Our young and enthusiastic R&D team, live, breathe (and not surprisingly) ride bikes…all day. Creating a bike is very much a team effort, but we often have one person who is the 'man behind the bike', and in the case of our all-new MISSION CX, that is pretty much our road product management, Benjamin Diemer. We got together with Benjamin to find out a little bit more what the thinking and the motivation behind our new cyclocross bike is.
Benjamin, we have had a very successful cyclocross range within the MERIDA line-up for a number of years….
1.) What was the reason behind creating a new CX bike?
The old CYCLO CROSS frame was already great; however, it started to look a little ‘aged’ so it was time to give it a proper overhaul. We wanted to bring it in line with the rest of the MERIDA range and also bring it up-to-date with the latest standards.
2.) The ‘old’ CYCLO CROSS was hugely successful but what are the main differences between the ‘old’ CYCLO CROSS and the ‘new’ MISSION CX?
The new MISSION CX frame is not just a facelift from the old CYCLO CROSS range. Our new frame was developed from the ground up, and we wanted to make sure that it fits into the design language of the existing MERIDA range. From a technical point of view, we wanted to give the frame a more ‘modern’ geometry as well as increase toe and tyre clearance rather dramatically. The result was that now you can run 35mm tyres with mudguards if you are looking at turning your MISSION CX into a fast commuter or training bike. Besides that, the new frame features 12mm through axles front and back as well as flat mount disc brake mounts, both of which have established themselves as firm standards on disc road bikes. On top of that, we are using the proven Smart Entry System on the new MISSION CX frames for simple and rattle free internal cable routing.
3.) Besides the actual product, the name has also changed rather significantly. What is the story there?
The name ‘CYCLO CROSS’ was simply too close to the actual description of the segment, which more often than not was confusing for our customers. On the look for a new name, we came across the name ‘MISSION’ rather early on. Why ‘MISSION’ you ask? My colleagues had the vision of seeing me on that bike, winning races, so they always described it as ‘MY’ MISSION. In fact it was called ‘Benni’s MISSION CROSS’ in the office, which later on was replaced by the more defined and shorter ‘MISSION CX’.
4.) Our R&D team is a fairly tight-knit group, and our bikes are very much a group effort, but why was it you, who took on the ‘lead’ on our new MISSION CX?
That’s true, all our projects are teamwork. Everybody contributes to each project including the designers, engineers, mechanics, product manager and obviously our boss. The product managers are involved in all aspects of the process, including the frame concept, design, decals and last but not least the specification. That’s the reason why we product managers often act as mediators who coordinate the various steps of the project. In our German-based R&D Centre we currently have three product manager: Reynaldo Ilagan as the Head of Product Management is involved in all categories but also looks specifically after the MTB projects, then we have Jens Lange who looks after trekking (hybrid), gravel and E-trekking (E-hybrid) and last but not least myself who focuses on performance E-bikes and the performance road bikes which include the new MISSION CX.
5.) We have noticed a change in the popularity of the cyclocross segment. What do you think are the reasons behind that and where do you think will the cyclocross segment go from here?
Cyclo-Cross is a specific category. The races in Europe take place in the winter and require not just endurance and technique but also the ability and the will to compete in cold, wet and muddy conditions. But it seems, that particularly the ‘extreme’ side of the sport attracts more and more people to take part. On top of that many of the big cyclocross events attract huge numbers of spectators as it is exciting to watch, not to drawn out and in particular in the Benelux offer a real party or carnival atmosphere.
But besides the racing element, it is also the growing trend of ‘gravel’ that has given the slightly related cyclo cross-discipline an extra boost. Bikes with dropped handlebars, which perform well on as well as off the roads have become more and more popular over the years. Obviously, a niche like cyclocross, fits rather well into that new trend. Gravel riding has a far less competitive edge as versatility and the feeling of ‘breaking out’ is far more the elements people are looking for. That is one of the reasons why we at MERIDA keep these two segments separately. Our cyclocross bike is the MISSION CX and our gravel bike is the SILEX. We have recently put a little effort into an article, which explains the differences and the overlaps. This might be interesting reading for riders who are not 100% sure which bike is the better fit for them. Have a look here for all the details.
