Formula One know-how drives Jon's super-bike

Jon Whyte is perhaps the chief British beneficiary of the new- found hipness of the global bicycle industry. Having joined the California- based Marin after a decade in motor-racing, he is responsible for what is arguably the most talked-about bicycle on the market, writes Roger Trapp.

Using the knowledge picked up while working for the March and Benetton Formula One teams, he has come up with a revolutionary design for the current cycling craze: full-suspension, with shock absorbers at the rear of the bike in addition to the front forks.

In the past, suspension has been sold as a performance enhancer. Mr Whyte saw it as adding comfort. "Suspension has been undersold on comfort," he says, pointing out that now that he is in his 40s, he wants to ride across country without suffering aches the next day.

Given that such bikes cost about pounds 1,000 and are selling well, it is a fair bet that other users are looking for such benefits. The FRS range he has produced for Marin are attracting rave reviews.

It all began when Mr Whyte started thinking he could transfer some of what he had learned in Formula 1 to cycling. A contact put him in touch with ATB Sales, the UK agent for Marin, and he was given a bike to work on. ATB managing director, Guy Ferrand, liked what he saw and, says Mr Whyte, "one thing led to another", with Marin signing him to take responsibility for the models.

Marin's factories are in Taiwan, but Whyte remains in Cheltenham, close to his favourite Cotswolds cycling trails. He has a makeshift office and sends his computer-produced designs via electronic mail. Because he is left to himself he can design a bike "from start to finish in a fortnight" and then the company can produce it in six months. He is now working on transferring the approach to other types of bikes.

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