Mountain biking, over the last two years, has exploded into possibly one of fastest growing sports. Many businessmen are transitioning to mountain biking as a way to entertain their clients while reaping the fitness and health benefits.
Riding bicycles off-road in rough terrain has turned into a rapidly growing sport and not just in the last year and a bit. The growth in the MTB sport had begun a lot earlier and some say that the numbers began to surpass those participating in golf. Corporates were particularly converting to MTB as a way to entertain clients not only because of the fitness and health aspects but also because they could generally capture the attention of clients for a longer period than the six hours spent at the golf club and on the course. I am not sure of the numbers but it was easy to see the transition.
The machine shop that houses the company’s three CNC milling machines
South Africa’s weather, terrain and lifestyle lends itself to the sport. Like our fixation with braais and the outdoor lifestyle, many have become obsessed with MTB and with that industries have grown around it as a result. The sport requires specially designed bicycles capable of enduring rough and irregular terrains. Such bicycles are engineering masterpieces and are designed to maximise performance under such challenging terrains. MTB is one of the most exciting sports in the world, if you don’t crash and injure yourself. There are four main competitive disciplines in MTB: (1) Cross-country, (2) Marathon, (3) Enduro, (4) Downhill.
Each of these four disciplines are very competitive, require a high level of bicycle control, fitness and skill. Here, decision-making is the key as riders must deal with obstacles in rough terrain whilst pedalling at high speeds.
Adrenaline and endorphins experienced by riders add to the riding excitement as well as the satisfaction of pushing themselves to the limit while the stylish nature (Steeze) of some riders is the ‘cherry on top of the cake’. These are definitely bicycles to be proud of, manufactured taking into account both the looks and performance, these two factors (for most MTB riders) are a ‘magic’ combination.
Things really get exciting when the bare aluminium chain rings head off for anodising to decrease wear rate as well as making them look rad
One of the main components that the company machines and markets is chain rings. The company has spent the last six years refining tooth profiles on chain rings to be as efficient as possible without compromising chain retention. Made of seven aluminium alloy plate and then anodised chain rings will last longer and take more abuse compared to most original parts
You can also enjoy a non-competitive MTB saunter with friends and family on mountainsides or at many of the new “Trail Parks” popping up. Mountain biking is an activity that brings the kind of joy which most of us can only associate with childhood fun. It is that simple! So get involved!
cSixx is a South African mountain bike component manufacturing company based in the heart of Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain. Established by Mark Hopkins, who had previously played an influential part in the design and development of Leatt protection neck braces, used extensively in the mountain bike (MTB) fraternity, and Pyga Bikes, a South African company that has developed into an internationally recognised manufacturer of mountain bike frames, before deciding to concentrate on developing cSixx his high-end bicycle component manufacturing business.
“I had already established cSixx in 2010 as a small-scale bicycle component supplier while working at Leatt Corporation, a leading developer and marketer of protective equipment and ancillary products for many forms of sports, especially extreme high-velocity sports. The products include helmets, body armour, knee braces, elbow guards, hydration systems and other cutting-edge products, all products used in mountain biking, motocross and other motor sports,” explained Hopkins.
cSixx introduced SolidWorks at an early stage. Through the use of the design package cSixx now have 20 different models and 180 different configurations of chain rings that they manufacture. All of them have been designed with SolidWorks as are all of the company’s other bespoke products
cSixx machines mostly from imported aluminium block
“I have been a MTB rider for many years and I am still a fanatic about the sport as are all my colleagues in the company. We are not a bunch of nerdy engineers being instructed to design and manufacture components. All of us participate in the sport and through our experiences we are able to develop components that are going to be more efficient and durable. Most of our products are machined on our CNC machine which then gets fitted to our bikes for testing. We then make changes until we are satisfied and decide whether the products are functional and marketable,” said Hopkins.
“You can’t put a price on the element of experience especially when it comes to mechanical components. We have some great trails around Cape Town and we will go out as a team and push our bikes and bodies to the limits so that we are comfortable with the end result. Field testing like this also offers us the ability to make changes immediately. This process has been an important component in the development of the company and its products,” added Hopkins.
