I LIKE IT RAAW – Interview with Ruben Torenbeek, founder of RAAW
Enduro bikes have evolved dramatically over the last few years, and Ruben Torenbeek as a designer and engineer for one of the biggest names in the game has been actively involved in their evolution. Ultimately, however, no bike from any one the major brands could fully convince him. So he launched his own brand: RAAW Mountain Bikes. We interviewed him to find out more about his motivation to do so, why he thinks he can do it better, and to get the inside scoop on the first RAAW bike, the Madonna.
Hi Ruben, having worked behind the scenes up until now, many of our readers will be hearingyour name for the first time. Why don’t you introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do?
Hi, Ruben Torenbeek, born in the Netherlands and at home in Allgäu/Germany. I am a bike engineer and product designer, most recently worked at SCOTT in Switzerland and started my own business at the beginning of 2016. After some freelance projects, I decided to realise my own ideas and have been working full-time for over a year on the Madonna and the RAAW brand (check out our first review of the RAAW Madonna).
How did you have the idea to build your own bike?
There were many ideas that I wanted to implement. It has always been my dream to develop and sell my own products. A year ago everything came together, and I decided to found RAAW. I want to showcase what is possible with aluminium with the RAAW bikes. There are many dogmas in the bike industry that are simply not right or are overrated. Design that takes into account the overall handling of a bike doesn’t get the attention it deserves, for example, balancing the geometry with the kinematics of the rear linkage as opposed to focusing on individual design aspects like the head angle, chain stay length, and travel in isolation. Also, the focus on weight and carbon is misplaced in my opinion. Lighter isn’t always better in the world of enduro. Meanwhile, the issues of durability and functionality aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
The subject of durability and reliability seems to play a major role for you, how has this come about? Was it frustration that moved you to build the Madonna?
The subject is completely underrated. There are hardly any bikes on the market where the suspension’s bearings last a whole season. It’s sad, but end consumers kind of just accept it. Enduro bikes have become more capable over the years and riders have got better and faster. With bike parks now full of enduro bikes, the bikes simply get to see a lot more abuse compared to a few years ago. But after a single season, the bikes are finished. The bike’s performance suffers; how can a shock function well when the ball bearings no longer rotate smoothly? I think there will be some changes in that direction. But the big players will need a little more time for that. Of course, It has annoyed me in recent years that so often so much has broken on mine and my friends bikes. On the one hand, this has motivated me to do it better, and on the other hand, there is a risk involved; enduro bikes get ridden very hard nowadays, and the expectations are just getting higher and higher but I wanted to take a step in the right direction with the Madonna.
How do you achieve improved durability?
Many of the improvements have been introduced at the design stage. The rear pivots feature very large ball bearings with improved RAAW design seals. Also, the design of the frame benefits from the large surfaces, which spread forces more effectively, and, for example, the massive construction of the chainstay. We also focussed on the small details – such as ample tire clearance and lots of room for shoes to pass the chainstays – ensuring that the Madonna is ready for many seasons of abuse.
There are so many mountain bikes out there now, what makes the RAAW Madonna so special and who should buy it?
The Madonna is an enduro bike designed for the roughest tracks, yet it’s easy to ride uphill and propels forwards efficiently in sprints. Being seated centrally on the bike, pedalling is efficient and going downhill the Madonna has reserves where other bikes are at their limit. The Madonna is made for guys and girls who like to get on the gas.
When it comes to the rear end, you rely on a classic four-bar system. What was your reasoning here?
The large rocker link ensures a leverage ratio that decreases very constantly and thus achieves 20 % progression. On the trail, this gives you a lot of confidence. The high main pivot point ensures that good anti-squat values are achieved which provides efficient pedalling. The brake has little effect on the first bit of the travel and that in turn keeps the rear end sensitive. Speaking of which: The high leverage ratio at the beginning of the travel and the ball bearings on the shock mount make the rear triangle respond like a DH bike with a coil shock, even with a DPX2-air shock installed.
The Madonna is only available in aluminium. In times when almost everything is made of carbon, you rely on metal. What’s the reason for that?
Aluminium is a super material, and with the Madonna, I want to show what can be done with CNC machining, hydroforming, and forging. Carbon may have its justification in the XC sector, but for me, not in the enduro sector.
What, in your opinion, speaks against carbon?
Sustainability, impact resistance and complexity. Carbon cannot be recycled properly, which shouldn’t be underestimated. Another big problem is the ability to absorb impacts from crashes or flying stones and rocks. Aluminium can withstand much more and even dented it will carry on functioning for a long time. Another topic is the complexity of carbon construction. This topic is not often raised because one could logically answer with: “So you just don’t have the knowledge.” The reality is, however, that very few brands have the knowledge and experience to check what’s going on in their carbon frames. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a product that contains this Black Magic. If you want a carbon frame, then buy one from a manufacturer that shows how they build them, like a new bike that was recently presented in England (editor’s note: he’s talking about the Hope HB.160). But then there are still problems with impact resistance and sustainability. In the worst case, you have an enduro bike that is too light and slows you down because it lacks stability. With Cross-Country-bikes, which are dependent on a very good acceleration, it’s a different matter of course.
Weight is a good keyword: At 3.6 kg your frame is not light, but is it too heavy? And couldn’t you have made it lighter?
Many enduro frames weigh more than 3.5 kg, and carbon frames now often weigh more than 3 kg. I don’t think that’s bad, though. A bike that is too light will be nervous. Uphill and in general the pedalling efficiency and the central sitting position of the Madonna are much more important. Everyone who has ridden the bike so far was very surprised how well the Madonna goes uphill.
RAAW is new to the market and hasn’t yet earned the trust other brands enjoy; is there a way to “try before you buy”?
Of course, there are test events. You can book ahead to make sure you get a seat. All the details can be found on our website.
Currently, you are starting with an aluminium frame kit – are there any other plans?
Next year there will be complete bikes, and the Madonna could be getting a little sister at some point. However, I would like to take it one step at a time and not rush into anything.
One more time, briefly and succinctly: Why should I buy the RAAW Madonna?
Briefly and succinctly? Because with the Madonna, you can keep on pushing where other bikes are at their limit. It performs on the downhills as well as when pedalling, its longevity and functionality is on another level and it will get you KOM’s, get you ahead of your friends and just provide a great time on the bike.
Thank you for the interview!
You can find more information about RAAW Madonna on the official website.