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FINGERS CROSSED: Ruben Alcantara Interview – BMX with Suspension

Ruben on building and riding his new hybrid bike

Ruben Alcantara – we all know he’s had a full career of pushing boundaries in BMX.  The spanish legend.  Insane video parts, new tricks, incredible style, outside the box thinking, the wildest wallrides ever done, magazine covers, skatepark design, endless respect from everyone in BMX…  We know all of this.

What we didn’t know until recently is that Ruben had been busy cooking up a new concept in BMX riding.  A bike with full suspension, for riding mountain bike parks with the comfort and freedom of a BMX.  He and the friends involved came up with the apt name ‘Fingers Crossed’, released a teaser (below), promised more video content soon, and the BMX community reacted – mostly with very positive words.

We had to find out more, so here we are.  Read on.


THE STORY


– How long has this project been going?

It really started when we were filming for Etnies Grounded… 13 years ago.  I went to Whistler, Canada with a crew, we hired bikes and rode the mountain bike trails there.  It was so much fun to ride those lines, but all the time I was thinking like, I wish I had my BMX.  With the mountain bikes the wheels felt so big, it didn’t feel like freedom for me.  When I came back to Malaga I started to make a bike, just by myself very homemade.  It worked pretty well but the parts were kinda sketchy as I didn’t know anything about forks or suspension.  One of my friends told me I shouldn’t be riding it, jumping with the set up was dangerous!  So I left it to one side for a while.  I was so into normal BMX, I just carried on with that.

Lately, in the last year, I started riding mountain bikes a bit more because we have a trail here close to Malaga.  It looks like BMX trails but much more down hill.  Then I thought about the BMX concept again, like this bike here would be amazing!  I really got the feeling again after 13 years.  I could build it properly with better suspension, as now I have more of an idea, figure out a way to make a better fork…  And I was so surprised how well it worked.  I have two mountain bikes, one is a slopestyle bike, really nice one, and also an enduro bike, and the BMX worked better than both of them.  On those trails.  I was really surprised, like, holy shit this is crazy!

“Everyone was there with big DH bikes, all the gear, covered in mud, full face helmets, we showed up with our BMX bikes and jeans”

So I made another frame, it’s pretty funny, you can see it a little bit in the video.  It’s an old GT race frame, bolted on top of a T1 frame.  Keeping the US BB, I made the join with a bearing on top, so the way the suspension works the chain always stays tight, it’s really quiet.

After that we did a complete one thanks to my friend Ari Cruz.  He has this really cool community garage, where people can go to fix their bikes and all that.  He’s very good at doing welding, it turned out amazing.  Almost from scratch, but we kept the headtube from an old frame.  All the mounts are special, a lot of things we had to figure out, it was so much fun to work on it.


Salva & Ruben. Photo: Marmo Photo

– Tell us about the videos that will be coming out.

My other friend here, Salva Moreno, he makes mountain bike videos, really good filmer, he came with the idea that we should make a documentary about the project.  Quickly we found we had enough footage to do a few episodes, just to explain everything really well.  He’s on a trip now but in a couple of weeks we’re going to finish it, edit it, put it out.  The first video will be in about three weeks I hope.

The first episode will be about the bike, how it works, how we developed it, things like that.  Second episode, more about Garrett…  I started talking with him, I showed him pictures and he loved them so much, I helped him to figure out how to make one.  So he made his in the states, then he flew to Malaga to test it.  That will be the second episode.

The bikes were working really well, so when Garrett was here in Malaga we decided to fly to the UK to ride Revolution Bike Park in Wales.  It was really funny, we went there and it was really muddy and rainy…  Everyone was there with big DH bikes, all the gear, covered in mud, full face helmets, we showed up with our BMX bikes and jeans…  People were like what the fuck…  Some of them were kinda laughing at us, but then we started to ride this line that’s really good, and people were freaking out.

I would say our bikes worked even better than the mountain bikes.  Because the tracks are so smooth and because we have not so much suspension, it keeps a lot of speed, and the jumps look bigger as the bikes are smaller!  We had a LOT of fun.


Garrett Byrnes' hardtail rig
Garrett roasting at Revolution Bike Park. Photo: Ari Cruz

THE BIKE


– Tell us about the geometry. Top tube, head angle, is that the same as a normal BMX?

It started like that.  My first thing was to figure out a fork, so I adapted a fork for the difference between 26 and 20, and then I tried it in my BMX, I straight up put it in my normal BMX frame.  It worked really well, which is why I kept going to make the double suspension.  The geometry changed a little bit because the fork is a little longer, but also when you go downhill that fast, it makes the bike feel small.  My bike is a 21.25″ top tube but when I set it up with the fork it felt really small.  So we made the frame 21.8″ and it feels fine.  We also used a longer stem, 58mm, to give you more stability.

– How much travel do you have?

I have 100mm in the front and 90mm in the back.  So it’s similar to what they call a slopestyle bike, MTB with not much travel, like they ride at Crankworx etc.  I have one, but like I say it’s funny, sometimes I take both bikes to the trails so a friend can ride too, and I always love the BMX way more.  It’s way more comfortable for me.  The top tube on a big bike is really high, so when you move your knee to the inside you hit it on the frame right away, you don’t feel like you have that much room.  With the other bike you have more space to move your knees around, it’s way more fun for me, feels like freedom.

