Performance under pressure
Every generation is privy to advances in technology. Some generations see tech advance in small but deliberate steps, while others are present when it takes great leaps and bounds. As racers, you are fortunate to be part of the latter as the Olympics and an undying need for speed have pushed race bike technology decades into the future in only a few short years. While things like aluminum, even carbon fiber are nothing new, we are still living in a time where chromoly reigns as the domineering material in the life BMX racing. All you have to do is take a step back and look at the sport of racing as a block of roughly 40 years, 25 of those years were dominated by chromoly frames, the following ten years were a transition into a nearly exclusively aluminum field and only in the past five years have we really been introduced to the concept of ultra high end carbon fiber frames that reached well beyond the constraints of the current race bike.
When Redline released the P79 Carbon frameset, the bike world didn’t quite know what to make of it. It was a gamble and even with the push from the 2008 Olympics, the industry wasn’t quite sure of riders were ready to invest more then $1000 in a frame. Needless to say, the gamble was a wise one for Redline and the P79 was a huge success, but with the closed 15mm dropouts aside, we cant say they entirely dove into the project head first as the P79 was still designed around traditional BMX features, like an 1 1/8” headset and Euro bottom bracket. This is where Haro wanted to roll a few dice of their own and design a carbon fiber race frame that stepped completely away from the BMX standard and create a performance frame from the ground up, without the restriction of conventional designs.
The new design would start fresh with the single goal of creating the best performing BMX race frame on the market. This would mean, if the current headtube standard was not up to their liking, they would go with something different, potentially new. Same for the other pivotal features like the bottom bracket and dropouts were also on the potential chop block so we were excited to see the first mold of the frame in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the USA BMX Grands in 2012, but when we did, it left us with more questions then answers. The non rideable sample boasted a new 1.5” to 1 1/8” tapered headtube, as well as a wider bottom bracket standard, a design feature that Yess BMX dabbled with previously but was yet to work all the bugs out of. The design also featured interchangeable rear dropouts, a detail that has been the pitfall of progressive frames in the past. The only way to know for sure if Haro was onto something, or simply preparing to step in something was to head out to the track with the first riding sample and see it in action, then put our questions to the man behind the frame, Derek Betcher.
WHEN DID IDEA FOR THE CLUTCH FIRST COME UP AND WHY WAS CARBON THE MATERIAL OF CHOICE, VERSUS ALUMINUM? ”Late summer is when we first started talking about it. For those who don’t know, Haro’s sister company, Masi, has been manufacturing high-end road bikes for quite some time. Anyone who rides road knows that carbon is just a better ride than aluminum. I would have to say though, my main reason for developing a carbon fiber frame would be the stiffness alongside the BB concept we came up with, it’s the total package. It rides so solid.”
CARBON HAS A REPUTATION FOR BEING LIGHTWEIGHT AND SUPER STIFF, BUT ALSO ONE (EVEN IF MISLEAD BY CUT RATE PRODUCTS) FOR BEING WEAK AND FOR BEATING UP THE RIDER ON THE TRACK BECAUSE IT IS SO STIFF. HOW AND HOW EARLY WERE THESE ISSUES ADDRESSED IN THE DESIGN?
”All materials are compromised when poorly manufactured, whether breaking or bending. We manufacture the Clutch using the same technology and experience borrowed from Masi and in a factory that builds some of the most high-end frames for both the road and MTB markets. Now, on to the question of carbon bikes being too stiff and beating up the rider. I’ve heard that, and it’s a myth. Straight up! Just for confirmation, I texted Sam Willoughby for his take – “What, I’ve never heard that but that’s ridiculous!”
BEFORE WE GET INTO THE TUBING, WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE FEATURES THAT SET THIS FRAME APART AND WHY WERE THEY USED?
“From a design standpoint, what really sets this frame apart from the competition is our press-fit BB92 bottom bracket. Our BB utilizes a 3.4” (86.5mm) wide shell vs. the standard euro shell, which is 2.6” (68mm) wide. With the shell so wide, it allows the downtube, seat tube, and chainstays to taper to the outermost width of the shell, reducing flex while maximizing stiffness at the Power Transfer Center (PTC) which is the heart of our design, and the reason this frame will be the stiffest, most responsive frame on the market. The head tube is a taper 1-1/8” to 1.5” and the reason we used this concept was for future designs of a taper fork under our CLiQ brand. Lastly, the frame has removable alloy dropouts because we all know a dropout is the area of a frame to get worn out the fastest, especially for riders who change gears a lot. We’ll sell our dropouts separately in 3/8”, 15mm, and 20mm.”
THERE ARE A LOT OF BB OPTIONS FLOATING AROUND THESE DAYS, AS WELL AS REAR AXLE STANDARDS AND HEADSET STANDARDS. HAVING DESIGNED A TOP OF THE LINE FRAME, DO YOU FEEL THERE IS A PLACE FOR ALL OF THEM ON THE RIGHT BIKE?
