What was your job at Bridgestone?
I was hired as an in-house technical rep to talk to dealers and bike riders, since nobody else “in house” knew about bikes or could talk the language. I did tons of data entry. Later I became Marketing Manager, I wrote ads and catalogues. At about the same time I had a lot of influence over the designs of the bikes and the parts. But the official designers were smart engineering types, who would take my suggestions, most, not all, and turn them into bikes. My “design” roles have always been overstated.
Where did you learn to design bicycles?
I took a mechanical drawing class in high school, and my dad was a mechanical engineer. I used to draw frames on his drawing table. I firmly believe a pencil-and-paper approach helps relationships and proportions sink in more effectively. But, let me say this without sounding overly humble: Designing frames is not that hard. I could teach anybody everything I know in five hours.
Your writing sets you apart from other frame designers. Have you always liked to write?
I don’t know about “always,” but when I was fourteen I wrote an article about a new way to tie trout flies, and submitted it to Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield. They all rejected it. But at least I wrote it, and it was pretty good for me at the time. I learned more about writing from reading, including reading books about writing. I don’t have sharp skills but I know how to avoid common mistakes.
You have the reputation as an industry iconoclast, yet you are influential in the industry and people tend to agree with most of what you say.
I think it’s natural to focus on the stuff you find outrageous. But I don’t say things that I believe to be outrageous. I have opinions, just as anybody who has a background in any field does. I have experience. If opinions didn’t follow, there’d have to be something missing in my brain. But, I don’t preface every opinion with “in my opinion,” because that’s a waste of time. Just because you like or agree with something I say doesn’t mean you have to join my cult and agree with everything, and I’ve changed over the years.
Does strange clothing, like tweed, marginalize cycling?
I tend to think that bike extremism, in the hardware or clothing, is like a snake that grows from both ends. One end (usually the high tech/innovative end) starts something, and then the other end reacts to it, with the unstated or even unintended goal being a kind of balance in the whole snake. For instance, one-speeds were nowhere until 9-speeds got popular, and now that Joe Schmoe dresses like a European Pro, we have tweed rides as the balance. Balancing kind of requires an opposite extreme, the Tweeders are providing a service. The Tweedies make it easier for bike riders to fall into the sane middle range.
I don’t see any point in costuming up for a bike ride. If you saw a ten-year old kid [in spandex], you’d think, “how sad.” When I see 65-year olds do it, I think the same. But to each his/her own. My everyday “uniform” is totally bike ready, and I don’t mean only for a two-mile jaunt.