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Photo Story: Atherton Bikes from the Beginning

Happy Riding

A behind the scenes look at the challenges, the triumphs and the frustrations. From “far-fetched idea” to first customer sale – the first 17 months in quotes and pictures.

bigquotes We’d talked about launching our own bike brand since we were kids but when we laid out everything that we’d be walking away from as racers it was truly terrifying. We launched on Dan’s birthday from the Athy Racing HQ. We kept everything secret until the last minute so getting it all out there was insane.Gee Atherton
bigquotes Additive manufacturing made it possible for us to implement significant frame improvements between races but it also allowed us to bring those learnings into production weeks rather than years after those races.Ed Haythornthwaite
bigquotes Our frames are constructed using titanium lugs joined to proprietary carbon tubing. The process is entirely digital and requires very little tooling so the lugs tailored in CAD can be built to order and individually customized.Ben Farmer, Atherton Bikes CEO
bigquotes Within a couple of months Atherton Bikes went from being this cool but far-fetched idea to a really scary reality as more pieces slotted into place. That’s typical of how we work together as a family – Athy comes up with huge plans then I’ll work through the details and Rach brings the fire!Gee Atherton
bigquotes I’m part of this because I believe in the technology and I believe in the people. I was pretty brutal those first months, I pissed them off, but it’s hard to get a new product to market in a form that people are actually going to want to buy. We didn’t have a big influx of funding but I believe that struggle made the company stronger.Piers Linney, Chairman
bigquotes We got a great team in place, now all we had to do was build a World Cup bike in a couple of months. At the same time we were building a 150mm trail bike that we’d all be stoked to ride. We gave both models equal weighting, key learnings from the trail bike later being incorporated into the team’s race bikes.Dan Brown, Chief Marketing Officer
bigquotes Going into a World Cup you’re looking for 10ths of seconds and we were starting from the ground up, we tested 1000s of variables, our trackside checklist was 100 items long. It took every bit of our combined experience and every part of the engineer’s knowledge.Gee
bigquotes Away from racing London Bike Show was a huge boost, people were genuinely fascinated by the process and excited by what we were doing, hanging out, coming back again later to talk more…Dan Atherton
bigquotes Rach’s first win at Fort William was a definite high point. It’s hard to convey the enormity of late nights and long days on a challenging budget, the fun test sessions, the endless Whatsapps, workflow clashes, clashes of opinion (a lot!) and the sheer drive to create better bikes… a World Cup win in front of a home crowd made it all worthwhile.Dan Brown
bigquotes Getting a race bike dialled to win is Such a long process, winning a World Cup on a 4 month old prototype was an improbable dream. The bike I rode in Maribor was awesome but it wasn’t perfect, I’d gone too long with it, the stiffness wasn’t right, I was learning and making changes every day.Rachel Atherton
bigquotes Even at Fort William, I took off the more linear suspension hardware that the crew had worked so hard to 3D print and bond in 5 days for me, and went back to the original set up for my race run. It felt amazing to win for the team but they all said that the hard work was just starting…Rachel
bigquotes One of the biggest challenges in that first season was to optimise the stiffness characteristics of the frame. A level of flex in certain areas of the frame can give positive performance in certain track conditions, but too much flex can give a negative performance and make the frame feel unpredictable.Rob Gow, Head Designer
bigquotes The application of Additive Manufacturing allowed the team to make a series of small, iterative steps working in between the World Cup rounds. Detailed feedback from the riders would be matched with lab testing so that all design modifications were informed by both.Rob Gow
bigquotes At the same time the riders were doing a lot of work with Dave Weagle to tune in the suspension kinematic. The DW6 suspension system allows us to completely change the suspension design from the back end with the front end remaining constant so there is a really quick turnaround.Rob Gow
bigquotes Written down like this it seems like all forward progress but that’s not how it was! Taking steps back was always worth it. Halfway through the season we shared our reservations about stiffness with key media guys, it really drove home that none of us were willing to launch a product that wasn’t 110% dialled, so we kept working.Rachel Atherton
bigquotes EFBE in Germany are recognised as world leaders in bicycle frame testing. We took Gee and Charlie’s frames there mid-season and tested them as far as the equipment would go, exceeding some specific load cases we had in mind. The tests confirmed that the frames were as good as the day that they came off the bonding jig – despite hard use at three World Cups.Ben Farmer

bigquotes We actually got through our first season ever without breaking a frame, but of course I broke myself at Les Gets! Suddenly I felt totally useless. It was hard to step back from testing and let the others get on with it, but that is the beauty of Atherton bikes, everyone rides and understands how the bike should feel – this is boss man Dan Brown in action.Rachel
bigquotes It was amazing to see Mille step up to take the Junior win at Val di Sole. To support new talent is definitely one of the founding principles of Atherton Bikes, it’s almost more emotional seeing other riders racing the bikes!Rachel
bigquotes Val di Sole was a pivotal moment for Charlie too, moving up to 11th in Finals but he felt like he was struggling to make some of the turns so for Round 7 at Lenzerheide (in 5 days time!) he asked if he could try a shorter front end.Dan Brown
bigquotes Monday morning rider briefing – Monday afternoon CAD data to Renishaw where build data was loaded on to the multi-laser RenAM 500Q machine. It takes the AM machine about 16 hours to make a lug set for one bike, melting each of the Ti6Al4V slices in 60 micrometre layers so by Tuesday lunchtime the lugs were out of the machine.Dan Brown
bigquotes Wednesday, the lugs are heat treated, removed from the build plate then bearing seats were machined, threads cut and inspected.Dan Brown
bigquotes Thursday morning Ed assembled the frame. Ideally we’d leave it in the jig for the adhesive to cure but not this time! We accelerated the curing with heater mats but we weren’t able to factor in cooling time, I flew to Zurich with the frame still warm! The race team mechanics were straight on to assembly and by Friday 10.15 am Charlie joined Group A practise, qualifying 24th and moving up to 21st in Finals.

For me, achieving this turnaround is one of the best illustrations of both the versatility of Additive Manufacturing and the workings of the Atherton Bike team.

Dan Brown

bigquotes Away from the racetrack we were facing the huge challenge of moving to full production. Luckily several of the team have a background in manufacturing from aerospace and F1 so it wasn’t hard for us to adapt our experience…a bike is actually a relatively simple product!Ed Haythornthwaite
bigquotes We took the bikes back to EFBE for the final pre-market certification testing so now we have two great bikes production ready which we’re marketing now as our #firstfifty. Making the first build slots available to those who’ve followed our story and signed up to the newsletter feels more legit than putting out some huge launch and risking not being able to keep up with demand – we are in this for the long haul.Dan
bigquotes We delivered our first bikes to customers a few weeks ago. Covid-19 has definitely slowed down our supply chain but everyone is in the same boat. Our silver lining is that the postponement of the race season has given us an unprecedented opportunity to focus on developing Atherton Bikes. We’ve spent the last three months building frames and bikes solo from multiple locations; we’re pretty much back in the factory now with social distancing in place and a real fire for the next stage in our company’s growth.Gee

We still have some availability for our #firstfifty build slots. More about the bikes here: http://tiny.cc/athertonbikes, for detailed information including spec and prices sign up to our mailing list.

Images: Sven Martin, Moonhead Media and team phones!


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