Germany’s MTB News Catches Up with Forbidden CEO, Owen Pemberton

Widely considered as Germany’s answer to Pinkbike, MTB News caught up with Forbidden Bike Co. CEO, Owen Pemberton, soon after the Dreadnought made waves. Delving into everything from high pivots, the Forbidden bike design philosophy and the challenging supply landscape currently dominating global bike and part supply, it was too good not to share with you here.. You can read the article in German here too.

Words: Christoph Spath / Photography: Mixed

MTBNews: We have just witnessed the second bike launch from Forbidden Bike Co and as a new face on the global bike market, can you give us an introduction, for those who don't know Forbidden yet?

Owen: Forbidden Bike Co is headquartered on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Inspired by the terrain that surrounds our home of Cumberland, even naming the company after the Forbidden Plateau - one of our local riding spots - should go some way to explaining our intentions as a mountain bike brand. The year-round riding conditions we experience here coupled with the sheer variety of trails on offer have given us the ideal location to design and develop cutting-edge mountain bikes. We were founded in 2019 by a growing team of industry veterans, setting the scene and tone for our brand with the Druid, our first platform. Forbidden is a brand built on a strong vision that goes beyond accepting the status quo or adhering to the whims of mass-market trends. We pride ourselves on being small, agile and free to pursue the ideas that would ultimately lead us towards truly unique products that not only define us as a company but who we are as riders. This approach has allowed us to really focus on ride quality and performance above all else, be it through suspension, geometry, materials, or construction techniques.

“We’re all guilty of putting more emphasis on what we view ‘as the fun side of the sport’, the side when gravity takes over.” - Owen Pemberton

With a heritage split between your British roots, but anchored in British Columbia – are there differences in the type of riders and does this influence the placement and development of product?

It’s true, a number of our team were born and raised in the UK with some having emigrated to Canada some years ago, while others remain in the UK manning our European HQ. Throughout our small company, in Canada or the UK, or in our partners around the world, there is one thing that unites us; we are all mountain bikers that share a similar vision of what riding means. To us, mountain biking is about having fun on two wheels, be it in the forests or high in the mountains. We’re all guilty of putting more emphasis on what we view ‘as the fun side of the sport’, the side when gravity takes over. What we find is that although trails differ all around the world, that fun-loving, fast riding mentality can be found everywhere.

# 1 The home of Forbidden is Vancouver Island, the company is named after the Forbidden Plateau near Cumberland - CEO Owen Pemberton was involved in the development of high pivot bikes even before the company was founded.

Linkage-driven Single Pivots have a long history in bike design, yet the success story of this configuration has taken a while to truly manifest itself in the marketplace. Why do you think this design approach has risen to interest just in the last few years?

The success of high pivot platforms on the World Cup circuit [in recent years] has proven how well the design works when it comes to its ability to handle challenging terrain. The acceptance of high pivot, idler-equipped bikes within the trail and enduro bike arena is down to one thing; the demise of the front derailleur. For as long as front derailleurs were required on bikes, it was just simply not possible to create a more pedal-focused bike with an idler pulley. So, however good the performance was in the past, the design could not be replicated away from the DH scene and DH bikes.

Forbidden’s Druid was one of the first HSP bikes with a strong intention of pedalling uphill, probably the first trail bike. What made you choose the short travel bike over a more enduro focussed bike in the first step?

We feel that a mid-travel bike, like the Druid, is a great option for a lot of people around the world. Many people think of high pivot bikes as being one-trick ponies - only good for gnarly downhill trails - but that’s simply not true! A lot of our customers comment that the Druid is the best technical climbing bike they have ever experienced. This is due to the unique combination of high anti-squat/ low pedal feedback/ and fully active suspension. This combination of ride characteristics is not achievable on traditional drivetrain bikes.

# 2 single drives enabled the HSP system to advance outside of DH use - Forbidden compared the brand's objectives with the existing chassis designs and opted for the high pivot point.

