Edgartown mountain bike designer hits the trails

Mountain bike designer David Weagle of Edgartown with a prototype bike that uses his patented dw-link suspension system. — Photo courtesy of Dave Weagle

Riding a top-of-the-line mountain bike designed in part by 37-year-old mountain bike design guru David Weagle of Edgartown is exhilarating. Riding with Mr. Weagle, who looks and acts younger than his years, and several of his experienced rider friends through the trails that wind through the forest preserves of the Vineyard is exhausting.

On a recent ride, Mr. Weagle was happy to be on his bike after being off-Island for two weeks. With an easy smile and frequent laughter, he effortlessly waded through thick sand, climbed over stacks of logs, banked around tight turns, and took air over rocks and downed trees — all at a good clip and all while almost instinctively avoiding low branches and the dreaded poison ivy he consistently pointed out.

He had just returned from two weeks at the largest annual gathering of the bicycle industry in North America, Interbike 2013, in Las Vegas, where he was representing bike manufacturers who use his patented designs.

Mr. Weagle is a bike industry legend but not because of what he can do on a bike. He is an independent, world-class designer of mountain and down-hill bike suspension systems and drive train components that are used in many of the best bikes made. His design work doesn’t allow him enough time on his bike to even think about being a top competition rider. He uses his rides as part of his laboratory work.

Mr. Weagle’s describes himself as a developer of bicycle technology. He has developed suspension technology, known as the DW-Link and the Split Pivot systems, that he has patented and licenses to bicycle manufacturers. He started a bicycle company (Evil Bikes) and a bicycle component company (e.thirteen), both of which he has sold. He now consults with bicycle companies in product development, marketing, and branding, and her continues his industrial design work.

Travel “is a constant.” He travels to Asia frequently, to Europe a couple of times a year and around the United States to various bike events to support and promote new product launches for a handful of what he calls “high-end, boutique-level, mountain bike companies.”

Mr. Weagle grew up in Rutland, Vermont. His wife, Linley Dolby, who writes the Edgartown column for The Times, grew up in Edgartown. “We got married here on the Vineyard in 2003 and thought we would give living here a try. We found a great piece of property in Edgartown in 2004. We figured it was about the same cost to live here or in Boston so we decided to take the plunge. Almost ten years later we are still here.”

Growing up, he dreamt of designing Formula One race cars. He studied mechanical engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston with an emphasis on vehicle dynamics and composites, including carbon fiber technology. He graduated in 1998, the same year he bought his first mountain bike. While in school he developed a power train technology for cars called a parallel hybrid which is almost identical to what the Toyota Prius uses today.

After college, Mr. Weagle got a job designing suspension systems for robotic military vehicles at Foster-Miller Inc. in Boston and he rode his mountain bike in his free time. A year later he was fully involved in trying to figure out how the suspension system of his bike worked.

He discovered that the mountain bike suspension systems of the time were remarkably unsophisticated. He said that bicycle design was a trial and error process, and that bikes were built mostly by riders or people who worked in bike shops.

“Until very recently bicycle manufacturers didn’t employ industrial designers,” Mr. Weagle said, although he admits there is a lot of benefit to empirical testing. He said the biggest part of his success has come from the victories of downhill racing teams on the World Cup circuit using his suspension systems, which have enabled changes in the geometry of the bicycles resulting in more comfortable and faster bikes.

“It forced everybody in the bicycle industry to reevaluate where they were as far as bicycle geometry,” Mr. Weagle said. “The sophistication of mountain bikes has gone crazy since about 2003.”

He first gained attention in the bike world when he built the first multi-ring chainring guide, a bash guard, for mountain bikes that helps keep the chain on the bike. It was common to lose a chain two or three times a ride before his device was created, he said. “Today you can’t buy a chain guide that doesn’t look like or use that technology. The company I created to market the chainring guide and other drive train components was a multimillion dollar company when I sold it and it’s still a successful business, doing better than ever.”

Mr. Weagle spends his non-riding lab time working out of new large garage big enough for eight to ten cars, just west of Edgartown. There is a 1970 VW bug stripped of everything almost ready for new paint and a few motorcycles sitting around, but the center showcase workspace is a large area with bikes clamped into bike stands.

His office, which is now in a small out-building, will soon be in the barn-like space above the workshop, a basketball court size room, that is now the Weagle-Dolby living space. A new house is under construction next door.

Mr. Weagle said that a three rider team on downhill bikes he designed and that are manufactured by a Canadian company, Devinci, made downhill racing history last month. All three made the podium, finishing first, second and fifth in September’s International Cycling Union’s World Cup Downhill championships in Norway. Most downhill bikes are made of aluminum. These proto-types were made of carbon fiber and utilized suspension systems he designed.

“I am a vehicle dynamics specialist,” Mr. Weagle said. “In 1999 there was very little accurate text available on the analysis of chain-driven wheel suspensions. I had to figure out the details myself. Surprisingly, the analysis method that I pieced together back then stands as the first published text ever on the analysis of linkage axle path suspension systems for chain-driven wheels. It’s crazy to think that motorcycles went over 100 years without someone piecing it together.”

There are bike trails, mostly single-track deer-like trails, that begin within a few hundred yards of his land in Edgartown and Mr. Weagle has ridden most of them. But on a beautiful late September day one of his riding buddies, Michael Berwind, also of Edgartown, took the lead for awhile and struck out on some Edgartown trails that the bike designing pro had not seen before.

“There is always something new to see on a bike,” Mr. Weagle said, smiling.