Forestal Bikes has been a mystery since we first learned Cédric Gracia would be working with them so Andi went on the hunt for a scoop.
Forestal is possibly the most exciting bike company that you have never heard of. This start-up plans to enter the mountain bike market with both guns blazing, and they have the financial support to back it up.
A lot of you may not know this about me, but in a previous life, I lived in China where I spent every waking day of my life working with some of the biggest names in tech. I arrived in China just as the smartphone boom kicked off and I became instantly hooked on exciting new tech start-ups coming out of Asia.
I left China after turning down a job with, a then-unknown, brand called OnePlus. I was to be one of their first hires. I didn’t take the job as I had promised my family we would move back to Europe but I always regretted it a little and since then I’ve been searching for the next start-up to make its move and shake up the establishment.
Video: Andi meets Forestal
CG Leaves Santa Cruz!
Fast forward to the start of the year and here I was at Singletrack Towers investigating every lead I could to discover which rider would go to what team, and which brand was doing what for the coming race season.
It was about the same time I broke the story that the Atherton’s would start their own bike brand and race team, that Cédric Gracia made an important announcement. He would be leaving long-term sponsor Santa Cruz, but where would he be leaving them to?
Having a few friends out in Andorra where Cédric Gracia lives, I put the feelers out to see if I could drum up any information about where the fantastic Frenchman would be headed. The only thing my net dragged up was a message from a friend that simply read;
“I know where he’s going, I can’t tell you and you’ll never guess”
Never guess!? The gauntlet had been thrown down, the chase was afoot and my best Peter Falk impression was brought out of retirement.
Can’t see the Forestal for the trees
The time from CG announcing he was leaving Santa Cruz to the time when we finally learned where would end felt like an eternity. I searched everywhere and poked every lead in the industry but there was very little information.
Then photos started to show up on social media. CG in new riding kit, on a bike that looked like it had been photographed by one of the car magazines. It was a prototype with Dazzle style camouflage to hide its lines, shape, and features. It was an enticing teaser and I kept hunting for more.
I kept my ear to the ground and even spoke to Richie Schley about his friend’s new ride. Richie was certain Cédric would be back at Commencal, I knew this wasn’t the case as I had already asked and they had no idea what he had planned.
I even managed to get hold of Cédric’s email to pester him on an almost weekly basis about what he was up to. To my surprise, he replied promptly, promised to put me in touch with his new company, but wouldn’t give up the details yet. This was around March 2019.
Rumours started to trickle in and tight-lipped sources started to babble. I soon learned that a mysterious new company was forming and that the new brand would be backed by Ilya Rouss from Russia and Anton Yarashuk from Belarus, two businessmen known for taking on huge projects and making them a success.
We want to be the Tesla of the bike industry
Just ahead of Sea Otter the first official Forestal news was released, and as someone who had been keeping track since the start, I combed through all the details in the press release and looked for every telltale detail of the bike in the press photos.
Using “Enhance” and “Zoom” techniques made famous in 70’s spy movies, I scrolled through the provided press images that confirmed my suspicions. Cédric Gracia is riding an e-Bike, an e-Bike like nothing we had seen before, but an e-Bike none-the-less.
At the time I speculated that the bike in the photos was a prototype and that it featured an adjustable head-tube angle, I would later find out that it was a prototype but the adjustable head tube was so a single frame could be used to test both sizes medium and large frames rather than needing two different bikes.
The text of the press release didn’t tell us much about who Forestal was, other than they would be setting up a factory in Andorra where they would produce their bikes.
Using a little Google-foo I found that Forestal wasn’t a new name in the mountain bike world and had originally been a component manufacturer based in Barcelona. The ‘new’ Forestal would share just the name and nothing else from this original company.
Now it was clear a trip to my favourite non-EU country that uses the Euro was in order, it was time to pester Forestal.
A trip to Barcelona
Soon after that initial Press Release, I received my first email from the Forestal team. I learned that I already knew one of the marketing guys and used this ‘in’ to ensure I would be the first person to meet the Forestal team and ride that secret superbike.
After a little toing and froing, it was agreed that I would visit Forestal’s office in Barcelona where I would meet the young and exciting team behind the company, take a look at the designs and technology and visit a facility where the prototypes were stored.
My trip would then take me to Andorra where Forestal’s new facility was being built, and while there I would meet Mr. Gracia for myself and even ride with him on one of these secretive prototypes.
