interview: Steve Domahidy of Factor

crankpunk remembers opening ProCycling one day a couple of years or so ago and doing a double take. staring back at me was this fearsome looking machine that cost more than every crankpunkcar i’d had – combined – and with design features that looked like they’d come from another dimension, which, considering that the Factor bike was built by specialist engineers steeped with knowledge of creating stuff for F1, it had.

Factor is the offshoot of bf1systems and one quick look at their original 001 bike told you that its creators had thrown out much of the traditional thinking when they designed this package. the bike caught the eye of Aston Martin, who incorporated a special run of 77 bikes from Factor to stand beside their One-77 supercar. that model became the Aston Martin One-77 by Factor, and was even more expensive – $39,000 US would buy you just one of the limited edition of 77 bikes. that’s quite a dent in the pocket.

the Aston Martin One-77 by Factor. you gotta admit, she’s a looker

in January 2013 the first production model by Factor will be launched in the UK at the London Bike Show, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the launch is eagerly anticipated by both industry insiders and consumers alike. but how do you go from a $39,000 uberbike to an affordable production version whilst staying true to the philosophy of the original?

crankpunk managed to wangle an interview with Factor’s head designer Steve Domahidy, the man responsible for making it all happen.

crankpunk: can you tell me a little about your background?

Steve Domahidy: sure, I was the co-founder of Niner Bikes and I did all the design and R&D for every Niner bike that is in their current line up, including the RIP 9 RDO which is the last bike I worked on before I left last year.

cp: so is your background mainly with MTB?

Steve Domahidy

SD: i’ve done some road bike design and product development and i’ve been in the bike industry for 25 years. i worked for SRAM for a year, i did product design and management for an in-house brand prior to starting Niner, which was in 2004. i knew that the 29 inch wheel was going to be huge, that it was the next evolutionary step in MTB and i wanted to be on the cutting edge of that.

i got to the point though where i wanted to spread my wings a little further and it was the right time to try something new.

cp: how did you make the transition from Niner to working with Factor?

SD: it’s funny, when Factor first sent out the press releases for the Factor 001 bike, i remember looking at it – this is almost 4 years ago now – i remember seeing it and being pretty blown away by what they were doing, and i guess i lodged it in my brain and didn’t know exactly what to do with it. i knew that they had something completely unique and out of the box though.

so, as i was leaving Niner i kind of threw some stuff against the wall and wasn’t exactly sure what my next step would be, and then i just thought ‘i wonder what happened with that bike, the Factor 001?’ i looked them up and it was still the same stuff, not much had changed, and i called them and asked if they were willing to do a production version of the 001.

what was evident from the original 001 was that these guys were out of the box thinkers and had amazing resources to do some amazing things, and that they knew absolutely nothing about the bike industry. you could tell by looking at the bike. the way it was put together was coming from no understanding of bikes or the industry. and that was absolutely their point, they were coming at it from an engineering perspective and not one rooted in the normal traditions of road bike design. but if they wanted to do a production version they would need my kind of expertise.

cp: what specifically was it about the 001 that led you to those conclusions?

SD: the way the hubs connected to the frame made it almost impossible for quick wheel removal, having the disk brake on the front on the right side, which doesn’t actually matter but it just looked odd having them on different sides, the cranks, the BB system and the way they’d laid out the BB and seat tube, it was wider than it should be on a road bike. unless you’d ridden a lot and spent time in the bike industry you wouldn’t consider those things. also the handlebars and stem and computer system are all one piece of carbon fiber on the 001, which is totally cool from an aesthetic standpoint but not from a practical standpoint. people need different width bars and like different angles, and you wouldn’t be able to facilitate that on the 001.

the original Factor 001

having said that, they were two years ahead of the curve on hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike.

cp: the 001 became the Aston Martin version of the bike, and that was $39,000US, quite a lot of money.

SD: yes. there were some modifications made to the original 001 when it was licensed to Aston Martin, to link in with their 1-77 series. That’s their $2 million supercar, they made 77 of them, and they had a set of licensed 1-77 products of which the bike was one of them. so the Factor 001 morphed into the Aston Martin 1-77 bike by Factor, and there were only 77 of them built also.

cp: what’s the name of the new bike?

