Cy Turner – Interview – Cotic Bikes
Recently I took a drive over to Calver, a small village in the Peak District on the outskirts of Sheffield. Calver is surrounded by the big hills of the Hope Valley and definitely looks like the kind of place you would want to run a bike company from. Upon arrival at Cotic HQ we were greeted by Cy Turner, the creator of the brand and Hannah Saxelby-Newall, the latest addition to the team.
It is 15 years since Cy started building bike frames and now I think I see a Cotic bike on just about every visit to a UK trail centre. To all intents and purposes, you would think that Cotic was now part of the UK bike industry establishment, but Cy says, it depends;
“Yes and no, so we are kind of in between. We are definitely not a punk, insurgent brand anymore. In kind of brand terms we are very established and people who have heard of us, know who we are. But you will be amazed the amount of people that we haven’t reached and all the pretty serious mountain bikers that haven’t heard of us.
I still feel weird a bit weird walking around Eurobike. Because we are not invited into the big trucks and big tents, as we are not buying tons of equipment every year and this is usually what counts at these shows.”
But with the recognition has come success and this has resulted in growing the team and the site. What started out as a fairly small office and the garage on an industrial yard in the Peak District was quickly joined by the addition of another warehouse, filled with bike parts, bikes and boxes. It is clear from the tour of the site that Cotic is not struggling to find bikes and orders to fill those warehouses now. We watch as the assembly team hand pick all of the parts and assemble them for the deliveries, whilst two trail dogs watch patiently. There are now 11 bikes in Cotic’s range and we asked Cy, which one he is most proud of (ok, it’s a bit like asking about who your favourite child is..!);
“It really depends. I am an engineer, I like to qualify things. Obviously, the first Soul. If it wasn’t for this bike, we wouldn’t be here. I am proud of that bike, it is the bike that started it all.
The bike that made probably the biggest difference, and the bike I was the most proud, when it comes to the effort, thought and planning and what it meant for the brand was the first Rocket. It was the most transformative for our brand, because of that project we understood what Cotic was as a brand.”
In all the time Cotic has been a brand it hasn’t built women specific bikes. Cy believes that bikes are essentially unisex and a well designed bike works well for everyone;
“I never really subscribed to the whole women specific geometry thing. And everyone who did it is now ditching it. We basically ended up with 10 years of really horrible bikes for women as they were very short and steep.”
I wanted to ask Cy whether any women were involved in developing the brand in the early days;
“When it comes to inspiring the brand, there is Kate [Cy points at a gigantic poster of Kate Potter on the wall] I rode a lot with Ian Potter who owns AQR holidays in the Pyrenees and Kate is his wife. She was riding some of the early bikes when we first started, and when she really got into racing and she was looking for support… so that was a natural extension of our relationship.
Kate raced for us from 2005. She won British national series, 24-hour races and then in 2009 she took one of our bikes to the world championships. She was just a great athlete and a great ambassador, so it wasn’t really about the fact that she was a woman. She was 5ft 6in tall and she rode a small Cotic. Obviously she has the contact points sorted for her.”
In the last few weeks before we went to visit the team Cotic introduced a new initiative called “Cotic’s Women of Steel”. This includes a social media group that is opened to all women, not only those with a Cotic bike and Hannah has organised multiple events, such as demo rides and social rides that ladies can sign up to. It is clear from talk to Cy and Hannah for a few hours that they recognise that Cotic is as much a brand for women as it is for men.
“I think it’s been really it’s been really really valuable having Hannah these last couple of years because of a bunch of reasons. One of which is that Hannah didn’t ride when she joined the company so it’s been really interesting seeing the sport through her eyes.
The other thing is that even though we always treated women as equals, for example I never would consider that we pay a woman less or get her to do certain things that we wouldn’t ask a guy to do, we didn’t realise how women can interact differently with mountain biking as a sport and having Hannah has really helped us understand that and this is where the Women of Steel came about.”
Cy also had his eyes opened a little to how different it can be for women joining the sport now, something that wasn’t immediately obvious to an experienced mountainbiker;
“So what I realised really was that, even though I’m a massive fan of women being involved in the sport and I have no issues with them at all in terms of discrimination, it was always just an implicit understanding that that’s just how you behaved as a decent human being but what I realised was is that actually what we needed to do was …to be explicit about the fact that we supported women coming into the sport.
