Interview by Mark Noble
That’s a pretty bloody big question right off the bat. But it’s worth thinking about for sure – the recent addition to S&M Bikes’ product line is a Holmes frame and fork kit which is sized for 22-inch wheels, alongside a new wheel kit from Revenge, with suitable sized rims and tyres. So, if it’s good enough for S&M, is it good enough for everyone?
With this in mind we approached to Keith Easom at Faction Bikes; Keith and his brothers raised the 22-inch wheel question a long, long time ago and, convinced that they had something worth pursuing, set about creating a bike company that only made bikes with this wheel size – which is definitely a very bold move for Keith and his brothers. They put their money where their mouths were, and have spent considerable time and money investing in this concept.
But, does it work? Keith and co have done tons of research, and have gone through all the feedback from people who have bought and rode their prototype bikes – so they know what they’re talking about. They’ve used extensive feedback and testing to fine-tune their latest bikes, and these things are looking good. Apparently, compared to a standard BMX bike the 22-inch bikes are faster, more stable, yet at the same time lose none of the flickability and agility we all know and love. The 20-inch wheel size is a throwback from the birth of BMX and the old Stingray-type bikes. Maybe, just maybe, is it time for a rethink?
So, quickly explain your background in the BMX business…
KEITH: My brothers Kevin, Paul and I have been involved in BMX as riders since 1982. Paul and I used to test frames for OT Bikes, who later became Rebel Bikes. We organised demos, comps and race meetings right through the 80s, then we designed and built the Shrewsbury Skatepark in ‘88, where we continued running our events though the 90s. The skatepark was a non-profit club set-up which was the first of its kind in the UK. Paul and I had our Skate and BMX shop Subculture from ‘89 till 2006.
How long have you been working on Faction as a bike company?
The three of us formed Faction Bike Co in 2007, but we started seeking funding for the first prototypes and spending our own cash on it in 2002.
So what inspired you to get into making 22” wheel bikes?
For us it started in ’84 – I was 14 and at school, sketching a picture of Eddie Fiola from Freestylin’ mag. I accidentally drew the wheels a little bigger than 20” and I thought, ‘they look more like 22s’. I started thinking why don’t 22” bikes exist? And I wonder what they would ride like if they did? In the same article there was a pic of Ted Emmer riding in a skatepark on his 24” and the caption called him a ‘mad man’. I thought if he can do that on 24s he could surely ride even better if he was on 22s, maybe even as good as if on a 20”? Then I started thinking about how 22s would perform in a racing comparison with 20” and 24” bikes? Weighing up the pros and cons, and it was all positives. Such as, they might out-run a 20” on the straights and out accelerate a 24” out the gate, maybe you could even race them in both classes?
Why did you not do the 22” back then, why did you not do it till now?
Talking about it with my brothers we thought that getting the tyres made was beyond us at that time, as we were just teenagers with no money. Despite the 22” subject never being mentioned in the magazines, we always talked about us doing it one day if no one else did it first. By 2002 with still no word of 22” bikes in the BMX mags, we could not believe that still no one had done it yet. That’s when we thought… ‘right we’ll do it then’.
So how hard was it to make or source 22” wheel products, like those tyres for example?
22” stuff didn’t exist back then so we couldn’t source anything. We had to design and make everything in the 22” size from scratch, which is why nothing has been easy in developing the 22”. Kev and Paul were both already expert welders so we applied for funding to set up our own frame welding operation here in Shropshire in 2002 but were refused funding due to the 22” being classed as a high risk idea. So plan B was to look to Taiwan, which turned out to be a better move as no one would question the quality if we could work with the best factories there.
Were there any problems with dealing with Taiwan?
We knew the only way the factories would understand what we are trying to create is to get on a plane and go meet them. Even with the best CAD drawings and photos, there’s no substitute for face-to-face dialogue. Kev went to China in Jan 2003 and then Taiwan in 2004 to meet with factory owners to show them we were serious. At the time, only a handful of rider-owned brands were doing complete 20” bikes. He was out there with no 3G phone and no money as his card got eaten by an ATM machine. It’s amazing that the 22” ever got past that stage. He said those trips were a nightmare!
S&M’s recently released 22″ kit. Frame, fork, wheels and tires.
You did a complete bike early on – did you feel you were jumping in at the deep end?
We wanted it to be easily accessible for riders to try the 22” so a mid-range price complete was essential. The bike reviews said the Zeitgeist was the highest spec bike in its price range – of any wheel size. As far as I’m aware no other rider-owned company has attempted a complete bike as its first product, the fact it was a 22” as well only added to the risk, so it was a real leap of faith. After the Zeitgeist bike we wanted to make a new higher spec version called the Amero bike – this meant we needed a street tyre with a foldable bead to match what was available for 20” bikes. The only tyre factory in the World that would deal with us in practical quantities – less than 40,000 units – and who would work to our design specs is a company in Europe. A now good friend who works there stuck his neck out going against the board of directors to give us this one-shot chance to prove our new 22” tyre can work. We held back releasing the new Amero frame and wheels as it would be pointless to release them without decent tyres.
