Welcome to From the Top - a podcast about the founders, the innovators, and the remarkable people in the cycling industry and the stories about the icons they've created.
1:48:24The genesis of Cervelo started in 1995 when two young engineering students named Phil White and Gerard Vroomen met in the composites lab at McGill University in Canada. Over a span of 15 years they went from building a crazy aerodynamic time trial bike as a university project to creating one of the most disruptive and loved bike brands in the world. But what many people don’t know is that as wildly successful Cervelo was up until 2011, it was a pressure cooker of constant financial challenges which ultimately led to Cervelo needing to sell the business to Dutch holding company, PON. 2008-2011 saw the perfect storm for Cervelo with the global financial crisis, setting up a professional team that was far more successful than ever imagined, and a private lender which led to the company’s turn of events.
1:10:04Indoor training has been around for longer than I can remember, but it was in 2014 when Zwift came along that it changed this market forever. It came into the world with bold ambitions, reimagined the space and what it could become, and has grown the market to a size that nobody could have imagined. As far back as I can recall the earliest pioneers in the indoor virtual world space were the likes of Computrainer and Tacx - that would have been in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. But they never really delivered on the promise making indoor training much more enjoyable. They can’t be blamed for lack of vision or not trying - the technology wasn’t even there at the time. Social networks didn’t exist, multi player online games weren’t around, broadband speeds were slow and wireless protocols such as ANT+ and BTLE hadn’t been invented yet. But, in 2010 when a gaming software developer in Southern California named Jon Mayfield began tinkering with his kinetic trainer and finding ways for it to communicate with a virtual world he built, he had no idea how big this would become.
1:08:25You’ll be hard pressed to find a more iconic brand in cycling than Castelli. The company dates back to the late 1800’s to around the time of the first ever documented bike race. There’s so much to Castelli’s checkered history but most recently an American by the name of Steve Smith came onto the scene in 2000. He had no Italian heritage, no real cycling industry experience, but he did have a love cycling. By his own admission, he wasn’t an amazing cyclist, technical innovation was where his interest always strayed so he could stay competitive. Steve’s email signature says ‘Castelli Brand Manager’, but I always got the feeling from speaking with him over the years that he did far more than that. As I dug into his story deeper, he’s part owner of the business, steers the ship, and is ultimately the man who turned Castelli around into what we know it as today.
Building 'Life in the Peloton' with Mitch Docker
1:29:09Normally the theme of this podcast is the entrepreneurial journeys of people in the cycling industry who have had their ups and downs and have come out the other side. When pro cyclist Mitch Docker announced his retirement I was in the middle of producing Christian Meier’s story, much of the background I got from Mitch’s podcast, Life in the Peloton. So it got me thinking about Life in the Peloton. Is it a business for Mitch? How did he start this? What makes him tick? Where might it go? Mitch is clearly a smart, talented and hard working guy, so why not document his story now at this point of his journey rather than 10 years from now? Maybe I’m shoe horning this into a theme where it doesn’t belong, but here’s my justification: Mitch Docker’s Life in the Peloton is arguably the best and most prolific cycling podcast out there of its kind. He’s flipped the traditional model of journalism on its head and he’s created something truly unique. Not only that – he’s stuck with it for 6 years now with consistency and he keeps making better. For those not familiar, Life in the peloton is Mitch’s way of telling the world quite simply, what the life of a professional cyclist is like, and translates it everyone can understand. It’s not Mitch’s monologue and self-indulgent hour on-air. Quite the opposite. In this day and age of social media, quick likes and shares that serves as a self promotional tool, Mitch has opted to tell other people’s stories in long-form audio, that also reflects elements of his life. He has unique place in the sport to be able to do this, but also skillset as an interviewer, conversationalist, mastery of the podcast medium, and relatable nature that documents the sport like we haven’t experienced before.
Building The Service Course
1:19:57If you follow professional cycling and are attracted to specialty coffee, beautiful custom bikes, and boutique travel, then there’s no doubt you haven’t already come across Christian and Amber Meier’s businesses. The unlikely couple from Canada, of all places, embarked on a professional cycling career for Christian and settled in the once sleepy Catalan town of Girona. The two of them are the founders of La Fabrica, Espresso Mafia and Service Course which have now become institutions of Girona that people seek out.. Now, The Service Course boasts 4 European locations and includes some of cycling’s biggest stars as both investors and employees. Names like Michael Woods, Kasia Niewiadoma, Edvald Boasson Hagen as investors, along with Simon Gerrans as CEO. It’s a remarkable story that isn’t even close to being finished yet, so grab a coffee, trap in, and hear where Christian and Amber’s story started so you can follow where it’s going.
