By Jeremy Berger
on 6.19.13
Photo by Mike Kane

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to design bicycles. Dammit, nevermind: yes it does.

Damon Rinard is one serious bicycle designer. He’s Senior R&D Engineer and Race Engineer for Canadian bike maker Cervélo, the most popular brand at the Ironman World Championship at Kona several years running. Rinard is the rare mix of brain and brawn: he holds a graduate degree in mechanical engineering; he’s a former engineer at an aerospace company; a multidisciplinary bike racer; the creator of Spocalc, the leading spoke length calculation tool in the English-speaking world; and, of course, one of the key players behind Cervélo’s super fast, sexy bikes. As he puts it, “I literally wrote the book on how to design Cervelos: The VWD Bicycle Design Guidelines”.

Since we included Cervélo’s premier triathlon bike, the P5, in our buying guide, it’s only fitting that we’d find out a little more about the guy who made it.

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Q.
What’s one thing every man should know?
A.
They say leave no stone unturned. I say start with the big ones.

Q.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A.
Going back to university a second time to get my mechanical engineering degree.

Q.
What are you working on right now?
A.
The next Cervélo bike. It’s faster. Sorry I can’t tell you more.

They say leave no stone unturned. I say start with the big ones.

Q.
Name one thing you can’t live without.
A.
My Samsung SIII smart phone. It’s great for travel — keeps me up to date and in touch and has maps & navigation when I need it.

Q:
Who or what influences you?
A:
Data. The strong, pure drive to engineer bikes that make riders faster. In bicycle design, every single feature, dimension, material choice and design element must be chosen for a specific, functional reason, proven to improve performance with an objective measurement tied to real-life racing. And yet in the end the bike must still work perfectly: no compromises.

Q.
What are you reading right now?
A.
Dan Empfield’s Slowtwitch forum.

Q.
Name one thing no one knows about you.
A.
I used to write songs and play them on the piano.

Q.
It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A.
Last? No long-term health consequences? McDonald’s hamburger happy meal with onion rings and apple pie. Dr. Pepper, no ice. Fast, simple, satisfying.

Q.
If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A.
Be yourself, fearlessly.

Q.
How do you want to be remembered?
A.
Helpful, kind, generous, calm, good listener.

Q.
What’s your favorite place to ride?
A.
Limoux, in the South of France. Beautiful roads on beautiful rolling terrain in all directions. Low car traffic, drivers who know how to go around a bike. Small enough to be welcoming, big enough for all my needs.

Q.
What’s the most interesting thing happening in cycling?
A.
The science of comfort. What lab metrics correlate best with humans’ perception of various levels of vibration? What are human riders’ Just Noticeable Differences (JND) in sensing transmitted vibration? What parts of the bike affect vibration transmission or isolation? How different are the most and least transmissive examples of each? What structural characteristics affect vibration transmission and isolation? How can we predict the vibration transmission and isolation characteristics of a new design before a physical example exists? What are the potential trade-offs inherent in optimizing a new design for comfort?

Q.
You must like to tinker.
A.
I hand-made a few Kestrel track bikes (Shaun Wallace raced one to the silver medal at the Pro World Championships in 1992), rolled my own road rims into mountain bike rims, and built my own carbon fibre bike frame in my garage.

Get an education on bikes in the “Ask the Engineers” section of the Cervelo website, where Rinard and other engineers answer reader-submitted questions. cervelo.com. And thanks to Mike Kane for the photos. His work can be found at mikekanephotos.com.
limits-promo-logoThis interview is part of a new original GP series, LIMITS, dedicated to exploring the physical and mental borderlands of human capability. And beyond.