The Empire Strikes Back: Talking to Cy Turner from Cotic
In this root’in and toot’in installment we peek inside the mind of a man that went and did what you, I and so many other Mountain bikers have dreamed of doing. He thought of the kind of bikes that he would most like to ride and then he went and built them. He then carried on taking concepts all the way to the trails. Cotic has consistently made bikes that customers become more like devotees about, than just simply buyers. Ten years since it all started and things are going so very well, lets find out how it all happened from the accidental brand owner, Cy Turner from Cotic.
Si – A decade since Cotic first became more than just riders dirty dream. Tell us your murky past!
Cy Turner – I’m 36 years old, been riding bikes for 33.5 of those years. Got my first MTB (a mint green Raleigh Montage in 21″, to “grow into”) in 1988, rode my first race in 1992, did National XC then DH until around 2000, then the level got very good and I’m very mediocre so I stopped.
I’m a degree qualified Mechanical Engineer and I’ve always played around with designing things. When I was DH racing even around 99/2000 we had pretty proper suspension (Boxxers, coil Fox shocks), good brakes (Hope 4pots), good tires, big bars, short stems. In 2001 when I started trail riding again I wanted to transfer this tech onto my hardtail, with a preference for steel for the ride feel and durability. Keith Bontrager’s bikes and ‘Professor’ column in MTB Pro magazine were a huge influence on me as a teenager, and I grew up with steel bike frames. I tried to mod my Kona, but it didn’t really work very well, and I looked around for something better and there wasn’t anything. I was already working in the rail industry by then doing vehicle dynamics, structural design, all that good stuff, so I measured up my Kona and set about fixing the problems as I saw them. That design was the Soul, and we still use the same geometry today. We’ve tried variations, but this works. I was going to get Dave Yates to build me one for my own amazement, when a chance introduction with Brant Richard from On One got me some contacts in Taiwan. I got a price for 100, and figured we could do it mail order in my spare time so not giving up the day job meant I could just about afford to pay back the loan I got to buy them. My wife Jen was 100% behind me, my best mate Kelvin could (and still does) the website and another mate Niall designed the logo. They both worked for bike bits and were up for the adventure, so the order was placed! We got the prototypes in 2002, and the first production frames in June 2003. They were all pink due to an admin error, and thus my first (but not last) experience with dealing with the Taiwanese/English language barrier was made. Brant’s still got a picture of me holding one of those frames somewhere. After that first batch I’ve been dealing directly with my own contacts since, and the rest is history.
Si– When you started the Brand did you think that ten years latter you would have 9 bikes in the range including road, cross and full sussers?
Cy Turner – I honestly didn’t, but then I didn’t have a plan beyond getting my ultimate hardtail frame, and making a bit of money on the side to fuel my bike habit. It was only after the Soul was so warmly received and ideas for other frames started to materialize that I thought it might be a proper goer. Even so, in 2006 when my day job was killing me and I wanted out it was my accountant who pointed out that Cotic could be my ‘new job’. I was just looking for another job in the rail industry!
I had enough money built up in the company at that point to do a year even if it all went tits up: That was in 2006 and I’m still here, so despite some ups and downs, it’s going really well.
Si – Ultimately behind a brand and a logo you find some pretty interesting people. Who are the Cotic people and more importantly who is your best rider?
Cy Turner – There are very few. There’s me, obviously. It says Managing Director on the paperwork, but I’m the owner and designer. Paul Dexter is my only full time employee. I’ve known him for years and he’s just fantastic. He runs the business day to day (customer emails, book keeping, paying invoices etc). He’s the General Manager really. He’s a great rider, very diligent and a brilliant practical engineering brain. He’ll be the one who says “how do you take that apart then?” when I come up with some new idea. Makes me think, keeps the details sorted. My wife Jen was a huge part of the business at the start, helping me box up frames in the kitchen and putting all the stickers on the first 400-500 frames we sold. She’s less involved these days as we have two kids now, but I still couldn’t do it without her being 100% behind me. She’s ace. Kelvin Owers is another very important part of the business. He’s built our website, look and feel, constantly evolving the look and the details since the start. Always good to bounce ideas off, especially marketing and direction. Ian and Kate Potter from AQR Holidays in Luchon have been great development riders. MTB guides are amazing for putting intergalactic mileage onto prototypes.
More recently, the whole Sheffield scene has been hugely influential and supportive of Cotic. Joe Bowman from Steel City Media is the creative force behind our amazing video series, and also co-sponsor of our new enduro team Cotic Steel City Media Racing. The riders on the team are the latest additions to the family – Chay Granby and Josh “Loosedog” Lewis. Joe, Chay and Josh are definitely the best riders out of all of us!
Si – As the head honcho do you just ride around all day with a blue tooth headset
on, barking orders and sipping Champagne by the Camelback load?
Cy Turner – HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! My riding goes in fits and starts, just like everyone elses. When you have a business to run, you have to run it! I am much more flexible for getting a ride in than most people though, and I’m hugely lucky in that respect, but I guess I ride 2 or 3 times a week, just like most other people do. Only time that really changes is if I need to do a lot of back-to-back testing of new parts or frames. Then I’ll take myself off for a few days away from distractions and get things thought about. That’s work though, so whilst it’s great, it’s totally justifiable to do in ‘office hours’. The very nice thing now compared to the old days is that Paul is so good at keeping things running that I no longer have much in the way of separation anxiety when I’m away.
Si – So from the time that the idea for a new addition comes to mind to the time that we get to buy the finished bike give us an idea of the process.
Cy Turner – Depends on the product. It’s never less than a year, but that’s mainly because even if you bullseye a change first time, it’ll take 6 months to get a prototype out of Taiwan and another 4 months for the order to turn up (minimum) if it’s good to go. I’d say that’s the process for tweaks to existing frames, things like the new tubeset on the Soul.
