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Mar 3, 2020

A discussion with Redshift Sports co-founder, Stephen Ahnert about the Shockstop gravel suspension stems and other products.

Redshift Sports Instagram

Redshift Sports Website

Automated Transcription, Please excuse the typos. 

Hello everyone and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I'm your host Craig Dalton. This week on the podcast I've invited Stephen Ahnert from Redshift sports on to talk about the shockstop STEM and their forthcoming suspension seatpost. I've been riding the STEM for about a month now and the results have been unexpected, so I can't wait to have the conversation with Stephen about some of the design and performance principles behind the STEM. Additionally, I've been intrigued by the notion of how reducing fatigue in long rides can affect performance. If you're going to be out there for 1214 hours in event like dirty Kanza or some of the other long distance gravel events, how does making your body feel better affect your ability to ride harder and longer? I think it's really fascinating when we talk about suspension in that light and particularly a suspension STEM as it's something that you can throw on and off quite easily to adapt your bicycle to a particular ride. So with that, let's jump right in. Stephen, welcome to the show.

Thanks. It's great to be here.

Right on. Could we start off by talking a little bit more about your background and since we're going to be digging into your company and your product, in addition to kind of your cycling background and how you found gravel, let's talk a little bit about your professional background.

Yeah, so I'm a mechanical engineer by training. And so are the two other cofounders of Redshift, Scott Poff and Eric Debrune. Eric and I actually met in college studying mechanical engineering. And we did our kind of senior thesis project together. We built a pool playing robots that would kind of move around a pool table and had pool shots. So that was pretty cool. And then Eric actually knew Scott from high school and they kind of linked up after, after college. And then Eric Scott and I co founded a small company doing mechanical engineering consulting work for other companies. So we were doing product development analysis, mechanical and electrical engineering for other companies, helping them develop products. And during that time, sort of the whole time throughout college and afterwards we'd always talked about different product ideas that we had for, you know, improving products and coming up with new products.

I think it's something that a lot of people do. You know, you kind of idly talk about, Hey, wouldn't it be great if, if we could do this or that, you know, improve this thing that I have an issue with. And then in 2012, we finally kinda decided to do something about it. So I had been doing a lot of writing. And specifically I was training for some, some triathlons. I was in triathlons, a kind of on the dark side there. And then I was riding my road bike. And like a lot of people do when they get into triathlons, they, you know, see people going faster than them with arrow bars and they say, Hey, you know, I want to put arrow bars on my bike. So, you know, I knew enough about bike fit to understand that you couldn't just slap arrow bars on a bike.

You also had to change your riding position. And so I ended up Frankensteining my road bike to make it a better kind of triathlon bike that, but it kinda made it a terrible road bike. So our first product which was the switch arrow system, which was these two very, very niche products or designed to let you ride a road bike in a narrow position but still keep your road bike set up. So we kinda decided, Hey, this is, this is something that I really want. You know, the other guys were on board and we developed this system. We developed a C post and the arrow bars and we decided to launch it on Kickstarter in 2013. And got enough of a response that we, you know, decided to make kind of a go at, at growing Redshift. And so gradually over the six years since then, we've grown Redshift.

And then a few years ago, we finally tapered the consulting side of our business down enough that we were, you know, full time on Redshift. And so in the interim between then and now, we've introduced a couple products. The shock stops, suspension STEM was in 2015 and then the seatpost was last year and we did those again via Kickstarter, which was an awesome way for, for us as a small company to, you know raise funds and, and kind of prove our market prove that people would actually, you know, get out their credit card and buy these products that we had thought people would like but didn't really know.

Yeah, it's interesting, I think for the uninitiated to think about product design and development, it takes a lot to get that first product off the production line and having that validation of a certain number of units at least gives you the sort of financial comfort to know part of the run can be paid for before it's even begun.

Yeah. The finances are obviously a huge issue because a lot of people don't really realize what goes in. You know, obviously there's tooling costs, there's the production order, all of these things that are going to kind of hit up front that you have to pay for. But I think the really big thing for us was, was kind of this proof of market. You know, you can sit around and do focus groups, talk to your friends, you know, but you really never know is somebody going to you know, pony up and pay for something if you know, if, if it's a real product they're going to buy.

