30 Years of Turner Bicycles (2024 Sea Otter)

We caught up with David Turner to discuss the past, present, and future of mountain bike technology and took a look at a fresh titanium fork and two brand-new bike models Turner Bicycles launched at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. “Come for the titanium fork and stay for the beautiful dropouts.” Find it all here…

Early last Friday morning, I rounded a corner in a relatively quiet section of the Sea Otter expo and found Turner Cycles set up in a humble tent with five or six bikes. I was a little surprised to see that all of them were made of titanium, four of which were fully rigid, and only two equipped with short-travel 120mm suspension forks. There were absolutely zero full-sussers to be found. Anyone familiar with the Turner brand, particularly those who’ve been out of the loop for the last few years, likely would have had the same reaction.

When I (re)started mountain biking back in 2006, Turner made top-tier, highly coveted full-suspension dream bikes. They were always slightly out of reach for me, alongside Ellsworth and a couple of other boutique brands. The Turner story is a long one, and many twists and turns led to the titanium bikes David Turner and co. had on display at Sea Otter, including two brand-new models. Read on for details on those bikes and more.

Turner Bicycles, David Turner

In the grand scheme of mountain bike technology, David Turner has been through it all. Turner started racing mountain bikes in the sport’s heyday. As a professional racer in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he collaborated with designers at RockShox, Mongoose, and AMP Research, adding significant contributions to the advancement of front and rear mountain bike suspension design. Following his retirement from full-time competition, he worked with Mongoose and suspension guru Horst Leitner, creating some of the most influential lightweight rear suspension frame designs of the era. In 1992, Turner started designing his own bicycles, and by 1994, he had a production run of 150 aluminum frames built in the USA by Ventana. This flagship model eventually earned the name Turner Burner, a title that stuck around and saw many iterations over the years. The original Burner had 2.75” inches of rear travel.

1996 Turner Burner
The original Turner Burner via MTBR forum user “cactuscorn” posted 2005

Turner Suspension Bicycles Inc. carried on as a premium full-suspension mountain bike company for well over a decade. When I first took notice of the brand around 2006, Turner was at the top of the game in that world, making bikes that most of us could only drool over in catalogs. But somewhere along the line, the brand seemed to vanish into obscurity. What exactly happened, and how did Turner reenter my radar with titanium frames?

Part of the answer lies in how the mountain bike industry evolved over the last decade. Everything essentially sped up. Wheel sizes fell in and out of favor, geometry shifted, materials changed, and more/larger brands entered the arena. Whether these shifts were market-driven or marketing-driven is a different conversation. Either way, to keep up with trends, costs, and the big players, Turner began producing carbon frames in 2012, entering a relatively short phase in the company’s history that ended in 2016. David referred to this period as “dark times” that he’s still trying to forget.

In summary, the financial investment into prototyping, tooling, and molds, which could cost upwards of $150,000 per bike, and the 18-24 month lead times, weren’t sustainable for Turner. When customers and market trends called for longer, lower, or slacker, Turner had to start from scratch, and the old tooling and mold costs were tossed into the ever-burning furnace of capitalism. As he told Mountain Bike Action in a 2021 interview, “Trying to plan that far in advance with an ever-changing market was challenging to say the least.”

  • Turner Bicycles, David Turner
  • Turner Bicycles, David Turner

In 2019, Turner completely pivoted away from suspension (pun intended), shifted to titanium, and began working with a factory in Taiwan to bring his new vision to light. David described the rationale behind this shift simply, “The beauty of metal is the ability to adjust for changes.” That year, Turner Bicycles relaunched with two new bikes, the ARTi, an all-road bike, and the Cyclosys gravel platform. In 2021, they launched the Nitrous, a trail hardtail, and this year, they released two new models and teased two upcoming forks.

Turner Titanium Forks

When I first started writing this piece, I kind of wanted the title to be something like Come for the Ti Fork and Stay for the Dropouts, but that ran a little long. That is precisely what I did, though. There was a beautiful titanium fork lying on a table that caught my eye and first drew me into the Turner Bicycles tent.

  • Turner Bicycles, David Turner
  • Turner Bicycles, David Turner

David told me it’s a gravel fork that’s well on its way to production. It has a 395mm axle-to-crown height, a 50mm offset, three-pack mounts on each leg, dynamo wire routing, and threaded rack mounts integrated into the dropouts.

Turner is also working on a longer 510mm axle-to-crown version for the Nitrous, GILA, and VENN (the VENN I shot was running a prototype; see below), which are all designed around a 120mm suspension fork. But I digress. The rear dropouts on all of the Turner bikes caught my attention next; I started ogling those after I finished fondling the Ti fork.

Turner Bicycles VENN

The brand-new VENN launched at Sea Otter is first bike I noticed. It was packed with a set of Revelate bags in the corner, but the first thing that caught my eye was actually the drive-side sliding dropout. To put the cart before the horse, this 3D-printed part is pretty special. In fact, David said that it’s built specifically with single speeding in my mind. Music to my ears. It’s engineered it as a three-sided box to ensure precise alignment for those using a belt. That design also resists twisting forces, as he wanted to create a rock-solid connection at either end of the drivetrain. The other thing that makes it unique is that it offers 25mm of axle travel, which allows you to change the sprocket a tooth or two without needing to cut/swap the chain/belt. Added benefits to having the longer adjustment is tire size compensation and ride feel experimentation.

