Intro by Kurt Hohberger – Interview by Dave Paterson
Over the years, there have been a handful of products that really stood out and have become “that product” that everyone knows as the perfect example that was eventually reproduced by a handful of other brands with minor tweaks and branding changes. For example, we could look at products like S&M’s Slam Bars, Odyssey’s Twisted PC pedals and Profile’s cranks. There’s one product that I think fits into this category that you without a doubt have either ran on your bike, or know a few people who do. That would be the Shadow Conspiracy‘s Interlock half-link chain. Since its release, it has been duplicated and replicated fairly unsuccessfully by a handful of brands and Shadow have stayed on top with making beneficial tweaks to make it stronger and better than before. Dave figured it was time to catch up with owner Ronnie Bonner to find out more about what exactly makes this chain one of the legendary products of BMX. So let’s take a look and what he had to say…
The Interlock Chain has been around for a good while now, can you explain a bit of the history behind it? When did the project first start, who was involved?
The idea for the Interlock chain was one of our first designs, but was not introduced in the first collection as we had many hurdles to over come.
Byron Anderson was the person to come up with the Interlock chain concept. He was one of the first Shadow riders and has since studied Solid works and has become the full-time designer for Shadow.
The idea started to brew many years before Shadow started, from Byron breaking his chain and having to scooter push his bike home. This happened more with the introduction of grinding, especially for him as he mainly grinded on his right side drive train.
The chain breaking from years of riding was heavily on his mind and we were trying to figure out how to make a chain better. We knew that there were two issues at hand for chains in BMX at the time.
First was the issue of strength and second was the introduction of micro gearing to the Modern BMX frame.
While studying chains we realized that the idea of a half link may solve the issues at hand. By using many links consecutively an interlocking design was created that helped protect the next link, which in turn helped keep the next from popping off, (unlike a standard chain where the outside plates can pop off easily if hit) and it was twice as adjustable as a standard chain. Although this sounds so obvious now, 10 years ago this was ground breaking for chains.
How did you come up with the name?
We had hundreds of names but sometimes the most obvious ones are the best. Since one of the strengths of the Interlock chain is the interlocking plates we felt this was the obvious choice.
How many samples did you guys go through until you had a final production version? I can’t imagine you were able to hit the final design right away, how long did it take until you had a design everyone was happy with?
We went through about 20 samples / 2 versions and the process of sampling and design took over a year.
The original design’s (V1) main difference was the plate shape and pin strength since this version was designed to handle the heavy loads of the 10t or higher cogs. This was the standard at the time ( 2003) , After release of the V1, 9T micro gearing was in the beginning stages of becoming the standard. So we began development of the Interlock V2 with the curved links and increased pin strength to handle the additional stress that the 8 & 9T drivers caused to the chain.
With either version we really had to find that sweet spot with the heat treatment. Heat treat a little too much, the chain becomes brittle, too little the metal can bend. Machine testing played a critical role in this part, by finding the tensile strength and ductile strength of the chain. We ended up with a new issue through this process as we made the plates super strong and then the pins couldn’t handle the extra load. This took a bit of trial / error to dial in and create the strength balance between the plates and pins that the Interlock has today.
We always do tensile testing by machine for each production of the Interlock chain to ensure our strength per production is up to our standards. We also once a year test all our competitors chains to evaluate their weakness compared to the strength of the Interlock chain.
Was there something you wanted to do that just didn’t work at all?
We had a few ideas of different versions of the Interlock chain but we felt the idea / design of the Interlock we see today was the best out of the concepts we had.
Chains have always been pretty standard in their shape and design. With you trying to re-invent the simple bicycle chain you must have had some difficulties. Did you have any major hurdles with what needed to be done like getting a machine tooled for the design?
Our goal with all Shadow products is to create the simplest path to the desired function. We felt that we had this balance with the concept of the Interlock chain.
So to say that we were surprised how hard the process would be to find a factory is an understatement. This was our biggest hurdle as we literally visited ever major chain factory and all of them said they were not interested in manufacturing the Interlock chain and or couldn’t see the value in our idea. They didn’t understand why we would want to create a chain of this strength and felt what they were doing was “good enough”. The funny aspect of this is, fast forward 9 years and each of them are copying our designs.
