Behind the Scenes with Production Privee
It all started with stems and bars, but soon Production Privee was also making mountain bikes that look good, ride well and last a long time. Inspired by motorsports racing, the Andorra-based company takes their own unique approach to design and manufacturing. They also put Stan’s wheels on their bikes. We spoke with Production Privee Co-Owner Damien Nosella to go behind the scenes and find out more.
Stan’s NoTubes: What does the name Production Privee mean?
DN: It’s “private production” in French. When we made our first samples, we had to put something in the title block on the drawings. At the time, what we were doing was just for private production, but the name stuck. It still works because we make unique products; there is something personal behind each one. We don’t do a product if we can’t bring something new to it, and we also make specific products for other companies.
SNT: How and when did Production Privee come to be?
DN: I used to work for MBK and Commencal, and it’s always been a desire of mine to start my own company. Back in 2009, I came to a point when it seemed like a good time to do so. In 2010, we began by designing components like stems and bars. Cedric Gracia lives just down the road, and one time we were at a bar and he saw my direct mount stem and said it was nice. He agreed to try it and give feedback. Then he said that if we designed a bar, he’d ride for us the next season. We spent all year in 2010 designing products. In 2011, we started selling bars and stems.
SNT: Why Andorra?
DN: I ended up there because I was hired to work for Commencal. The mountain biking environment is great; the terrain is amazing. For our lunch ride, we have to climb 600m, and that’s just for the “short” ride. We’re in La Massana in Andorra, at the base of the Vallnord Bike Park. Andorra is only 500 square kilometers, and you can cross it in just 45 minutes, but we have our own government.
SNT: How did you go from making stems and other accessories to making bikes?
It was quite simple. We wanted to do products to which we could bring our fresh ideas. From our perspective at the time, there were no real do-it-all hardtails with proper geometry. We wanted something with 150mm travel, and we wanted to push the concept using steel. We worked on specific details like flattened chainstays and seatstays to provide more vertical compliance. We thought about what to do for heat treatment; for example, we did not heat treat the seat stays for better vibration absorption. We launched our Shan hardtail in 2011.
SNT: Describe your design, development and test process.
DN: I do a rough CAD analysis on my computer. Then we weld some prototypes and go for machine testing. If the machine testing results are good and match the CAD analysis, then we do field testing, which means we ride the bike and make sure it has the dynamic behavior that we like. We’ll ride the prototypes for at least six months because there are so many parameters you can’t analyze on a computer. You have to ride the bikes.
SNT: Is there a main goal that drives your designs?
DN: You need to be smiling after a ride. Behavior of a bike is linked to its geometry and chassis. Next, we prioritize simplicity, reliability and weight, but weight for us is not the biggest thing. I’m not going to spend hours on my computer to save 50g. It’s not our state of mind. We want to come up with a product that is good, looks good, behaves well and lasts a long time.
SNT: It feels like you guys take what other brands consider marketing - like graphics - and make them part of the design process. The racing stripes on your stem and bar, for instance look cool, but also serve a practical function. Where do you get the inspiration for that?
DN: Motorsports racing. The bar and stem are a good example because we thought of these two products as a whole. When we started collaborating with Cedric, we saw how his mechanics were working. Cedric traveled a lot. To us, it made sense to put the stripes on there because it means your cockpit is always centered when you line up the stripes. The graphics on the bar were inspired by grills. They are there so you can place your levers and shifters in the same spot. We like to think not only of how good a product will look or how long it will last but also about how it works.
Our stem design was inspired by a Corvette’s design and shape. The bolts are on the side and are integrated in a small bezel like the taillights on the Corvette Stingray. These are small details, but we like to replicate them on our product.
Car racing also inspired our bike frames. For example, we have the Shan GT where GT is for “Grand Tour” because it can go fast and far.
SNT: Is Cedric Gracia still involved in product development and testing?
DN: Yes, he’s still involved for the development of our components and cockpits but not our bikes since he races for another bike manufacturer.
SNT: Are all the bikes steel? Why?
DN: So far, yes. Steel is a formable material which means you can work many parameters of it. You get good reliability and longevity, and it has good dynamic properties. Marketers say that bikes have to be light and stiff, but just because a bike is light and stiff doesn’t mean that you also get good dynamic behavior. (For more information, check out https://www.productionprivee.com/en/news/article/why-steel).
As I mentioned, we get a lot of inspiration from car racing and moto bikes. In motocross, no one talks about the weight of the bikes. They talk about the compromise between stiffness and flex so that they can get good grip. That works for mountain bikes, too, especially downhill when you are hitting a turn. When your bike is tilted, your suspension isn’t working, and then what lets you get traction is the amount of flex in the frame. Steel is very good for that. You can adjust many parameters to get a compromise between stiffness, reliability and flex.
