George French Interview

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These days if you spend enough time on a computer, or in forums, there is a good chance you are on top of all the new products being released. There are a few names that might ring a bell like “Plegs” or “Ratchet” that might sound firmilliar. Those products were developed by George, the G in G-Sport. I think you will find this interview pretty interesting. Check it out and leave some comments! Also, the photos are from the Odyssey flickr, which you should check out and join after this!

George French G Sport BMX

George French

Sheffield, UK.

Years riding:
BMX? around 20 now…

Any sponsors at all?

What is it about BMX that interests you so much, I mean it seems like you could engineer anything?
I have always loved bicycles. Most engineers have a love of bikes to at least some degree, they are probably the most efficient machines on earth and the machines that people are most able to “bond” with. When a person is riding a bike they are almost like a cyborg and the bike is truly an “extension” of them in a way that cars and other machines can never really come close to.
As a kid I loved the freedom that a bike brought, but if you can’t go certain places, like up and down curbs or across walls or down handrails it isn’t as free. When I rediscovered BMX in my late teens it was fantastic to have the full freedom to REALLY ride almost anywhere, but the bikes were terrible (this was the late 80’s early 90’s) so it was a necessity to improve the bikes if I wanted to get the most from the sport.

Your long awaited hub “The Ratchet” is finally available, what was it that originally gave you the idea for the design?
We started out working on the freecoaster, but there was obviously a massive need for a reliable “cassette” hub, I initially wanted to do something more radical and we prototyped a few ideas, but these were very difficult to produce and we decided that it made sense to go with a more conventional design but try to eliminate all the existing issues. So I sat down and wrote a specification, a wish-list if you like, and then spent a lot of time simply thinking of ways to try to fulfill all the items on the list. Once you recognise the causes of the problems like bent axles and side impacts then you have a logical course to follow to improve things.

George French G Sport BMX
The freshly released Ratchet Hub

Once you are completely satisfied with The Ratchet, and any final kinks are worked out (if there are any), what is your next big project?
We don’t really work on one thing at a time. So the Ratchet development has been running alongside the development of things like the G-Coaster, which is still a long way off, and the JCPC split-pedal, which should be out in the first quarter of next year. In terms of things we haven’t announced yet I have learned my lessons from the past and am keeping very quiet.

It seems like all the G-Sport products take a fair amount of time before it releases. What are some of the more common problems you have run into when developing something new?
I suppose the most common issues are related to getting from individually finished prototypes to something that works in production. So for example we were able to get good working prototypes of the Ratchet hub a long time ago, but if we had tried to mass-produce in the same way that these were made, the hub would have ended up over $300. By doing things like forging a blank for the hub shell and forging and rolling the bolts instead of machining them, we improve the properties of the metal and save a considerable amount of money (provided the numbers are there to pay for the tooling), but it takes time. You have to (for example) finalise the shell design with machined prototypes before you commit to buying what is a very expensive tool, then approve the design of the tool, then wait while it is made, then get some samples made up from the blanks and check them over very thoroughly for errors, and in the case of the Ratchet hub there were errors, so you have to wait while the tool is modified (or even re-made from scratch) and then make new samples and check those and possibly repeat…
Given that nearly everything in a project like the Ratchet is custom made and needs tooling this can take a lot of time and money. There is extensive tooling for the seal, shell, springs, pawls, and bolts. And then there are tools for assembling the hubs and doing quality control.

What is the weirdest problem you have run into?
The other common problem we have is being told that something simply can’t be done when you know it can and the weirdest one of these was related to a product we haven’t revealed yet, where we were told the part would need to be 3d forged or machined and each prototype would cost over $700. This went on for quite some time with me continually trying to explain how to do it for next to nothing. In the end I made one myself in literally 10 minutes using hand tools and sent it to them and the “problem” disappeared instantly.

George French G Sport BMX

Do you do everything from the initial idea, to CAD drawings, to prototypes and final product by yourself, or is there other people who help you out from time to time?
No. There is a core team of three or four or five of us who work on the design, but it is quite possible for everyone at Odyssey to be involved. I usually do initial sketches and a basic model to get the concept across and possibly for patenting purposes, and then we develop those ideas as a team until we have solid professional engineering drawings to take to the factory. Once we reach this stage even more people get involved with testing and feedback. So it is all very much a team effort.

How long have you been working with Odyssey, and how did you get involved with them?
I first contacted Chris at Odyssey about working together on a project back in March 2002, and believe it or not we are STILL working on that idea though it is pretty much evolved beyond recognition. Soon after we started work on the Elementary stem and I was ridiculously impressed by the experience. The more I worked with Chris and Richard (the boss) and everyone at Odyssey the more I wanted to do more with them. It became apparent very quickly that I could get far more done and massively more “job satisfaction” working with them than on my own. So in 2004 I flew out to see them and suggested that they absorb G-Sport and take me on as a “retained” designer. At the end of 2004 we formalised everything and I Haven looked back. Working with everyone at Odyssey has been a pure pleasure and I think of them all as friends rather than “work colleagues”.

