Roland Cattin, the founder of Time Sport International, died of a heart attack on Sunday morning near his home in Paris
Roland Cattin, the founder of Time Sport International, died on Sunday morning near his home in Paris, following a bicycle ride he had taken with his wife. The cause was a heart attack, said Gilles Lalonde, sales manager for Time Sport USA. Cattin was 65 years old.
A strikingly handsome athlete with a forceful personality, Cattin led the company as its president from its founding in 1987. He was a passionate defender of his brand and a great champion of French ingenuity, and was never shy about expressing his unhappiness with an unfavorable product review or what he saw as a marginalization of the European cycling industry as its output was eclipsed by rivals in China and Taiwan.
“I am not only saying you are wrong, I am saying you are completely misguided,” he once remonstrated to this reporter after the appearance of a story purportedly charting the growth of composite materials in the bicycle industry. The report focused heavily on its use in Asian manufacturing, but subsequent research proved him entirely correct.
From the beginning, Cattin’s company motto was “Le Défi”—The Challenge, in English—and the immediate object of his challenge was the Look pedal system, which was the first clipless system to gain widespread usage. Time’s new pedal was intended to take on Look commercially, but behind the challenge lay a personal grudge.
Look had been founded as a ski binding company in 1948 by a French sporting goods manufacturer named Jean Beyl, and after numerous successes in the ski field, Beyl turned his attention to the bicycle cleat system. Look introduced Beyl’s clipless pedal system successfully with the PP65 pedal in 1984, and it rapidly became an industry standard, with Mavic adopting it in 1987 and Shimano in 1988. Beyl’s next plan was to add a number of new features to the Look system, but resistance to the changes and some internal acrimony at the company led Beyl to leave shortly thereafter. Looking elsewhere for a home for his next invention, Beyl founded Time with his son-in-law Cattin in 1987, and together they introduced the Time TBT pedal in 1988.
Revealed with great fanfare in January and subsequently supported by a lavish advertising campaign, the Time TBT pedal relied on two key concepts to battle the Look system for clipless supremacy. Most notably, the TBT pedal introduced the concept of rotational float, which allowed the cyclist’s heel to swing up to 10 degrees left and right without releasing. Time’s second concept was lateral float, which allowed the foot to slide sideways up to 9 millimeters while remaining engaged with the pedal. Together, the concepts were promoted by the company as a way to reduce the knee and tendon injuries that could be caused by locking the foot into one position.
To raise the new pedal’s public profile, Time engaged a roster of professional riders that included Greg LeMond, Pedro Delgado, and Stephen Roche. The company was quickly rewarded when Delgado won the Tour de France in 1988, with Jeannie Longo taking the women’s Tour title that same year. Delgado’s Tour victory was followed by LeMond in 1989 and 1990, and then by Miguel Indurain, who captured five successive Tours from 1991 to 1995. Over the years, Time garnered racing titles with Paolo Bettini, Tom Boonen, Filippo Pozzato, Thomas Voeckler, Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich, and many others.
In a 2004 interview with VeloNews, Cattin discussed the benefits of sponsorship, noting that “Somebody like Boonen, for example, is a very strong guy, and you can have some information from a guy like this that you cannot get from Bettini, for example, who is a much lighter guy. So a pro team is a source of inspiration, because they are always pushing us to be better, to be lighter, but also to be stronger.”
Time followed the success of its road pedal with the ATAC mountain bike pedal. ATAC, an acronym for Auto Tension Adjustment Concept, separated the release angle from the spring tension on the cleat. The feature was intended to allow mountain bikers to set the release tension as low or as high as desired with no change to the basic engagement and release functions. As with the road pedals, Time sponsored a series of professional ambassadors in mountain biking who rang up a succession of victories, including two-time Olympic and five-time World Champion Julien Absalon, 2010 World Champion José Hermida, and 2012 Olympic Champion Julie Bresset.
The next move for the company was into the field of bicycles, starting with a carbon fork in 1993 and followed by complete frames in subsequent years. The Time composite products incorporate a wide blend of fibers, including carbon, Vectran, and Kevlar, and an expensive construction method called Resin Transfer Molding, or RTM. While most composite products employ a carbon cloth weave preimpregnated with resin (“prepreg” for short) which hardens when cured, the RTM approach lays up dry cloth in a predetermined arrangement and then injects resin into a surrounding mold, which is then pressurized and heated to create the final product.
The RTM system was expensive and slow, but, said Cattin, it was the one he favored for its consistency. “RTM technology is the only way to be very accurate in manufacturing to give the characteristics you are looking for in a frame,” he noted. “For example, to create a smooth ride, you need to use some specific fiber in a very accurate location and only RTM can allow you to be that accurate, compared to prepreg.”
Cattin was such a believer in the technology that rather than buying carbon cloth from outside companies, he equipped his factories with weaving machines. The machines spun cloth from spools of raw yarn, which he sourced from factories in Japan, Germany, and the United States.
The object of all this, said Cattin, was not a pursuit of profits, but instead the elusive goal of an ideal. “The bottom line is the feel of the ride,” he said. “We put in Vectran fiber in order to add comfort to the ride without affecting the lateral rigidity, but Vectran is not only for comfort, it also brings better road-holding, a better connection between the wheel and the road. You can corner better. If you don’t have a smooth ride, you don’t have a good connection between the bike and the road. So it’s not only comfort, it’s also efficiency.”
A celebration in the memory of Roland Cattin will be held Monday, October 27 at 2 p.m. at the Paroisse St. Thomas d’Aquin in Paris.