A Kickstarter We LOVE: Digit Bikes

There’s a paradigm-changing bike on Kickstarter right now. It’s a brilliant re-imagining of how an engineer can increase air volume in rear suspension and make a suspension system that is supple, takes big hits and pedals well. More on that in a bit. The best part about this bike? The Kickstarter is fully funded. If you sign on now, you’re going to get your bike.

Of the many things I love about the bike industry is that my work in the media has brought me into contact with some immensely creative minds. Among the most creative of the bunch is Tim Lane, a Brit expat. I first met Tim when he was one of the engineers for Felt Bicycles. Tim went full savant creating the game-changing DA TT/Tri bike. What set the DA apart from its predecessors and competitors was its fork, called the Bayonet. Sure, the frame itself was stunningly fast in the wind tunnel, but the fork beat the UCI at their own game. The DA’s fork featured an external steerer that doubled as the leading edge of the bike. Put another way, the fork steerer was an airfoil that didn’t get counted as an airfoil by the UCI because it was the structural member onto which the stem was mounted. The metal rod that ran through the headset was essentially just a pivot; it didn’t bear a load.

Tim went on to found Dirt Baggies, a company that made baggies for mountain bikers that fit-obsessed roadies could respect. The bibs were entirely separate from the shorts and attached via small straps that passed through loops on the bibs and snapped in place on the baggies. They remain the only baggies I wear consistently.

The Datum, by Tim’s new outfit Digit, operates on a simple premise: It uses the top tube as its air chamber. It features 140mm of travel and a 2:1 compression ratio. The low ratio should improve reliability and tunability. Low-speed compression and rebound damping are easily adjusted by ports on the top tube.

This first bike (Tim has other models in mind) is a mullet-specific design, meant to take a 29-in. front wheel and 27.5-in. rear wheel, and paired with a 150-160mm fork.

The frame pivot is concentric with the BB, and uses a cutout in the shell, with the pivot turning on the BB spindle thanks to an extra set of bearings.

The top surface of the lower link is angled so that any dirt of mud that lands on it will be directed away from the drivetrain.

One of the other interesting benefits of the Digit design is that the number of pivots is roughly halved, to only three. That increases chassis stiffness and reduces maintenance not to mention how many bearings you have to buy when maintenance is required. And with no shock eyelet bushings to wear out, again, better stiffness and less maintenance.

Tim is as obsessive as he is brilliant, and there are a number of touches to this bike that just blew me away. Among them:
• The front triangle is big enough to accommodate two large water bottles
• A straight seat tube means no limit to dropper post length
• Fewer seals and larger seals and less air pressure make for a more easily serviced suspension
• The Datum’s simplified suspension takes as much as a pound off the bike, relative to other designs
• The longer suspension design results in a much more linear compression curve

The concentric pivot design is the smartest I’ve seen.

I had the opportunity to get together with Tim this summer and take the Datum for a ride. We hit some trails I know well so that I could ride the bike on terrain I’m familiar with. The first thing I noticed about the bike was how well it pedaled even as I felt like the bike made all the small bumps utterly disappear. This would be the first time I’ve ever said a 140mm-travel bike pedaled as well as some 100mm designs. In drops the landing was surprisingly smooth; I was able to make use of the bike’s full travel and yet never once bottomed the suspension out.

That Tim was able to bring this design to market right now is something of a low-key miracle. Placing orders with overseas suppliers is all but impossible. As a result, The Datum is an American-made frame and it uses custom-butted tubes.

If anything can help you frame what an inventive design this is, I think this anecdote will help: While we were riding, Tim told me how he had been lamenting that the two best designs of his career (the Felt DA and Dirt Baggies) were more than a couple of years in the past. He couldn’t stand the idea that he’d had his best ideas. He was confident that his greater experience as an engineer and his increased knowledge of manufacturing meant his best work ought still to be in front of him. He then turned to me and after suppressing a smile said to me, “This is the best idea I’ve had.”

I’ve known this guy 15 years and if he thinks his idea is good, I’m willing to bet he’s right.

The Digit Datum goes for $2950 for frameset including headset, BB spindle, 148mm boost rear axle, seat collar and derailleur hanger. This Kickstarter can be found here.

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