Yeah, absolutely. So when did the, the STEM actually start shipping into market?

So it started shipping at the beginning of 2016. So it's been shipping for, you know, almost almost four years at this point.

During that period of time was obviously a period of time in which the gravel sector started to really emerge as a, as one of the bigger and faster growing segments of cycling. Did you start to see riders from that sector immediately gravitate over to the product or has it been a kind of a slower roll?

Yeah, the, the growth of the gravel kind of area. And biking has been huge for the growth of this STEM as well. I mean it's such a natural fit. And ironically, when we first designed the product, it was designed more with a road market in mind. That's what we set out to do. But sort of during the development process, gravel was growing. It was becoming more of a more of a thing. And we, we were I think really lucky to be in the right time at the right place with the right product to be able to offer something to gravel riders that would kind of take the edge off. You know, there were other brands at the time that were kind of doing similar things, but in general they were kind of proprietary to, you know, a particular frame or particular manufacturer. So you can think about things like, you know, Trex ISIS, bead a system or the future shock on specialized.

So for us it was awesome that those things also existed because it, it kind of helps cement, I think in, in writers' minds that compliance in a bike is, is something that you actually want. Because I think for so long, the bike industry has just, you know, beaten this message of like stiffer, later, faster, you know, and stiffness is kind of this, this ultimate metric that, that the, the frame is measured by when in reality, especially as you get to rougher terrain, compliance can, can not only be obviously more comfortable, but it can also help you go faster because you're just not absorbing all of this vibration. It's not a, you know, going into your body, you don't have to float your body over all of it and you saved more energy to pedal.

Yeah. Yeah. No, those are good points. Let's take a step back and tell the listener exactly what this STEM is and what it does.

Yeah. So the shock stop STEM is pretty straight forward and concept. It's a single pivot suspension, STEM. So a lot of your listeners might remember the old suspension stems of your of the eighties and nineties kinda like the F of Gervin flex STEM, the soft ride. So similar in spirit to those kinds of forebearers, but, but totally different in execution. So it's a single pivot, a STEM that has some internal elastomers that are swappable basically to tune the stiffness of the suspension for your body weight. And we're targeting kind of a small amount of suspension, so 10 to 20 millimeters of, of total travel depending on if you're at the, you know on the flats or out at the hoods. And it's really just designed to take the edge off of vibrations and small bumps that you encounter. You know, as you're riding on gravel and other, you know we call them road surfaces. So this isn't designed for necessarily like a mountain bike. It's not going to replace the suspension fork and we don't intend it to. So that's kind of the, the gist of, of the product.

Yeah. You know, and I've, you know, as I mentioned to you offline, I've been writing it for three weeks now and I think one of the biggest compliments I can give you is that in many instances it completely diff disappears. It is a very elegant design from a aesthetic perspective. I find myself almost missing that it is a suspension STEM. But now that I've had it on my bike long enough, I've, I've actually seen other riders out on the trails with it. So very unobtrusive design and in, in many instances the, the movement is very subtle. As you mentioned. My personal experience was obviously when I was the farthest point away from the fulcrum point out on the hoods, I could feel the the most emotion and I felt that motion most kind of when I was riding on the road because my experience off-road was that there was often so much going on in terms of feedback through the bike that it was almost disappearing. The fact that I was getting additional compliance in the handlebar and the STEM part of the bike.

Yeah. So again, you know, you mentioned a couple of things. Having the, having the STEM blend in aesthetically with the rest of the bike was a major design goal during the development process. We, we knew just not only from a market standpoint, but just some what we wanted on our bikes. We did not want some sort of weird contraption, you know, bolted onto the front of the bike. We wanted it to blend in to be more or less invisible and be something you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking for it. So that was a, that was a huge goal. And then, yeah, absolutely it was, it was something where this is a pretty common refrain is people will put it on their bike and then notice it for the first, you know, a few minutes of a ride or maybe the first ride and then, and essentially forget about it.

