These Are the People You Need to Know in the Bike Industry

Michael Zellmann, SRAM

Michael Zellmann, SRAM

You’ve probably heard the names Vincenzo Nibali, Danny MacAskill and Marianne Vos. These people are the face of the bicycle industry.



Behind the scenes, however, there are all kinds of other characters who are equally important to bicycling and the bicycling business even though they’ll never appear on a big time podium or get their names announced on national television.

These people are the brains behind the best brands and they’re the ones responsible for moving the conversation forward.

We caught up with a handful of these players at Interbike last month and made them answer questions about how it all started for them and what they see coming down the trail.

Michael Zellmann, SRAM (Above)

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Zellmann: Fell in love with it after seeing a bike race at 12. Worked at a Schwinn shop at 16. Been racing since I was in my 20s.

Byron: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given your 16-year-old self working in that bike shop?

Zellmann: This can become a career. Have fun but take it all in, take it seriously, and pay attention.

Byron: You look around and you realize, once again, you are the biggest dude on the group ride…what goes through you head?

Zellmann: I'm usually wondering how I got stuck behind the smallest person on the ride who has the aerodynamic profile of a Zipp wheel.

Byron: You live in Chicago so is it deep dish or thin crust, beer or wine, and finally caps or hats?

Zellmann: I live in the suburbs so I can actually cheer for both the Cubs and Sox. Deep dish, Belgian ales and hats

Chris DiStefano, Rapha

Chris DiStefano, Rapha

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Chris: I worked in a bike shop after graduating from college in 1990. Two Wheel Travel in Richmond, Virginia; site of the 2015 Road World Championships. Can you believe it, road worlds in Richmond?!? I’m so excited, and I just can't hide it. Two Wheel Travel was an amazing place staffed with fascinating, quirky, challenging people and the store carried brands like Serotta, Fat City, Panasonic, Tommasso and Specialized. We even had Kirk Precision frames in road and mountain available. Oh man, I wanted one of those bikes so badly. They were cast magnesium truss-style frames and so exotic at the time. I ended up, though, getting a Vitus 992 in pink. Perhaps a little foreshadowing, eh? The store carried top tier equipment but also brought in people such as Ben Serotta and Georgena Terry for workshops and we learned so much from the burgeoning industry in that shop. We also may have put on a few Dahon criteriums in the shop after hours from which I learned some tough lessons. Many apologies to store owners Dee and Kathy Whitten for all those tire marks on the carpet and for a few dings to bikes on the floor. A summer or two later I attended the Signet Criterium in Richmond and saw the Mavic neutral support crew in action. I knew Matt Bracken, (now head honcho at Pedro’s) from college and he introduced me to Adam Miklin, (now Director of Sales at Hayes Bicycle Group). I was fascinated by what they were doing and started volunteering at local races pretty soon after. I attended the USA Cycling Race Mechanics Clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs along with a friend from the shop and we both earned spots with Shimano American as part of the Multi-Service tech program. He got the road racing assignment and I got mass start events for road and mountain. That clinic was the best decision I’ve ever made professionally. The instruction is important but the network connections are what make it matter. And, really, how cool is it to tell your friends and family that you are heading to the Olympic Training Center to train? Shimano turned out to be as amazing a job as readers will imagine. My life soon became the Johnny Cash song "I’ve Been Everywhere." I worked races and events all over North America and stopped in bike shops at every opportunity in between. I worked on a lot of bikes and listened to thousands of owner’s stories about those bikes or the rides they enjoy on them. I realized early on that our job in this industry is to fully support this one moment of “regular people’s” lives. The majority of people in this world do not get to talk about, tinker with, and daydream about bicycles like we are allowed to do every day. For them, their limited ride time is the escape from the tensions of their lives. I’m thrilled to be a part of the process that puts people on bicycles. As grueling as the days at this trade show may seem and, despite the fact that bicycle industry work can be as difficult or mundane as regular jobs, it all points to that moment when someone gets on a bicycle and is free. People smile when they find out what I do for a living and every one of them has a story about why they ride, where they ride, or why they’re not riding enough these days. It’s a pretty great thing to work in this business.

Byron: What have you learned through all your years?

Chris: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. So be nice to people.

Byron: And what would you do differently?

Chris: I would have bought a Slim Chance instead of that Vitus or Kirk Precision frame, although the big news yesterday from Chris Chance suggests I may have a second chance

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Chris: White handlebar tape always looks best.

Nic Sims, SCOTT

Nic Sims, SCOTT

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Nic: It all started when I left school. I was building up a mountain bike and spent most of my time looking in the display cases at what parts I wanted to add next. I was in there so much I became the Saturday help, which then became a full time mechanic position. The manager left and went to work at a bike company which was just re-launching in the UK and he asked me about joining. As a young kid the chance to work for a big American bike brand was a no brainer. I started in warranty and also was the mountain bike team mechanic. Later I transferred over to the U.S. to work in their California office, still in warranty /customer service. As time went buy I had opportunities to run the R&D shop and do all the athlete support and finally ended up in the marketing department as the PR guy. I left to go into motorsports PR but after a two-year absence I needed to come back into the industry and the rest is history. This first year at SCOTT has been really exciting and a chance to see direct results from all the work that we have been doing.

