Interview: Richard Sheppard of Ram Bikes

We can all appreciate a finely crafted custom steel touring bicycle, but opinions become divided (and sometimes derisive) when delving into the world of custom built full suspension mountain bikes. Arm chair engineers and e-riders will all to readily lambaste a suspension platform, and other attributes, without ever swinging a leg over a bike.

 

URT or otherwise, this full suspension rig crafted by Richard Sheppard, of Ram Bikes, is one of the most uniquely beautiful bicycles I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind this rig….

 

BikeRumor: How did you get involved in Cycling? What experiences led you to where you are today?
 I’ve been obsessed with bikes since my teen years and have never outgrown it. In my 20′s I bought a few top name bikes with the aluminum and full suspension and loved it though sadly they never lasted very long. I’m 6’6” and 290 lbs, well above what most bike companies engineer for. So I started building in ’96 while my last broke frame was in a lengthy warranty process.

 

BikeRumor: What was the first bicycle you ever bought with your own money? 
The classic nickel plated Mongoose BMX. Everything blue anno.

 

BikeRumor: What was your inspiration for this design?
 I like the simplicity and reliability of single speed, but almost no suspension frames can run it because the axle moves away from the BB. So, I’m just finding a way for the chocolate to meet the peanut butter.

 

BikeRumor: What are the benefits of this design in regards to: weight, pedal efficiency, handling?

I’m making a steel machine for the big guy, so, it could be lighter. The pedal efficiency is great considering that you’re applying torque to the suspended member, a damn compromise to gain the SS ability. But that ICR stuff makes a 6” travel bike pedal like a 2” travel bike, so that’s progress. Handling is top notch since you get to determine the geometry you like.

BikeRumor: Are the frames vertically complaint and laterally stiff?

Vertical compliance is good due in part to no seat stays and a slack seat angle. There’s plenty of lateral stiffness, but there’s a touch of torsional flex in the back, also due to no seat stays. I think that the most important place for good stiffness is between the handlebar and BB  because that’s where the machine receives all the highest torque input from the rider.

BikeRumor: Could you give a rudimentary description of how the linkage works?

The design is unified to in order to run the single speed. BB movement is not cool so I use a pair of links to trace out a ICR (instantaneous center of rotation) path through the BB location. The early stroke effective pivot point is pretty far back so the bike is very active in or out of the saddle. In the midstroke, where the pedaling efficiency is most important, the effective pivot is concentric with the BB (notice minimal BB movement in the video) but moving forward to a stiffer position rapidly. For one inch of midstroke wheel travel, the ICR advances forward three inches. The result is good progressiveness at the crank and a falling rate in the saddle.

Despite popular belief that a URT locks out when standing, this one does not. Single pivot URTs had major issues and went extinct. I’m just applying modern pedaling efficiency enhancing technology to the URT, and
it works well. It starts out neutral like any non-URT but develops the stiffer at the crank/plusher in the saddle behavior gradually through its travel.

BikeRumor: What type or riding or segment of riders are you targeting?

They’re all good. Custom builders who do it for the fun of it can accommodate a pretty wide spectrum of bikes/styles. The only area I haven’t done is road bikes. They’ve been refined so much over all the years that I can’t add much to it.

BikeRumor: What builder’s works do you really admire?

I like the pioneers’ works. Old school. Leitner, Lawwill, Busby, Castellano, Klassen, Saiki. I’d like to get my name in there eventually. As for today, Santa Cruz’s VPP is still king. I’d like to approach them soon with a new twist on that concept, we’ll see where it goes.

MTB Users Tesxyz Custom 650B Build

BikeRumor: Obligatory: Whats your take on 650B wheels? 

Interesting, my most recent build is on a pair of those wheels (pictured above). Hmmm…here’s some dry wit- my emotions lie somewhere in the middle on 650B wheels. I myself might run one up front one day when a light casing 2.6 or 2.7 tire becomes available, but I like shorter chainstays and I need the strength of a 26” in the back.

Interested in owning a Ram Bike of your very own? Contact Richard@RamBikes.com

Comments

Andrew F - 08/07/12 - 10:05am

Mountain bike suspension design/engineering is such a (relatively) new science, its great to see different ideas. I think most people’s perception about what works and what doesn’t is mainly built on aesthetics first. Though I think the combination of a single speed and 6″-travel bike is strange.

