CESAR ROJO & UNNO BIKES
Cesar Rojo is a name you may be familiar with if you’ve been paying attention to the cutting edge of mountain bike development over the last 13 years. If you’ve not heard his name before then you may have seen some stunning bikes coming out of Barcelona under the name of Unno, for which you have Cesar to thank. Upon seeing their latest range of bikes come out, which have once again delivered a futuresque aesthetic that stands out from the crowd, we had to connect with Cesar to learn a little more about what goes into the bikes. Grab a cup of coffee and learn about one of the most progressive minds in the sport: Cesar Rojo.
THE LOAM WOLF (TLW): FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW, WHAT’S YOUR RIDING BACKGROUND?
Cesar Rojo (CR): I raced Downhill from ‘96 to ‘01, having a couple of Spanish National Champs wins, and a few top 10s in the World Cup.
TLW: AND ON THE ENGINEERING SIDE OF THINGS, WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN BACKGROUND?
CR: I’m an Engineer specialized in Industrial Design, with a degree from Elisava School of Design and Engineering in Barcelona.
TLW: WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST PROJECTS AS A DESIGNER?
CR: I always worked on some bicycles while studying, and Orange Bikes even did a proto out of two I designed. They were not great, but at least they worked, haha! After that I worked with KTM for a while in MotoGP doing simulation and some modeling of parts for the chassis, and the first proper project was the Dune and Zero suspension for Mondraker.
TLW: WHAT LED YOU TO START YOUR OWN BIKE COMPANY, UNNO?
CR: It was a dream I always had in the back of my mind, so when the collaboration stopped with Mondraker I felt I needed something to feel as personal as working for them did. Thus, Unno started, but was not very premeditated. It came from one day to another really.
TLW: YOUR BIKES HAVE CARRIED A UNIQUE, ALMOST SIGNATURE LOOK THROUGH THE INTENSE AND NOW UNNO STAGES. WHAT INSPIRES THE DESIGN OF YOUR BIKES?
CR: This changes a lot, but we always try to look for something to differentiate from the rest and with Unno we just wanted to take it one step further… People love it or hate it, but once people see the bike a couple times, usually they end up loving it. The design is so different that it can take time to get used to it.
TLW: HOW IMPORTANT IS THE LOOK OF A BIKE IN YOUR EYES? DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPROVEMENTS IN YOUR RIDING WHEN ON A BADASS LOOKING BIKE, OR ARE THE LOOKS A RESULT OF A PERFORMANCE-FIRST APPROACH?
CR: It’s super important. All brands share or have access to the same forks, shocks, and settings, so it is hard to make a difference there. You can only really differentiate with geo, but nowadays that has become quite similar between brands, and then you have the suspension and the looks. The looks are what attracts you most to an object, so looks are super important to us, as long as the bike performs at the highest level and is not a compromise.
TLW: DO YOU CONDUCT MOST OF THE DESIGN TESTING AND VALIDATION YOURSELF, OR DO YOU HAVE A TEAM OF RIDERS TO ASSIST YOU?
CR: Yes, I do most of it, from the early phases to pre-production, then we get more people putting time on the bikes. I’ve always liked to be very involved with testing since the race days, so love doing it!
TLW: TO DATE YOU HAVE ONLY MANUFACTURED THE UNNO BIKES WITH CARBON FIBER. WILL WE SEE METAL VERSIONS IN THE FUTURE?
CR: There are no plans now and we don’t really see that happening, alloy is just too restricting to what we are doing and will lead us to having to sell more bikes to have carbon and alloy options. We have a target of staying with lower numbers of Unno bikes being sold.
TLW: WHEN UNNO BIKES BEGAN YOU WERE MANUFACTURING IN-HOUSE. YOU’VE SINCE SWITCHED TO ASIAN PRODUCTION FACILITIES. WHAT WERE THE MOTIVES BEHIND THIS?
CR: We did learn a lot (by producing in house), but also with it came with a lot of restrictions, especially to grow, etc.… so we decided to externalize 100%, but not all in Asia. The new Boös, Burn and Dash (very soon) will be there, but we have been working for almost two years to make the new Horn in Germany. In the future we hope we can bring it back, but will be for sure externalized, with the use of our carbon fiber know-how.
TLW: DID YOU FACE MANY CHALLENGES WHEN MOVING YOUR PRODUCTION TO AN EXTERNAL PROVIDER?
CR: Not really, it has been way easier! We ask and they need to deliver, of course with the times we are going through everything takes twice as long. But we are working with the best, so their experience in industrialization has made things easier.
TLW: LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR NEWEST BIKE, THE UPDATED BURN. IT TAKES A VERY DIFFERENT FORM TO THE OUTGOING MODEL. WHAT LED YOU TO THESE CHANGES?
CR: The outgoing mode looks pretty modern, even if the design is circa 2014, but too many brands have been inspired by it and we do not think it looks that different anymore. With the new bikes we wanted to do something really different to set us apart from the rest. It’s really polarizing, and many people do not like it at first (I would like to hear their opinion when they see one in person a couple times), but sales are showing that there is definitely some love for it!
TLW: DO YOU BELIEVE THE MIXED WHEEL SETUP CAN BE AS FAST, OR FASTER, THAN A PAIR OF 29” WHEELS?
CR: It depends on the category. The 29” on the back limits your movements a lot on the bike with longer travel, and longer droppers make it even worse… Back-to-back testing on long travel bikes, I could not really tell the difference, so a 27.5 on the back is stronger, lighter, more clearance to your human rear end. We dig it!
TLW: AND FOR THE BOÖS, YOUR FIRST EMTB, HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE WAS THE INTEGRATION OF THE MOTOR SYSTEM INTO YOUR DESIGN? DID THE PROJECT PROVE TO BE SIGNIFICANTLY HARDER THAN STANDARD MOUNTAIN BIKE DESIGN?
CR: We have developed many ebikes already, so it was not like we did it for the first time, but the amount of integration and compact packaging of the bike was not an easy feature. When you look at the bike, especially from a non-side view, the downtube looks very similar to those on small battery bikes. Also, we started with Shimano, but they faced a lot of delays unfortunately, so we decided to move to Bosch. This was great because the difference in torque was very noticeable, and we wanted a race bike where the extra torque of the Bosch was appreciated. Overall, the biggest challenge was the details, because the bike is full of them.
TLW: WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR UNNO MOVING FORWARD? WILL YOU RELEASE ANOTHER DH BIKE? AN EBIKE LIGHT?
CR: Time will tell. Right now, we have a lot of new bikes on the table!
If you want to learn more about the Unno bikes, head to their website now. We’ll be crossing our fingers to get one to test for a review in the near future.