And ironically enough, we've had enough number of customers contact us and say, Hey, you know, I, I, I don't think my STEM is working anymore. And what we encourage people to do is say, Hey, okay, cool. Swap the STEM out for, for, you know, your old STEM. And see what the differences and feel. And it's funny, you get used to the difference in feel very quickly and then when you go back to our rigid STEM, the differences is night and day. It's, it's a really sort of amazing experience to go back from, you know, having that compliance to go back to a rigid STEM and to feel the difference. But yeah, you're absolutely right. It's, it's not meant to, it's not meant to make the trail, you know, completely disappear under you. It's not going to do that. But what it is going to do is just take the edge off of all of those, those impacts that are normally gonna sort of jar you and you know, vibrate through your arms, through your wrists, hands and in your shoulders and neck.

Yeah, it's probably important to note and add that the STEM ships with a series of elastomer bumpers and a pretty straight forward guide as to how to tune them to your particular rider weight and obviously like suspension forks and other suspension products. If you feel a desire to have a stiffer setup or a softer setup, you can make those adjustments based on your body weight guide.

Yeah, exactly. So the, the SEM is designed to, to run with a little bit of sag just to make it as active as possible. But there are some people who prefer more traditional feel and so they set it up a little bit stiffer such that there's really no deflection under normal in their normal riding position. And that it would only, you know, deflect when they hit a bigger bomb or a bigger impact, something like that. So you can, you can tune it in. You know, there's quite a, quite a few levels of, of stiffness that you can choose to let you tune it in. And body weight is kind of the main guidance that we give because that's the most obvious one. But other things like writing position and the type of terrain that you're writing on are also going to have a pretty big impact on that. So if you're writing kind of a more upright position or slacker geometry on your bike, you may need a slightly softer setup just cause you're not going to have as much weight, you know, on your hands and vice versa.

Yeah. And I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier for the listener to think about when you think about the total package of your bike, the frame, the rigidity and stiffness of your frame, your tire set up, all that kind of stuff. There's certainly bikes that fall in a wide variety of categories. Like I, I spent a lot of time on an open up, which was a very stiff race oriented carbon frame. In fact, moving from my road bike attract Medona to the open. I felt very little loss in performance, but it was an incredibly stiff bike off road. And you know, my solution to that was riding six 50 B 1.9 tires to get that right match of. But not all gravel bikes have that ability to go that wide in a tire. So I think it's really interesting as a solution to understand as a, as a listener and as a bike owner, as to what an option may be to add additional compliance. If, say you were stuck at a, you know, a 700 by 38 as the, as the widest tire you could go for on a, a very stiff carbon frame.

Yeah. The, the comparison that we make, and obviously there are other reasons why you might choose wider tires besides just, you know, ride quality or comfort, you know, traction and handling and things like that are, may drive you in, in that direction anyway. But the comparison that we make is basically to get the same amount of compliance out of your tire that you would get out of this, the STEM, you'd have to increase your tire, you'd have to increase your tire with from like a 38 or something like that, you know, to a 50 or a 55 or something. Really, really dramatic. Because when you think about the amount of deflection that you're going to get out of a tire you know, it's literally like adding 15 to 20 millimeters to the height of your tire. So it's, it's a, it's a much bigger change than, for example, just going from a, you know, a 35 to a 45 or something like that.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, as, as we look at events on the calendar throughout the year and some of the longer distance, more grueling events, it's pretty clear to me that as a kind of mid pack cyclist, you need to be as concerned with how your body's going to survive a long day. Like, like dirty Kanza as much as how fast you're going to go. So it's all well and good to say, I'm gonna, you know, have an incredibly stiff bike and I'm going to run narrow tires. But your bite, your body may not survive that, you know, in a, in a 10, 12, 14 hour day.

