I don’t remember how I came upon it but last spring I stumbled across a stem that I had never seen before from a company that I had never heard of. I eventually found my way to their site and to my surprise there was a whole line of products that were geared towards the trails. That company was Shape Bicycles, and over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of chatting back and forth with its creator Sylvain Taro. Sylvain is an awesome dude with a passion for design and a strong belief in French manufacturing. All of the parts made by Shape Bicycles are both designed and manufactured in France. While so many companies these days have gone the Taiwan route for production Sylvain has chosen to keep his manufacturing as close to home as possible. The result is a line of parts that give a nod to the old school with beautiful machining and simpler designs. I really wanted to find out more about both Sylvain and Shape so I went ahead and bounced some questions back and forth with him. Over the course of the last few weeks not only did the following interview come about but also the decision to bring Shape Bicycles to the US via the new Can You Dig It Web Store. Check out the interview below and then go have a look at some of Shape’s offerings in the store.
First lets start with a little background info. Age, location, and how long you’ve been riding?
I’m 27 years old and live in Northern Brittany (north west of France), I’m a process engineer (department which takes place between R&D and production), and work in a company who is specialized in material handlings for agriculture and other domains. I’ve been riding for 15 years; I started with downhill MTB, then I focused much about trail riding, and I tuned into BMX 5 years ago.
I think it’s almost immediately recognizable that Shape is primarily a trails focused brand. That said, should we assume that you mostly ride trails, and how is the trails scene where you are?
Yes I ride only trails and it’s been my passion for almost ten years. So it was natural for me to create BMX parts intended for this style of riding (even if Shape bicycles parts can obviously answer every type of riding). I started focusing on trails in 2004. I went to the local trails where I really started to understand what being a trail digger is. After several years of dedication I ended up being one of the main diggers along with my mate Stéphane, and we dug together all winter for many years. Last year I moved for my job. I left my parent’s house in Southern Brittany and rented a house with my girlfriend in Northern Brittany. I quickly looked for another place to start my new dirt home. Thanks to my girlfriend’s father who is a farmer and let me have a spare field full of orange/yellow clay to create my new spot! After a winter of digging on my own the Run Trail is real and I’m really pleased how everything has come to be honest.
As for the scene we’re a close group of riders around here. There are three or four trails, my friends from Southern (Guillaume, JB, Auré, Stéphane, etc), and my friends here in Northern (Toine, Bruno, etc). We don’t travel a lot as we have several trails to ride. I do try to go to the UK every summer as I’ve got a couple of friends over there and I’m in love of the country and its culture.
Shape has been around for a little while now. How long ago did you start it, and what made you want to dive into creating a parts company?
Shape bicycles was created in the winter of 2010/2011. I was thinking about name, logo and so on and launched the first batch of prototypes in February/March 2011. I decided to create Shape bicycles to link my two passions for BMX and mechanics, which was a dream come true really! Plus it’s such a pleasure and honor to ride bikes built up with my own parts!
Other than passion, I was disappointed to see all these new brands create their range by only choosing their products on catalog. Along with my job and my knowledge in mechanics, I really wanted to create a French BMX company with a real link to production. So the main idea behind Shape Bicycles is to design and manufacture some products in France. That gives a specific value to the products as well as them being the best quality possible.
I totally agree that these days the majority of companies have their products made in Taiwan. There is no doubt that in lot of instances doing it that way results in a product that is able to retail at a lower cost. Why has it been important for you to keep your parts French made as opposed to going the Taiwan route?
As I’ve said, too many companies simply choose their parts from catalog without having any role into design and manufacturing. It is obviously challenging not to go the Taiwan route as you said, but France is full of companies specialized in machining which allows to us to follow closely the entire development process as well as the manufacturing of these parts. With my relationships with different companies everything I need to make BMX parts was around me in fact. The entire Shape Bicycles range is manufactured within an hour of my house. As a result I have the whole process in my hands and that is a real need for me in order to save time and make sure nothing goes wrong.
Suppliers are my main supporters through Shape Bicycles. I’ve created a unique link with them and they are close to me, so they give me a hand into design to make parts easier to produce. They are more friends than real manufacturers who only think benefits.
As you said, costs are higher but it is the price for quality and to be made in France which is the main focus of Shape Bicycles. To be honest it’s more difficult to retail product at correct prices. I think Shape bicycles is more like Profile Racing and other brands like that. I think that the people who buy my products understand the passion behind Shape Bicycles’ parts and also appreciate their machining and rarity.