CJ - 08/07/12 - 10:11am

1982 called. They want their bike back.

Collin - 08/07/12 - 10:18am

Whats really odd is having the rear brake mounted the way it is. Seams like one more thing that can get ripped off/bent.

Sevo - 08/07/12 - 10:33am

Cj-there were no suspension bikes in ’82. And URT’s didn’t come out until I believe ’90-’91

Does this look odd? Yep. But so did a lot of other stuff not too long ago. But I’m pretty intrigued to jump on it and try it. I’ll agree though the disc placement seems odd, look forward to hearing the logic behind that one. I don’t see it getting ripped off, but bent possibly yes.

turbodog - 08/07/12 - 11:02am

Wider bars, shorter stem.

wobbem - 08/07/12 - 11:17am

Turbodog nails it on the head, like the rest though.

Bruck - 08/07/12 - 11:48am

look like you wont be fitting a dopper post on that .

Ernesto - 08/07/12 - 12:32pm

Modified 4bar URT – don’t leave home man I’m sure Joe from SantaCruz will be calling any minute to hear YOUR thoughts on how to improve VPP .

It’s not hard nor impossible to design a duel link bike with 99-100% vertical wheel path for single speeds , if you choose to go URT then it just shows that you took the easy way out .
This is the same reason Trek is still selling Y frames … Right ?

Build a hardtail instead it will ride better than a URT anyday.

Jason K - 08/07/12 - 12:35pm

I fiind this interesting: the instantaneous center of the suspension linkage in the video is indeed near the center of the bottom bracket shell. However, the IC of the red bike pictured is ~1 foot above and slightly behind the BB. The blue bike appears to have an IC a little closer to the BB than the red bike does, but that could just be due to the difference in the photos’ perspectives.

With a rider on the bike, sag would move the IC toward the BB, but you’d need a lot of sag to put the IC back at the BB.

Ram bikes - 08/07/12 - 12:43pm

Ram-bikes(dot)cOm

Topmounter - 08/07/12 - 12:59pm

I’m not 6’6″ and/or 290 pounds, but if this works for those that are, then who am I to demean it.

PHizzizle - 08/07/12 - 1:00pm

These bikes are sweet!!!

Solid out of the box thinking going on.
This is how progression is made. I want to see a gearbox version 29er!

For those that know Yelp Tech 3000, he uses bars and stems like those and he can rip harder than most.

Saris - 08/07/12 - 1:05pm

@Ram Bikes

I C What U Did There. Sending people to the wrong website? Tsk Tsk.

Jesse - 08/07/12 - 1:11pm

With the horizontal rear drop-outs, if you had a loose rear axle, that brake position ensures that braking forces push the rear wheel into the drops instead of spitting it out. Good thinking.

Seth - 08/07/12 - 1:24pm

The video is great. I think it’s really cool how this thing works. I’m not in the market for this type of bike, but props to Richard for coming up with something unique.

Aurel Vlaicu - 08/07/12 - 1:32pm

Collin please….! “Seems” not “seams”!

warthog - 08/07/12 - 2:25pm

@turbodog
re: Wider bars, shorter stem.
My main question is, if your going to go through all the trouble to build your own bike, let alone something so complex, why in the hell wouldn’t you make the effort to build something at least in the neighborhood of fitting your size? With that stem length and the bars rolled forward like that I thought it was a modified trials bike for just a second.

DeeEight - 08/07/12 - 2:45pm

This particular virtual-pivot point variation on an URT is similar in concept to the now discontinued Haro Virtual Link bikes. They suspended the swingarm off an upper link, and a lower link with the swingarm pivoting concentric of the BB shell with the end of the lower link. No bobbing issues like other URTs but the actual pivot point in space the wheel rotating around wasn’t a physical fixed spot on the frame. Haro only discontinued it because they basically decided to abandon the mid to upper market range of mountain bikes. They dropped pretty much all their expensive bike models.

DaleC - 08/07/12 - 3:41pm

I wonder how many of the negative comments come from people who have built a frame?

