The sport of cycling is not as simple as it might appear on the surface. Aside from the athletic capabilities of the rider it’s also very important to have proper and advanced equipment. And here it’s it gets complicated. In the past the materials used in bike construction were mostly limited to steel and aluminum which had severe limitations concerning weight and stiffness options. More recently, the use of carbon fiber and graphite has enabled engineers to do such things as add stiffness to certain areas of the frame and flexibility in other areas. With this technology an engineer resembles an old time alchemists and can manipulate the materials as he wants. We’re going to introduce you to one of the leading engineer of the new generation bicycles from America – Donald Guichard. He is a Pres/CEO at Criterion Composites, Inc. – a facility under the funding of the well-known company Cervélo Cycles.
Tell me, what do you do for a living at the moment?
I’ve been working with them for about 7 years. Right now there are two types of bikes that they specialize in, one is a very aerodynamic time trial bike for triathletes and time trialists. The other one is a lighter weight, better climbing and descending, more standard road race bike. Most of my work with them has been with the road racing bike and my particular area is: I make extremely light weight yet high performance bicycles. It’s not just about the weight, but having the right amount of stiffness and ride comfort and everything else combined. We make high-end road race bike, my boss calls it a “halo product”. It’s a crowning achievement for the company. We price them to not be very available – a frame and fork is about 10.000 USD.
That’s a lot! It must be very special for this kind of money.
People take care of these bikes when they buy them, that’s for sure. The outcome is, by applying basic engineering principals and working hard for a couple years with some other smart people we were able to come up with a bike design that is probably the lightest production bike in the world right now. Yet the performance of the bike depends on how you get power to the ground and what we call bottom bracket stiffness. For instance, this bike has more bottom bracket stiffness than anything else we’ve ever tested- light or heavy, so we’ve managed a really nice marriage of light weight and stiffness and ride quality.
Who is the client for this kind of bike?
Right now we supplies bikes to one of the pro teams- Garmin Barracuda, who is one of the overall strongest teams. At least 4 of the riders are passionate about our frame, the R5CA, (the CA stands for California) and recently the Giro D’Italia was won by our team, by a Canadian guy named Ryder Hesjedal; his road bike is the R5CA. The team will be in the Tour De France starting Saturday, June 30.
What are the achievements of your “clients”?
You can look up the race results and anywhere there is an R series bike, I was probably involved. Carlos Sastre of Spain Won the Tour De France in 2008 on an R series. This year we are second and third in the Tour De California, and first in Giro D’Italia. We were probably the highest ranking team last year at Tour De France. The riders are really passionate about how not only we made the R5CA bike a combination of stiffness and light weight, but somewhere out of that it handles like no other they have ever ridden. We’re not quite sure how it handles so well.
Was it primarily your idea to focus on lightness and stiffness? How did you come up with it?
It’s not a solo effort, that’s for sure. What’s different this time around is that almost all bikes out there, whether it’s your department store bikes or your race bikes, are typically made in China. But what we want to do is not be constrained. The manufacturing of the bike is integral with how well you can design, build and make it perform. I had more manufacturing experience than most people with composites so I was selected to say: “Why don’t we start a facility in North America where we can be more in control of our manufacturing?” This was the first step which allowed us to basically have free reign on picking materials, processes, tooling and testing – pretty much everything. We also created new tests to better mimic how the bike performs when you ride it. I work with engineers that are based in Toronto, where the company has the bulk of their staff. The modeling of the bike is done in software, where they help create the initial shapes and we work with them on making sure those shapes have the right size and shape, then they make sure it’s as aerodynamic as they want it to be, for instance, that it has the proper clearance for wheels, etc. As simple as a bike seems, there is quite a bit that goes into it. I pretty much direct where the design is going. I give them a lot of credit for giving me a lot of freedom and pretty much work independently. I talk with my boss maybe once every three months.
To what extent does the knowledge that you’ve gained at the university helped you in your career? Do you think that education for an engineer from God is a necessity or just a mean of society’s approval?
I work with a lot of people who are both engineers and not and what I find is – it’s absolutely critical for a couple reasons. Of course there are a lot of smart people that do a lot without the education and yet it helps you make some basic decisions, things that seem intuitive to an engineer simply because we’ve had the training. It also gives you a common language to work with and communication, even in engineering, is extremely important. One of the most important things with what we do is very simple – follow the basic rules. For us, when we’re trying to make a lighter, stiffer bike it’s about mechanics and material properties – all very basic stuff. It’s the stuff you learn in your undergraduate courses and it pays off. Creativity can come from anyone – that’s true. But often times the execution of the idea into hardware and reality takes an engineer. Great ideas can come from elsewhere too, but often I see most failures in engineering occur because they miss the fundamentals.
Is there a person that inspires you in your work?
Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin, but I always think of him as being the adventurer, and the engineer, In a lot of ways he was a diplomat and everything else – he was so much in one package, so full of energy and life. That’s the kind of thing I admire: when someone can handle anything that gets thrown at him, is versatile and can figure out any kind of situation.
What do you think are the main qualities that an engineer should possess in order to achieve something and what can you wish to beginning engineers?
You need an open mind, you need to be well grounded in engineering basics, passionate and be able to communicate. Find something that you want to be good at, be passionate about it and then it’s just hard work, being diligent and not giving up. I’m not a brilliant guy, that’s not how I got my job, I’m doing what I do now because I stay with it, I work hard, focus and I don’t give in and eventually you get there. Your reputation is based on those types of criteria.