Unassuming, often recoiling from media attention, Olivier Bossard prefers to do the hard work of developing suspension products that win World Cup DH titles rather than sitting down for an interview. When asked about his approach to the relationship between product development and marketing, he blithely remarked, “When I start to develop a new product I never think about marketing. I just want to make something that works great.”
While this engineering first approach generates world class products, it often means that Bossard’s work frequently goes unnoticed.
And that’s a shame.
When the history of mountain biking is told, it often begins with the tale of Gary Fisher and the bikes that Tom Ritchey built for him to sell to the world. Fisher may be the Henry Ford of mountain biking, but Olivier Bossard is without doubt the Carol Shelby of our sport. Partnering with frame manufacturer Max Commencal, Bossard used his engineering know-how to completely dominate World Cup downhill racing for a decade. Nico Vouilloz, Anne-Caroline Chausson, and Cedric Gracia rode Bossard’s dampers and suspension linkages to more World Championship titles than any other team in downhill racing history.
Bossard was so successful he lost interest in mountain bikes and began looking for a new challenge, developing suspension for World Rally Championship and Dakar Rally cars. Working with rally legend, Carlos Sainz, Bossard built suspension for the discerning—and notoriously passionate—Spaniard that carried him to two stage wins, along with one second and one third place stage finish in 2014 Dakar Rally. After roughly an eight-year hiatus from the mountain bike racing world, Bossard has returned to his roots. “We won in rally racing, so it was time for a new challenge.”
Much of this success is owed to Bossard’s scientific approach to racing, where data is king. With proprietary data-acquisition equipment and engineers on staff dedicated solely to analyzing it, Bossard leverages this expertise to win. The 2013 Vallnord, Andorra stage of the World Cup Downhill series proved the efficacy of Bossard’s approach. Remy Thirion charged to a spectacular win there on the most demanding track of the year.
Beating out all the race favorites, downhill fans were surprised by the performance, but Bossard wasn’t, “When I looked at the last set of Thirion’s data acquisition numbers I already knew we had won. I’ve seen it so many times before with Nico and Anne-Caroline that I can feel when we will win and there were no doubts in my mind.”
The win proved to be the first-ever accomplished on an air-sprung shock. When asked if he will use data aquisition more this year Bossard calmly stated, “We want to win, so, yes, we will.”
Evolving product to perform at the highest level, Bossard eschews radical changes to damper architecture. Preferring open-bath dampers for long-travel forks such as the Idyll and Deville rather than the ubiquitous cartridge dampers found in his competitor’s forks, Bossard is quietly confident that he has a superior product. “We use open-bath to provide sensitivity.
“Motocross bikes use cartridge dampers because with they are heavy and they do not have to be as sensitive. With mountain bikes, sensitivity is very important…We’ve tried to make internal floating-piston cartridges many times but they were never as sensitive as an open-bath damper.” When asked if he experimented with bladder-equipped cartridges like those found on the RockShox Charger damper and Fox Fit damper, Bossard was quick to note, “Bladders preload the oil, so we don’t use them.”
When asked to explain how BOS’ dampers could compete with the consistency of a cartridge system he abruptly stated, “Ride it. See for yourself.” When pressed further on how BOS forks overcome the issue of damper oil foaming issues that open bath systems can suffer from, Bossard remarked, “We use better oil. It does not foam. The oil in these forks is the same oil that we use in the Dakar Rally shocks. They go 6000 miles without a problem.” Bossard went on to cryptically explain, “There is also something inside the damper that prevents foaming.”
This year BOS continues to sponsor the Commencal DH team, but is also sponsoring Mick Hannah and the rest of the Hutchinson-United Ride team. When we inquired what the difference between the teams was Olivier motioned with his hands as he explained, “Hutchinson-United Ride are on another level.” Bossard went on to say, “Mick Hannah is very talented and is very good to work with when testing product…I think we will see good results this year.” The feedback that Hannah has provided during testing has led to the development of an updated damper that Bossard calls, “revolutionary.”
For an engineer that has built his career on small, incremental, and evolutionary changes to his designs, this is big news. We asked him to provide us with more details but all he would divulge is that the damper was not entirely new but that a key component has been changed that will result in a big performance upgrade. Given how good BOS Suspension already is, we have a hard time wrapping our head around what that could mean. Unfortunately we will have to wait until next year to find out, when the research and development is complete. Bossard quietly said, “Carlos Sainz and Mick Hannah racing on it now.”
All we know is that they must be having the ride of their lives.