How did you go about designing the frame itself?
The frame had to be designed from scratch to fit 22” wheels which required figuring out new geometry for it. We developed our Amero frame geometry over a period of five years involving riders from all riding backgrounds of BMX to help with test riding. This included making many prototypes to try out geometry options, test the build quality of different factories, try different tubing styles and push the limits of how light we could make them, including making fully heat treaded versions.
Did you redesign the wheels too?
We designed our 36 spoke 22” rims for the Amero kit specifically to suit 22” bikes, so they look right and are strong enough. Our test riding of sample 20” profile construction rims showed you can’t use them for a 22”. The reasons being our test riding showed that 20” style rims do not stand up to skatepark, street and trails riding in the 22” size and they also look way too skinny. Our Amero 36 spoke 22” rims have had two years of Street and Park test riding in the US and the UK by our team riders with no problems at all, and they have shown to be light enough to win races on against sponsored racers.
What are the main differences or advantages with a 22” bike?
In our opinion they look proportionally better, feel better and ride better than 20” and 24” bikes for adults to use. They are faster than a 20” and more agile than a 24” making them ideal for racing and jumping. They look just like a BMX only slightly bigger, yet don’t look or feel too big like a Cruiser. Some 20” riders assume 22” wheels will be less agile in some way, but all the feedback we’ve had from over a hundred riders is they don’t restrict agility at all. If anything all the feedback we have had is from riders saying the 22” is better for jumping than their 20” bikes as they feel more confident on them. I don’t want to bore you with the physics stuff of bump-steer, caster/trail effects and wheel diameter in relation to pivot angles, but when you’re blasting jumps that would normally have you gripping the bars tighter and puckering up – like on my old BMXs – you’ll get the gist of the 22’s benefits. You’d expect stability to be a trade-off for agility, but there’s so much more going on with a bike’s geometry, and a rider’s mind, when you’re on a gnarly surface. We found that the most subtle differences of geom angles and dimensions has a big effect.
Was it a slow burn at first, like convincing people about the 22” concept?
The riders who bought our Zeitgeist bikes really liked them and we were stoked when they posted up good reviews on the forums, from there it just gained momentum. We’ve never had an email from a rider who wasn’t happy with their bike, it’s always positive feedback which is really great to hear.
Which riders have you had on the bike?
It was fun making a yellow custom Amero for Eddie Fiola. Other riders in order of involvement are: Mike Pardon, Jason Lunn, Matt Hoffman, Craig Campbell, Andy Preston, Joel Alamo, Todd Anderson, Jeff Grosso, Andy Irwin, Chris Smith, Jason Davies, Jack Daniel, Jason Ellis, Matt Stahl, David Yezeriski, Jason Bradbury, Kona Hellier, Belbinder Singh, Chris Mahoney, Joe Badlesby, James Done… There’s just too many to mention, so sorry if I’ve missed someone out. It’s been awesome to hear these and other riders from all round the World give feedback on our bikes and we’re really grateful to them.
And what has the feedback been like so far?
It just gets better all the time, we expected riders to say the Zeitgeist bike rode better than their 24”, as that’s all we wanted our first 22” to do, but we were surprised to hear riders say they found they could jump higher and further on it than on their 20” bikes. We always thought our second higher spec 22” bike the Amero would be the one to be compared with 20” bikes so the Zeitgeist exceeded our design expectations of it. The Amero prototypes too have blown us away with how good the feedback has been on them, to think the production run version will be even better thanks to the new kevlar tyres and refined geometry – I can’t wait to hear what riders say about them.
Andy Irwin, a test rider for the magazines, who bought one of our bikes said, “the 22” is the best idea in BMX since the introduction of 4130.”
Joel Alamo said on FaceBook, “I just pulled the best no-handed 360 I’ve ever done, the Zeitgeist bike is a trails slaying machine.”
David Yezeirski in New York said, “I can jump higher and further with less effort on my 22” than my 20”.”
Chris Mahoney said on his first session on his Zeitgeist 22, “I reckon I could jump further on this bike than any other I’ve ridden.”
Todd Anderson, US vert legend commented, “the Zeitgeist is the best bike I’ve ever owned, definitely a big air bike.”
World Champ 24” Cruiser racer Tony FlemDog jokingly called me a ‘cheating barstool’ when I finished second behind him on my Amero 22” at a National. There’s loads more testimonials, you can check out on our site – www.factionbikeco.com
So then – what’s next for Faction Bike Co and 22 inch bikes?
We’ve always said since day one we will always be a 100% 22” only bike company, and we will only make innovative products and strive for the highest quality. We don’t have a problem with 20” or 24” bikes or brands, we just believe in 22” bikes more and we only want to make products that we believe in. We are developing a full race spec version 22” and hopefully some signature frames with our team riders, focusing on each field of BMX riding. I’m hoping we can design more new rim and tyre options soon as well, with possibly more complete bikes as we go along.