But of course, I would have to sign an NDA. So what follows is what I’m allowed to tell you for now, but keep in mind that there is a lot, a whole lot more to come.
Forestal: The biggest company you’ve never heard of
I arrived in Barcelona and met Rafael the CMO of Forestal and Daniel who is the Marketing Manager. They’ve both been in the industry for a while but are amazingly both still young, and they are both very careful with what they say and what they reveal to me.
It’s clear from the start that they’re eager to talk to me but they really want that NDA signing away before they spill the beans. The secrecy is getting to me, I’m excited, I’ve got a ton of questions but they won’t be completely answered just yet.
I’m taken to a modern office that has been completely taken over with Forestal staff. “When we started we couldn’t believe we would fill this space, now we need somewhere much bigger” Dani tells me, the first taster of how fast this young company is growing.
The office in Barcelona is filled with structural engineers, designers, electrical engineers, graphic designers, and more, and they’re all extremely busy working on designs of Forestal’s up and coming e-Bike, along with a few projects we can’t talk about just yet.
I’m shown 3D printed versions of the frame that are printed on one of the largest 3D printers in Spain, of course, owned by Forestal. The designers and engineers are quick to point out that it’s already an out of date design and they’re already working on something new.
And actually this is one of the issues the Forestal team is trying to deal with. Wanting to make a technologically advanced e-Bike, the most advanced in the world is all well and good, but as I know from my time in the industry, technology doesn’t stand still and by the time one prototype is complete a new product has arrived to remove a problem, create a new problem, make things smaller, or add new possibilities.
With this constant change and the drive to build the newest and best, it’s easy to keep moving and changing, but the guys at Forestal know that the line has to be drawn somewhere otherwise their baby will never be released.
The structural engineers show me, 3D computer models, that stress tests the alloy test mules, which I learn are machined from alloy and bolted together. Production bikes will be made of carbon fibre, laid up at a custom manufacturing facility in Andorra, the same facility that Production Privée frames will be made in the future. Yes, Forestal had also incidentally bought my favourite steel frame maker! Is there anything this brand isn’t doing?
I take a tour around the office, chatting with each member of the team and by this time they were talking freely about everything as they had gained my signature on the NDA. At least I think it was an NDA… I was too excited to bother reading it!
The mid-motor enduro bike features a swing arm that looks like a single pivot design, and in fact, the original prototype from the first press release was a single pivot, but the bikes I will see have a clever linkage that is almost hidden entirely from view.
Not content with growing at the speed of light, buying up other brands and building their own frames, Forestal has also taken on the challenge of developing its own motor and battery technology along with the operating system that goes along with it.
In the same office, I meet the team who is leading up the development of the motor system. I’m not given any firm figures or numbers about it, but they’re excited and it’s clear they have a lot of ideas they want to implement.
They explain that all the systems, and technology that Forestal is using is their own, but they are working with technology partners to manufacture some parts they’re not able to at this time. However, because it’s all their own tech the Forestal designers and engineers can build their own screens, controllers, and change the battery capacity and even shape to suit their needs.
In comparison, Bosch’s motor system is completely closed off to 3rd party manufacturers, and Shimano will only let 3rd party batteries be used. In this way, the e-Bikes we’ve seen, even the best ones, are compromised in some way. Forestal believes they’ll get around this. Perhaps they’re not just planning on being the Tesla of the bike industry but the Apple too?
While I’m geeking out over bikes and tech, I meet the man in charge of the Forestal project. Valentin Rouss has been put in charge of this ambitious project and oversee its rapid expansion. Valentin takes me to his office where we chat and he shows me his vision for the Forestal facility that I’ll see the next day.
It’s an 8 floor, 8000 sqm building in the centre of Andorra that was the head office for Opel, but Forestal has now bought the building and Opel, the carmaker, is having to move out. It’s another example of the speed of growth and the level of investment that Forestal is putting into this project, but also an interesting look at how the world is changing. At one time the car industry was bigger than anything, now technology is taking the reins.
The plan is to convert this ex-office/car-dealer/workshop space into a modern research, development and manufacturing facility.
It will feature curing rooms, carbon fibre layup areas, powder coating facilities, and more. They don’t just plan to produce Forestal’s carbon bikes here, but also Production Privée’s steel and titanium bikes here too, and perhaps there will be enough capacity left over to build bikes and products for other brands too?