Yeah. I think when you look at not only, you know, mid pack writers but, but front of pack writers and really long endurance events like that the event is as much about sort of their, their fitness and their ability to produce power as it is about their ability to kind of maintain, maintain a positive mindset during those events. And I think that goes throughout throughout the, the tiers, you know, all the way from the people who are going to win the event, you know, to the people who are gonna be right in front of the sag wagon. Your fitness is going to be a huge aspect of that. But your ability to maintain your, your mental mindset and and be positive is going to have such a huge impact on your performance. And kind of, you know, as anybody written on gravel, on rough roads for a long period of time, it just kind of builds and builds and builds.

And that fatigue of just sort of dealing with all of this vibration and impacts like, you know, after you've been riding for six hours, your hands, your shoulders, you know, your rear end and everything is just, you know, if it's not, if it's not numb, it's, it's, you know, none might be the best thing that it could be at that point. You know, so it makes, it makes a huge difference, you know, in your, in your ability to enjoy the ride, have a positive mental mindset going into it. And then the other thing is that it just, it saves you energy over, over the ride. You know, you don't have to lift as much body weight off of the saddle and the, the handlebars when you're riding. And I should mention that, you know, I'm talking about lifting off the saddle. We also make a complimentary product called the chalk stop suspension. Seatpost that's just launching that, that does the same thing kind of for the rear end of the bike. So that energy savings, you know, of not having to float your body over rough terrain and instead just be able to, you know, sit down, relax, relax your upper body, relax your lower body and pedal through that, you know, the accumulated energy savings over especially along event like that are huge. So it's difficult to overstate how much that that contributes.

Yeah, I think that's what's very interesting and elegant about the STEM as the solution because you may, in your, your daily rides not require that, but swapping the STEM out for an altar distance event is quite easy to do. And that's not to say that this STEM doesn't work well as a daily rider cause I've been riding it every day, both on the road and off the road. But for those people maybe who are [inaudible] and concerned about the, the, you know, modest additional weight penalty, being able to throw it on for a specific event, I think is a really viable way to see if it's a good product for you.

Yeah. and like you said, you know, it's, it's an easy swap. It installs and removes exactly like a normal STEM does. So you don't have to it fits a bike, you know, pretty much the same way, the stack height on this deer tube and you know, if it's 31.8 millimeter bars. So something that's very easy to try out. And just as a, you know, a pitch a sales pitch here, if, if any writers are interested in testing it out, we offer a 30 day risk-free, you know, ride trial. So you get free shipping, free return shipping if you don't like it and you can ride it for 30 days and return it, no questions ask if it doesn't work out for you. So we're pretty confident that once they try it, they really love it. And so we want to give people the opportunity to, to test it out, see if it works for them and hopefully it does.

Right on. Well, let's dig in. You mentioned that the, the product, the new forthcoming seat posts that you guys are going to be shipping, what's the sort of vision behind that product and how does it actually perform? Obviously, you know, the, the sort of concern that will jump up in the listeners mind right away is that, you know, my pedaling cadence and fluidity and sort of just that sense of being directly connected to the motion of the crank and the distance of my crank arms is going to be affected by any suspension. Can you dig in a little bit on that product?

Yeah, yeah. So this was sort of a natural follow on to the shock stop STEM. We, we always knew that we wanted to make a C post, but it took us a while to figure out exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to improve on, you know, the products that were already on the market. The STEM was a little bit different in that, you know, at the time we launched the STEM, there were really no other bolt-ons, sort of front suspension options for, for gravel or drop bar bikes. Whereas with the C post, you know, there are things on the market like thawed, Buster body float and then a variety of sort of, you know, inexpensive telescoping suspension seatpost options that you could buy. And that's not to mention kind of what I'll call pseudo suspension C posts, things like the specialized CGR where they're relying on sort of carbon flexing or something like that to, to provide a little bit of additional compliance.

So, you know, we wrote a bunch of those C posts, tested them out, like the lot of them disliked some of them and kind of crystallize exactly what we were looking for in a sea post. And, and it kinda boils down to a couple things. One, as I mentioned previously, we wanted to make sure that the, the aesthetics of the post, you know, blended in well with modern bikes. We didn't want it to be something where you're sort of like, look at the bike and all you can see is this giant contraption at the top of the, you know, the seatpost. And then we wanted the suspension travel to be meaningful. And when I say meaningful, something that is not just going to mute, you know, small vibration or buzz, but it's actually going to absorb impacts, you know, rocks, roots expansion, joints on the road, things like that, that kind of like a, a specialized CGR or just a compliant carbon post is not really going to handle.

