Since Steve Jobs’ recent death I’ve learned more about the iconic leader of Apple Computer than I ever wanted to know. I admit I was curious about him. Based on my read, he and I shared some basic traits: creative, big-picture thinkers on the intense side. So that made him interesting to me and even, on occasion, a north star to stay true to my personal views and beliefs.
His taste was impeccable, even if he did tend to dress day-in-and-out in the same wardrobe. I wish I had his taste. But as I’ve read more, I’ve learned other, less attractive features about the man. He could be tone-deaf to others’ feelings; I’ve suffered that at times. He could be both cruel and petulant. He could be a bully. I’m relieved those aren’t mine.
Malcolm Gladwell has called him the ultimate tweaker. It doesn’t seem to be a job title many of us would want, but Jobs turned it into something memorable. He seems to have been a man of extremes. His complicated nature make me more curious about him, even if I wouldn’t want to share more in common with him. I may have to read Walter Isaacson’s book.
The bike industry is full of complicated figures, too. Mike Sinyard of Specialized burns with a holy light for cycling. He rides more miles each year than plenty of guys I know half his age. He can be generous and warm. I’ve also heard that he can direct his wrath at employees who don’t measure up.
Friends in the industry who have worked with the Bikes Belong Coalition have told me that the great unsung hero of bicycle advocacy is Trek’s John Burke. People say that Bikes Belong wouldn’t be as well funded or as effective without his involvement. Yet from the sources I have, Burke never rides and he is known for being callous. One former employee told me that the wife of a staffer made a wistful comment about how she wished she saw more of her husband, to which Burke replied, “Get a dog.”
Cycling just lost one of the most interesting guys in the sport: Bob Stapleton. By all accounts he had vision, was both organized and disciplined and even ethical. The sport’s loss.
Then there are guys like Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles, a guy whose business acumen seems as natural as Michael Jordan’s basketball talent, but whose personal life couldn’t be more shielded from public view. No one seems to know if he rides or not, if he does anything other than work. As a public figure, he’s unfortunately two-dimensional. On the other hand, we have Richard Sachs, a frame builder who has had more words devoted to his work than all other frame builders combined. Hmm.
The question today is: Who interests you, and why? Do you like the principled monastics like Sachs or do you find the complicated figures like Burke interesting? Or both?
Naturally, this leads to yet another question: Are there figures we ought to turn the spotlight on here at RKP?
I recently completed a feature that will run in Issue 6 of peloton magazine about New England. While I could have devoted a good 2000 words to all the great racers who cut their teeth there or on all the cycling writers who came from the region—there was a time when most bike magazine editors either hailed from or lived in Vermont or Massachusetts—I focused on the bike companies based there.
It had been a while since I’d visited the subject, more than 10 years if the truth is told, and as I dug down I realized there was more going on than I realized. It became so complicated that I decided to create a little family tree to remind me the begat, begat, begat sequence of the companies.
Some, like Pedro’s and Parlee didn’t have their genesis in other companies. Others, such as Serotta and 333Fab aren’t New England companies, but their relationship to the patriarch of the industry couldn’t be denied. This family tree isn’t particularly scientific, and certainly not to scale, but it speaks to what I most like about the region.
My time there left a mark. To the degree that I’ve got any entrepreneurial spirit, I think it was incubated while working for a number of small companies. From Richard Fries’ Ride Magazine to an upstart Apple retailer, I saw people go out on their own time and again. For me, it rubbed off from just being around them. There are those figures who cultivate that individuality; Rob Vandermark seems to be doing a lot of that at Seven Cycles, whether intentionally or not.
Part of the story this doesn’t tell, though, is the way that Richard Sachs has mentored dozens of new builders. Some of it has been indirect, as through his prolific writing about his brand and the craft of building. Some has been direct, in the form of offering concrete advice to up-and-comers.
The tragedy in this story is the demise of Fat City Cycles; it was Chris Chance who really began the scene from which all this grew.
There have been plenty of rounds of musical chairs. Parlee and Pedro’s have even picked up people who have done stints at other area bike companies. In that regard, the bike biz in New England is different from we see in California, where bigger players dominate and after a few years in the biz you stop being surprised to see an old friend in a jersey. And maybe that’s the difference, those smaller companies give employees a real window into what entrepreneurship is.
On Saturday night I kissed the wife and kids and rode off on my freshly tuned bicycle to a launch party for the Ride Studio Cafe Club. Ride Studio Cafe is, in essence, exactly what it sounds like, a high end bike/coffee shop. Studios are always high end. Otherwise, they just call themselves ‘shops.’ Regardless of the price points and the stylish marketing, what sets the Ride Studio Cafe apart is the characters behind the scenes and the approach they take to cycling (and coffee).
Rob Vandermark, the founder and president of Watertown, MA. based Seven Cycles, is the prime-mover on the bike side, and Jennifer Park, who operates two very successful local coffee shops,
heads up the cafe side did some informal consulting during set up.
Unlike other bike/coffee shops that simply merge the two elements into one, Ride Studio Cafe has sought to explore the top end of both businesses, decanting super high end bike frames and accessories as well as single source, artisan coffees.
Their website bills the Club (the reason for the party) this way:
The Club is a collaborative of friendly cycling enthusiasts and racers that congregate around all the positives aspects of performance cycling.
The purpose of the Club is to engage riders to be more connected to riding. To ride more often and to enjoy it more; to find riding routes—and routes to cycling—that are more fun and more challenging; to support camaraderie that brings out the best in us—on and off the bike.
It all sounds very genial and community-spirited, but I’m a skeptic. I was born that way.
Ride Studio Cafe is located in Lexington, MA, a wealthy Boston suburb surrounded by other wealthy suburbs. They sell Seven there, and Rapha apparel, and coffees whose origin can be described with reference to location, farm and roast date. One could assume, I think reasonably, that these people are some serious snobs. I walked through the door braced for pretentiousness.
I must confess that hearing Vandermark talk about “coffee cuppings” (tasting events) was my first exposure to the phrase, and I was surprised to hear a bike guy talking about java the way wine people talk about that grape juice they drink. Despite that (I am, after all, something of a Philistine), I found Vandermark able to speak humbly and passionately about what they’re trying to do. Repeatedly he acknowledged the high price of the products and services on offer at the studio, but explained that they really believe what they’re selling is the best of the best, and, in the end entirely worth it. There was no bravado or condescension, just a humble request to give it a try.
The Club presentation was made by Vandermark, cyclocross racer and photographer Dave Chiu and cyclocross/endurance rider Matt Roy. Chiu talked about the RCS race team and about the ability to move from the club rides and race events up into the full pro/am team. Roy talked about club-sponsored brevets and other endurance events, running from 100k to 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k distances. An upcoming “dusk-to-dawn” ride was mentioned.
It all sounded like good fun, and Chiu and Roy both made an effort to welcome riders of every ability. There was beer. There was wine. I scored a cup of entirely potable coffee. Someone brought cupcakes. Everyone was friendly. There was even a group clustered around the indoor bike rack cooing over the various and sundry machines the attendees had chosen to ride in. It was, if you’ll forgive the phrase, a pretty sweet rack.
I began to think this might be a place I should spend more time. High end, low end, middle, um, end, these are bike people, and they want you to be bike people too. Highly caffeinated, merino wool-clad bike people.
And who among us is against that? For locals, you can read more about the club, and its benefits, here.
Image courtesy Gregory Brown
Correction: This piece originally stated that Jen Park was a part owner of the Ride Studio Cafe, which is not the case. She is simply a friend of RSC’s ownership group. See correction above.