When people criticize my recordings/songs, I always say, “That’s cool, can I hear YOUR recordings?”

Perhaps Mr Sheppard can ask the same of his haters :-)

Mike Spandel - 08/07/12 - 3:43pm

This is nothing more than the 2012 version of the Alex Pong Bike.

Being weird for the sake of weirdness/difference may work for painters, poets, musicians, actors and comedians, but it’s not really a sound basis for engineering, and not any kind of guarantor that the design efforts will follow the same principles already mainstreamed.

Sometimes it helps to remember that the status quo isn’t entirely horrible, and that many aspects of what exists in 2012 are the product of refinement rather than random “engineers” throwing really bizarre ideas at a wall to see if they stick.

Cool to see someone work hard at implementing a vision — don’t get me wrong here. I admire the design effort and the prototype manufacture effort. But I really don’t like the amount of leverage the top half and bottom half have against each other. It looks like the design ideas of someone who doesn’t understand mechanical leverage or any MTB riding ability beyond early-beginner.

Mike Spandel - 08/07/12 - 3:44pm

PS to DaleC –

I’ve built quite a few, thanks.

Bill C - 08/07/12 - 4:24pm

Fascinating- some really interesting thinking here. Would love to ride one!

@DeeEight: The Haro Sonix was hands-down the worst bicycle I’ve ever owned, even in its full–XTR “Werx” version. That suspension design was awful on the trail- Even MBA could only come up with ‘it manuals great’ as a positive point in their (usually gushing) reviews. Good riddance…

JoeKing - 08/07/12 - 5:03pm

@ DaleC

You seem to have not noticed that this is the “comments” section of the article. BR does’t restrict comments to only “qualified” readers. If only frame builders (& song writers) commented there wouldn’t be much of a discussion. As a result some comments are valid & others trivial.

What you are forgeting is that Mr. Sheppard & yourself are asking the public to approve of (buy) your work & if you & he are wise, will take note & think of the commentors as potential customers & not ..haters.

Sounds like you need to grow a few layers of skin if you expect to get anywhere in the music.. business. If you only want to hear how talented you (think you) are..call your mother.

satisFACTORYrider - 08/07/12 - 6:51pm

@joeking – your last line snap was great and on point. raising a beverage to that one!

Rob - 08/07/12 - 8:39pm

I applaud anyone who thinks outside the box and tries something new. Yeah this take on URT might not take off, but many discoveries are built on the back of many more failures.

Sometimes you’ve gotta try all the doors to see which one leads to the next room.

someslowguy - 08/07/12 - 8:57pm

Phizzle – who are you?! YT5K is still rocking those bars/stem, but his seat has WAAAAAAAY more duct tape!

This bike looks super unique and if the person riding it is having fun, then its great for them. I’m just curious: if you stand up on a downhill is it ‘locked out’ or not?!?

someslowguy - 08/07/12 - 9:00pm

nevermind – just re-read the article. where’s the ‘edit comment’ function when you need it…

dangerjonny - 08/07/12 - 10:13pm

Now I am not sure if we are all looking att he same bike but i find it offensive to my eyes.
URT is an outdated and also widely known flawed rear suspension design so why design a unique concept around this….I’m not to sure. its like designing a bike so it can use cantilver brakes when discs are an obvious avancement in technology.
Just quickly if the person designing this bike was making it custom for themselves, why the long 1992 stem and handle bars? i think it looks like a praying mantis and bike bicycles love child if its custom designing the frame to suit the riders ergonomics would have been an obvious first step in my mind.

Andy - 08/07/12 - 10:26pm

Looks like it could really use a seat stay!! And I’m no engineer but putting all those pivots on a urt equals loads of unsparing mass and stress on the links. Either way it’s cool to see new ideas out there!

Don'tKnockIt - 08/08/12 - 12:49am

@turbodog Here is your shorter stem and wider bars. http://forums.mtbr.com/650b/my-new-first-650b-798941.html

I have to say my bike climbs great for a 6 inch bike, and descends just as well as my geared 6 inch bike (Nomad v1). There are some differences between Richards bike and mine as people are noting. I was considering a dropper seat post, but Richard pointed out that most of the time your climbing on a SS will be out of the saddle. My seat height is fine for cruising and well out of the way for when the trail tips down. My suspension choices give me a lot of on trail options, like any AM bike needs.

