Being that this is one of the most highly anticipated freecoaster hubs, I recently talked to George French about his design to get some more information for you guys.
Ok, let's start with the quick details: Age, Years riding, Companies worked for/with?
41. Riding BMX? about 24 I rode MTBs before that. I currently work for Odyssey, Sunday, G-sport, Flatware, Fairdale and OTX previously just G-Sport though I did once work for Alex Moulton Bicycles as a summer intern
I know you have a background in engineering. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I have a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sheffield, but my dad is also a Professor of mechanical engineering so I grew up with it.
Do you think you're engineering background has played a big part in your designs, or do you just go for simple and practical parts?
Yes. Engineering is essentially "applied science". If you want to make things that work well (which is all I have ever wanted to do) then you need to understand what you are doing, for me that means engineering. I always try to keep things simple believe it or not, less parts means less to go wrong generally, but on the other hand separating the functions of different parts so each one only has to do one job is a good way to build in reliability and in a way simplicity.
When did you first start experimenting with freecoasters?
Hmmmm.... I used to help local flatlanders get their hubs working over 20 years ago, and in the mid nineties I was welding stainless flanges onto shells for Custom Riders in the UK, but I didn't start looking at my own designs until about 1997 or so.
I've heard your coaster design called the "G-coaster", the "Homer-coaster", and the "Ratchet Coaster". What do you actually call it?
Within the company we just usually call it "the freecoaster" its not like we are going to confuse it. We can worry about a name if we ever get close to launch.
Why did you decided to go with a radially engaging mechanism versus the traditional laterally engaging driver/clutch?
Balance. The problem with axial designs is that there are some pretty big loads involved and they aren't balanced, the inherent inbalances of the design are why they are so problematic. With a radial design you can try to create multiple reaction vectors and balance these out quite a lot, and any unbalanced resultant load is likely to be both small and acting in a way that the bearings are used to coping with, ie radial.
I noticed in the first set of patents that the hub used a single "cam" to radially engage the hub, but that later patents changed to two cams. Why was this change made?
The single cam version was brutal engineering, the entire reaction force was taken by big bearings and this meant it was heavy and difficult to do anything like a 9 tooth driver with. Going to 2 cams allows the load to balance out and lets us use smaller bearings and so drop to a 9 tooth driver. Having a separate patent for the two designs should make our protection stronger. The concept is the same though and the original patent would probably have provided enough protection on its own.
There is a lot of anticipation for this hub and I'm sure you know many people are disappointed in the delays. Can you give us some insight into what some of the setbacks have been?
I guess you just cant rush this stuff. Product development is always long and hard and slow. In hindsight it would have been best to keep everything quiet until we were ready to launch. I have learnt a lot over this project and if I was starting again now I could probably do it in half the time (or less). Patents are very slow, we spent a huge amount of time knocking these back and forth with the patent agent, prototypes are always prone to being a little "off" and with something like this that causes problems. We have had a couple of working hubs over the years but they have never been something we could actually make and sell, they were too hard to manufacture, or too complex to maintain. I could make them work for me, but for 95% of riders they would be no use. We have literally been back to the drawing board about 6 times now and just completely re-worked everything to make manufacture more feasible. Believe it or not we actually have projects that are taking longer but we had the sense to keep quiet about.
You had an example of the hub on hand a couple years ago at Interbike and rumors are that a couple have been out for testing. How many are being tested, and how well is the testing going so far?
There are none being tested right now, we have had hubs ridden briefly by other riders and the feedback they gave was very useful, but the hubs were not even close to being good enough to sell.
You've previously mentioned that the new coaster will be using the same shell as the Ratchet hub. Can we assume then, that after market Ratchet parts like the 3/8ths alloy axle or the Blue6 Titanium upgrade axle will work with the freecoaster?
Probably not, no. As I say I really should have kept everything quiet, so much has had to change with the design that this is very unlikely now, at this point pretty much everything you have heard about the hub in the past no longer applies. I probably wasted far too much time trying to keep the hub small and this caused a lot of the problems, so for now we are making a big ugly thing just to eliminate those factors as a variable, once we get to a solid working prototype we can look at
slimming it down a bit.
Will the weight be similar to that of the Ratchet?
At this stage I can only really guess.
Has anyone else helped you with the design, or has it been a solo project?
No actual design help, but we work as a team on the project as a whole. (as we do with all our projects)
Any better estimations on when it will be released?
No. I wouldnt even feel confident saying sometime in very late 2012... it could well take longer than that. We are nowhere near right now.
Posted by Bunky
on December 4th, 2012 with No Comments »