And then we basically wanted the, the travel and the response of the CBOs to be really responsive because, you know, in a situation like a gravel ride, you know, you're dealing with a lot of high frequency impacts or oscillations. So the post needed to be responsive enough to deal with that. And the direction that there were, those impacts are coming from. So we took all of that, spent a long time, you know, refining and prototyping and testing different designs and finally arrived at the design of the shock stops. He posts that, that we have now. And we believe that it provides a, you know, a super compliant responsive ride that is going to absorb all of those impacts but still blend in with the aesthetic of your bike. To answer kind of the, the second part of your question regarding how does it feel, how does it feel?

Do you lose a connection to, to the bottom racket or lose your ability to smoothly generate power? I mean, I can only speak for myself and the answer for me and for the people that I know that have tested it is no that basically there's enough damping in the post that your, your pedal stroke is not going to cause bobbing. And so again, it's sort of it's going to actuate when you ride over something. And then the other thing is that the, the motion of the seatpost is unlike a telescoping post where the distance between the bottom racket and the saddle would just be decreasing linear league with travel linkage based posts like ours or you know, similar to something like a thought Buster has the advantage that the motion of this saddle is sort of back and down a little bit towards the rear wheel.

And so that motion, the tra the suspension travel doesn't course correlate to such a large change in the bottom bracket to saddle distance. And at the end of the day, this is sort of a little bit difficult to explain, but it's just not something that you notice because again, you have to compare that the, you know, the bottom bracket to saddle distance is changing slightly as the, as the CBOs moves through his travel. But that's because you're riding over a bump. And normally what would happen if you rode over a bump that caused that sort of deflection is you would either bounce up off of the saddle or you would be off of the saddle to begin with. To, you know, suspend yourself as you wrote over that bump. So it's kinda funny because you know, you think of this as something that's compliance, but you can really sit down and battle through things that you might otherwise stand up and coast through. Because there's just enough travel there to, to kind of mute out all of those vibrations. Yeah. I suppose as a user of the STEM, I can visualize exactly what you're talking about, like you know, happening,

But there's the feedback that you'd normally be getting from riding through that bumpy section. You're just getting it in a different way. And perhaps by being able to sit, stay seated through that experience, you retain more control and potentially a faster ability to put power back into the pedals.

Yeah. And, and you notice this, you can really notice this, you know, for example, descending it's something where on a, you know, on a bike that's not equipped with a, with a dropper seat post for example. When you're descending in a lot of situations, it's much easier to control the bike if you have some weight on the saddle. But if you don't have a suspension seatpost you run the risk of hitting something and sort of getting bucked or bounced off the saddle. If you, you know, if you hit a bump that you don't notice. That's one place where I noticed it the most is where at the end of long dissents where I would often find that my legs were quite tired because I was standing up the whole way down the descent basically that, you know, I can strategically pick places where I can sit down and just, you know, ride and relax my legs. And so it's that kind of energy savings that, you know, beyond sort of the comfort aspect there. There's a real energy savings associated with, with being able to, with not having to stand up and suspend your body with your legs, you know, as much.

Yeah. I, I definitely have personal experience with a dropper posts both on road and off road that mimics that experience. I really do enjoy being able to drop it a little bit and remain seated and just kind of take that as recovery time and have the additional control of having weighed on the, on the rear of the bike, like you said. Yeah. Fascinating stuff. You know, it's interesting to me, I think, you know, I've said this before on the podcast that many new or gravel cyclists are coming to the sport from a road background and there's heavily steeped traditions and mentalities around road riding, around stiffness, lack of suspension, all these biases that we're bringing to the table that this year and next year in the gravel market. I see those biases being challenged dramatically by products like this and different compliant frame designs and even suspended frames that are gonna prove themselves out as being faster, more comfortable, just generally better, more fun bicycles. And I think it's a really exciting time to be exploring that. And I think you guys are in a great spot for that exploration.