This bike is a great new fun way to ride all the local trails I have been riding for the past 27 years. Richard did an excellent job on the frame and customization to my requests. I had been considering a single speed for years but kept putting it off, I am glad I did since I doubt I would have been as jazzed about riding a hard tail SS, as I am about riding this bike.

BTW Richard is a very big guy and can shred downhills just fine thanks! (even with the long stem)

@Mike Spandel – The internet was made for people to share ideas, unfortunately you prefer to share your negative comments without any actual experience with what you are poking holes in. Searching for images leaves me realizing your Alex Pong bike reference shows a lack of understanding of what this design really is. Sorry you don’t seem to get it.

gringo - 08/08/12 - 3:01am

”BikeRumor: Are the frames vertically complaint and laterally stiff?”

-did you guys just throw this dude a bone to see what he said or what?

what the hell kind of question is that??…it’s like a parody of bike tech journalism.

larsv - 08/08/12 - 3:35am

I like the design, an URT that mimmicks a BB-concentric main pivot :-)

PaulM - 08/08/12 - 7:43am

Always good to see someone try something a little different. Its crying out for a belt-drive on it.

I do like the idea of mimicking the concentric pivot. I have a Kona A full-suspension singlespeed (with a Gates belt drive), and I’ve never had a problem with the main bearing being around the BB, but it does add a bit of complexiity. But then so does this solution.

PHizzizle - 08/08/12 - 12:55pm

@Someslowguy

Peter Haile, I used to live in Banner Elk. Now I coach at Union College, in Barbourville KY.

Mike B - 08/08/12 - 5:30pm

Maybe the worst design I have ever seen, and for the owner to call the VPP the best, ought to tell you something. I am NOT riding that thing down any mountain.

Fragglepussthechaste - 08/08/12 - 6:20pm

I will never get these few minutes browsing this article and comments back.

Mindless - 08/08/12 - 10:52pm

Strangely enough, I have a normal full suspension that runs single speed just fine – with a Paul Melvin tensioner.

This is just a bizarre/fun project. Like a bamboo bike. Because one can.

josh - 08/09/12 - 9:03pm

Looks nice, would love to try out the 650b model

Burrows - 08/09/12 - 10:22pm

Did all you guys forget about the movie the flying scotchman, watch it then rethink it

TheRedMantra - 08/10/12 - 1:43am

I love it! I wish someone would compare my ideas to Alex Pong. Haters will hate. Being conventional doesn’t always lead to progress. Cycling needs explorers and innovators, not just companies who can follow trends. If the idea isn’t a good one at least he’s trying and will learn from it.

Ricky Bob - 08/10/12 - 2:00pm

Too much unsprung weight.

jeff - 08/12/12 - 8:29pm

Holy high center of gravity Batman!

DIfferent, just to be different only works if it is backed up by sound engineering…this isn’t music, art or poetry, it’s a suspension design…

I am missing something, or does a standing rider’s weight fall on the unsprung side of the equation, regardless of ICC, or linkage, or whatever?

bubba - 08/14/12 - 12:17pm

interesting design, you need some tight bushings to keep that URT from flopping around

R3 - 08/17/12 - 1:20am

I think it’s a sharp design, but can’t really say if I’d buy one yet… all the facts and figures only tell about half the story that a “field test” does…

Richard, obviously you can’t please everyone, but “thank you”… for bringing something different to the table that actually works… “options” are always good.

Keep in mind, that from a manufacturer’s perspective… “negative” comments can be just as valuable as “positive” comments.

Chris - 10/26/12 - 4:53am

This is a very unusual URT so it hard to know how to judge it, but it is plain to see that it could easily be reimplemented as a UFT/non-URT. It just requires a bit more tubing. Think of a Whyte Quadlink pivoting from an even higher location to get a sense of how such a creature could look.

Also, if the simulation is to be believed the axle path is very close to vertical (I mean close to being a straight line, not the slightly less than circular path often called vertical), not at all what you would expect after seeing how high those pivots are. That would imply that the Centre of Curvature is a long long way off in the distance. Now that’s strange.

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