The real story about the new downhill technology from Santa Cruz and Intense
SANTA CRUZ REINSTATES THE VPP CONCEPT
Rob Roskopp is one of two partners who run the show at Santa Cruz Bicycles. Rob, an active mountain biker, is also a dual-suspension devotee. The modest factory is surrounded by an enviable network of forested singletracks and fireroads that may be the best-kept secret in the fat tire world. Santa Cruz is most famous for its single-pivot monoshock design that has proven over time to be a competitive cross-country suspension.
The impetus to search for a new rear suspension technology was a result of industry copy cats and the sense that Santa Cruz had squeezed every last drop of performance from its simplistic monoshock. After checking out a couple of high-visibility designs that recently hit the press, Rob remembered Outland’s VPP system. The flexibility of Outland’s linkage design and is unique performance under power were the main attraction. A deal was struck with the principles of the old Outland firm and Santa Cruz became the exclusive owner of the VPP patents.
MBA: What benefits motivated Santa Cruz to dig up the VPP design?
Rob: I haven?t ridden a [suspension] bike that pedals as well as this one. The VPP design makes it feel like you are really accelerating. The single-pivot bikes that we make almost feel like that, but this thing takes it to a new level.
MBA: When did you first see the VPP bike?
Rob: When the VPP first came out at Interbike, 1995. I thought, Holy [cow]! This thing is really cool. It solved all the things that we were trying to address with a single pivot, and accomplished things that we couldn?t make our system do.
MBA: Who originally came up with the design?
Rob: There were two guys that worked it out: James Klassen was the engineer that designed the linkage and Jamie Calon was the mountain biker who molded the project into a system that would operate on an off-road bicycle. Outland Technologies owned the patents. There were originally two patents that covered the axle paths and linkage configurations. A third patent was recently added to include a one-piece swingarm to reduce the VPP’s complexity.
MBA: The original VPP was an XC bike. Why start with a downhill chassis?
Rob: Ten inches of travel on a downhill bike that accelerates like a cross-country chassis. We brought our two downhill pros, Joel Panazzo and Johnny Waddel, here to test the prototype and they were blown away. Joel overshot a ten foot drop-in on our test course and landed flat on the bottom. The other side of the drop-in is a climb. The G-out bottomed the suspension and Joel just stood up and pedaled out of the bowl like it was nothing. They said that it was like nothing they had ridden before.
MBA: Will there be a cross-country version in the near future?
Rob: Next year. We will be testing prototypes next month. The great thing about this system is that, providing you can keep the weight down, a 12-inch travel XC bike will pedal as firmly as a three-inch model–as long as you set the suspension to sag into the sweet spot.
MBA: The downside of the first VPP suspension bikes, was that they jacked up in the rear under hard braking. Is that a problem that Santa Cruz has encountered?
Rob: No, our bike doesn?t have that problem. We used a floating brake system on the first prototype and it stays flat under braking. Intense made a VPP chassis with a conventional disc brake and it stays flat under baking.
MBA: What was the reasoning behind Santa Cruz handing the exclusive rights to the VPP patents to Jeff Steber at Intense?
Rob: My partner, Hans Heim, that there is strength in numbers. Shortly after we obtained the VPP patents, Hans walked up to me and asked, ?What company do you regard to be on top of it–one that really has their [stuff] together??I said it was Intense. When you hear the name, Intense, you think quality bike. Jeff [Steber] already knew about the VPP concept and when we contacted him, he was very interested. I talked over the details with Jeff and we gave Intense the exclusive rites to the patents that we purchased. Of course, we are in competition with each other, but we are also cooperating right now to insure that the initial success of the new VPP bikes. There is a lot to learn about the benefits of the VPP design. Competition is the best way to speed that process up.
MBA: When will the downhill chassis be available for sale?
Rob: We haven?t committed to an exact date because we will be finalizing the design over the racing season. We haven?t even finalized the bike’s name yet. What I can say for certain, is that the retail price will be relatively affordable–$1900 for the chassis–which is very competitive for a pro-level frame these days.
WANT MORE INFO?
Call Santa Cruz at (831) 459-7560, or log onto www.santacruzbicycles.com for regular updates on the VPP project.
JEFF STEBER?S THOUGHTS ON VPP SUSPENSION
Jeff Steber’s rocket ship ride to the top of the boutique mountain bike charts was fueled by an insatiable curiosity for new technology, and guided by one of the sharpest minds in the business. Both attributes belong to the modest founder of Intense Cycles who, unbeknownst to most of the fat tire crowd, designed and built aircraft and custom guitars before setting his sights on pedal-powered off-road vehicles.
We asked Jeff about his cooperative relationship with Santa Cruz Bicycles, his exclusive rights to the VPP patents, and about the possible impact that the return of VPP rear suspension may have on the bikes that Intense will be selling in the future.
MBA: What is the nature of your relationship with Santa Cruz beyond the use of the VPP patents?
Jeff: Santa Cruz asked me to help develop the design. They figured that, between the two of us, we could come up with something another level better.
MBA: Any thoughts as to why the VPP suspension didn?t achieve success the first time?
Jeff: The original Outland version had a falling rate, which worked OK because it had an air shock. When they added more travel, and a coil-shock, it had bottoming problems. I think that if they [Outland] would have stuck with it, and made some design changes, it could have turned into something.
MBA: There are a number of mountain bikes with linkage-activated swingarms: karpiel, Cannondale and KHS, to name a few. What, if anything, separates these existing designs from the VPP patent?
Jeff: The VPP design is torque-sensitive in one area of its travel, so the harder that you pedal, the more it resists bobbing. I call this ?low frequency oscillation.?
MBA: What do you expect to get from VPP technology?
Jeff: You can run a lot more travel without it feeling like a mushy bike. You just set the suspension to settle into the pedal-reactive section of the stroke. Right now, we are still experimenting. Our first prototypes are very promising and I am just finishing another one right now. It seems like VPP has some good traits. If it’s better, then we?ll use it on our other bikes. If it isn?t, well…
MBA: It seems that there are an infinite number of possible linkage positions. How many VPP configurations have you tried–either on paper, or in actuality?
Jeff: Santa Cruz ran a whole lot of linkage configurations on Pro-E [Pro-Engineer is a powerful computer modeling and engineering program]. They figured out the best possibilities after experimenting with over a hundred models.
MBA: What about the cross-country potential of VPP?
Jeff: I think a lot of new cross-country technology will be filtering from the downhill. I think that the VPP will be better suited for XC, but you need a certain amount of suspension stroke to make the technology work.
MBA: When will we see the first Intense VPP downhillers in action?
Jeff: We will be racing them at the upcoming Big Bear national. After we see how well they do at the races, we can begin to think about developing a model for sale.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Call Intense Cycles at; (909) 296-9596, or log onto; www.intensecycles.com for one of the most informative mountain bike sites in the custom bike biz.