Interview: PJ Hunton – Norco’s Head Engineer

Words by Flow | Images by Marcus Riga / Norco / Flowtographer

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the transformation of Norco bikes over the past few years has just been staggering – this brand has gone from strength to strength, and we’d now rate their bikes as amongst the best in the market. It’s no fluke that the sudden acceleration in Norco’s development coincided with the arrival of this man, PJ Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager. Having just taken delivery of the new Range Carbon 7.2 (read our first impressions here) we thought we’d catch up with man who’s largely responsible for that bike’s existence and ask him a few questions.

Introducing: PJ Hunton
WEB_Feature_PJ_Norco-4-710x473 Norco has undergone a real transformation over the past half dozen years, both in terms of performance and brand appeal (at least in my opinion!). Can you tell us what was the catalyst for this rapid development, and what have been the key objectives?

The catalyst was an increase in our engineering horsepower. The objective was simple: to build better bikes that we want to ride. Whether this was the need for a faster, stiffer, yet more compliant road bike and the inception of technologies like Power Chassis and ARC or the need for a more efficient suspension system for mountain bikes, hence the creation of ART suspension, it was all based around improving the ride. What moment, or bike, do you feel has been the most important in Norco’s history (either long-term history, or recent)? Having only been here for six years, I am biased towards the recent history so I would have to say the development of the original Range, which was the first bike with ART suspension. This spawned into a full line of new full suspension bikes which made a lot of people take a second look at our brand. Looking at our 50 year history of designing bikes, however, there are several iconic Norco bikes that should be mentioned. The Rampage – the first bike with front suspension corrected geometry – and the VPS series of freeride bikes are both a huge part of Norco’s history.

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Then: the 1999 VPS1 was one of the most desirable bikes out there. The VPS (Variable Point Suspension) design and massive monocoque aluminium front ends became a hallmark of Norco’s VPS range for a number of years.

 

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NOW: Our new long-term test bike, the Range Carbon 7.2. Pretty amazing how far things have come in 15 years!

Norco’s carbon bikes are just awesome (we love the Sight and Range), and the brand’s development in carbon bikes seems to have been in fast-forward. Can you tell us a bit about the learning curve here? Norco has been designing and producing carbon road and hardtail frames for many years now, so carbon frame design is certainly not new. Carbon full suspension bikes are new to us, and from the design & engineering perspective, using carbon as the frame material presents incredible opportunities. Most visibly is the aesthetics of a carbon frame. There were some great advancements and creativity made in the industrial design of these frames and the resulting 3D CAD modeling strategies which were required to achieve these designs. Engineering the shape to accommodate pivots points and component contact points was also a learning process but a great one due to the potential for optimization of the frame structure. Combining the ID and engineering requirements into the final frame design takes a lot of iterations and even more machine testing before the true testing on the trail can begin.

Are we going to see one wheel size only? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking.

Speaking of carbon, the demand for carbon by the cycling industry is huge now, so much so that we’re already hearing about production delays because of supply issues. Can you envisage another material that we will see emerge in bike construction in the near future? In the near future, carbon is the material. Manufacturing processes will improve which will result in slightly lighter & stronger frames, but not significantly. I can envision composites and plastic material development to continue to the point where we could eventually mold a plastic bike with a strong tough skin and a light, structural honeycomb foam inside.   In your opinion, are we going to see mountain biking return to one wheel size? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking. It will be up to the rider to choose which size works best for them based on their riding style and objectives. There are obviously some frame and component engineering challenges associated with making 29” wheels work properly in longer travel applications but those are being solved as I type.   We’re seeing all-mountain bikes now with some very slack geometry up front, not far off downhill bikes from a few years ago – what do you think is the limit in terms of how far head angles can be pushed? Norco’s vision of an all-mountain bike is exactly that, one which can be ridden all over the mountain, both up and down so making the head angle slacker doesn’t make the bike better overall, just on the downhills. If you are talking Enduro bikes however, then the head angles could certainly approach DH angles because those bikes are very focussed on going downhill and it almost doesn’t matter if the bike is a real handful to pedal up hills.   Electronics: do you want them? Why / why not? In regards to electronic components such as shifting sytems, suspension control, seatposts, brakes, etc… if they can improve the ride experience and still be reliable, why not make them available for those willing to pay.   We’ve just taken delivery of the Range Carbon 7.2 as a long term test bike. What is your favourite thing about this bike and why? My favorite thing about the Range Carbon is how fun it is to shred down aggressive singletrack. The way it gobbles up bumps and is perfectly balanced to two wheel drift ‘round corners just makes me smile all the way down the trail. Not to mention the fact that with the push of a couple of buttons, I can comfortably and efficiently climb back up for more. Huge stoke for my Range Carbon right now!

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