In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise that they all turned us down and we had to find a factory that fully understood our goals. This led us on a path of discovery and helped us create an assemble process that is part of the strength and quality of today’s Interlock chain. We realized that 100% mass market machine made chains couldn’t have the strength that we needed in our chains so we created a process that involved a combination of both hand and custom designed machines that built for each of our chains. If you check out all the “fakes” on the market they are 100% mass market machine built and it shows in their lack of strength.
Keep in mind that when we designed the Interlock chain we created the the Concept, Did original Solidworks drawing, Opened our own original molds, Machine tested ours and others companies chains, Real world tested and Revised our design over a few years. It was a super expensive project for us as we were a new brand but we felt strongly about the idea to create something unique that could take BMX in a new direction.
The chain is now in its second version. What’s the difference between V1 and V2?
As mentioned in the previous question, gearing kept shrinking! So we went back, drawing on what we had already learned in developing and using the V1.
The main differences in the 2 versions is the V2 has a shaped plate , mushroomed pins and we refined the heat treatment for max strength. The new design is super strong and it’s also why the chain is a bitch to put on, ha ha. We felt that it is better to be hard to put on and be strong on your bike while you ride. (than to have it keep breaking.) Really though, the chain is easy to assemble if you use the Shadow chain breaker, ha ha.
I noticed that you are working on a 3/32nds version of the chain. When is that due to out? BMX Chains have been 1 and 3/8ths for a good while now, do you think freestyle could start going back to the 3/32 size or will this be just a racing thing?
The 3/32 Interlock chain is out now. The main reason we created this chain was for trails as many of our crew (Cottle and Joey) wanted a smoother drive train. With smaller drive trains freestyle could rock it for sure but it might be best left to trails and racers. Smooth and fast!
The chain has become synonymous as one of the strongest chains in BMX, why do you think this is?
I would say proof is in its history & number of pros who use our chains. The Interlock chain since introducing it in 2003, has proven itself worthy and I just wouldn’t trust anything else!
When you were first designing the chain did you expect it to be as a successful and popular product as it is today?
We are pretty humble people and didn’t expect anything, but we felt this was a really good design / idea and hoped that riders would see the value in its design and function.
Approximately how many Interlock chains have been produced since they first hit the stores? I’ve never been riding with a group of people where nobody had one for a good few years now.
Hundreds of thousands have been produced and as I was saying earlier, this states to its value and place in the market. Thanks so much to all the riders worldwide that have supported us !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Despite a few brands playing around with the idea, Chain design has been very standard for years now, can you see any major advancements or changes happening in the near future?
Where there is a good idea, change could happen. But fundamentally I don’t think BMX is looking for a space shuttle, ha ha.
Do you think BMX will follow other genres of cycling and one day use a different method of drive-train like belt-drive?
Please no belt drives, please!
What’s the funniest story you have heard involving the Interlock Chain?
A few years ago we decided to go visit one of the factories that stole our idea for the Interlock chain. We were curious how they were producing the knock off chains and wanted to compare 100% mass market machine built vs. our process of assembly. While visiting them we were in their office and noticed they had a plaque hanging on the wall that was from the Taiwan bicycle industry giving them an award for most innovative bike part for that year, keep in mind our chain had already been on the market for 2 years. We were so pissed and was trying to take it off the wall but they figured out what was going on and wouldn’t leave us alone in the office after that, ha ha!
You guys have made some pretty innovative products in the past few years, what’s next? Can you give us a hint to what you guys are cooking up next?
We are pretty stoked on the new collection dropping in 2012 as we have the new Captive forks, BTR cassette hub, Multi tool, 3/32 chain, Drew’s B / Sano brakes, just to name a few products. We also have some wild new products in the final stages that will be released at Interbike. We are real stoked on this! Dave, when time gets closer we will for sure give you the full on scoop first, ha ha.
Any last words?
It is so wild that 2012 is our 10th year of life at Shadow and I truly wanted to reach out to all the riders, Shadow distributors, magazines, website, stores, and Friends that have supported us over the past 10 years. Being able to be in the BMX industry is a dream come true and there is not one day that I take this for granted! Thanks so much for allowing us to live the Dream!