Pivot Bikes founder Chris Cocalis
Okay, we’ll excuse you if you’ve never heard of Chris Cocalis. He may not present a loud and eccentric persona like Gary Fisher, or have his name emblazoned across an entire range of components like Tom Ritchey or Keith Bontrager, but within the industry this quietly spoken American is recognised as one of the most progressive and influential bike designers of the present day.
Chris is the man behind the extra-wide press-fit 92 bottom bracket standard that now features on many new bikes. He pushed hard to see that direct frame mounted front derailleurs came to fruition, and they are now used to solve mounting problems on many creative new frame designs. He also played a key design role in Shimano’s 2005 XTR groupset.
Currently theCEOof Pivot Cycles, he started out as the ‘bike shop rat’ when he was nine years old, taking out the garbage and changing inner tubes in exchange for stickers. At 12 he got into BMX racing and was always the guy who worked on everyone’s bikes around the neighbourhood.
He designed his first frame at 16, as he’d outgrown the ‘pro XL’ length bikes of the time and had the creation welded up for him. Mountain biking took his interest once he moved to Arizonaand he studied engineering for three years at college. In 1988 he brazed together his first steel MTBframe in cohorts with the guy who started NORBA (North American Off Road Bicycle Association). Going under the Sun Eagle brand name, their elevated chain stay ‘Talon’ hardtail appeared in Mountain Bike Action in a ‘Bike’s of the Future’ feature alongside the Mantis and Nishiki Alien (a few names that will bring back the memories for the old school types).
In 1990 at just 20 years of age he started Titus; a well respected name that held its own amongst other desirable US based boutique brands for the following 17 years. Titus eventually merged with a composites company but Chris didn’t like the direction that the new partners wanted to take the company.
In 2006 he had the option to be bought out. Chris says, “I made the best of a really bad situation and chose to leave the company that I started and ran for so many years, but in the end it was no longer what I stood for, so I left the company with a one year no-compete.” Titus eventually went bust.
Far from done in the bike game, Chris started Pivot Cycles in 2007. It was his opportunity to take everything he’d learnt with Titus and designing bikes for other companies (Univega, Diamond Back, Dean, Slingshot etc.) and put it into practice.
He now has 19 employees, and within the first three years Pivot had surpassed where Titus had gotten to after 17 years—quite an achievement given the less than ideal market in recent times.
Cocalis may be theCEOof a well-respected bike brand and an astute businessman, but more than anything he comes across as the consummate bike nerd and tinkerer. He really is the ‘ideas man’ behind Pivot—he rides hard, tests his own products and refines them based on his own perceptions. He’s also not shy of a chat, as we discovered when he popped by to check out our local trails...
What’s a normal day in the life of Chris Cocalis?
It depends. When I’m at home inArizonaI’ve got my wife and two boys who are eight and 10 years old. We live on the back of a trail system and I try to ride to school with the boys each day. Then a lot of the time my wife and I will go for a ride before we head home, shower and get to work. At that point I turn into a bit of a workaholic and I often won’t get back home until somewhere between8:00pmandmidnight.
I also travel about five months of the year, spending a lot of time inAsiaandEurope. So it’s busy but it’s cool. I’m involved with a lot of different things and stay pretty plugged in with the component manufacturers. Aside from running the company, when I’m at work the product design is really my passion. My office is right next to the engineering office and a good part of my day is spent working on projects and working with our engineers.
The Pivot range isn’t all-encompassing—there are no XC hardtails or cyclocross bikes and only one 29er. What motivates you to create a particular model?
The first Pivot bike that we designed was the Mach 4, and then the Mach 5 came almost in conjunction with that. During the Titus days we had a lot of great bikes but the 100mm travel Racer X was really my baby. It was the bike that I was known for and it was our best seller, yet there were certain things that I wanted to improve upon. The Mach 4 gave us the opportunity to do those things.
Our trail bikes grew from the Mach 4 and it’s a segment that’s really important to us. We are based inPhoenixArizona, right next toSouthMountain. The terrain is very much likeMoaband the lower portion of the Porcupine Rim; it’s very rocky and sandstone based with lots of ledges and drops. Bikes like the Mach 5.7 and the Firebird work really well in that terrain—they are probably the two bikes that I ride the most.
Before I left Titus we had the Racer X 29 and that was back when the whole 29er thing was in its infancy. With Pivot, the lateral stiffness and anti-squat of the DW-Link suspension really transfers well to the 29-inch format, so our Mach 429 was a natural progression from the Mach 4.
From day one we had people asking us when we were going to do a downhill bike. This came about because Dave Weagle, the man behind the DW-Link suspension system, comes from a downhill background. He’d had great success with the Iron Horse Sunday, which was ridden to something like seven or eight world championships. When Iron Horse fell apart people came looking to us. Right from the get-go I wasn’t going to make a downhill bike; it just wasn’t at the top of my to-do list, but three and a half years in we decided to do something—that was one where we really leaned on Dave, as he has so much experience in the downhill arena.
All of your bikes share the same short-link four-bar suspension system. Why did you choose this over a Horst Link or single pivot?
In my year off after getting out of Titus, I spent a lot of time riding pretty much anything that I could get my hands on. One of the things I’d learnt from this, as well as my work with four-bar horst link and single pivot bikes in the past, is there are always compromises that you have to dance around. With four-bar links it’s easy to get fully active braking and easy to produce nice active travel, but as you increase the amount of travel, it becomes really hard to control the bob and the squat under power. You’re then left reliant on heavier platform damping or inertia valved shocks to compensate and in the process you are giving up traction and other things to get good pedalling performance.
With a single pivot or a four bar you can position the horst-link and main pivot in a variety of locations to achieve the axle path you desire, but it’s going to set the wheel into a relatively constant arc. The chainstay length will grow (or not grow) at a constant rate, so you are left designing it to perform well through a portion of its travel, with compromises elsewhere.
There are some big benefits to having a rearward axle path in the first part of the travel (anti-squat for efficient pedalling and square edge bump absorption), but this causes chain growth (chainstay lengthening) and too much of that is a bad thing—you have to pick your poison and deal with the compromises.
A dual link design lets you control and vary the wheel travel path in a way that you simply can’t achieve with the other systems. It allows you to get that balance by having a rearward axle path in the initial travel without the negative aspects excessive chain growth. The design also helps us improve stiffness with the one piece rear end and short links.
Why did you go to Dave Weagle and licence his short-link four-bar as opposed to designing your own or using one of the other similar systems?
Well I was working on my own and I had a couple of different suspension designs that looked like crossing over into the instant centres of the DW-Link patent. I’ve known Dave for a long time so I called him up and told him what I was working on and asked if he was interested in working together on it. At the time he was working with Ibis and Turner, and I’m good friends with Dave Turner. We all thought it would be cool to have our brands pushing this technology together—things just fell into place from there.