With so many suspension designs out there, what made you pioneer the HSP approach in the trail bike package?

It’s that combination of anti-squat/ low pedal feedback/ active suspension, again. Prior to starting Forbidden, our team was involved in the development of other successful high pivot bikes. During that development, it became apparent that the suspension design wasn’t just for downhill bikes and could indeed be used for trail bikes too. After starting Forbidden, when looking at all of the possible suspension layouts we could use, we felt that the high pivot design ticks more boxes than others for the way we ride our bikes.

“At Forbidden, in an effort to ensure a consistent ride experience across all sizes, we employ a scaled rear-center measurement for each individual frame size.” - Owen Pemberton.

Most HSP bikes feature short chainstays, yet Forbidden lets the chainstays grow with size. This is interesting in two ways; manufacturing-wise and with the bike being carbon – that seems to be a big investment to open a rear triangle mould for each frame size – or do you have any special solutions for this?

One of our core philosophies is that everyone who rides our bikes should experience a similar ride characteristic, regardless of their size or stature. To this end, we have put extra effort into our geometry and sizing and one of the major contributing factors behind a bike’s overall ride feel is its weight balance. The term ‘weight balance’ refers to the relationship between the rear-centre and the front-centre, and the resultant position of the rider’s centre of gravity between the tire contact patches. How each tire is weighted, directly affects the grip characteristics of the bike.

This weight distribution will also have a profound effect on both the [bike’s] agility and its stability. Many brands talk about their bikes having “balanced geometry”, yet they only use a single rear-centre (chainstay) measurement across all frame sizes. If the rear-center remains constant with each size, while front-centers change, then it stands to reason that each size of bike will see a different weight distribution and therefore a different ride characteristic. At Forbidden, in an effort to ensure a consistent ride experience across all sizes, we employ a scaled rear-center measurement for each individual frame size.

We use the position of our BB within the front triangle to change the rear-center. Not only is this simpler from a manufacturing perspective, but it is the better way to achieve this change as it does not affect the suspension characteristics.

# 3 According to Forbidden, wheel load distribution is extremely important for driving behavior - the dreadnought should be able to move agilely over the trail despite long chainstays in size L and XL.

# 4 With the wheel load distribution, Forbidden is pursuing one of the main goals of the brand - the same driving behavior for all drivers, no matter how big!

The rearward axle path of an HSP bike makes the dynamic chainstay length a quite interesting factor and is often overlooked. How does Forbidden measure the rear centre length? Static at 0% of the travel or somewhere in the travel?

The short answer is both. The long answer is... well that would be a lot longer. It is important to understand the relationship between front-center and rear-center and how that changes dynamically throughout the whole travel range. But more importantly, it is important to understand what effects this will have on the trail.

What influence does the braking characteristics of an HSP bike have on geometry, especially on the chainstay length/ weight distribution?

A high single pivot will exhibit a relatively high anti-rise effect. This can be used as a positive trait on the trail as it will cause the suspension to squat somewhat under heavy braking scenarios. This is useful as [usually] in these scenarios the rider's weight transfer will cause the fork to dive and conversely the rear of the chassis to rise. This pitches the rider's weight over the front wheel, often with negative results. A higher anti-rise resists this trait, effectively the suspension squat will allow the chassis to remain in a stable, neutral position. The negative of this is that over braking can cause the suspension to pack down and become unresponsive. We feel however that with the correct riding technique and the nature of modern trails, the benefits of this far outway the negatives.

In the Dreadnought media kit, you say that just increasing reach and flattening the head angle is not the way to go. Few companies do that; what made you go this way: Internal testing, benchmarking, etc?