I get the feeling from our short meeting that Valentin isn’t a bike nerd or tech geek like myself, but he loves it all as much as I do, and he knows people and how to put a good team together, and from what I have seen so far he’s doing a sterling job.
Finally the prototypes!
After a long but exciting morning, it was time to head out to a facility that Forestal calls “Smile”. This is a warehouse that houses the giant 3D printer for creating mockups of the bikes, it’s also where they store the current prototypes, spares and the original CG bike.
To my surprise, there are prototype enduro e-MTBs and non e-Bikes too. These mechanical rigs are for development purposes only as Forestal is focussing on assist bikes only for now, but it’s interesting to see an e-Bike company building standard bikes to help with development.
The prototypes we see are manufactured using two pieces of CNC alloy that are bolted together and the bikes feature adjustable pivot locations and headset points. Because the reach and rear end of the bikes increase as you size up, Forestal’s prototypes are designed to cover 2 frame sizes.
These bikes in the pictures are set in the medium setting, moving the headset and pivot would increase the bike to a large.
What strikes me about these prototypes is just how light and well balanced they feel. Judging from the manufacturing process and material I expected them to be hefty bikes, but even these prototypes are a good weight.
The e-MTB prototype has the same adjustments, but the downtube of the frame is larger to fit the battery inside. I don’t recall what the battery size on this prototype was, but I know that current bikes are being tested with a 500Wh battery.
A mid-drive motor is bolted to the bike but is significantly more compact than the current Shimano Steps E8000 motor and even the latest Gen 4 Bosch. I’m not told how much torque the motor puts out, as I expect it’s still under development, but it’s a tiny little motor which helps to keep weight down.
These bikes are a few incarnations on from the original prototype, and I can see that the design team have worked on slimming the downtube with integrated battery down to a minimum, but this is already set to change because as I was there new battery tech was revealed meaning the frame can be tweaked again.
Along with the battery changes, the controller for mode selection and the display are both for development only. The final screen will feature a curved panel and sit neatly in the top-tube, but I didn’t see a design for the controller.
All bikes have 29in wheels and around 160mm of travel. My bike for the few days is fitted with Fox suspension while Cédric’s has DVO suspension and Braking disc brakes from Italy.
The original CG Prototype.
First test ride and shakedown
Before heading to Andorra for a run at the bike park, I was given the chance to ride the e-MTB enduro bike close to the facility. Due to it being a prototype I wasn’t able to take it too far, but I did get to experience the Forestal motor first hand.
The bike I rode had 4 modes in total and the power transfer was very gradual to the point you don’t really notice the motor at all. Like other adaptive motor systems on the market, the Forestal motor reacts to rider input so the harder you pedal the more power the motor puts down.
With no jar or jolt to the motor’s engagement, the power transfer feels very natural and progressive. This natural feeling continues through the power band until the EU speed limit (25km/h) is reached. Again the reduction in power is natural and gradual. There’s none of that “riding through treacle” feeling as I have experienced on other motors.
This progressive power curve is important for an off-road e-Bike and especially important to get right for climbing steep, technical sections of trail. Mud, slick roots and loose terrain can be a recipe for zero traction on some e-MTB’s but the Forestal’s gradual power curve and adaptive nature should ensure grip and flow in all conditions.
As we were in Spain in the middle of summer I wasn’t able to test the motor in all these conditions, but what I did ride felt very promising.
In addition to the power band of the motor, the surprisingly light weight of the e-MTB makes the Forestal prototype a breeze to manoeuvre and hop, and this is set to get even better once the carbon bikes are produced.
Unfortunately, my time on the e-MTB version of the bike was short, but I was then put on the development full-suspension bike for a longer shakedown ride to get my settings dialled in for a day of Vallnord bike park riding.
Forestal HQ Andorra
The following day it was time to head to Andorra, this would be my 3rd visit to this tiny European country this year. Although small, it has some great riding, is home to some of the greatest riders in the world, not to mention the companies based here.
With Forestal planning to produce bikes in Andorra, the idea has been kicked about that Andorra has the potential to become the bike equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Rafa and Dani had already explained to me the size of the building that Forestal had purchased but it wasn’t until I was there I was able to really grasp the scale of this operation.