If you had an unlimited budget, all the best technology, and no form of deadlines, what would your dream project be?
I am super lucky in that I pretty much DO have those things. Obviously we dont have a truely unlimited budget but we dont often feel limited in that respect. If we had access to all the nano technology stuff that is being developed in universities around the world I guess we could do something pretty amazing, but then would it really make that much difference to something like a bike that already works super well? SO I think, if I had the access to anything I would work on something totally unrelated to bikes, it seems to me ridiculous that commercial airliners have moved on so little since the Jumbo and that we have moved backwards with the scrapping of concorde, so I guess a commercial airliner with a massive range and capable of over 2000mph in the upper atmosphere would be nice, but I dont think we could pull it off…

George French G Sport BMXG giving Vital the low down at Interbike.

Do you find much time to ride these days?
No. I do try to make time, but I have a hell of a lot on my plate at the moment and it often doesnt get prioritised enough to actually happen… Maybe if I write shorter answers to these questions I can go out this afternoon…

How do you feel about the quality of products being produced these days? What are some things you wish would change?
Modern bike parts are so much better than when I started riding. You can buy a complete for less than $300 that will hold up pretty well for most beginners and be enough for them to really get hooked on BMX. Wheras when I started there were no completes about in shops and if you did find one it was over $500 for a piece of shit that wouldnt last a day without changing half the parts, and the other half would be broken in a month.
The things that I “wish” would change are the things I am working on changing…

If you could change anything about BMX in general, what would you change?
Peoples attitudes. There is not enough unity amongst riders, and brotherhood with skaters, mtbers and rollerbladers. People take it all too seriously.

What do you think you would be up to if you never got involved with BMX?
Probably the same but with mountainbikes. Definitely something related to cycling.

I would imagine you went to college right? Where did you go, and what is the degree you got?
Sheffield University, and I did a degree in mechanical engineering.

What kind of advice do you have for kids looking to get into the kind of work you are into?
Just start. You can do a hell of a lot with basic tools and even just thinking about things and sketching on paper is incredibly powerful.

You had a kid a while ago, hows being a dad going for you? Do you plan on keeping her away from dirty BMXers?
Actually got two now. Aurigny is 22months now and Cambria is 7months. Being a dad is great, it obviously takes a lot of your time and energy, but it is simply amazing how enjoyable it is.

George French G Sport BMX
Grabbed this photo of the G-Sport site. How stoked would you be if G was your dad? Talk about dialed bike for life.

When you aren’t being a dad, working, or hanging out on your bike, what are you usually up to?
Sleep, or fixing up the house.

With 2009 coming up pretty quick, what are you looking forward to for the year?

If you were to win the lottery, what are some things you would do with the money?
I honestly dont know. I can understand how some people fall apart when they win the lottery. When you work hard to achieve something it really means something to you, if you have a stack of cash handed to you on a plate then it would sort of devalue everything else you had ever done. Being able to pay the mortgage with money I earned by designing bike parts still seems incredible to me, so I think I would have to view the winnings as investment capital to try to do something interesting… But I NEVER do the lottery so I think it unlikely to be a problem I will have to worry about…

Have you ever been in a fight or arrested for committing a crime?
I dont really see how any male could reach my age without having been in a few fights, but I have never been arrested, though maybe I should have been a few times…

If you could commit any crime at all and get away with it, what would you do?
Probably bump off a few African despots…

Spend much time on the computer? Any favorite websites?
I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the computer for work, so I dont use it that much for leisure… I do check out a few cycling blogs like Bike Snob and Bicycle Design, but I guess even those are “work” in a way.

If you could redo anything in your life, would you? If yes, what would you redo?
I dont know, that seems kind of risky when you are pretty happy with how everything has turned out… I would probably have learnt about stretching sooner in life instead of learning the hard way.

If you could have any car at all, what would you be rolling in and why?
It is hard to get excited about cars when you can’t bunnyhop them… so I guess a monster truck…

With the economy hitting the shitter, do you have any ideas of how to fix this problem?
Is it? We know from history that public panic is the biggest factor in instigating a recession/depression, but we have news agencies that are hyping everything up, even when they report record sales-figures or the shops being super busy they put a negative spin on it… maybe if people stopped watching and believing the news quite so much and looked out the window they would panic less… Obviously it is hitting the US construction and car industries hard and this is having a knock on effect, but those two industries had been trading on an unsustainable footing for a long time, the bosses should have seen this coming.
If Obama puts construction workers to work on things like the high speed rail link between LA and SF, and seriously promotes a green energy policy, and kicks the shit out of the auto industry until they start making cars people WANT (like advanced electric vehicles) then things would soon improve… I guess we will find out in January…

What kind of music are you into?
I refuse to believe that anyone cares about the answer to this question…

George French G Sport BMX

The new G-Spokes

How did you get the nickname “G”, I mean obviously your name is George but is there a story behind that? Do you have any other nicknames?
When you are street riding (and potentially causing “criminal damage” to propoerty it makes sense not to use full names with each other…

What is the craziest thing you have experienced in your life?
Possibly having a mass fight with my mate against about 15-20 14 year olds when we worked for the circus… and winning.

If you could change anything about the world, what would you change any why?
Pollution. Who doesnt want a less polluted world?

What kind of advice do you have for us?
Stretch! If you stretch now you can ride longer and harder and get hurt less…

Anything else you would like to say?
Save the drugs for when your body gives up on you and you dont have anything else to do.. and just say no to Jesus…

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