The prototypes for that hadn’t changed geometry and all the durability testing was done on the test rig compared to the older and proven frame, so all we had to do was be happy that the new tubeset felt good and rode well, and that all the component compatibility (dropper post routing, taper steerer forks etc) was spot on.For something clean sheet of paper like the Rocket, that was 2 and a half years from first sketches and discussions to production frames arriving. That took a LOT of doing. Although even then I’d proven the geometry on a modified Hemlock, so I guess the process of thinking about a new suspension frame started before that. The process there started with quite a lot of navel gazing though, trying to figure out exactly what Cotic was, what it stood for, what a Cotic should look like. The Hemlock was great, but stood on our show stand in 2009 next to all the other products, it looked like someone from another brand had sneaked their frame onto our stand. It didn’t fit. So, as well addressing the performance issues I wanted to improve, I came up with several difference suspension layouts partly to find the look we wanted to go for. The most ‘Cotic’. The droplink layout has very straight, clean lines, which is what we decided a Cotic should have. It obviously works great too – really stiff, good rate curve, really durable – but there was definitely some give and take in terms of form and function, it wasn’t all function and no form. It had to look great, and it had to look like a Cotic. It was a very good process to go through as it’s helped inform a lot of decisions we’ve made since on newer product lines.
Si – Did you beat your chest like king kong, the first time you bumped into someone riding a Cotic on the trails.
Cy Turner – Ha ha, no! I played it cool and asked him what he thought of his bike. I do love seeing random Cotic’s though. It’s actually quite rare for me, and it always makes me smile.
Si – Does dealing with a supply chain that spans thousands of miles ever create headaches?
Cy Tuner – Definitely, but it’s really very much easier for me than someone trying to do this in the 90’s. I use email, CAD and Skype to talk to my agent, and I go to Taiwan in person very rarely. That’s usually to sit down with the engineers to go through something new, so the last time I went was to thrash out Rocket production. The guys we deal with are extremely good at what they do and they only build bikes, so they are good at it.
The biggest headache is the ‘fait complait’ nature of the relationship. We pay mostly upfront, order 100’s of frames at a time, and we do still find detail things wrong or needing fixing only when we open in the container door at the warehouse. That’s extremely frustrating when the process of payment and long lead time inevitably mean you invest a lot of hope in each shipment, especially when it’s new product. Luckily these days it’s usually finishing issues or things we can sort because we’re small enough to eyeball every frame out of the box, but it’s the worst part of the job.
Si – Seeing as the British mountain bike brands are slowly starting to gain a bit
of ground do you think that we have the tools in the tool box to really offer something that charms the international market.
Cy Turner – I don’t see why not, but markets are very parochial, even the large ones. We’ve attempted to get into the USA, but no one wants 26″ anything over there, let alone hardtails, and it’s a MASSIVE country which has all sorts of local variation. We’re getting good traction in Germany with Eaven Cycles, but even there we find subtle differences in what’s big and what isn’t compared to the UK. Same with our other major distributor in South Africa. They love singlespeed over there. It’s really quiet for us now here.
That said, some of it about communicating to enough people what your bikes and brand are about (with Cotic being about ride feel, durability and clean lines) so they can see why they might want one over more established brands. You need a brand evangelist wherever you try and sell bikes. Put it this way, I believe Cotic products stand favourable comparison with any similar product from any other brand. That being the case, there’s no reason why anyone anywhere in the world wouldn’t buy one if they like what we do.
Si – Will we see bikes built in the UK again and have you ever tried to UK source?
Cy Turner – We’re looking very closely at it and conditions look good better than
they ever have. I hope so.
Si – News like that is enough to make even my cold, black heart, a little warmer ! Although the temptation to delve deeper here is huge, I figure Christmas presents are rubbish when you peek !
Si – What bike are you most pleased with ?
Cy Turner – The Rocket. It’s the best thing I’ve ever designed. And as I explained above, the process we went through was extremely cathartic and useful. The part of the Rocket I’m most pleased with is the upper rear brake mount. The top bolt on the brake mount doubles as the seat stay pivot bolt, so it eliminates a bolt and it’s such a neat, clean solution to that area of the bike. It was Paul’s idea to use a shock bushing in that pivot, and that was the silver bullet that made the whole dual purpose bolt idea possible. It’s the whole design process in microcosm.
Si – You are on your second full bounce bike. Adding full suspension to Cotic was surely a hell of a learning curve and a change of mindset. Any gray hair?
Cy Turner – It was a learning curve, but it’s also an adventure, and adventures are fun.
Si -What do your kids think of your job?
Cy Turner – It’s just my job. They don’t know any different. My eldest was born 3 months before I went full time on Cotic. They (and I!) like that I’m around so much. I work from home and a do the school run a lot. It’s nice, and I’m very lucky in that respect.
Si – Would the Cotic BFE win in a knife fight with a Polar bear?
Cy Turner – Even if it didn’t, the bear would have a time eating it. Tough as old
boots those frames.
Si – Which of the following will be true if we own one of your bikes?
A- Food tastes better
B- Other riders will fear you.
C- Every ride is the best ride ever.
Cy Turner – None of the above. I’m afraid there’s just too much of an engineer in me to go that level of hyperbole. I guess C would be the closest though – you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun riding a Cotic, no doubt.
Si- Thanks Cy, we really appreciate your time and tales. See you on the shred side.
Cy Turner – No worries. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my stuff.
In other news – The Weather was varied from place to place. Not everyone had it good.In other, other news– Some celebrities PUT ON WEIGHT !, Some lost a little though. Phew.