Customer Q&A: Thoughts from Mercedes' Formula 1 lead chassis designer


Balance Bike Review

We’re first and foremost a company of inventors and engineers, so when we realised we’d sold a bike to the lead chassis designer at 6 times F1 World Champions Mercedes, we jumped at the opportunity to get his feedback.

We managed to pin Phill down (between crazy times in the sport of Formula 1 and the birth of his second child!) to ask him some questions and to see how Eliza was enjoying her new bike. Here’s a summary of what he had to say:


BM: How did you come across us? 

Phill: Slightly boring answer but it was a simply google search. I did not go looking for Black Mountain specifically but I normally over research the market before spending my hard earned money! From memory I come across Black mountain on a review site where your bike was compared to others. 

BM: What were your first impressions when un-boxing the bike?

Phill: My first impressions were that the box was nice and compact, impressive because most of the bike is pre-made. We went for the orange colour so it’s safe to say our first impression when opening the box was how vibrant the matt finish was on the frame. You just don’t get that sort of finish on other bikes. Pulling the bike from the box I was really happy to feel that the bike felt light yet it was really nice and chunky, everything seemed to fit together so well and the quality of all the components was at a high standard.

BM: How did it compare with previous bikes?

Phill: I was keen for my little girl, Eliza, to learn on a balance bike and not use stabilisers; I’ve seen the benefit of this with so many friends’ kids. The first balance bike we purchased was an Early Rider Bonsai - a beautiful object to look at, but I remember taking the bike out of the box and the first thing that happened was that the seat post mount disbonded from the main frame! Not a good start. As it turns out the bike was form over function and I do wish we never bought it. It had two main issues: it was unbalanced (centre of mass was off) and the frame was too wide on one side for Eliza to use it without pushing her leg out at a strange angle. I did purchase a really simple balance bike after this (Vitus Nippy Superlight) because I had not yet discovered the Black Mountain bike. This was of a low quality but light and usable. 

The Black Mountain still has that interesting bike look but it's functional too. When Eliza first used it one really good thing was that the seat could go right down because you have put the clamp on the bottom of the seat post when using the bike in the balance mode. The other great thing was that it had brakes, which not all balance bikes do. From a quality point of view the Black Mountain is in another league compared to our previous bikes, and to think we have 3 bikes in 1 for a comparable price is great.

Girl riding bike over pump track

BM: How did you find making the switch from balance to pedal mode?

Phill: The switch from balance to pedal mode was so simple. It took no time at all and because the bolts or lozenges are bespoke, everything just fits together nicely. Another cool thing is that there is no greasy chain to deal with, I just love the belt drive. I wish my own mountain bike could run on a belt. 

BM: How did Eliza get on with the switch? How long did it take her to learn to ride with pedals?

Phill: Eliza used her previous balance bike for about 6 months before we discovered Black Mountain. She could have gone straight to a pedal bike but we picked the Pinto as she was very small (she was a tiny 4 year old). She used the Pinto in balance mode for the Saturday we got the bike to get used to the weight and brakes. She was confident within minutes so we switched to the pedals that evening on her orders! The next day, with a small starting push from me, Eliza was riding with pedals. I have a video of it and it took less than 2 minutes for her to get it. I would say it took her a few days to learn how to get going herself but it was so easy. The only regret we have is that we did not get the bike sooner for her to use in balance bike mode. We are lucky to just have had our second child recently and because the bike is such good quality, it’s in perfect working order for him to use it as soon as he can, so we will get the full benefit of the different modes and longevity of the bike.

BM: With your technical / engineering hat on, what do you make of the product? 

Phill: From a technical point of view it should be easy for any company to go out and source the best components and bring them together on a standard frame and sell it as a quality product. But surprisingly a lot of companies fail at this. With the Black Mountain bike they managed to bring the right components together, and have gone a step further by putting them onto a bespoke, innovative frame. It’s a solution to the problem of kids growing fast physically but also growing in their skill level. Their progression is covered with this one bike. Apart from the expanding frame the other main draw for me was the belt drive. In practice it's smooth, silent and maintenance free, and one really clever feature is that when you grow the frame for when you child is ready for the next level then you also change the gearing on the bike to increase its speed in proportion to the frame size increase. 

BM: Finally, were you responsible for the “dual-axis steering” on the Mercedes car this year? (love the concept - one for the F1 geeks out there!) :D

Phill: Thanks, it is cool and scary to see the drivers using it. I don’t think it was one person who came up with it, it was just a solution to a problem. I worked it into the chassis with the mechanical engineers, which took quite a lot of effort! I do like that there are still ways to be innovative, even with such a strict set of rules!