“With this bike I can ride for six hours in one day.  I can’t remember the last time I rode for six hours on a regular BMX.  That, for me, is amazing.”

– What about the tyres? They’re pretty fat, aren’t they?

Yeah, it really works in loose dirt.  It compensates like having a bigger wheel.  Like, actually when I ride both bikes, I feel more secure riding this one than the 26”.  Because the tyres are wider and it’s pretty big too, a lot of people think it’s a 22” wheel but it’s 20”.  It’s a 20 inch rim but the tyres are so tall, like 2.8” fat tyre in the front, so the wheel does feel bigger.  But yeah, it’s so good in loose dirt or mud, it’s like riding one of those pit bikes, you know.  It works amazing.  Really really good.  In the back it’s like a 2.5”, but that’s not so important for grip.


Photo: Navaz

– Did you change any other parts of the bike?

It’s pretty much the same.  Just the longer stem, and we flipped it so the front isn’t too high.  We use the same bars.  One day in the future you could have your regular BMX, and if you want to go to the mountain, swap the forks and stem and add the front brake and that’s it. 

– What about the brakes, do you use disks?

Yeah I use disk brakes.  A lot of those trails are really fast, sometimes really steep, and you have to use the brakes quite a bit, so disk brakes work better for that.  And rim brakes don’t really work when it’s wet.  But in some bike parks you don’t have to touch your brakes very much.


Photo: Marmo Photo
Photo: Marmo Photo
One benefit over MTB: bike bags are smaller

THE FEELING


– If you’ve been riding a trail with the new bike, how does it feel when you go back to your normal BMX to ride a bowl?

For me, because I have really bad back and my neck also has some issues, right away on a regular BMX it feels stiff, it’s really hard on my body.  I get used to the new bike really easily.  That’s the cool thing.  With a regular BMX, I ride for an hour or something, and afterwards my neck hurts.  I get to a point when my body is telling me it’s enough.  But with this bike I can ride for six hours in one day.  It’s crazy.  I can’t remember the last time I rode for six hours on a regular BMX. That, for me, is amazing.  And having a lot of fun and going fast, riding these trails…  It’s so good.  I get tired but not sore and the next day I can ride again, it’s been great.

– Who is this bike aimed at then, is it just for old men with bad backs?

Hahaha, you nailed in that one!  But no, not necessarily, of course if you have any kind of injury, it’s a huge difference, because these bikes give you a bigger margin of security, it’s so good for your body. 

Garrett too, his wrist is really bad and he thinks he’s gonna keep riding this bike for everything, for bowls and everything because he can barely hold on with a regular bike.  I have another friend whose foot is really bad, he rode the bike and had so much fun, didn’t hurt either, so it’s good for that.

I think these bikes would be good for people who live close to a bike park, or people who just like riding those places, if you like to ride mountain bike once in a while, now you don’t really need a mountain bike to ride these places, you can do it on a BMX.  I don’t think it’s just for people with injuries, I think it’s just a way to enjoy double the amount of spots!  For me riding these places it’s amazing, you’re in the middle of nature, in the mountains, breathing pure air, looking at the lines, going down, good for your body, it’s an amazing experience.  With this bike now you can ride everything.


At the bike park.

 


– I suppose it’s an easier transition for riders who are used to BMX and are thinking about trying MTB (like lots of people seem to be doing these days)

Yeah that’s the thing, a lot of people love mountain bikes because of the suspension, and a lot of people mainly ride bike parks with them.  The size of the wheel is important if it’s really bumpy, but the trails at these bike parks can not have huge rocks and bumps on the jumps, that would not work for anyone.  So normally they’re pretty smooth, it’s fine, you don’t need a big wheel. 

People do big jumps on 20 inch wheels, like jumping the mega ramp with no suspension, not even brakes, that’s a 22 metre gap!  The speed and size of the jump, I don’t think it matters.  The suspension and the tyres handle the ground but the jumps are no problem for a BMX size bike.

“I am having a look at production, taking some steps, because if I love it this much I would like to share that with people”

– The big question.  Do you think you can get these bikes into production?

That’s like a dream, right now.  I am having a look, taking some steps, because if I love it this much I would like to share that with people.  I can see more people enjoying riding these bikes, in nature, with their friends.  I have ideas of doing jams, I think I can make it a really fun thing. 

I know it’s really hard to start a bike company, so I’ll just take it really slow, try to figure it out gradually.  Hopefully I’ll find a brand that wants to collaborate, because I love it, I would love to do my part, but there are sides of having a bike company that I know I don’t like and I don’t want to stress myself.  I love it now and I don’t need to get stressed about it.  But hey, we’ll see, fingers crossed. 

We’re talking with a factory about making a fork, which is a big step already.  We could just do a hardtail with a fork, make the frame designed with geometry for the fork, that would be a good concept.  The hardtail with suspension is already really good, you can ride all those bike parks with that.  In the video, Garrett is riding the hardtail.  The full suspension one is more to ride downhill trails, the bigger stuff. 

That bike is pretty slow for riding a bowl or street, I would say it’s not for that, you need some gravity!  But the fork could be good for other stuff, as I said Garrett is going to try riding bowls with his hardtail setup. 

We want to keep trying to make the episodes, have people come to visit, try the bike, see their feedback, ride different stuff, have fun!


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