Momsen Bikes’ new carbon full-suspension machine – the Vipa – has people flummoxed. Who designed it? Who made it? Who funded it? We get to the bottom of these mysteries, and discover an unprecedented partnership – perhaps the only duo who could make what is to be South Africa’s first XC/marathon superbike. - By Neil Gardiner. Photos Nick Muzik
Early in 2011, Victor Momsen and Patrick Morewood got together for a coffee in Pietermaritzburg. Though they both spoke animatedly, their careers were heading in opposite directions: one was nurturing his eponymous brand, with optimism in his eyes; the other was jaded, having walked out of his bike manufacturing business – through the front door, and under the sign bearing his name – for good. A mutual friend looked on in delight; in what can be a dog-eat-dog industry, these two men – bitter ‘rivals’ – were chatting! “I have to get a pic of these guys together.”
Victor Momsen is the first to admit he needed help. “I knew that a bike brand couldn’t be a proper brand until it had a competitive full-suspension bike in the line-up.” It’s true; a linkage bike is considered the jewel in the crown of any MTB range. In industry terms, there’s a relatively low barrier to entry into the bike business – if you’re selling hardtails only. But designing and developing a complicated system from scratch, with intricate linkages and critical tolerances, swimming in a quagmire of infinite variables? That’s another matter altogether.
For any bike manufacturer, it’s important to come up with an original design; not just in terms of patents, but also from a branding point of view. The basic principles of the design may be carried through the range. A big name like Giant has ‘Maestro’ – the same linkage for the cross-country race bike and the eight-inch-travel DH rig, but tuned specifically for each application. “They’re tricky to develop, because you have four components… and everything has to integrate together perfectly. There’s a lot to go wrong,” says Patrick.
“I was really into doing an all-South African thing… and there was really only one person to speak to,” says Momsen. The two have known each other for years, and together they reveal a certain chemistry – having bonded (over a bender) while on a trip to China. “We stayed in the factory dormitory, and we woke up the following morning and went into… that kitchen. That smell! With an epic hangover, in 40-degree heat…” reminisces Victor. “Victor’s really pushy, and he insisted that I help him make this thing,” jibes Pat.
Patrick designed the kinematics, determining the optimum placements for all the pivots, and the shock rate. Armed with sketches and graphics he then hired the other partner in Pyga Industries, Mark Hopkins, to do the 3D CAD drawings.
The first working example of the Vipa was an aluminium prototype. Costing upwards of R100 000, this one-off was custom-made to allow Patrick to test the efficiency of the linkage, and to ascertain how it would climb, descend, brake and corner. (During this process, we at Bicycling were sworn to secrecy. But we had to ask Patrick for his impressions: “It’s ****ing good,” he said. This is one of the very few times we’ve heard Morewood say the word “****”.)