Noble Piece Prize #3: Odyssey/G-Sport

Not George French.

G-Sport's roots lie in the classic DIY workshop scenario: rider breaks old parts, uses combo of an engineering mind, burly old lathes, grease and logic to build new long-lasting bike parts, then starts selling these parts, develops more parts, swaps old lathes for computerized CNC set-up, eventually joins Odyssey to innovate more parts, wins a few design awards, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Odyssey have just released the new Ratchet hub, and it's one of the best developed hubs in BMX. No doubt, it may soon be the new benchmark for cassette hubs. Its designer George French has come a long way from that musty old workshop; he has one of the best engineering minds in the business, and is developing all-new parts for 2009. So what else does he, G-Sport and Odyssey have in store for BMX this year?

George, how's it going on this cold day in Sheffield?
Really good. Just sitting at the computer working on things for next year. I am actually in a deep nest of procrastination, breaking off from CAD to answer these obviously urgent questions, and doing the CAD was a relief to avoid working on the bathroom I am supposed to be doing, which in turn was better than working out all the stuff for my tax-return which I can see out of the corner of my eye, etc etc...

George designed the new Odyssey Ratchet hub from the ground up. Is it going to be an industry standard in no time flat?

First up, the new Ratchet hub. How long has it been in development?
Umm... well given that I am going to have to look at old e-mails to work that out, it must be a long while. Wow, nearly three years. To be fair though, we have had working prototypes for a long time. The delays were nearly all related to resolving production problems.

What makes the Ratchet different from any other hub?
Beef. The Ratchet is a hub designed from the ground up, based on how people actually ride, not on how they ought to ride or some unjustified preconception that hubs can only 'look nice' when they are as small as possible. The Ratchet uses a 20mm hollow axle and oversize bearings that are in a league of their own. Over the ten years or so that the Homer, Vandal and Monkey hubs were being made, this axle system proved itself time and again to be more than a match for anything a rider could throw at it, whilst being just as light as most 14mm axles and standard sized bearings. In the Ratchet, we took that solid foundation and added a ratchet mechanism designed on the same principles. Using a unique needle roller bearing arrangement we have been able to get drivers down to 9-tooth that are genuinely up to the job. We have also tried to make the hub as user-friendly as possible. The hub is left/right switchable with no specialist tools, not even a cone spanner. There is nothing to adjust, and if you need to take the driver out of the hub to switch, the pawls and springs are retained by a spiral retaining ring so they won't go flying everywhere while you are pulling the driver out of the hub. Despite all this burliness we have been able to keep the weight down to a very respectable level and we will be doing aluminium and titanium axle options in the future that will save even more.

Is there a Ratchet freecoaster?
Sort of. It would actually be more accurate to say that the Ratchet is the cassette version of the freecoaster. When we started work on the freecoaster four years ago, it soon became apparent that it was going to be a very slow process and that freecoasters aren't for everyone, so it made sense to split the development costs of things like the shell, axle, bolts and driver bearings between the two hubs.

Why is it so hard to design a freecoaster in the first place?
It isn't. What is hard is designing a freecoaster that will work, and can be made for a good price, and will be reliable, and will be able to take the stress of freestyle, and will be reasonably user friendly.

Spokes are just bits of metal strand running from your hub to your rim, right? Wrong. Odyssey's been working on new G-Sport spokes for what, three years now? Out soon.

And the burning question, how long does it take to design a spoke?
Not long. But the design process is only the tip of the iceberg. Finding a manufacturer who is willing and able to make them to spec is another matter. I have boxes and boxes of 'wrong' samples here that need scrapping. You have to remember that spokes are made by the million, and the factories often just can't be bothered with anyone who is asking for something special. We have someone good now, so hopefully we can sort things out this year at last.

Anything else coming from G-Sport and Odyssey this year?
Well obviously there is the spoke-nipple and key, which is much more interesting than the spoke itself. Our taper-hex system is designed to make things easier and lighter for everyone. The key fits on your key-ring so you always have it handy, and for builders there is a nice secondary 6mm hex on the head to simplify things. Just launched is the new Rollcage rim, which is a really solid option at an excellent weight, and we have a new t-shirt design! On the Odyssey side, I am also working on pretty much every part of the bike. We should have the new JC/PC pedals, which we finally showed at Interbike this year, and should be out soon. These are pretty revolutionary because they are a high quality pedal system that is designed to last indefinitely. The axle is oversized but hollow so it's very light and very strong. Then the plastic pedal bodies run directly on this, so the pedal body IS also the bearings. The entire body splits into a top and bottom half which are bolted together around the axle by the pins. And that is about it. The result is an incredibly durable and light plastic pedal. When a body half wears out you just buy a new half, which is very cheap because most of the cost is in the super strong axle. And being plastic, it won't wreck skateparks or rails and will grind on pretty much any surface. By changing bolt lengths and directions you can tune how the pedal works. For example, if you pedal grind you can use a white half on the top and a black half on the bottom with pins/bolts sticking out only on the white side. We have a couple of other as yet unannounced products, which I am really excited about due out this year too, but I have learned my lessons from the past and am keeping my mouth firmly shut on those until they are ready to go.

Mums the word. Thanks for the interview George! Next up: We catch up with Rob Harrison of éclat to learn about one-piece seat and seatpost combos, plus other new developments from this new brand. Stay tuned.
- Mark Noble

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