“Of course, through this contact we are continuously evolving our relationship as a team rather than just being workers at a company.”
Owner Mark Hopkins with machine shop manager Johnty Human and production manager Dave Hogan
The company machines other components from aluminium block
“Through my time at the Leatt and Pyga I gained valuable experience in working with carbon fibre, titanium, 3D printing and to a lesser extent machining aluminium. The first component that cSixx developed and produced was a chain guide, a niche product made of carbon fibre and used specifically by downhill racers. Not many riders want to endure the climbs, but the adrenaline junkie comes out in you to just smash the downhill, as long as you have the condition and fitness to match your ambition. World champions are made by being the best at downhill racing and it is not just the rider – he needs the equipment.”
Hopkins should know. His relationship with downhill racing stretches back to the early 2000s when he was often locked in a battle for the South African National Downhill Title.
“However, when asked what the most important component on a MTB bike is, I always say the rider is and that is for many reasons.”
“When you’re looking to buy a new bike, which components matter most to you? Once upon a not-so-long-ago, the answer was simple: The frame. The frame is, after all, the heart and soul of a bike. You could always swap parts out when they eventually give up the ghost.”
Chain guides and rings are, quite literally, a crucial cog in any cyclist’s drivetrain and designing one which is light enough to be efficient, whilst also being strong enough to remain durable, isn’t easy
A new handle bar mould that has been designed and machined by cSixx
“But today? Today, ‘budget’ wheels cost plenty and a high-end fork can easily set you back a good few thousand rand. Right now there is a shortage of bikes because of the pandemic. The pandemic has connected people with their local trails in dramatic fashion. We are hearing about tons of new riders, including lots of families getting outside together for a ride. Families are mountain biking like never before and people of all ages, from all walks of life, are realising the benefits of having great mountain biking trails nearby.”
“And this is not just in South Africa – it is worldwide. In short, good components were always important but now swapping out the components that you don’t like or have broken down mechanically are also in short supply, because logistically South Africa is ‘far away’ and home markets are busy. These imported components can also burn a serious hole in your wallet so you better like the parts that come ‘stock’ on that new bike or buy local, if it is manufactured locally. The worldwide shortage caused by the pandemic has been equally harsh on components but in our case it is has been beneficial. We do have problems with material sourcing but it is not something we can’t overcome.”
“At one stage I had joined the Chinese phenomenon and was getting components manufactured there but quality, logistics and strained dealings made me take the decision to manufacture locally. In 2015 I started to focus and give my full attention to cSixx and concentrate on expanding our range of chain guides and wheel sets to increase your performance to keep you speeding along without losing steam.”
Investment in CNC machines
“The inspiration for cSixx was from my original company, MHD (Mark Hopkins Designs) which was originally born from a frustration of not being able to get a decent chain guide during the early days of downhill racing, coupled with a passion for always wanting to design, develop and manufacture rad products. I had a seriously bad run at the World Champs in Spain in 2000 with a chain falling off and started MHD chain guides (manufactured from carbon) the day after I arrived back home. That started going really well with a line of full carbon chain guides as well as composite mudguards when the opportunity to design and develop the Leatt-Brace came along. Needless to say MHD was retired for a bit and then reinvented as cSixx as I still couldn’t find a rad chain guide when I started racing again in 2008,” said Hopkins in a recent interview with Red Bull.
A gold coated chain ring for the adventurous
cSixx is constantly looking at introducing new, locally manufactured products
“We started at the beginning of 2016 manufacturing our 9-series carbon chain guides in-house. That progressed and during the latter half of the year we ordered our first CNC machine – a BLIN BL-S360 CNC milling machine (XYZ travels of 360mm by 200mm by 450mm, table size of 700mm by 260mm and a table load of 200kg) that was supplied by Whole Tooling Solutions from Cape Town.”