You mentioned earlier that you work as a process engineer. Care to elaborate a little more on just what that is and how it relates to the thought that goes into Shape’s products?
As I’ve said, I’m currently working as process engineer which enables me to be part into the production and improvement of the way of manufacturing products. My current job is different from my previous one. I used to be R&D engineer where I drew automatic processes for the food industry. This gave me lots of examples of conception, design, and the whole R&D process. Before being engineer I prepared my degree in apprenticeship. I spent every other week in a company which develops and manufactures orthopedic prosthesis. At last, before my degree I passed several diplomas in machining so I already had my hands in the industry and grease before graduating!
You’ve done some design work for Deluxe. Care to tell us about what products you’ve worked on for them and how that relationship came about?
Yes I worked for Deluxe and I still do it in fact. I’ve been working with Mark @ Deluxe for almost four years. I’ve developed a seat clamp, two stems, two bar ends (normal and extender), and I’ve also made a sprocket for Total BMX. Relationships with Mark is all about discussions about products, new addition to the Deluxe range, evolution of current one, and so on. My task is to make CAD work. I start from scratch with our first ideas until prototype stages and final production design. I like being in charge of this sort of whole process to be honest. I can see every step and stay concentrated on the final product.
Shape was responsible for creating the unique trophies for Kill the Line last year. It must have been quite an honor to have had the chance to make the awards for such a prestigious event. How did that opportunity come about and what all went into making them happen?
This project was really an honor, you’re right! This opportunity came about as one of the main event’s organizers Bérenger Cordier is also a Shape Bicycles rider (he has been part of the team from day one). We discussed together as we were looking for a way to promote Shape bicycles through the prestigious event which is the Vans Kill the Line. Bérenger and his mate Alex Dropsy came up with the idea of Shape Bicycles being in charge of the trophies from design to manufacturing! In fact, it’s a good idea to spread the word about the brand as the podium ceremony is the best time to talk about it and ensure photo/video coverage. Plus it was a way to show what Shape bicycles is capable of and what sort of “pieces” we can make other than BMX parts.
On my way I started from design and after a couple of trials we chose the Sheriff’s star design with the riders position engraved along with Shape Bicycles and other sponsors logos. Then my sprocket manufacturer was chosen to be in charge of making these three beautiful pieces of metal. As you may have seen in the “Making of the Vans Kill the Line Trophies 2012” video I was able to follow the whole manufacturing process. A good time for sure!
I really enjoyed managing this project! Everyone let me know that these trophies were simply the best and most desirable ones. Plus it was an honor to give the trophies to riders such as Doyle, Hucker and Ellis who were also happy I guess!
The making of Vans Kill the Line Trophies 2012
Who all is on the team right now?
I started the brand with two riders who helped me test prototypes and everything which has to be done at the beginning. On the first hand, Bruno Abiven who lives close to me in Brittany and he is a true trail rider! On the other hand, Bérenger Cordier from the Peynier trail who is capable of organizing the Vans Kill the Line event, riding in it, and finishing 3rd! More recently I added two foreign riders from the USA and UK. Jared Ball from Michigan, who rides/digs along with his brother Jeremy at their own trails. Then, the latest addition was Tom Bond from Southern England who rides at the famous PSA trails.
It was clear for me to put in place a team, and my wish is to be as close as possible to them to create a strong relationship. This is one of the reasons why I decided to create signature products with each of the team members. Gyro plate with Bérenger, bar ends and a tee shirt with Bruno, a split stem cap with Jared, and I’m about to start working on a product for Tom.
I also have lots friends who really support Shape bicycles. Even if they aren’t real “team riders” they have believed in my project from day one and run a product!
Where can people get a hold of Shape’s products?
Shape Bicycles’ products are available from our online shop, through our different shops in France, Insanity Shop in the UK, and in Can You Dig It’s Web Store in the US!! You can find our retailer list on info page of our website.
Wrapping this up, what does the future hold for Shape Bicycles?
I hope to be able to make Shape Bicycles bigger, why not make it a living? In the close future I want to carry on designing new products. Like I said, a signature one for Tom Bond as everyone on the team has got one. Plus I want to create a sort of family spirit for customers who like our products and believe in the whole Shape Bicycles philosophy.
I also plan on organizing the second Shape bicycles jam in September 2013, and why not a trail trip with part of the team. Hopefully Jared and Tom will come to France – Crossed fingers…
Shape Bicycles Jam 2012