1:27:21In this episode we speak to the three co-founders of apparel brand, 7mesh. Getting into the cycling apparel business could now be one of the lowest barrier to entry segments in the industry. Anyone with an Instagram account and some design ability can directly access factories in Italy or China and create a clothing ‘brand’ these days, and it’s incredibly tough to cut through in this crowded market. That’s not to say some don’t break through and create legitimate and worthy businesses this way – I know firsthand a few who have. And this low barrier to entry has enabled some wonderful brands to get started and flourish. But because of this it is a crowded market now, and it’s tough to discern who are doing great work and innovating, and who are just pumping out disposable fashion. Every once in a while however a new brand comes along with people from a track record of success, expertise and you just know they’ll be around for the long haul. From the moment I first discovered 7mesh a few years ago I knew this was one of those brands in its infancy. For those who don’t know, 7mesh are a apparel brand based in Squamish, Canada who make some top quality clothing made for the demands of mountain biking, gravel and road. The three founders, Tyler Jordan, Ian Martin and Calum Davidson aren’t three random people who got together to do a passion project however. They were three early staff members and integral to the success of outdoor clothing juggernaut, Arc'teryx. Tyler was the CEO, Ian was Design Director, and Calum was Director of Supply Chain – and all were (and still are) nuts for cycling. They were also great friends in their days at Arcteryx and were having fun, pushing boundaries, and getting shit done. But as the saying goes, all good things come to and end and as the three oversaw tremendous growth in the business they all gave everything up to go off on their own and create something from scratch. To tell the story of 7mesh, we need to get to know Tyler, Calum and Ian in their early days at Arctaryx …
Building Curve Cycling
1:21:00If you live outside of Australia or if you’re not familiar with the whole bikepacking or adventure racing scene chances are you may not have heard about the small bike and wheel brand called Curve. It’s run by a few mates of mine here in Melbourne Australia and started way back when I was first starting the cyclingtips business and we were all similarly young, ambitious, and blissfully ignorant. So needless to say I’ve taken a keen interest in the growth of the Curve business throughout the years. It all started in around 2010 when Curve’s earliest founder, Steve was working in a bike shop and got asked all the time for wheel upgrades. At that time the only thing available for after market carbon wheels were basically ENVE, Zipp, and a few others which were a major price leap from high end alloy wheels. Steve started asking himself why a more accessible carbon wheelset wasn’t available, so he started looking around the internet at sites like Alibaba, and eventually found an agent in Taiwan who could connect him directly with open mould carbon wheel manufacturers. He ordered some, tinkered with them, ordered some more, and eventually came up with some wheels he quite liked and was using Jesse as his guinea pig.
Building LIV/Giant Bicycles
56:18You could very well argue that Bonnie Tu is the most powerful woman in cycling, although she wouldn’t think of describing herself that way. She’s best known as the face of the LIV brand she created back in 2008, but more than that she’s the Chairperson of the largest bike brand in the world: The Giant Bicycle Group. What does that mean? Quite simply – she runs the entire show. Giant Bicycles is a $2.1B per annum publicly traded company that produces millions of bikes per year, not to mention being the manufacturer for a number of other largest most reputable bike brands in the industry. Giant was founded in 1972 – that’s 48 years ago, and Bonnie was one of the founding shareholders and as you’ll hear, very influential in many of the companies foundations and pathway during its history. This is the growth story of Bonnie Tu and not necessarily the story of Giant Bicycles or LIV. But they’re so intertwined that it’s hard not to tell one without the other.
How Matt Keenan Found His Voice
1:32:48As we continue our theme of individual icons within the sport, in this episode we hear the story of Matthew Keenan - a man who is slowly but surely becoming the new voice of cycling, taking over the highest job in cycling commentary just three years ago when he and Robbie McEwen replaced Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett as the host announcers for the Tour de France. The word passion can often be used as a shortcut for people to describe how strongly they feel about something, but true passion, the kind Matt Keenan demonstrates for cycling and commentary, is build in increments - decades of it - ensuring everything he does goes towards what he’s trying to achieve. For those who know Matt personally, they’ll tell you that while he's never short of works, he’s incredibly humble and deflects away from talking about himself. His story from aspiring pro cyclist, to local venue commentator, all the way to now being the Tour de France’s anchor commentator is surprisingly well documented, so in this episode I reached out to various friends and people who influenced Matt throughout his career to add some other perspectives. I’ve known and worked with Matt in various capacities for 10 years now and have always looked up to his professionalism, his knowledge, and his relentless, but patient pursuit of his craft. This is his story.
The Story of Legendary Cycling Photographer Graham Watson
1:45:49This week we continue our theme of individual icons within the sport. This time we speak to Graham watson, the most prolific cycling photographer in perhaps the world. Like other pioneers of their professions, some might argue that it was easy back in the day and there were more opportunities. But everything is obvious in hindsight, and as you’ll soon hear from Graham, it was anything but easy. I’m a big believer that you make your own luck to open the next door, and that’s precisely what Graham did over the 5 decades he covered the sport. And whoever came up with the saying ‘nice guys finish last’ certainly hasn’t met Graham. Now, today’s episode is slightly longer than the rest because there’s no way I can do justice to Grahams remarkable 40 year career in an hour. So buckle up and get in for the ride with a man who has documented cyclings most historic moments.