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[INTERVIEW] Commencal Bikes World with Max Commencal

 

DH24: So let’s start from the beginning. What’s the story behind COMMENCAL? Was it created just because of passion, pure gold coincidence, or was it a planned business project?

Max: There would be no COMMENCAL if I had not had my first company beforehand. I created SUNN in 1982 and started with BMX. This was the first time we saw all-terrain bikes and I found this sport a perfect way to learn to ride on two wheels. I wanted to make this sport popular. Then SUNN grew a lot and I brought financial partners to the company in 1988 because I needed money to get into the MTB. In 1998 I got fired from my own company, so I started again by creating COMMENCAL.

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COMMENCAL is on fire right now after a great entry into the North American market but there were also better times in the history of brand. Have you ever considered throwing it all away and rebranding? What year was the worst?

M: As for the majority of companies there are ups and downs but COMMENCAL has never been in danger. The hardest decision was when we decided to switch to direct sales to the consumer. I lost all my dealers in 6 months but I was convinced for 1000 reasons that it was the solution for a small brand like us. And it’s true that since that day the brand has evolved a lot!

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Your company has grown a lot. What are your duties at the moment? Do you still do the designing? Does every project still have your final approval?

M: For a company to work there must ultimately be a person who makes decisions. I currently have one of the best teams since I started (SUNN time included). All decisions are discussed in working groups but in the end, it’s still me who says yes or no. I have the chance to intervene in all areas (products, specs, marketing, communication, sales, website, administration, finance etc…) and I can logically make the connection between everyone.

 

The SUPREME DH V4 brought back high pivot. The SUPREME 29 was amongst the first to introduce 29 inch wheels to downhill, which was controversial, but you were not afraid. As we know, DH V4 was already tested by Athertons was the world not ready yet or were there other difficulties?

M: The bike world is unfortunately very conservative so it’s also our job to shake up habits. The HPP solution is undeniably a technology that takes advantage, the same for 29-inch DH wheels. For competitions and the World Cup, we have to give our riders the best bikes it’s our job. So we didn’t waste any time on developing this project it just took time. For the general public and simple rides in bike park, these technologies are not essential. That’s why we created the FURIOUS, a simpler solid bike which nevertheless benefits from our experience in competition.

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Many of our readers ask when you’re going to create full carbon frames like the META 55 back in 2009. Why did you stop making composite frames? Was that because of economy or ecology?

(Max): It’s certainly not to save money. Our high-end aluminium frames are probably more expensive than the majority of carbon frames and we do not hesitate to invest when necessary, especially for our teams. Ten years ago, when we made a few carbon frames the conditions in terms of ecology and the working conditions of the employees were disastrous. When I saw how it was it disgusted me. Since then I don’t know if it’s evolved (but I do not think so). The other major reason is that the frames must be constantly evolving. We continuously produce specific frames for riders, we adapt to new standards of components, we test at all aspects (rigidity, braking, kinematics, geometries, sizes…) and every year we change a multitude of details in order to always have top spec, high-end bikes. It’s impossible with carbon frames unless you make new moulds every time. Which no one does.

 

While downhill is becoming full-time, you have two full downhill teams on the World Cup circuit. Is it because of feeling for the sport or for some other reason?

M: There are many reasons but the first is because we love it! We are not of the cycling culture… Going downhill and the adrenaline are more important than suffering and too much effort. DH is the best platform on which to show our bike designs. Then we do not seek to copy others, we move forward with our vision and beliefs.

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Times change and all companies are switching to direct sales model. Is this good for bad bike and local bike markets? How will things evolve in your opinion?

M: Each brand has its own concerns and strategies. I don’t know about our competitors and therefore cannot say what is good or bad for them. What I can say is that as far as we’re concerned, the stores and purchasing groups had taken too much power! They wanted to decide what to create and produce for us and they demanded margins and indecent payment terms. Today, we have recovered our freedom, we are closer to our customers and it suits us perfectly. As for the networks of stores, they must become excellent again on the mechanics, the service (to invoice it at the right price), and not to count on sales to survive. And that’s what’s happening, at the great interest of the end customer.

 

Most current German suspension designs are based on the Horst-Link (yet they started at implementation in the machines and fridges ;), however, in case of DHV4, is based on a classical single-pivot (a high-pivot to be precise). Will we see in the future a COMMENCAL bike with a FSR or maybe other multi-linkage system?

M: A brand like us must remain flexible and responsive. So it is always possible that tomorrow we will make different decisions to what I’m telling you today. At the moment, this technology of the single pivot is simple, effective and above all, allows us to precisely calculate all kinematic curves. If we want a more linear suspension or more progressive, we just have to change some linkage points and we can (amongst other things) adapt to new suspension. We are therefore efficient and responsive and the feedback from testers and our riders encourages us in this way.

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COMMENCAL recently introduced the SUPREME SX, probably the first high pivot enduro bike. How does this suspension affect pedalling? Is this bike more uphill or downhill oriented?

M: This bike is clearly more for the descent than the climb. It is suitable for those who want to have fun with 180mm of travel, enjoy a techy DH run but also keep the option of being able to climb when necessary. I don’t know if the HPP solution is the most suitable but the concept is the future of MTB.

 

E-bikes. Love’em or hate’em? What was the answer to META POWER? How do you see the future of e-bikes?

M: I love the META POWER!!! If we excuse the DH bikes this is by far the most fun bike in our range! Just try it to be won over. The Shimano engine is fantastic and the weight makes it more stable and pleasant than a lighter bike. All our riders who rode it want one to train with! Our slogan "Can I Keep It" didn’t come from nowhere! We do as much sport with a POWER as with a normal bike, whilst having a much better time.
There will always be bikes without motors of course and we will continue to work on these models but we certainly want to become a major player in electric-assisted bikes.

You recently started COMMENCAL Junior Cartel, and we are rooting for this initiative and all participants. Can you tell us what are the criteria for jo

M: We don’t want to be just a manufacturer who benefits from the market. We also want to invest in sport and help develop it. That’s why we have teams, we’ve built a track in Vallnord and why we partly finance the World Cup in Andorra. We also spend a lot of money and energy producing the best bikes for kids (20, 24 inch and Junior models)! Creating a ‘training school’ structure for young people is therefore completely part of this process. I have very good people with me to take care of it, we organise events and rides and it’s a real pleasure to have this “JR. Cartel”. We’re working on all the details to further develop this department. We’ll keep you posted!

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photo source: commencal, Ewa Kania / pstryKANIA

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