Updated: Apr 17, 2020
The mountain bike industry is thriving and, thanks to social media, it’s getting easier and easier for those with an idea, to push those ideas to market. At the same time, it almost makes it harder to gain any meaningful traction, because there’s so much more noise to try and cut through to make yourself heard. I love hearing about all the small, passion-driven businesses and I get emails and Instagram DMs all the time, from people telling me about their garden-shed-based-passion-projects. While I’d love to be able to tell all of their stories, it’s a little harsh to say but there’s not a ton of them who are doing anything different. I can’t have stories on small clothing brands filling up each issue! One brand that is doing something different though, is Auckland’s Radic Performance.
One of the things I love about this job is being able to see things before anyone else does and I used this to my full advantage to get in with the boys over at Radic Performance. I wanted to catch up with the Radic team for a couple of reasons. One, because I love new tech and two, because I love hearing about Kiwis doing things differently. There are a few small suspension operations out there now, and companies like Box Components have slowly being vying for some of the drivetrain market that’s been largely sewn up by the two Big S’s for the last forever but the brake market has been pretty much uncontested. You have the likes of Trickstuff, but you’re looking at upwards of $1,400 and a 6-month plus wait for your brakes to be manufactured; a timeframe I could bear for a custom frame, but probably not for a pair of brakes!
Radic Performance was founded by Taylor Grey and Jake Powell, who met as students on the University of Auckland’s Engineering program. Taylor is a long-time mountain biker, having raced downhill and the like over the years. Radic came from nothing more than Taylor wanting to create a set of custom brakes for his mountain bike. Jake, who you could probably describe as a casual mountain biker (for the time being, at least), caught wind of the idea and wanted to be involved -purely because it sounded like an interesting project to be involved with. With Jake’s interest and a few other people commenting on how rad it would be to see someone make mountain bike brakes, Radic Performance was born. Since then, Taylor and Jake have been chipping away, designing, testing and figuring out how to push their brakes to market.
Like so many other Kiwi businesses, Radic started in, and is currently based out of, half of Taylor’s garage (his flatmates would only give up half) – which I’d argue is closer to a shed - and his bedroom. I rolled up to a nice old villa in Mt Eden, Auckland and was met by Taylor and Jake in the driveway before being taken to the Radic shed. The shed is pretty unassuming – nicely painted on the outside but a little dark and weathered inside, it’s definitely seen it’s fair share of projects. On one side a few mountain bikes and commuter bikes are stacked up, on another is a Trek calling out for a new front wheel and on yet another, you’ll find the Radic work bench, covered in prototypes, brakes from other brands and some testing equipment that I probably won’t ever understand. The setup is typically Kiwi and, as we talk, Taylor tells me about his bleed kit consisting of hose from Bunnings and syringes from the local chemist. How good? PSA: If you’re thinking about doing this, please soak your hose in whichever brake fluid you choose to use beforehand, to make sure it doesn’t react. Alternatively, just take the safe option and buy a real bleed kit or get your local bike shop to do it!
After a tour of the shed, Taylor showed me Radic’s office, which serves dual-purpose as his bedroom. His computer sits on a desk in front of a window that overlooks the Radic shed, and it’s from here that the boys work on designs, answer emails and do all the things that come with starting a company. Approaching the house upon arrival, you’d have no idea that inside two fairly fresh university graduates were pioneering an industry-first concept. Humble beginnings, huh. I’d say it’s pretty fair to assume that no one’s played in the market of manufacturing brakes because to manufacture them using any of the traditional methods we’ve seen, you’d be looking at a high cost of entry. Realistically, you’d be better off pursuing a CNC-manufactured product but, unfortunately, CNC machines don’t come cheap, tooling for CNC machining doesn’t come cheap and if you don’t have access to either, paying someone to do it for you also isn’t cheap. That’s before you even take into account all the other jobs your machinist has in their queue before they get onto yours. No matter which route you choose, you’ll be ripping through your capital faster than you can say “I think I want to make a brake!”.
When you’re a small, start-up company operating out of a bedroom and garage with very little capital to rip through, additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing as it’s more commonly known, is your way around this. 3D Printing comes with other benefits, too. Typically, disc brakes are constructed in two halves that are then bolted together to become a complete calliper. As you can imagine, most manufacturers are pretty hush-hush about how they make their brakes, but what I can gather - from hands-on experience and a bit of Googling - is that most are cast or forged into shape before having holes for pistons and fittings machined in, as well as channels for brake fluid to flow through. When manufacturing using the above method, or methods close to the above, you’re limited to what your machinery is capable of. It’s difficult to machine intricate passages and you also have to accommodate additional seals and bolts to join the two halves of the calliper.
With 3D printing, material is added layer by layer, giving the freedom to create things that simply couldn’t be replicated via traditional manufacturing methods. To break it down super simply, a thin layer of powdered metal is laid on a build platform before being scanned with a high-powered laser that fuses the powdered metal into one, solid metal sheet. After that the next layer of dust is laid and fused, with the process repeated until you eventually have a finished product. Like anything, though, 3D printing with metal has its own challenges that need to be addressed in the manufacturing process. Each time another layer of dust is fused, the entire piece heats up, before cooling again while the next layer of dust is deposited. Thermal stress can lead to cracks and warping, so support material needs to be worked into your design to ensure this is minimised.
Certain materials are also harder to work with than others. Radic have opted to use aluminium for their brakes, which is one of the hardest materials to work with when it comes to 3D printing. There was talk of using titanium – which is a much easier material to work with - to manufacture the brakes, but anyone who knows anything about metal will know that titanium is anything but cheap!
As the conversation moved on from manufacturing, we began to talk about the future of Radic. At present, there is one functioning Radic brake that’s getting put through its paces on Taylor’s bike. There’s a few different prototypes scattered around their garage that were all used to help lock in their printing process but now, the big push is on sourcing and designing packaging while they continue to test the brake and manufacture a few more to get other people testing them as well. With any luck, the first batch of brakes will be available in the first few months of 2020. Initially, only a calliper will be available with an option for both DOT and mineral oil. Levers and rotors will follow down the line.
Before Radic fully-fledged takes off, there’s still a couple of things to figure out; namely, how to support customers overseas. The mountain biking market simply isn’t big enough in New Zealand to support niche component manufacturers like Radic, so being available to customers that live overseas is a necessity and that’s where things get difficult. Shipping internationally can be ludicrously expensive (a problem we’re all too aware of!) so Radic are looking to setup a few international service centres, but the problem – again - is that it takes a lot of stock and requires staff to be trained. The great news is that most of you won’t be affected!
We’re made a little differently, down these ways in little ol’ New Zealand. With a special combination of ‘she’ll be right’, ‘how hard can it be?’ and perhaps a touch of naivety, we bite off more than we can chew and lead ourselves down the garden path. Is this uniquely Kiwi? I’d say probably not, but I’d say the whole ‘we’ve come this far, may as well see this out’ mindset once you’ve led yourself astray is - and Radic is a prime example of this. What was originally meant to be a project for some custom brakes to go on Taylor’s bike, quickly spiralled into what is now Radic Performance. It’s been exciting to watch Radic’s journey so far, and I’m excited to watch it continue over the years to come. I’ll have to do a catch up piece with the Radic boys in a year or two but, in the meantime, with any luck some brakes will soon make their way to my desk…
Words & Images: Cam Baker