Designing the Titan Racing Cypher with Cliff Beckett
The Cypher is Titan Racing’s first dual suspension carbon mountain bike. Cliff Beckett joined the Titan Racing team two years ago with the task of bringing the Cypher (and many other bikes) to life. We sat down with Cliff to discuss the design process and what he aims to achieve with the Cypher range.
Explain your role at Titan Racing?
My primary focus is product design and development. I’ve been in the role at Titan Racing for just over two years.
The role covers everything from accessories right through to bikes. We can’t change all our products overnight, obviously. So we’ve decided to start with the products where we can make the biggest immediate difference. Because of the popularity of the product and the customer base that we have, the cross-country marathon type mountain bike is our first major project. I have also revamped all the kids’ bikes and I’ve made changes to the hardtail ranges (the Drone and Rouge modes). Not all of these bikes are ready yet but they are on their way. By next year, most of our bikes will be in-house designs.
By bringing more of the design process in-house, we’re hoping to have greater control over our own products. We can start to better unify the design language of each product into something that that you can recognise as a Titan Racing product. The new bikes will all have similar design elements that mark them as a Titan Racing bike.
Where did you start with the Cypher design process?
The design process starts with developing the parameters of the bikes. You have to decided which boxes you want to check, such as the number of water bottles, travel amount, a rough idea of geometry, and the bottom bracket standard.
From the get-go, we knew that we’d be designing the Cypher around two key features: the first one being space for two water bottle cages and secondly, the use of a metric shock.
How much of a constraint is squeezing two water bottles into the front triangle on the frame design?
It is a huge consideration when designing the frame. There are a hundred ways to skin a cat. Think of designing a bike as a trying to fit a system together, instead of a simple singular item. The is no single best way of designing a bike frame because when you change one thing on a system, it has an impact on every other component of that system. So designing a mountain bike is all about finding a balance between the varying components.
With two bottle cages, you have to juggle having a decent shaped suspension leverage curve with the restricted space in the frame. For example, certain shock lengths are off the table as they will not fit into the limited space. So designing with two water bottles in mind pushes our frame in a certain direction in terms of where to position the shock, what suspension layout to use, etc.
There are only really three layout options with the shock in this position; a single pivot, swing link, or a combination of the two. We played with these three options to see which has the best kinematic characteristics in terms of anti-squat, anti-rise, and critical leverage ratio. And we ended up with the four-bar horst linkage design that is on the bike now.
It is not just water bottles that we need to think of, there are several other constraints that also influence the frame design. Such as meeting our weight targets, achieving a price point, and many others.
We did not intend to design something different for the sake of being different. The design of the bike has a lot to do with the parameters that we thought would tick the boxes that the customer would want. We see ourselves as a value bike offering and we want to pack the most amount of bike in as possible.
What is next after you have decided on the suspension layout?
While developing the suspension system, I also start sketching (electronically and on paper) the look for the bike around the pre-planned parameters (water bottles, geometry, etc).
The drawings take into account the materials used for the manufacturing process and what is possible in terms of clearance, e.g. tyres, wheels, parts, and cable routing. Once you have that conceptualised, you can start going to town with the shape and looks of the bike. We considered a number of different shapes. For example, we had the top tube splitting before the seattube and even considered four separate headtube designs.
Then we put the drawings into CAD and start modelling everything up as a 3D model, where you can start checking the clearances and finalising the lines. Once a design is close to the final product, I print it out on the 3D printer in the office. One of the difficulties with working in CAD is the vague sense of scale. With 3D printing, you can check in real life whether the parts are the correct proportions.
The finished design is then sent to the frame factory. Here the factory’s specialist reviews the design for manufacturing and analyses the forces at a carbon ply-by-ply level. This cuts down on the amount of physical testing to optimise the frame.
The Cypher is also going to be available in aluminium with the same geometries and kinematics. Working in another material comes with its own manufacturing challenges, so it will come out a little bit later than the carbon models.
How do you use the same frame for both the 100mm Cypher RS and 120mm Cypher?
A metric shock allows you to change the stroke of the shock by up to seven and a half millimetres without changing the total length of the shock (the eye-to-eye). So when you push that the longer stroke through to the rear axle after the leverage ratio (depending on how you’ve designed it) you can get up to twenty millimetres of travel difference.
The 100-millimetre travel Cypher RS has the same eye-to-eye shock length as the Cypher 120-millimetre travel bike. To balance the extra travel of the 120-millimetre Cypher models, we fitted a 120-millimetre fork. The 120mm travel fork lifts the front end of the bike slightly because it has a longer axle-to-crown measurement than a 100mm fork. This normalizes (for lack of a better word) the bottom bracket height and the head angle to suit a 120mm travel bike. The longer fork lifts the bottom bracket height but not by 20 millimetres because bottom bracket height is not directly related to the travel amount. So depending on the fork model (they have varying lengths), the bottom bracket can change between 10 and 12 millimetres.
How much does the adjustable geometry flip-chip change the Cypher?
The flip-chip is placed in the seat stay between the links and the seatstay. The flip-chip allows you to further tweak the geometry with a High and Low setting. This moves the bottom bracket height by six millimetres and adjusts the head angle by almost half a degree.
The idea is to tweak the attitude of the bike slightly for rider preference or depending on the courses they are riding (like our race team does). For example, riders might like the bike in the low position for XCO and the high position for Marathon.
You’ve choose a threaded bottom bracket for the Cypher. How did you make that decision?
We decided on the bottom bracket standard early on. It was part of the early core parameters that we started with in designing the Cypher. We chose a thread bottom bracket largely due to the negative perception around the press-fit bottom bracket maintenance and creakiness.
I do not dislike press-fit bottom brackets, I think they work fine. The downside to press-fit for me is that once you remove the bottom bracket it is designed to be replaced with a whole new one. Most bike shops and home mechanics reuse the bottom bracket if the bearings are still functioning. I also don’t like the idea of throwing something away that still works. And many South Africans have a similar mentality of not discarding a functioning part. And this is when the infamous creaking often starts appearing. So from a maintenance and reuse perspective, thread bottom brackets make sense.
Many modern cross-country bikes are using a flexible pivot but you’ve shied away from that. Why is that?
The Cypher being our first full-suspension carbon bike, we stuck on the safe side. Like the geometry, we didn’t want to reach too far into the unknown. The horst-link is a safe option from both a construction and suspension design. There is a slight weight penalty but the Cypher isn’t heavy, it is in the middle of the range. But the design comes with advantages too, like everything else in bike design, it is a balance of the whole system.
They were given the very first rideable samples of the bike. They have now been racing them for a good ten months. From their feedback, we’ve changed a lot. For example, the fasteners on the bike, certain tolerances, some frame shapes on the bike, and adjusted the spring rate in the shocks to be slightly more supple at the beginning of the stroke.
How do you hope the consumer will view the Cypher on the shop floor?
We want our bikes to be the smart choice. When you walk into a store to compare other marathon race bikes, we want our bikes to be the sensible option. The Cypher is a balance of kinematics, geometry, looks, features, and importantly price.
How do you make sizing work?
We have moved away from inch sizing and are adopting a small, medium, large type format. There is still reference to inches on our geometry charts but inch sizing on a mountain bike references to the length of the seat tube and with dropper posts, seat tubes lengths have reduced drastically. We want to try to get people to get a sense of their sizing using a combination of reach, stack, and effective top tube. We’ve got a size guide to help people make this decision. The sizing will also translate across bike types in the Titan Racing range, e.g. hardtail, dual suspension, and even road bikes to some extent.