”On the right bike? Sure! BB30 has its place on a road bike, and so do gears. BMX racing is full of gimmicks, some have benefits and some don’t. The features on the Clutch were used because they serve a purpose, and it will be hard to argue our theory on any of them. ”
WHEN THE FRAME WAS BEING DRAFTED UP, WAS THERE AN ASTHETIC GOAL OR DID THE UNIQUE HT, BB AND DROPOUTS GREATLY DEPICT THE END PRODUCT?
”We modeled this frame after our current 7000 series alloy frame, The Blackout. The goal was to keep the frame as traditional looking as possible, with all the features to make it the most unique, innovative frame to hit the market in 2013. The geometry and stand-over height is all the same as our Blackout.”
HOW LONG WAS THE BIKE IN THE DESIGN AND TESTING PHASE?
”We received the plastic fit mold sample in November, and that’s the frame we displayed in Tulsa. At the end of January is when we received our first test sample, and I’ve been riding it a lot. The rest of the team frames are about two weeks away now, and I’ll have Brooke, Nic and Corben all putting in work for a few months before we order production. I felt better about personally riding this frame for at least a month before the team hopped on, and I’m definitely stamping it! It’s good to go! ”
WHAT SPECIFIC AREAS OF A BMX FRAME STAND THE POTENTIAL OF GAINING THE MOST WHEN DESIGNED WITH CARBON VERSUS TRADITIONAL TUBING?
”Absolutely the bottom bracket! The bike is stiffer, it accelerates better, exits corners better, and just overall feels so much better. ”
HOW MUCH TEAM INPUT WAS FACTORED INTO THE BIKE? ”Riders are usually quick to tell you what they don’t like, but don’t usually have a suggestion on how to fix it. The team loves the Blackout, and they understand the reason behind all the new features on the Clutch, so they’re really anxious. Nic rode my bike around in the parking lot, and although it’s too short and too low for him, he’s all kinds of excited to get on one. Brooke was the same, she uses a different cleat on her shoe than I do, and my rear end is far too long for her, but she had to take it for a spin around the track. They’re pumped!”
HOW IS WORKING WITH CARBON DIFFERENT FROM ALUMINUM OR CHROMOLY?
”As I said before, carbon rides a lot stiffer, and feels so much more solid. Alloy is great when it’s used properly, and chromoly really has no place in BMX racing at the elite level. Of course, a carbon frame is a pretty penny, while alloy frames are easily affordable. Technology has its price, but it’s worth it. ”
WHY DO YOU THINK CARBON FRAMES HAVENT BEEN ABLE TO GAIN TRACTION IN BMX PREVIOUSLY?
”In the past, I don’t think the market was ready for carbon fiber. People would see a frame priced around $1000 and shy away from it. Fast-forward to today, and you’ll see alloy frames selling for $500. With BMX being in the Olympics, and riders taking their training so much more serious than 10 years ago, carbon fiber definitely has made it’s place in the market. Redline has a fair bit of traction with their frame, Prophecy seems to do alright with theirs, and GT has a new one in development that looks pretty good as well. Carbon frames are the future, there’s no doubting that and the Clutch is by far the most advanced.”
AFTER A GREAT PERFORMANCE AT THE OLYMPICS, DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE READY TO SEE PAST THE BLACKOUT FRAME TO SOMETHING EVEN HIGHER END?
”Absolutely, and the Clutch is the next step after the Blackout. I’ll actually go back to the drawing board with the Blackout as well, and we will be offering a press-fit BB92 alloy frame with tapered downtube and extra wide chainstays. So for those of you reading this who don’t see yourself spending $1000 on a frame, our Blackout 2014 model (available this summer) will be something you’ll want to check out! ”
WHAT WAS THE TESTING PROCESS LIKE FOR THE FRAME, BOTH ON AND OFF THE TRACK?
”The frame went through the same factory test as high-end downhill bikes, and those things take a beating. I’ve put in some pretty hard sessions on it. It’s great. As I mentioned before, the bike was designed using the same drawings as our Blackout frame. It’s solid as a rock! ”
HOW MUCH DOES THE FRAME WEIGH?
”21” model is 3 pounds flat. ”
SOME MIGHT ARGUE THAT THE FRAME ISNT MUCH LIGHTER THEN ALUMINUM, SO WHY PAY THE EXTRA MONEY? TO THEM YOU SAY?
”To them I’d say, take one for a spin! If you have a friend who has a carbon frame, ask them to ride it around the track and feel the difference. I’d actually like to set up some demo bikes this summer and have them in our trailer at events for those who aren’t sold on carbon. The doubters will be made into believers.”
FUTURE PLANS FOR THE FRAME?
”We are designing a fork compatible with tapered head tube, and it’s going to be next level. We plan to offer this frame as a complete in our 2014 OEM line, as well. ”
WHO CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE ON THE FRAME?
”Nic Long, Corben Sharrah, Kurt Pickard, Rusty Nesvig, Brooke Crain etc.
Head tube: 74 degrees
Seat tube: 72 degrees
Top tube: 20.5” (PRO) 21” (Pro XL) 21.75” (Pro XXL)
Chainstay: Pro model: 14.75” center, Pro XL & Pro XXL: 15.2” center
Weight: 3lbs in 21” version
Price: $1099 (Frame only)