to throw himself at the opportunity of this dream opportunity at Hope.
Under the watchful eye of Hope’s R&D Manager, Les Thomas, Maxime was given the project of seeing if this dual brake lever could be developed for production by Hope. In addition, just to keep him busy, there were additional projects along similar lines.
Maxime was tasked with producing a double brake lever – for both left and right hand applications. He also had to find a way to allow a right hand, rear shift lever to work on the ‘wrong’ side of the bars for riders who were left-hand-dominant. And finally, he was tasked with finding a way for riders with a prosthetic limb, or weak grip, to hold firmly onto the bars with their weak side so that they weren’t bucked off.
Machining in metal
The prototype levers and bodies were designed and 3D printed in Hope’s workshop. This allowed a check to see if all of the components would fit on the bars, whether the levers would be ergonomic, and if the internals would all fit inside.
Once proven, they were CNC machined in metal and the first working prototypes could be built. It’s a complicated build and it takes four bleeding processes to get it ready for use. This was then dyno-tested, with a robot hand pulling the lever many times a minute to make sure that it was up to Hope’s normal quality.
After that, Maxime was free to take it out and see if it worked in the real world, which he jumped at, with visits to local trails in Gisburn and bigger trails, like the Lakes and Revolution Bike Park further afield.
Meanwhile, Maxime worked on how to keep a rider from bouncing off the bars. It had to be something that was easy to use and to attach, but which still allowed a rider to bail out if needed. He developed a 3D printed ‘cleat’ that clipped down onto a bar handlebar (a little like a Lego figure’s hands) underneath the rider’s hand. The cleat was strapped to the riders wrist with a gauntlet and a sideways rocking move unclipped it.
It turns out that not all handlebars are exactly the same diameter, with a variation of just 0.1mm enough to make disengagement problematic. His solution was to oversize everything so that a precision machined, slim sleeve was bolted on to the handlebar – like a ‘naked’ lock-on grip and a new cleat clipped onto that. The lock-on collars stopped the cleat from sliding side to side, and by varying the diameters, Maxime could vary the release tension from ‘beach cruiser’ to ‘downhill racer’. These are then colour coded for easy comprehension.
Attention then moved on to shifting. He converted a right hand SRAM shifter to shift over 1×11 gears, but within a left hand shifter body. Anyone who’s taken a shifter body apart will have been faced with myriad scary-looking cogs and gears. It was Maxime’s job to make sense of it all, make the bits that needed making and put it all back together so that it worked in harmony with a stock derailleur.
And just to make things more complicated, he decided to integrate the mounts for the shifter into the lever clamp for, as he jokes ‘maximum integration and confusion!’
The finished unit is both complex to look at, but impressive in its compact simplicity. Everything you need to brake, shift and drop your saddle is there for you, under fingers and thumb, leaving the right hand side of the bars, with its solitary grip, looking very sparse. And the worn anodising on the brake levers shows just how much use Maxime has been getting out of the system already.
This project was a success, but it’s in Hope’s interest to see if the investment they’ve made can be recouped by selling a few. It’s here that R&D Manager Les admits they’re in uncharted waters. While the Hope staff know a few riders between them who might benefit from the products they’ve developed here, they don’t really know how to reach them. And they don’t want to wade in on someone’s disability with a ‘magic’ cure if the rider is doing just fine, thank you.
I suspect, though, that this world of can-do bikers will find them instead. It’s always been an inventive scene, where riders like Maxime have found a way to make things work the way they need them to; bugging engineering friends to make stuff, or disassembling perfectly good bikes and components to get that one bit that will make the crucial difference.
With Maxime now returning with his tricked-out Bronson to the bike parks of the French mountains, it’s bound to get noticed. I only hope that Hope is ready for the rush.