Vichy Catalan, circa 2012
I really can’t pinpoint the exact circumstances that led to my first meeting with Damien Nosella and David George (D+D) – it was most probably via a contact at Commencal but memories of that early visit to Andorra, where both firms are based, are hazy at best. (It was quite a while ago, and while being guided around the fantastic trails of the small country by a holiday firm I was also misguided by this duo on a number of late night occasions.)
Through whatever means, our first introduction came at a small café in one of La Massana’s (the town at the foot of Vallnord Bike Park) busy little streets in 2012. I approached our meeting point and through the large panes of glass set eyes on the prominent duo: Damien a tall beast with design and engineering background hailing from Val d’Isere’s mighty peaks; David another Frenchman from an altogether flatter region, a history in retail, and an equally wild look to him. I entered, we shook hands and then the enthusiasm flowed. I have never met two company owners with less of an agenda than Damien and David.
We probably chatted bikes and riding and histories and everything that an industry visit might normally include, but the standout memory from that meeting was the sparkling water. It went something like this: “You have to try a Vichy Catalan, with lemon and ice, it’s our favourite, the best water anywhere.” Besides the fact they were correct, the reason this memory sticks out is from the simultaneous mischievous grins that stared across the table at me. This gave into a tight bond, two like minds that had come together when they both moved to Andorra to work at Commencal and, having both left the brand amicably the year before my visit (they are still friendly with owner Max and the staff at the company to this day), had formed an Andorran splinter group in the form of Production Privée (PP). They set out with the intention of being able to focus on perfecting products that would not make the commercial cut amidst a bigger firm with more mouths to feed. Niche stuff for core riders.
It was easy to look at these two and think they had a great future ahead of them, especially because very early into the setting up of PP a well known enterprising neighbour by the name of Cedric Gracia became heavily involved in the company.
Throughout that week in Andorra these two kept popping up, but never in a deliberate way. Out on the trails they were testing their flagship bike at the time – the stunning Shan hardtail (which went on to receive top honours in a Dirt Mag review) – they were in the bike shops talking product and, above all, they were never too far from the bar. They always looked like they were having a whale of a time.
On one particular night in a sleepy haunt in Arinsal (a popular place to stay just outside La Massana), a frail-looking figure hobbling on crutches turned up to the table, someone clearly a shadow of his former self, in body that is, not mind (as the ensuing carnage proved). It was the man himself, Gracia, who had recently escaped death as he battled the odds in an Italian hospital after his horrendous 2012 Val di Sole World Cup crash, in which he essentially disintegrated his pelvis and went on to suffer great internal bleeding. The crew told the story of how, once eventually back on home soil, they had wheeled him straight out of hospital and into an Andorran bar (at his wish!) to celebrate his making it through. The tight bond between ambassador and brand was clear, and it most certainly remains to this day.
I’m happy to say that on my most recent trip to Andorra in September 2015 for the World Championships, I was able to visit PP’s newly established office and, walking through the glass doors on a street adjacent to where I first met the duo, I was greeted by a still-smiling D+D and their New Zealand distributor who was in for a meeting – just part of the network in what is now a globally recognised brand. Shiny Shan and Oka frames adorned the walls, clear workspace for three (having just signed up a further full time member of staff to help out at Andorra HQ) stated growing aspirations, and the abundance of in-house R+D space showed that attention to detail is still of foremost importance.
For a small setup, these guys have it going on and they have finally broken into the big(ish) time after several years of home office, scrimping and saving. But fear not, when Damien says “It happened because it was meant to happen,” or that “it’s all about the details in Production Privée,” he’s talking about their new table football table, not the business. In between the lost hours of sleep, the serious graft and the devotion to constantly building and improving their brand and products, it’s all still fun and games.
Start small, ensure that the products are the absolute best they can be, and build on that at a natural pace. From stems and bars to frames and full builds, the PP range is now more rounded than ever. It is increasing in numbers but maintaining its scrutiny of every component that has the PP name to it.
Here’s a brief look over the range.
Head over to the PP website for more details on their entire product range.
THE MAIN SHOW: CR35
Now we get to the new, as yet unreleased CR35 grips, a story in the making.
This is something that has been in development for two years, and for Damien and David it is the pearl in the company’s story. Apparently with this one they had to ask themselves whether it was a “false good idea” (a French expression). They decided that in fact it was an idea worth pursuing, and now they are finally ready to unleash a simple yet innovative product, one that probably won’t change lives but that will almost certainly be seen on a large number of bikes. They also have a patent on the idea so they’ll be keeping hold of it, so to speak.
The basics of the CR35 are simple: the sweep rear and upward of a handlebar can make a great difference to many elements of a bike and its rider – one degree positive or negative rear or upward sweep change can adjust weight balance, or hand fatigue, or simply just change a rider’s cockpit setup from comfy to ugly. With their grip and its offset inner sleeve a quick loosen and twist will change the effective sweep of the bar (see 3D images in gallery below).
With their grip and its offset inner sleeve a quick loosen and twist will change the effective sweep of the bar
Basic, elementary, just one of those things no one had thought of before. Whether you see this as a game-changer or just a novelty, I know for one that the idea intrigues me.
In tongue-in-cheek summary David put it this way: “Customers might like our stuff, but not the exact shape. [With this], you can have a Renthal…” Damien also notes that he uses his asymmetrically due to having a partially locked-out elbow from a previous injury – we’ll put them down in the “medical use” category too then.
With the cost estimated to fight with leading competitors in lock-on grips (between 20-30 euros), weight of around 120 grams for the pair and a diameter of 31mm, with the outermost 8mm of the grip increasing to 33mm, they will be a way to customise your ride without shelling out heavily. They are still in prototype “rubber testing” stage, but are set to be on the market by the end of the year.
The pair that you see in these images is 3D printed in the UK – for ease of prototyping – while the finished version is injection-moulded rubber. And the pattern is, as with everything PP, racing car related: the classic Dunlop CR65 tread pattern.
View from the throne
Damien and David’s passion, patience and dogged determination have combined to create a fruitful and sustainable business, a great example of the small man making it in a world of corporate giants. And with their attitude – work hard, play hard, practice what you preach – they’ll continue to grow and gain fans around the world.
I have omitted the tales of woe that have occurred along the way in getting to this stage – the cock ups, the struggles, the stress. They of course exist, as do hiccups in the story of any company on the rise, but the path to success is very rarely smooth. I’m sure that while gazing over the picturesque Andorran valley from the throne of the miniature empire they have created for themselves, Damien and David must feel great satisfaction in the creation of the exact company they wanted.
For more details, head over to the PP website: www.production-privee.com