Ride testing mostly - benchmarking against what our peers are doing and considering carefully how we really want our bikes to ride. At the same time, we were testing our theories and narrowing down our ride philosophy. We were also hearing anecdotal evidence from some riders that had jumped on the longer bandwagon only to find they were coming back to geometry with a more centred position. This just served to prove we were on the right track with our thinking. For some riders anyway, it’s important to realize not every rider in the world requires exactly the same ride characteristics, that would be boring. We know that if we create a product that works for us, a team of dedicated riders, that will resonate with other riders around the world.

# 5 Internal trials and tests with the team drivers are extremely important - According to Forbidden, it would rather try to set a target for driving behavior than blindly follow trends.

# 6 Lewis Buchanan no longer drives for Forbidden, but has made the last EWS stops on the Druid - most recently he was on the Dreadnought prototype early on.

Why do you think most of the industry only seems to be interested in the front centre length irrespective of increasing the rear centre per size as well?

Because it’s the easy way to do it.

“We crunch the numbers, ride bikes and crunch the numbers again. We don’t wildly follow trends.” - Owen Pemberton.

You are probably the only company with an actual seat angle steeper than the effective seat angle. At what height do you measure seat angle?

We measure our seat tube angles at a different given saddle height per size. These heights were determined as real-world averages for each size bracket. We are extremely proud of the effort we put into every aspect of our geometry; this is the cornerstone of our goal of equal ride characteristics and fit for all people. We crunch the numbers, ride bikes and crunch the numbers again. We don’t wildly follow trends.

While the launch of the Dreadnought has recently happened, you are still waiting to launch complete bikes. Delays and long lead-times are currently affecting the whole industry; how do you, as a rather small manufacturer, feel the effects?

It is an extremely exciting and potentially prosperous time for the whole [bike] industry. However, it is also extremely stressful due to the supply chain issues you mention. As a small company, we are in some ways at the mercy of larger entities in the industry, however, we can also use our small size to our advantage. For instance, we have partnered with EXT and Push Industries to bring the initial frame kits to market, both of these companies are also on the smaller side and can therefore react to market and supply pressures more nimbly. It has always been a longer-term goal of ours to offer our customers the choice of high-end, boutique products such as these, but the added logistical complexity was not something we felt we were ready for just yet. The current situation forced our hand to look at this faster than we originally planned, but in the end, we have a situation where everybody wins and we are excited with the new partnerships we have made and look forward to more in the future.

Has this situation forced you to go in a completely different way in terms of spec?

To a degree, yes. Speccing shocks from the likes of EXT and Push Industries, two expensive and boutique manufacturers, was not due to happen this early. But facing significant delays from other OE suspension suppliers - to who we are still very committed - our hand was forced and we decided to expedite both options in line with our February launch. Both brands represent two of the most sought-after suspension brands on the market and working with our counterparts there on custom tunes has been a pleasure and the results rather jaw-dropping too. To offer our customer a frame or bike with a sub-par tune that doesn’t work in harmony with our bike’s unique ride characteristics and kinematics, wouldn’t do anyone any favours and it’s something we and our suspension partners take very seriously. We are currently testing options from Öhlins and will have these as well as Fox and RockShox shocks available in due course.

In your opinion, what can big component suppliers do better for small manufacturers – and not specifically referring to the current situation?

Decline to comment.

# 7 Push Industries and EXT were already on the manufacturer's wish list - but not yet planned for the near future due to the logistical challenge.

# 8 The current situation has motivated the young company to take this hurdle now - they are also currently working on custom tunes with Öhlins and RockShox.

What's next for Forbidden?

Naturally, as a bike manufacturer, we are continually working on new projects, several of which are currently in the early stages of development. Aside from some exciting new products, we have expanded our sports marketing strategy and will announce our new three-person factory race team alongside those on our burgeoning ambassador program in the coming weeks. We will initially develop these programs close to our bases in BC and the UK and then expand into new territories from 2022, including Germany and the United States. Brexit has, of course, been problematic for logistics, especially for our German dealers. We are busy exploring several options to help speed things up before we launch our new apparel range and begin landing more complete Druids and our first Dreadnought bikes in a few months, so watch this space!

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