“That allowed us to drastically increase our options regarding in-house manufacturing. We’re now manufacturing our chain rings in-house as well as other aluminium components. We’ve never really had a passion for outsourcing production and in-house is really the only way for us. We still use Taiwan for some specialist components but the main focus now is in-house manufacture and the amazing speed with which we can add new ideas and developments as well as the increased creativity we all feel actually making something with our own hands.”
“We have subsequently added two more BLIN CNCs – BL-Y600 CNC milling machines that have XYZ travels of 600mm by 400mm by 450mm, table size of 800mm by 400mm and a table load of 300kg – both supplied by Whole Tooling Solutions. In keeping with the culture of the company all of them have personal names – Cassandra, Betty and Roxanne.”
Aluminium is sourced from Europe and after quality checking, prepping, making the cut with CNC machines followed by tolerance checking, deburring and polishing takes place
Derailleur pulley wheels. According to cSixx these little guys were a much bigger project than they could have ever expected. There are such fine tolerances involved to make sure your shifting is crisp and drivetrain rolls smoother than ever. Bigger cut-outs and a mud-release on the teeth prevents grass and old chain lube clogging up. A sealed cartridge bearing is used for maximum lifespan which can be replaced with a ceramic version if you so please
“Johnty Human, who looks after the CNC department, has been very busy in automating the processes in machining. Besides manufacturing our own jigs and fixtures he has also developed our own robot system for the repetitive operations.”
“The CNC department has a night and weekend shift which we encourage third and fourth year students to sign up for as an internship programme to complete their studies.”
“Chain guides and rings are, quite literally, a crucial cog in any cyclist’s drivetrain and designing one which is light enough to be efficient, whilst also being strong enough to remain durable, isn’t easy.”
“Thank goodness we were introduced to SolidWorks at an early stage. Through the use of the design package, we now have 20 different models and 180 different configurations of chain rings that we manufacture. All of them have been designed with SolidWorks as are all of our other bespoke products.”
“In-house quality control and testing have been a big push over the past two years with us manufacturing a couple of cSixx test rigs. We’re fanatical about attaching numbers to performance and are not happy with the loose kind of, ‘Oh this feels right’ type of feedback. Obviously the ride feel is a very important aspect of products, especially our bars and wheels. However, we’re on a mission to quantify this with our test rigs to make sure our repeatability and consistency of manufacture, is on point.”
From raw to rad
“We believe that we work in a rad environment and being situated in Woodstock, Cape Town adds to that vibe. All of us are young and most have some tertiary qualification orientated towards engineering. Our aluminium is sourced from Europe and after quality checking, prepping, making the cut with CNC machines followed by tolerance checking, deburring and polishing takes place. Things really get exciting when the bare aluminium chain rings head off for anodising to decrease wear rate as well as making them look rad. This is followed by laser etching and packaging.”
The focus at cSixx is on local manufacture
cSixx has been expanding their Derailleur range of products. This is the first iteration of the cSixx Derailleur Cage which the company says is stiffer, more precise, has been impact tested against rocks, has two additional bolts for quicker derailleur wheel removal and features a spring tension adjuster to stiffen up your tired derailleur
“The next few years are going to be super exciting, we’ve got so much more in-house manufacturing planned. Our bars as well as rims are going to be an exciting project, with lots of new ideas planned for these as well as lots of new product lines. The current team of Alex Mancini, Johnty Human, Liam Snaddon, Marc van der Meer, David Hogan and Murray Duggan are an awesome crew to work with and its super exciting to be building a team of people so passionate about what they do!”
“We are constantly pushing to refine the bicycle piece by piece with the newest materials available. Concept design, prototyping, testing and manufacture – all under one roof for ultimate control over the final product.”
“South Africa is regarded as the epicentre of marathon racing, hosting the world’s most prestigious event, the gruelling eight-day Cape Epic. This competitive environment provides cSixx the ideal opportunity to test our marathon products such as wheels handlebars and chain rings.”
“The Cape Epic is one aspect. Like our love of fireplaces in winter, and our obsession with braais during our summer weather, MTB has allowed South Africans to live the great outdoors. This has also presented opportunities for a number of South African companies to manufacture and supply products that help to promote a healthier, more pleasant, enjoyable and efficient way of living.”