Turner Bikes, David Turner

Adding to that, the VENN also has a 3D-printed full yoke. Again, this was largely engineered for stable drivetrain alignment, particularly when used with a belt drive. David mentioned that these two parts would probably be impossible, or at least financially crippling, if they were CNC machined. “Since I am trying to offer as much technology and finer details on my designs at a reasonable price, 3DP is allowing me to create specific shapes without hours and hours of CNC or tooling costs that are very expensive.”

Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner

Now, about the Venn. David described it to me as an ATB, which fits its name—taken from a diagram of overlapping circles that show the logical relation between different things. It’s a multi-use bike. Comparing it to other Turner hardtails, it’s a bit shorter and has a 1° steeper head tube and 1° slacker seat tube than the Nitrous and new GILA. He said it can be set up with a drop bar and short stem or a flat bar with a modest-length stem. It was made with bikepacking in mind and is equipped with quite a few bosses and rack and fender mounts on the frame. As for tire clearance, it can fit up to a 29 x 3.0” tire. 

  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
Venn size S M M/L L XL
Rec’d height 5’4″-5’7″ 5’6″-5’10” 5’9″-6’0″ 5’11”-6’3″ 6’2″-6’6″
Effective TT 585 605 625 645 660
Reach 405 414 423 435 444
Stack 626 646 663 686 708
Seat tube length 390 430 455 480 530
Seat tube angle actual 74 73.5° 73 73 73
Head tube length 90 115 135 160 185
Head tube angle 67° 67° 67° 67° 67°
BB drop 70 67 65 65 65
Chainstay 435-460 435-460 435-460 435-460 435-460
Wheelbase 1122 1140 1157 1180 1198
Max post insertion 270 270 270 295 345

VENN isn’t on the website quite yet, but David told me it will be for sale in a week or so.

Flashback Nitrous

The Turner titanium Nitrous was named after a full-suspension bike that was in Turner’s lineup from 2005-07. That particular model was considered an XC race bike at the time, hence the speedy name. However, the current titanium Nitrous looks to have a little more versatility. It’s kind of a downcountry-style hardtail at heart, built around 120mm of travel, a 66° head tube angle, and a 74.5° seat tube. That said, it also has a relatively tall stack, medium reach, and a size-specific chainstay length ranging from 435 to 445mm. For 2024, it got a 3D-printed chainstay 1/2 yoke that provides clearance for 2.6″ tires and room for a 38t round chainring. Turner also made custom 3D-printed cable routing ports designed to make it easier to run the internal control lines. Other features include UDH-compatible dropouts and a UDH, “so any derailleur from the last four decades can be installed.”

Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner

The Nitrous “flashback” build shown here was the work of Rich Wessels, a longtime bike industry guy. Rich approached David asking if he could create a Nitrous for Sea Otter, and David gave him the go-ahead. David added, “In his mind, it was what the bitchin’ bikes of our childhood looked like. Growing up in a mountain bike house, Rich’s dad and his friends were mountain bike riders, so Rich was able to see what was hot when he was a little guy. Flash colors and titanium were the pinnacle a couple of decades ago!”

Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner
  • Turner Bikes, David Turner

Turner Bicycles GILA

The new GILA that was released at Sea Otter is very close to the Nitrous, so much so that I didn’t shoot it. I actually thought it was another Nitrous. However, it sounded quite compelling when I learned the differences. In summary, it has the same custom sliding dropout as the VENN, a split seat stay for a belt drive, and a bit longer top tube and reach for, as David put it, “all the standing when smashing it up the mountain in singlespeed mode!” Also, in order to keep the drivetrain in perfect alignment, something critical to using a belt drive, it has a full 3D-printed lower yoke to stiffen the connection between the bottom bracket and rear axle. In contrast, the Nitrous has a half yoke but keeps the full left side chainstay for lower weight and what David considers a more “racy” design. 

Rec’d height 5’3″-5’7″ 5’6″-5’10” 5’9″-6’2″ 6’1″-6’6″
Effective TT 595 625 650 680
Reach 444 465 485 500
Stack 610 623 644 672
Seat tube length 370 400 430 470
Seat tube angle actual 76° 75.5° 75.5° 75°
Head tube length 85 100 125 155
Head tube angle 66.5° 66.5° 66.5° 66.5°
BB drop 62 62 60 60
Chainstay 427-442 427-442 427-442 427-442
Wheelbase 1152 1180 1208 1237
Standover (mid-toptube) 760 775 805 835
Max post insertion 250 275 240 280

When I asked David what he thought the future of mountain bike tech holds and what he hopes for, he responded with the sentiment that all the big jumps in innovation have been made, many of which are now a decade or more old, but, “Like any mature market segment, we are now in the battle of refinement. Splitting the growing number of segments (DH, Enduro, Shredpacking, Trail, Bikepacking, downcountry, XC, gravel, touring, etc, etc) into smaller ones, and of course, continuing to refine each. Big picture for me? Improved gear boxes would be nice. Less weight and more belt-drive bikes for longer life in the dirt. Drivetrains are expensive, and budget drivetrains don’t last, so if we have to pay top dollar for them, it would be nice if they’d last a very long time.”

For more on several models mentioned here, head over to TurnerBikes.com, and stay tuned, as the VENN and GILA will be added to the website soon.

Turner Bikes, David Turner

Further Reading

Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...


Bikepacking Bikes

Worthy Builds


Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.