Kiran Mackinnon, Santa Cruz Bicycles - interview

The inside line on Santa Cruz' bike development, and what makes this area of California ideal for MTB industry

Santa Cruz Bicycles was the brainchild of two skateboard pioneers, Rob Roskopp and Rich Novak. The company was born in Santa Cruz, California in 1993, and specialised in full suspension mountain bikes.

Some of Santa Cruz' best-known bikes are the Nomad, the V-10 and Bronson, and the company is soon to branch out into components such as handlebars.

Kiran Mackinnon is Product Developer at Santa Cruz, and he met with BikeRadar to discuss the company's bike development process, its plans for making carbon more available to the masses, and what makes this area of California so attractive to the MTB industry.

BikeRadar: How did you come to work at Santa Cruz Bicycles?

Kiran Mackinnon: I met Joe Graney (Engineering and Quality Director of Santa Cruz Bikes) when I was in high school. My Dad had done some landscaping work for him, and mentioned I liked bikes.

Joe offered me a job cleaning up the engineering shop after school a few days a week, and that evolved into a full-time engineering tech job.

These days I am working for the marketing department, getting product to athletes, as well as doing bike builds for media-related projects.

Santa Cruz seems to be a bit of a hub for the bike industry – what is it about the place that attracts people?  

It’s a really nice place to live. There’s good all-mountain riding, really good trail conditions all year round, a beautiful coastline and the weather is always comfortable.

I honestly think because the traction is so good here all the time, it makes it hard for people who don't get out much to be well-rounded riders.

Santa Cruz Bicycles now seems to have carbon dialled…

Generally as a company we strive to make the best stuff, regardless of expense. We want the coolest cutting-edge stuff with the highest quality, as soon as possible.

From the start we were very uncompromising with our carbon frame development, and I think the strength and reliability of our frames is a big part of why we have such a loyal following. 

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Mackinnon has lived in Santa Cruz his whole life, and thinks the area's great trails and year-round good weather are key to its status as a hub for mountain bike industry

What is the process for bike development at Santa Cruz?

We start making mules as soon as we have a rough idea of what we want. Our mules are all welded in house, so it’s pretty easy to make changes if we feel that something isn't quite right..

For big projects like the new Nomad, we had a few frames welded up at the same time so we could do back-to-back testing on various linkage configurations.  

Once we have a mule that rides well, we have our design engineers do stress analysis on the frame, then tweak the shapes to make it look good.

We'll then get samples of that frame sent from overseas for further strength, stiffness and ride confirmation testing. Our graphic designers will design some cool graphics for it, and then its pretty much good to go. 

Inside santa cruz bikes' hq: inside santa cruz bikes' hq
Inside santa cruz bikes' hq: inside santa cruz bikes' hq

Inside Santa Cruz Bikes' HQ

You are already producing high-end carbon frames, and the newer ‘budget’ carbon frames - what is the future for carbon?

We continue to push the envelope of performance, which requires more expensive materials, and takes more time and money to develop and make. 

But we also want more riders to be able to experience how well carbon bikes ride, so we have offered complete bike packages that utilise our low-cost carbon frames to make owning a carbon Santa Cruz possible for a greater number of people. 

Related: Santa Cruz’s more affordable versions of its carbon frames

Santa Cruz has a good relationship with ENVE composites – will this be affected by the development of Santa Cruz branded parts, such as handlebars? 

I don't think there are any hard feelings. We are an expanding company, and I think people understand that this is the next step for us.

The Nomad has longer and slacker geometry than Santa Cruz have offered previously – will this influence other models in future?  

Definitely, especially with top tube length and bike fitment. Not all bikes should have a crazy slack head tube, but the Nomad was a huge step forward for us because it really was uncompromising.

Because of how close in travel the Bronson and the Nomad were, we felt that we could really go all out and utilise geometry that may not work for some people, but really fit the intended use of the bike.

Given the positive feedback we have gotten for the Nomad, I think this new style of fitment and geometry is here to stay. 

Related: Josh Patterson reviews the Santa Cruz Nomad

If you could ride anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and who would it be with?  

Whistler, with all my favorite riding friends and co-workers.

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Mackinnon gets some air at West Side Pump Track in Santa Cruz

Where else would you want to call home if you weren’t based here?

Thant's a tough one. I've lived in the Santa Cruz area my whole life, and it seems like wherever I go, I really like coming back home.

This is article is the second in a series of interviews with key players of the Santa Cruz bike industry. Watch out for more in the coming weeks, and read the first interview, with Dain Zaffke from Giro, here. 

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