Interview with Forbidden co-founder Owen Pemberton
The Forbidden Dreadnought Fears Nothing
Almost overnight, Forbidden Bikes grew a large fan base when their first bike, the Druid was released. It wasn’t the only carbon-framed, high-pivot trail bike available but it was an instant hit, quickly becoming the one most people referred to. And as time has passed, Forbidden has grown an ever-more dedicated and fanatical fan base. But many riders were waiting impatiently for a longer-legged version, despite riders saying the 130mm Druid feels like more than the numbers suggest.
A few weeks ago, those prayers were answered. The Dreadnought had its champagne moment, released to the world with much positivity surrounding both the stats and initial rider reports. With suspension travel sitting at 154mm rear and 170mm front, and aggressive numbers in the geometry chart, it legitimately serves those seeking a bigger, high-pivot trail bike. But it's not just the numbers; the frame construction also supports this idea.
Forbidden owner and engineer, Owen Pemberton, isn’t shy to push for more balanced bikes; he’s done so for years. Well before the recent acceptance of size-specific front and rear centres from some major brands, and before he established Forbidden, Owen was implementing these concepts. For the Dreadnought, this idea is being pushed even further. Unique rear-centre lengths for each frame size in addition to steeper actual seat tube angles as the frame size increases are key to a bike performing as intended throughout the size range.
With the Dreadnought targeted at aggressive riders, frame construction has been built and tested to take the same abuse a downhill bike typically sees. The Dreadnought is compatible with dual crown forks which will excite the park smashers out there as well as the aggressive trail bike crowd.
But like the rest of the world, Forbidden wasn’t immune to the curveballs being hurled the last 12 months. The Dreadnought was initially set for a late 2020 release, with full bikes available at that time. Those full builds and more are still coming but there were other challenges. Sourcing suspension for the frame-only models proved tricky, pushing Forbidden to diversify shock options. This was in a longer term plan, but a lack of availability from big brands made for an earlier move to provide some very interesting shock options.
With the challenges facing bike manufacturers at the moment, and the launch of such an important and ground-breaking bike for Forbidden, I wanted to learn more from Owen himself.
NSMB: Owen, you recently unveiled what has seemed like one of the more anticipated bikes in a while, the Forbidden Dreadnought. When did you first start developing it?
Owen: The initial concept for the Dreadnought actually existed before the Druid. Quite quickly though, I started hashing out ideas for two bikes; one with aggressive geo and suspension to match, and one a bit more of an allrounder. In the beginning, we only had the resources to develop one bike at a time and decided the ‘allrounder,’ which eventually became the Druid, would be a more relevant product for more people. Unfortunately, after launching the Druid and due to the strain of managing a growing business, the Dreadnought took longer than we anticipated to develop and ultimately bring to market. But from the reception it’s had so far, I would agree it’s been a hotly anticipated addition to our product line.
Going into the project, were there any ideas or concepts that you wanted to stick to?
The main concept with Dreadnought was to inspire as much of the confidence you get from a full-on DH bike to a trail/enduro/whatever-you-want-to-call-it bike. It is our belief that confidence comes more from a bike's geometry than it does from the amount of travel it has.
Was anything other than a high single pivot a consideration. A different style of high pivot even?
Initially, when we started Forbidden, we looked at a lot of different rear suspension layouts. The high single pivot, with a linkage-driven shock, provides the best combination of traits for our wants and needs as mountain bikers.
You’ve been known to go straight to carbon and not use an alloy mule to test ideas for the shape of a bike. Was that the same for the Dreadnought?
That’s not necessarily correct as you can test geometry concepts in many different ways but using cobbled together mules is often the best way. Furthermore, it’s true that as a small company our resources for prototyping are somewhat limited, especially compared to some of our much larger competitors. I like to think we make up for that in ingenuity and the Dreadnought, as a direct descendent of everything we developed for the Druid, was a relatively simple development project. But nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. Setting ourselves some lofty structural goals with this platform and ensuring that the frame could live up to all that DH bike-like confidence on the trail, kept us on our toes.
What caused the most discussion during the development of the frame, pre-prototype number one?
When looking purely at the numbers a few people questioned if it was truly different enough from the Druid, but all it takes is that first ride to realize it’s a very different beast altogether.
Tell us about the decision to provide the frame-only builds with coil-only shocks (currently), and some high-end Gucci-esque dampers at that.
It’s a very difficult time right now to source parts and our current supply chain involved larger brands that are seeing extraordinary demand. We always had a desire to work with brands such as EXT and Push Industries, but I’ll be honest, we had intended to wait until we were a little more established as it adds significant complexity to our internal processes. While the current COVID pandemic forced our hand a little, the outcome has been awesome and the products extremely well received. It’s exciting to get pushed outside your comfort zone from time-to-time, especially when it works out this great in the end.
