How Patrick Morewood put PYGA on the map
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, all matters mountain biking are the focus of attention on this podcast, as you know by now. Thanks for downloading. We meet and greet people who have a passion for mountain biking. We meet so many people who have a passion for mountain biking who jut ride their bikes. We have people who run events and we have people who build routes and trail.
Also people who design and construct bikes. It’s great to be able to talk to Patrick Morewood who is sitting alongside me now, the man behind PYGA mountain bikes. Patrick, thanks for joining us here. Let’s go right back, when did you first ride a mountain bike?
Patrick Morewood: I would say the first year was about 1989.
GDK: What grabbed you about it?
PM: Just the freedom of being able to ride anywhere, coming off a BMX bike, you had a track and we used to ride up the road to the BMX track. But the mountain bike allowed you to ride on the streets, ride through the bush and find new trails. There weren’t trails in those days, so we used to make them.
GDK: This is all in Pietermaritzburg?
PM: That’s right.
Getting into bike design
GDK: Which is where you started out your business. Tell us how that all germinated, your first bike building design business.
PM: I originally studied jewellery design at Tech and thought I was going to be a jeweller and make lots of money and sort of lost interest in that. When I was riding bikes and that sort of took over and started making odds and ends for bikes to make them a bit better.
In about 1996 I went to the UK for a year, worked at Evans Cycles and raced there. When I came home I decided I’d really like to make a bike. In about 1998/99 I made my first bike when I was working at the University in Durban.
GDK: Under the Morewood brand?
PM: Yes, I just had to come up with a name and I just called it Morewood .
GDK: It’s one thing to say: I want to build bikes, but there’s a hell of a lot, even to that first bike surely?
PM: I knew nothing! It was a case of getting some metal and welding it and that’s what I thought. Really, the essence of it is, but it’s about getting the right materials, the right welding process, the right machinery to weld, heat treatment, structurally. All of those things come into play. So it took me a lot of trial and error.
GDK: Did you learn all of this as you moved along and as you’ve continued to build?
PM: The very first bikes I made while I was there at the university, as I said. Once the first bike broke, I went and did a bit of research just to make sure that I knew what the materials were and how they should go together and the whole process. I got that right, then it was about the structure.
You have bikes breaking and then you need gussets and in those days there weren’t really hydroformed tubes, it was all round tubes with gusseting. So it was a really fun time learning and redesigning the whole time until things were right. Things are never ever right with any bike, but you’ve got to get it as right as possible.
Local is lekker
GDK: That’s an interesting point you make there, we might come back to that, revisit that, but now Morewood is history. You’ve started up the PYGA brand which is clearly making great strides in SA, as a South African brand, which I think is what makes it, apart from the great quality of the bikes, so special.
PM: Being South African and designing bikes, for me, is something special. There’s not a lot of people who do it. There are a few South African brands but very few of which actually design bikes and know about the suspension and what have you. I’m not a guru or anything, I just do what I want in a bike.
I obviously have a very good understanding of how it works and there’s no one particular suspension that is way streets above another. Many of them are very similar, but it’s about how you put it together in the whole package, with the geometry. How much of one thing you have versus another thing within that design to make a good bike.
GDK: Is it based on how you like to ride? Is that how you approach the design?
PM: The starting point is that and then getting other riders on the bike and getting feedback from them. It either makes me know that I’m doing the right thing or I need to change something small within that bigger design.
My kind of riding
GDK: Tell us about you as a rider then, let’s go back to that, what sort of rider are you. So we can get a picture of what sort of bike we’re going to get.
PM: I would say I’m an average rider at this point, I used to race, racing was everything for me, cross country and downhill. Now, obviously with family and time and business and what have you, I just like to go and have a good ride, a trail ride. I like doing a bit of enduro, I like the gravity stuff. I’m not a great climber, I never have been, but the technical aspect, the tight switchbacks, the rocky stuff, steep.
Then obviously I want a bike that’s going to help me on climbing because I’m not a good climber. That’s what I’ve tried to put into a bike, to help and also things are changing rapidly since we started our stage two years ago. The geometries are changing to the way we have been doing it where the bikes.
The fork rake is getting slacker and the bikes are getting longer, which helps, obviously combined with the short stem, helps the rider to be able to control their bike better when they’re tired or when they get into trouble. Less chance of going over the bars, just more control in turns, without working so hard on the bike.