Steel is stiffer than aluminum, but you can use it much differently, like by creating a specific tube design to get the behavior you want. Titanium can be a price issue for customers. Carbon can be done the cheap way and the high end way. For carbon, yes you can choose your layup and how you want your frame to behave, but it’s another cost.
SNT: Do you make your own bikes and where do you make them?
DN: We make our bikes in Taiwan. We work with a partner there who’s been around for 30 years and has worked with titanium and steel. What’s unique about us is that we make our own tubes; we don’t pick them from a catalog. Our steel comes from Japan.
I have a degree in composite metals, and I design all the bike’s tubes: sections, diameters, butte lengths, etc. We do our own molds to make our own tubes. I work with the welder and manufacturer to make sure everything is clear production-wise.
Tubes get made on the first floor, then they go to the second floor where they are milled, cut, ground and welded. We control everything from A to Z. We make small batches, but we’re large enough to be produced in Taiwan.
SNT: If Production Privee could design anything and had unlimited budget and resources, what would you like to make?
DN: Ooh, that’s a good one, but I cannot say because I don’t want to give the idea to someone else! I’ll say that it will still be with steel and will involve some other processes that you see on motorbikes.
SNT: What’s a typical day like for you and your fellow co-owner David George?
DN: We have a small team so we do a bit of everything. There is no routine and not a single day is the same. I was at show for the past week, and I’ve been working on designs, keeping in touch with production, working on the final details. I also prepare boxes and work on the website. In general, what we do depends on the season. I do more design in the winter, but in the summer, we do a lot of our testing.
SNT: Why did Production Privee choose Stan’s wheels?
DN: I knew of Stan’s for a long time, and I’d ridden some of Stan’s wheels. Then I met Mark [Hillam] in Taiwan. Stan’s philosophy matches what we are doing at Production Privee: products that perform well. We both care about performance vs. cost. We thought that we’d give Stan’s wheels a try on our bikes, and we’re pleased with how the wheels behave. They perform well, and their cost is good.
SNT: Which models of wheels are offered on your bikes?
DN: Primarily the Flow S1 and Flow MK3 wheels and a few Arch MK3 wheels. We tend to spec the Flow because you can use wider tires with them. If it was just for me, I’d probably ride the Arches.
SNT: Which do you prefer: 27.5 or 29” wheels? Why?
DN: I’m 197 cm (between 6’5” and 6’6”), so I fit better on 29” wheels, but wheel size is about personal preference. I believe 29ers are making things easier and roll better over stuff and have good grip. But it’s not the only reason you want to go for a 29er. If you like the feel of a 27.5, you should stick with it. 29ers are versatile for going between cross country and enduro. We want to provide a good platform for the right wheel size so we specifically design our bikes for one wheel size or the other.
SNT: Tell us about your customers.
DN: Most of our sales are in Europe - in France, England, Germany and Italy, but we sell around the globe. We can ship our bikes anywhere. We have a bit of everything when it comes to our customers, but most of them enjoy the fun of mountain biking. They are not necessarily into competition. Most of our riders know what they want - sometimes it’s just the color. Because our three bike models are made to do everything, we attract riders of all types. Our full suspension was not designed for just racing. If we wanted to do a race bike, I would have designed it differently. I design bikes to ride everyday whether you are going out for a lunch ride or for a whole week in the mountains or even doing the occasional enduro race.
SNT: You switched to 100% direct sales in early 2018. What was behind that decision and how has it worked out?
DN: It’s a decision that’s related to the size of our company. It’s difficult to have inventory for all the shops, and some shops don’t want to stock frames. So switched to direct sales, but we keep a few shops as Ambassadors. We’ll probably expand how many because we need our bikes to be displayed everywhere, but it’s financially hard to have inventory for everyone. We like to work with shops who understand our product and ride it and spread the word. We don’t want to extend the shop network just for the sake of extending it.
SNT: Looking back, what would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?
DN: Ah, plenty! I’m an industrial engineer and not at all a business manager. I learned a lot during seven years. But even in the bad times, you learn something. So maybe at the time it seems like struggle, but in the end, it’s part of the process. You’re always learning.
SNT: What are you most proud of with Production Privee?
DN: When I meet customers, and they are happy. I love when they say it’s the best bike that they ever had or that they’re having so much fun. It’s so fun now that we have a few bikes out on the market; we love seeing people shred trails with our bikes.
SNT: Any parting thoughts?
DN: Yes: Ride your bike and have fun, and steel is real!
Check out Production Privee online.
All photos courtesy of Production Privee.