SD: that press release will be out next week so i’ll let you know.

cp: and is the price going to be different to the 1-77?

SD: yeah very, this is a production bike. one of the things that was extraordinary about the original 001 was that it was completely integrated from top to bottom. computer and electronics were integrated within the frame, there’s just one battery that controls the Di2 and the on-board computer. the bike offers an incredible amount of data to the rider, over 100 different measurements being taken by the computer at any given time.

the new bike, the objective was to continue on the path of the 001. it’s a bike that comes complete, out of the box, ready to ride. the challenge for me with the new bike was to incorporate the integration of the original bike  but to make it firstly cost effective, and secondly palatable for the rider, and to make it a race bike. i wanted something you take from the box, put the wheels on and can go race.

when we began the project i wanted to honor the original things they were doing on the original bike because what they did on the 001 wasn’t merely for looks, but had actual scientific reasoning behind it. i also wanted to make it a bike that people could ride – have a seatpost that you can move up and down, have bars you can shift angles on and a stem unit that allowed you to change the bar width. so the new bike is every bit as radical as the original but more down to earth.

cp: as an engineer what were the most challenging aspects of designing this new Factor bike?

SD: i think that my expertise is to bring both functionality and, if i can say, a beauty into a single entity. it’s very difficult to combine those two aspects. on the Niners the aesthetics are every bit as important as the functionality. you want people to desire the bike, so you have to combine the industrial design with aesthetics. the bike has to do its job and look good too.

cut the wrong wire and we’re all dead…

the challenge with the new Factor was to keep the innovative design elements but also keep the end price down to one that consumers could agree with. when you see the new bike at the launch in January you’ll see that a lot of what we are doing is unique. it’s hard to describe as i can’t really talk about it, but i had to increase the torsional rigidity of the frame, maintain the ride quality and to make it work.

cp: i’m a roadie now almost exclusively but when i was a kid i also raced MTB. yet these days when i look at some of the MTBs i don’t actually know what i’m looking at, there’s so much stuff there. the bike i had 20 years ago looks so outdated now. yet with road bikes there is really not a great deal of innovation with the UCI sanctioned bikes, apart from the materials being used. do you think that there will be a point where the road bikes that amateurs are riding and racing in non-UCI sanctioned events are going to be better than the ones the pros are using? and can the UCI adapt to that?

SD: that’s already happening, i mean the TT bikes, there are two entirely different disciplines, the triathlon bikes that are used in Ironman events and so on. those events aren’t governed by the UCI and the bikes are getting more and more radical, and companies are willing to invest money in those bikes, such as Specialized.

the UCI rules are so specific that there is only so much a designer can do. companies are less willing to develop radical road bikes as the UCI controls so many events and i understand the need for rules because they want to make it about the rider and not the bike, I get that, and there are similarities in F1. but i think the UCI has taken it a little too far and i think they are too regulatory. carbon fiber has changed what is happening with bikes and the UCI has not adapted to that change.

cp: that’s the story of the UCI in a nutshell… tell me Steve, do you ride?

SD: oh yeah! the reason i am in this industry is that i love bikes, trust me, i’m not doing it for the money. i love bikes, and i think that one reason Niner was so successful was that i made bikes that i wanted to ride and that i thought looked good, and if other people felt that too well, that was the icing on the cake. when i was with Niner one of the coolest things i could hear was that a Niner bike inspired someone to get out of the hospital or to lose weight, just to be able to ride their bike. that was inspiring, and so cool that i could affect people in that way.

yeah i am a massive avid cyclist and i do spend more time on the mountain but i’ve always had a roadbike quiver. i had a BH G5  and a Look 595 that were both very good. these days i’m testing the Factor so i’m on the road more and more. in fact i also tested other bikes as i was designing the new Factor and got hit by a car from behind but thanks to being relatively fit – and thanks to my ability to bounce – i was up and riding within a month.

cp: awesome. thank you Steve.

SD: thanks crankpunk.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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