GDK: These changes that are happening, the stage came out and you’ve now moved quantum leaps ahead with these changes. Are they provoked by tests and feedback from riders or is this a global trend, what are you basing them on?
PM: For me it was, I could start to see things happening with certain brands and I agreed with what they were doing. I said I want to do the same. Basically got back to it, the bikes that this was happening was the longer travel bikes, your enduro and your downhill bikes.
It was never done on the cross country bikes and your marathon and what have you, not even on the trail bikes. I saw the benefit in that and I wanted a bike that I could have a nippy, short travel bike that’s going to be able to perform like those bikes. That’s basically where it came from.
GDK: Do you get the feeling that the sport in relative terms is quite new and there’s still a lot of evolution happening and a lot to happen. Are we still a long way from where it might end?
PM: Some people might think that, I don’t, obviously I came from the beginning. So the changes that happen in the first five years were huge, the first 10 years were huge. It was such that we’d go and race at World Champs and we thought we had all the kit and we’d get there and the guys got disc brakes.
Then the next year we had disc brakes and three inches of suspension travel for downhill and they had disc brakes and five inches of travel and it just went on and on like this. It started out with clip pedals and all those changes. I think suspension, like motorcycles, suspension is settling down into very clear categories of different brands stick to certain suspension designs.
People are trying to come up with all sorts of lock out mechanisms and electronic things, that’s what kind of happening. Although back in the 90’s there were guys who were doing that with their Piza electrics and what have you.
Our belief is not to use electronics because if the bike is designed well enough, the way that the suspension and kinematics work together, with pedalling forces, you don’t need it. You actually have more benefit by having the rear suspension working actively while you’re pedalling in order to give you better traction. We’ve proven it.
How the PYGA operation works
GDK: Let’s just go to those who aren’t familiar with the PYGA brand, where is the design done? Where is the construction done, where do they reach the market?
PM: We’re a Maritzburg and now essentially Howick based brand. I’m originally from Pietermaritzburg and we’ve always enjoyed riding up in Howick and Karkloof and we had an opportunity to move up there and have a little shop and workspace. The shop really is a showroom, guys can come and buy product there, come and see what we’re up to and so we design everything there.
We do all our testing in South Africa, we get our product made in Taiwan, as do most of the world. The main reason for that, with the previous business, I was making the aluminium bikes myself, then I taught guys to do it and we had a little factory running smoothly. Bikes were great, but there are limitations and when you’re a small brand, to keep that running, there’s a lot of overheads.
Then with PYGA, when we started going to carbon bikes we thought we could maybe do it here, but there’s just no industry and therefore no knowledge. It’s vastly different to the aerospace industry of carbon where most stuff is flat and panels and very simple structures.
The bicycle is regarded as one of the most complicated structures in the world to make out of carbon. That is due to its, it has to be super lightweight, it has to be stiff, it’s got to be cosmetically perfect. Everything about a bike is almost the hardest to achieve and that has driven a lot of technology, which I think definitely filters through into other industries.
GDK: In SA, all the big brands are here and we see a proliferation of those big brands at big events, but how are you faring in a really competitive market? It must be a tough world to be in, but how are you going?
PM: You’re absolutely right, if anyone thought it was going to be easy, they were wrong! We just believe in what we’re doing, we know that South Africans are patriotic and given the opportunity, they would consider our brand. I think we’ve done very well, we’ve been essentially going for four years, since our first bikes were actually out there to be sold.
In four years we’ve gone right the way through to carbon models and a lot of stuff coming up in the future. We do things very differently to the big brands. We don’t have massive capital to put into advertising and that kind of thing, so we really target guys who are looking for a good bike that is different and really works well and helps their riding, that’s the main thing. Guys who like to have fun on a bike, help their riding, but also those guys who want to race and have an advantage and just be part of something different.
GDK: Where would one find a PYGA to buy?
PM: We’ve got various outlets, retailers supporting us in Cape Town, Jo’burg, Durban and then for the Midlands, we take care of the Midlands.
GDK: There you have it, from the man behind it, Patrick Morewood talking to us about a wonderfully South African brand, PYGA mountain bikes, take a look at them. You can go to their website?
PM: It’s pygaindustries.com.
GDK: Thanks Patrick and they are a fantastic brand, fantastic bikes and as Patrick said, you’ll get to enjoy your riding even more, it’s a special experience riding one of those bikes. Thanks for listening and downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks to Patrick Morewood for chatting to us. Until next time, take care, ride carefully, ride with a smile, enjoy.