Will there be a less expensive coil-sprung option in the future?
Did product availability influence the frame-only options and by how much?
As mentioned in the previous question, yes, it absolutely influenced our decision to offer options like this so soon. We’ve always wanted to offer the customer choice and now we’ve taken this first step towards a direction where I think you’ll see more exciting partnerships from us in the future.
The Dreadnought has been designed to work with Forbidden’s clever Ziggy Link so riders can run a mix-wheel setup if they choose. How do you think the ratio of testing measured up with the mixed setup vs. full 29er? Do any members of the team prefer the mixed-wheel?
We have members of staff who prefer either set up, although it’s still a little soon to see where our athletes and ambassadors fall on this, I would hazard a guess that it becomes terrain dependent. Regardless, I think offering a choice is important.
What changes to the kinematics does the Ziggy Link have on the Dreadnought?
I’d be lying if I said none, but the changes are so minute it’s not worth mentioning.
How did the position of the idler change compared to the Druid, in order to achieve the anti-squat numbers you desired (which are nearly identical to the Druid at sag)?
The beauty of an idler-equipped system is that you can use its position to tune anti-squat. Between the Druid and Dreadnought, we took advantage of this to give slightly different characteristics to each platform, although exactly how much we moved the position is just part of our magic potion… you’re welcome to try and measure it if you like?
How important is the rearward rear axle path closely matching that of the front axle? What benefits have you found to that?
Let’s be clear, it more closely matches the front axle path, when compared to most forward axle path bikes. It’s almost impossible to closely match the front axle, as you word it. However, there is a big difference between a fully rearward axle path bike, such as a Forbidden, and most other bikes on the market. Our design helps to minimize the reduction in wheelbase as the chassis moves into its travel.
How does that provide improved chassis stability?
In basic terms, longer wheelbases are inherently more stable, that trait has been one of the primary goals in modern geometry trends. The negative side to that is the bike becomes less maneuverable at slower speeds and in tighter situations. By minimizing the amount the wheelbase reduces as the chassis gets deeper into its travel, then it stands to reason that there is less need for exaggerated wheelbase numbers in a static condition. Furthermore, as the chassis moves into its travel, a design such as ours keeps the rider’s weight distribution more centralized within the contact patches. This means the rider is required to make less exaggerated movements to weight the tyres correctly, allowing the rider to remain more composed and in more control.
The front centres aren’t as large as some but the rear centres are as big or bigger than most. Why has Forbidden chosen this approach and how does this affect the ride?
As I touched on above, we are carefully looking at the dynamic weight distribution across the chassis. All that extra stability from a long wheelbase is great but if the rider's weight has a rearward bias, then it becomes a real handful to load the front wheel and generate grip in corners. This concept is the direct result of on-trail experience gained by members of our team.
Owen, you’ve been a proponent of size-specific geometry for a long time now and were one of, if not the first, to push it at a large scale. Where do you see this moving in the future, are we hitting the sweet-spot or do you see it evolving with future models?
I feel strongly that it is the most important part of our bike’s design! If I can feel the difference on the trail between a few millimetres of rear-centre length, then keeping the desired ratio between front-centre and rear-centre across sizes is crucial, especially if you desire everybody to have the same ride experience as we do. We can debate endlessly around what is the “correct” ratio; many people will have different thoughts on this depending on their riding style and terrain and we’ve developed two bikes now that we feel have great handling characteristics for their given intended uses. The really important thing is we have made every effort we can to ensure everybody who rides our bikes experiences the same handling traits.
What is it that you think causes some brands to be apprehensive about implementing size-specific front and rear centres?
Understanding and complexity.
What’s been more challenging, developing the bike in secrecy, or obtaining parts to put together something to sell?
We definitely didn’t do a good job of developing the bike in secrecy (I don’t believe we really tried to), but yes, as I mentioned earlier, finding parts these days is a real challenge.
You mention in the press release that this isn’t “the launch we originally planned.” How did the current struggles with parts or manufacturing affect Forbidden for launch?
Originally, we had planned to launch (with immediate availability) in late 2020 with frame kits and two complete bikes, the XT and SLX, with a third (a full SRAM bike) later in the year. Complete bikes are still a few months out now, but they are coming!
How many Dreadnoughts are available now for consumers and where can people go to purchase them (it seems these aren’t available direct at the moment)?
The first batch of 100 frame kits was mostly allocated directly to our global dealer and distribution partners. We have had feedback that sell-through has been especially good, but if someone is looking for a Dreadnought, they might still get lucky if they contact one of our dealers ASAP. Alternatively, please give us a shout and we will be happy to try and put someone in touch with their most local dealer or distributor. The next batch is scheduled to land in the spring with more coming throughout 2021, so there will be more opportunities to get yourself a Dreadnought this year.