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The Chris Shotwell Interview | Fathering the Avid Shorty Ultimate Cyclocross Brake

20091121_PikesPeakCX2_0027I am not sure what it is…perhaps it was the gravitation of two crusty former East Coasters (which Chris and I are) which pulled us together or some other serendipitous event, but as long as I can remember ‘crossing in Colorado, I‘d always seen Chris Shotwell (the man also known as ‘Shotty’) zip around the course clad in SRAM kit on the cleanest and most progressive looking bikes. His was the first I’d seen with SRAM Force componentry before countless Pros and weekend warriors alike ‘made the leap’. Over the years he and I got to know each other…talking of our passion for ‘cross, blogging (see Chris’ blog ‘Veldrijden Colorado’ here), beer and of course finely made bicycle componentry.

Fast forward to this summer when the fine folks at SRAM/Avid outfit the Boulder Cycle Sport Ambassadors Team with their latest and greatest brakes: the Shorty Ultimates. I was fascinated with them and fell in love with their simplicity, ease of set up…and as I spoke about, their near eradication of the horrible brake chatter issues I’d been complaining about. So seeing Shotty earlier this season, I basically gushed at him with praise for Avid’s work on the product and that for what it was worth, this racer was emotionally attached to them. This is when Shotty, the completely humble guy that he is, says: “Glad you like ‘em, man. They were my project.”

And so at that moment I realized: Whoa. Here is a guy I know and trust, that I see race hard every weekend, and I know is geeked as much as I am on this sport put his CAD pencil to digital paper and designed a new braking system for all of us. That is some blog-able stuff!

So, without further adieu, let me introduce you to Chris Shotwell as we talk brakes, cross and Stybar.

OK, Shotty, let’s nerd-out and talk a little bit about these new brakes!


M&C: A true crosser is responsible for this amazing! Tell us what inspired your design from your years of racing cyclocross?

imageShotty: When Avid was producing the Tri-Align brakes back in the day, it was the canti-brake that I used exclusively for cross. It was a great stopper so we wanted to recycle a few of those Tri-Align features into the Shorty Ultimate. We've adopted the same spring preload adjustment from that brake and aimed to make toe-in adjustment and pad replacement as simple as possible. I also spent a season racing on a set of BB7 discs on a Lemond Poprad a few years back. I quickly became a convert due to amount of power and control and started making all kinds of brazen statements about how I would never switch back to rim brakes. Ultimately, weight won that debate and I went back to Shorty's. But trying to squeak as much power as possible out of a canti was definitely a goal with the Shorty Ultimate.

M&C Why aluminum for the Ultimate's application? Was magnesium or carbon contemplated? 

Shotty: Both these materials were considered but Aluminum wins the cost to weight benefit analysis every time. We forge the upright pad arm so it results in a lightweight but very rigid part. the stiffness of this part lends itself to the power and lack of chatter, this would have not been possible in some more fashionable materials.


M&C: Brake chatter has been the bane of the existence of racers and mechanics alike. What, specifically, was applied to this design to combat that behavior? 

Shotty: We wanted to tuck the caliper in as close to the fork as possible and stiffen up the vertical arm that pivots on the boss that holds the brake pad. While we may not be able to address all brake pad/rim combinations that will potentially induce the harmonics and chatter, these two ideas went a long way towards addressing this issue.


M&C: Why the variable arm positions in the Ultimate's application? Beyond heel clearance in the back, does it serve any other purpose? 

Shotty: Personal preference. There are some benefits to the wide stance such as mud clearance, yet the narrow stance nets almost a 20% increase in power over the wide stance. The original concept of this brake was a "convertible canti" where the user can set up the brake depending on course conditions and personal preference.  Wellens ran his in the wide stance primarily, Stybar chose narrow.

M&C: How long did it take this project see the light of day? 

Shotty: Just over a year from prototype phase to production. The timing worked nicely for development as we were evolving the brake continually during last years cross season. Jesse Anthony was a test pilot for us and started the season on a pre-production set at CrossVegas. The concept of a adjustable stance we talked about earlier actually started  2 years ago by a co-worker. The project suffered a premature death due to a slew of reasons but we wanted to bring the concept to reality and I started the design project in the Spring of 09.

Shotty CupcakeLet’s hear a little about you, man!

M&C: What is your role at SRAM? How did you come to work for the component giant? 

Shotty: My title is design engineer. I started in product development at Rockshox as an R&D tech back in 93 and travelled the globe covered in hydro fluid and tuning suspension for world cup riders. After almost 6 years of that, my wife and I decided to move from California back to Maine where she's originally from to participate in " the way life should be"(Maine's other motto). While back East, I remained in the bike industry but longed to return to a product development role and kept tabs on a close friend whom I had worked with at Rockshox prior to and then through to the SRAM acquisition. After a few years of constant pestering, a position opened up on the Avid team that I was fortunately able to fill.

M&C: While you have just created this work of speed-shaving art, tell us your thoughts on disc brakes for cyclocross. We know that weight is key and clearly stopping 'power' is not the goal in cross 'braking' (speed shaving is) but what are your thoughts as to getting a true disc brake for racing purposes?

Shotty: It's no secret that powerful brakes allow faster riding when you have the ability to properly manage that power.  I love that discs are allowed, but I think it's going to take time for the cross community to adopt this technology because weight is such an overriding factor right now. But discs have a place in the road market and It'll drive some really interesting developments with frame and wheel integration as well.

StybarM&C: OK, here’s a personality test: Quick! Wellens or Nys? Even Nys can be seen using the Ultimate's this year, but who's your pick and why? 

Shotty: Actually, I'm going to have to go with Stybar! In the pro ranks, it takes a massive amount of faith in a product to make a wholesale switch halfway through a season. He made that switch to the Shorty Ultimate and most of the Fidea guys ( Wellens included ) were using these brakes by the conclusion of the last season. This year the Cannondale/ team and Katie Compton have adopted the Ultimates.

M&C: What motivates you?

Shotty: What motivates me is the SRAM culture. There is quite a collection of some very passionate, very bright people designing bike parts for a living here. I don't see how that atmosphere and culture cannot motivate a dyed in the wool bike geek like myself.

M&C: The bike industry is obviously a passion-place for it's employees. Did you work in any other industries? 

Cross Nationals SeattleShotty: There are other industries? No, I've worked in bike shops from high school through college and have never deviated from that path.

M&C: Dude, you are a true racer nerd like all of us. How long have you been in this game?

Shotty:1992 was my first race while, although I didn't really start in earnest until 1995 while living in California, I was "sponsored" by Independent Fabrications and racing the Surf City Cyclocross series on a regular basis. I rode Nationals at SEATAC in 96 and have extremely fond memories of hub deep mud puddles, hypothermia, and getting lapped by the McCormack brothers.


So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed learning more about Shotty and the fantastic product he help inspire and bring to market.

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