Because that’s what they needed to get involved, because it can be intimidating and they often prefer to ride together and because of the low numbers of women in this sport, a small number of women riding with a big group of guys doesn’t really work from an attitude perspective…”
I also wanted to ask Cy about trends in the industry, obviously at the moment it is for longer, lower and slacker, something that Cotic has certainly been doing since the latest iteration of its bikes, referred to as “longshot geometry”, but what did he think we would see in the industry in the coming months and years;
“I think ultimately it’ll just be another couple of model years and a few more brave pills for a few more designers and the most bikes will get to roughly where we are in terms of geometry.
So geometry will continue to evolve but mainly in terms of the mass market moving toward the position we are in. In terms of geometry going forward, I don’t think there’s much more we can do in the near future in terms of geometry because the current bikes were defined by me going too far and then coming back, so I know that a longer bike or a slacker bike with some of these configurations is worse than the ones that are actually in production. So it’s not like they’re going to get longer and slacker again… it’s a slightly weird sensation to be in this position because, what direction do you set your research in the next few years?
Apart from making sure we keep on top of it and that we’re refining it and taking feedback from customers, I don’t see any massive steps for us for geometry. It’s going to be more about things like seeing more drivetrain innovation.”
Cy also explained exactly what an drastic important new standards being introduced by the global brands can have on smaller manufacturers like Cotic. The introduction of the 27.5” and 29” wheels to the market made things very difficult for Cy and the team a few years ago;
“Realistically what happened was, and we nearly went out of business as a result of it, was in 2012/2013 29-ers were finally beginning to get sorted and the benefits were obvious if they suited you, but there was a massive contingency of anti-big wheel sentiment in the industry, because they’re not real mountain bikes, they’re not this, they’re not that etc…
So all that happened was, the big three brands, no actually Specialized almost missed the boat, as they bet the house on 29ers, Trek and Giant said we’re going to build 27.5 inch bikes, so that all of these people who don’t want 29ers and will never ride a 29er and swear at them and spit on them, will buy these 27.5 inch wheel bikes because they can buy them and save face. They get a little bit of big wheel benefit without going fully to 29-inch wheels.
Broadly, I think the industry is generally a positive one when people are just trying to build better bikes and in small percentage terms 27.5 inch wheel bikes are better than 26 inch when comparing like with like. You know they do roll a bit better, they don’t drop into holes as much but it’s not a big difference.
That was one of the few instances where the big brands, I think, had cynically changed the standard purely to pursue sales and they killed 26 inch wheels, because 26 and 29 could have lived quite happily together, just like 27.5 and 29 do at the moment, but you couldn’t have had all three and 26 was too close to 27.5 and I was so small back then I didn’t have the contacts and didn’t see the upcoming model year information 18 months ahead of time like I can do now.
So I turned up at Eurobike 2013 and went oh! I felt like I was mugged. A lot of brands did. And that’s why we made that 26 ain’t dead video and Kevin from Transition, that I have only met in person since, found my email off the website and emailed me saying ‘I’ve seen your video and you are right man!’. They had geared up for a 26-inch carbon bike that season and had to write it off then. They weren’t as big as they are now. He must have been absolutely apoplectic and they wouldn’t be the only ones.
It was the fastest development that we ever had to do. We turned the Soul 275 around in 3 months. The first batch of Soul 275 should have been 26 inch wheel bikes based on our rolling production schedule. I’ve still got the top tubes for those 26 inch bikes in unit six, we can’t use them as they’re not strong enough for 27. That’s how close it was.”
After a really interesting chat with both Cy and Hannah, we have changed quickly from our normal clothes to biking attire and borrowed bikes from Cotic, to test them out in the beautiful valley around their office, which is their natural habitat. If you ever get the chance to go and visit cotic, do not miss out on their demo loops.
To read more about the bikes, geometry and what we thought of the Cotic Flare Max, stay tuned for part two coming soon.
May 19, 2019