While I was there the building was still being vacated by Opel, but we toured each floor and I was told what would be here and there by Damien Nosella, the CEO of Production Privée, and now also the Director of Engineering and Fabrication for Forestal. As the DEF for Forestal, his job is to turn this giant husk of a building into a cutting edge factory that will be adaptable enough to manufacture in alloy, steel, titanium and carbon fiber as well as remaining environmentally friendly. It’s no small task and the fact he has very little time to complete the transformation adds to the pressure.
As the building was originally home to Opel, it has been designed with heavy machinery and the weight of cars and vans in mind so some of the levels are perfect for housing the large CNC machines that Forestal plans to bring in.
Each floor is connected via road ramps so vehicles can drive from one level to the next. Again, making for easy access for fitting out the huge space, but also useful when moving product and stock around the factory while in operation.
The final details of which floor will house what isn’t set in stone at this stage, but the very top floors of the building have been earmarked to become an open plan office area where Forestal staff will work together on marketing, R&D and more.
Although it’s hard to imagine from these photos, the plan is to create a light and airy workspace with large windows to overlook the Andorran landscape. The idea to bring the outdoors inside to fuse the feeling of nature and technology.
Forestal ride Vallnord
After being thoroughly blown away by the scope and scale of the facility it was time to ride a prototype at the Vallnord Bike Park with Cédric Gracia.
Having never ridden at the bike park before, I’d only been on natural trails in Andorra, the team suggested I run my fork a little harder than usual, and so I rolled into unknown trails on a bike I’d never ridden before and on a set-up I wasn’t comfortable with… following Cédric Gracia!
Suffice to say I rode extremely poorly on my first and only run with CG. He was a gent, and he wasn’t afraid to send it when sending didn’t look like an option, but I feel I left CG with the impression that I can’t ride.
Anyway, after the first run, we set the fork up how I normally have it and low and behold, I picked up my confidence and let off the brakes. This bike can rail!
Not being a big bike park rider you forget how much faster you cover ground and how modern bikes are able to quickly switch from flat out groomed trail monster, to braking bump gobbler in a blink of an eye.
Although the mechanical bike was made as a development platform for the e-MTB, this Forestal prototype rode as well as many production bikes I’ve ridden over the years. If the e-Bike rides anywhere nearly as lively as this bike, then we may well have a cure to a lot of e-MTB hate.
While not as long in the reach as many modern bikes, my test bike set in its medium frame setting has a generous wheelbase for stable high-speed trucking and it’s clear from watching CG ride it can huck to flat all day long too.
Riding the blown-out dusty corners at speed is a breeze too, with the Forestal eager to switch direction and find grip where other bikes may not.
With the settings how I like them, and a rough idea of where I was going, I let off the brakes and hit things faster, and started to trust the bike more to hit blind jumps and corners.
So fast I was riding that I can confidently say I am the first journalist in the world to crash a Forestal bike. Luckily my GoPro took the brunt of the collision.
The time was already drawing in and by the time I reached the top of the bike park for my second run many of the lifts were already closing. A real shame as I was quickly gelling with this CNC machined bike.
After ending my short time on the bike, I was asked various questions about how the bike handled, what I liked and didn’t like. All my points were noted down, and I have since been informed by one of the engineers at Forestal that some of my feedback has actually been used in the latest prototypes. It turns out that feedback from average riders is just as important as feedback from pros. Cheers guys…
My impression of Forestal
Forestal is blending mountain biking with technology, and it is doing it at a time when e-Bike popularity is booming. The level of investment, the speed of growth and the level of commitment are exciting and worrying to me in equal measure.
I’m excited to see how this new brand grows, the technological advances that it’ll create and I’m ultimately interested in the buzz around the company. Forestal could be the first brand that spans lifestyle, tech and the outdoors and has the opportunity to reach a much larger audience than a traditional mountain bike brand.
As much as I’m excited about the future, there is a part of me that is concerned by the speed of growth and the amount of money being invested in the project. As someone who has seen young and exciting tech companies come and go there is a part of me that does worry about the brand.
That said the company and the people working there are all well-grounded. They understand what they have in their hands is revolutionary and they know they have to get the product, user experience, and the execution spot on.
It’s easily the biggest and most daring project I’ve seen in the cycling industry so far, and it even rivals what I’ve seen from major players in the tech industry.
Throw in the fact that these bikes will be produced in Europe and they have the capacity to work with other companies, Forestal may soon become one of the major tech / bike brands we have ever seen.
The Tesla of mountain biking? Quite possibly even bigger.