Yeah, it's, it's really, it's really I think a fun time to be, you know, just in the bike industry, but, but to be a consumer, to, to be shopping for bikes because more and more you can find whatever bike you know you want to ride. And I think that's super interesting. If you're, if you're, you know, a roadie who occasionally ventures off road, you can find a great bike for that. If you're a mountain biker who wants, you know, a, a drop bar monster cross mountain bike with two and a half inch knobby tires on it, like you can find the bike for that too. But totally agree. I think that much like, you know, much like we saw in, in sort of cross country mountain biking where the, there was resistance to the adoption of, of full suspension bikes certainly at the highest racing levels in gravel.

I think there's a little bit of resistance there just because people are accustomed to sort of the, the purity and, and the aesthetics of of unsuspended bikes. But it definitely seems, you know, I, I would put money on the fact that full suspension, gravel bikes are, are going to be something that are pretty common in the future as people, as people realize, you know? Yeah. They're, they're faster, they're more comfortable. They're more enjoyable to ride. So yeah, it's gonna be fascinating to see kind of where everybody drives to and what the different what the different options are for people. But I think regardless of what, regardless of what people, you know, think they're going to be able to find a bike that, that works well for them. And I think that's the thing to me that's so exciting about gravel is, yeah, maybe, maybe not serious cyclists, but you know, they're asking or they're interested in buying a bike and it's just a no brainer. Now, you know, it's like, yeah, if you're going to buy a bike, you should buy a gravel bike. You shouldn't, you shouldn't even think twice about it. Like, that's the bike that you should buy. So I think that that's, that's pretty, pretty awesome.

Yeah. And mean as we've covered before. And as the, the the listener most likely knows the beauty of these gravel bikes, that they're like chameleons, right? You can have two sets of wheels, you can have a shock stop STEM, you can have a suspension seat posts and you can swap them in and out depending on what you're doing. And the net net is you end up with a bike that can take you everywhere from bike packing to cyclocross racing. And that's, it's really exciting and certainly a great value for your money as a cyclist to be able to have one bike that can sort of wear many dresses.

Yeah. And as a recovering, you know, and plus one, a bike, alcoholic. I currently probably have seven bikes in my garage, so I'm trying to try and get rid of them. But you know, the idea of having one, you know,

One great bike that you can really sort of do everything with is, is super attractive. Yeah, absolutely. Well, Steven, thank you so much for, for sharing your thoughts on the company and the products. And the time I've really enjoyed riding the product thus far and I'm really curious to kind of explore it as something that can help reduce fatigue and increased performance over my rides. Yeah, thanks so much Craig. Really appreciate it. It was great talking to you and hopefully we can get together for a ride sometime soon. Right on.

Thanks again to Steven for joining the pod this week. Since recording, I've actually spent another couple of months on the shock stops STEM due to some back issues and I remain impressed every time I get that thing off road. I am happy to have a little bit of cush in these days where my body could use a little break. So kudos for them for an interesting design and something to consider if you're finding off road riding a little too jolting to your body in this week's can't let it go. Segment, I want to talk about lights. I've been using a night sun Lumia light and it's been shocking to me how compact this lighting system is compared to the wattage that it's putting out. It's made my night rides home commuting super comfortable and safe. I remember back in the day when you used to have to Mount a battery in your water bottle cage and how heavy and obnoxious those setups were.

Whereas today you can get something that mounts simply on your handlebar plug in. Charger is all good to go and you can be completely safe out there. So as we're concluding winter, I hope everybody's invested in some good safety lighting to keep them safe and hopefully even get out there and explore off road. So that's it for this week. I appreciate all the support. If you have any feedback, shoot me a or hit me up on any of the social media platforms. As always, if you're enjoying what we do, please leave a rating or review those few minutes of efforts, really help us reach a broader audience, which is important with that. Until next time, here's to finding some dirt under your wheels.