6.) The MERIDA range has another ‘off-road’ dropped handlebar bike in the range – the SILEX. To lots of people, the SILEX and the MISSION CX look very similar. Can you tell us the key differences between the two bikes, and perhaps explain (besides the obvious) who these two bikes are aimed at?
MISSION CX = Competition. The geometry is sporty and the components are for more performance orientated. The frame is UCI approved and therefore can be used in UCI sanctioned cyclocross competitions.
SILEX = Gravel. The geometry is far more upright and comfort orientated. The specification is aimed at touring and adventure trips (‘EVERY ROAD IS YOURS’). Besides that, the frame offers a large number of attachments points for racks, mudguards, bags and bottle cages, in comparison to the MISSION CX. The carbon SILEX can be used with 650b wheels, which can be up to 2” wide. The SILEX frame is not UCI approved, therefore cannot be used in UCI sanctioned competitions.
7.) What does your normal working day look like? We know it is not all about riding bikes, but gives us a bit of an idea what it is involved to bring a new bike to life?
The PM job is super versatile and to just pick one day does not really reflect that. Besides that, the job never really stops. Cycling is one of my main hobbies and therefore I constantly think about how we can improve our products, while I am out on a ride. That is the same for all of us in the R&D team. Even when we get together just as friends for a spin, we constantly talk bikes, very much to the displeasure of our partners. However, we don’t just ride bikes, even that is an important part of what we do. Only if you test and experience a product or a part, then you can really find out if it works. That is one of the reasons why we try to spend as much time as possible on our bikes. Saying that though, the vast majority of our time in spend sitting at a computer, working on specifications, answering emails and communicating with our factory in Twain, with suppliers and with our international distributors. As a PM at MERIDA you are responsible for products, which are already in the market as well as for the ones, which are currently in production, and the ones, which are in planning. Up to 5 times a year we head over to Taiwan to our Factory and HQ to check on the progress of various projects, for meetings with our Taiwanese colleagues and with suppliers. Another element of our job is to present our products to the media, distributors, their sales staff as well as their dealers. Besides our own MERIDA events, we try to visit as many distributors and media contacts as possible or alternatively invite them to our R&D centre in Magstadt for some in-depth product presentations and some time on our local test tracks.
8.) When not sitting over spreadsheets or visiting the factory, what does Benjamin Diemer get up to? What sort of riding do you do, and do you have lots of other hobbies besides THE BIKE?
Bikes have always dominated my life. When I was around 8 years old I started playing Cycle-ball (Radball in German). I am still involved in the sport and I currently play in the 2nd highest league in Germany. In the summertime, I race the occasional amateur road race, preferably criteriums. I really enjoy hammering around the corners and it fascinates me what sort of speeds you can generate yourself. There were times when I wasn’t doing anything else than race my bike and I very much had the dream of becoming a professional back then. I even raced for a MERIDA sponsored team, however it never occurred to me that I might be working at MERIDA at some point. Today I have to admit to myself that my PM job is so much better than being a professional cyclist, nevertheless, I still love my road bikes and spend an awful lot of time on my beloved REACTO DISC. However, I am not a ‘road only’ man. Over the last few years, I have rediscovered riding on trails. We have lots of good stuff near the office, which are ever so inviting for an off-road ride with my friends. Here we often grab our eMTBs (eONE-SIXTY, eONE-TWENTY) and enjoy a well-deserved ‘post-ride’ beer back in Stuttgart. For my daily commute, I normally take the MISSION CX (in particular if I am in a hurry) or the SILEX (if I have to carry a few extra things to the office).
9.) Before you joined MERIDA’s R&D department, what did you do?
I have done a few different things and as I mentioned above, I spend a few years after school just racing my bike. After that, I studied business administration (BWL) focusing on project management and logistics. I did various placements at Daimler and Bosch Automotive before I got into a management program at a large Insurance and finally found my dream job as a product manager at MERIDA.
Thanks a lot for your time Benjamin. We are very much looking forward to testing a new MISSION CX over the upcoming winter months and see how it performs in the gritty conditions which we, without a doubt, find out there.
For more details on the new MISSION CX line-up please click here.