Byron: What have you learned?

Nic: Bikes are awesome. Joking aside, having had the opportunity to look at the bike industry from the outside you realize that this industry does an amazing job of telling stories about new products and their technologies. I guess I’ve learned that we’re all bike geeks and people like to get excited and feel the passion that this industry has.

Byron: And what would you do differently?

Nic: I’m not sure. Each day offers new challenges and opportunities. It’s been an amazing ride. I can’t think of a anything I would do differently.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Nic: I can’t say I spotted anything first, but being at the beginning of the endurance/comfort bikes when people where still focused on race bikes and steep angles was nice. Having been into Motorsports there is a huge trend there for crossover with athletes as a lot of the big named guys are all training on bikes and it’s a chance for us to bring in another audience to our sport who may not have considered cycling.

Josh Hon, Tern

Josh Hon, Tern

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Josh: After college, I was in the Bay Area in the high-tech industry and was having a great time working and playing Ultimate Frisbee. But my uncle guilted me into moving to Taiwan to help with the family bike business. That was 21 years ago and I've never regretted it (OK, maybe a little when I see friends selling their companies for crazy valuations).

Byron: What have you learned?

Josh: Well I've screwed up plenty so I've learned a lot. Ironically, one really important lesson is how important it is to be softer and less confrontational in dealings with suppliers and customers; essentially I've learned to be a bit more Asian and less American.

Byron: What would you do differently?

Josh: Hmmm. That’s a tricky one. With my previous company, there’s a lot that I'd do differently. With Tern, we're doing things the right way.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Josh: The biggest trend I've seen is the move towards cycling for transportation. Of course that’s always been important in many European countries but we've seen huge growth in the Americas and Asia. The planet needs more people on bikes and it’s great to see so many people fighting to make this vision a reality.

Lance Camisasca, Lifeboat

Lance Camisasca, Lifeboat

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Lance: I was a kid road racer at 14-years-old and essentially lived at my local bike shop in Ridgewood, NJ. The owner told me and my best racer friend that if we were gonna hang out as much as we were… we needed to get to work! He hired us both to assemble bikes initially. I ended up working there on and off for 10 years through my schooling, eventually running their satellite store.

Byron: What have you learned?

Lance: I've learned the bike industry is full of passionate and quality people, many who got involved through their love of all things bicycles. I believe we are finally turning the corner getting America to understand that bicycles are more than “toys” or performance products and can actually be used to address many of the concerns on the front pages of our national news.

Byron: What would you do differently?

Lance: I worked in retail, moved to several top manufacturer-distributors, to running a large trade show and now owning my own event business. I have done this over the past 35 years, consistently working in the industry I admire and respect. I can’t say I could have or should have done anything differently. You can always look back with 20–20 hindsight and recognize mistakes that were made, some of which might have led to greater successes. But in the end I am happy with my contributions and look forward to making more.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Lance: On a negative side I find it humorous that we tend to invent stuff… just for the sake of inventing stuff and everyone is trying to make a quick buck. But in the end, bikes today are very well designed, fun, easy to use and quite reliable, given where we were 3+ decades ago. Getting new riders to try cycling and see how far bikes have come is the challenge, with safe places to ride being the tallest hurdle. As mentioned earlier, the trend to use bikes for more than performance is encouraging. It is something that is not frowned upon and can be fashionable…that is progress!

Jasen Thorpe, Thorpe Marketing

Jasen Thorpe, Thorpe Marketing

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Jasen: Bad mechanic service from my IBD when I was a kid, so I learned to wrench for myself. Turned into a job, turned into a career.

Byron: What have you learned?

Jasen: That managing the power balance between the suits and the bros counts for a ton in terms of business success when serving an enthusiast market.

Byron: And what would do differently?

Jasen: I haven't always gotten it right, and a few times, I've even gotten it really wrong, but no regrets.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Jasen: I spend a lot of time thinking about how much online communication has empowered consumers, and how much more access to information consumers have, but also how powerless the consumer can still be, and how difficult it can be to navigate the flood of information to sort what’s useful and what’s crap. Related: the cumulative quality of available information has significantly changed.

Eric Richter, Giro

Eric Richter, Giro

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Eric: I started as a graphic artist racing bikes. Worked in the Ibis offices.

Byron: What was it like working in the Ibis office in those days?

Eric: Ibis was small, but Scot and the group there had enormous talent and big time creativity. I think it’s remarkable how small, creatively-driven companies like Ibis made such a big impact on bikes.

Byron: If you weren’t in the bike business, what do you think you would be designing?

Eric: I am surrounded by talented designers at Giro – but I’m not a designer (I’m a marketer). I’m at my best as a catalyst, connecting people and ideas to make something new or better. If that energy weren’t connected to bikes, then I think maybe it would be food or the arts. Something that feeds people.

Byron: Who, besides Giro, do you think is doing the best job of blending product with pimp?

Eric: I see it everywhere in bikes right now. Big companies like Shimano and SRAM are technically innovative and driving product ID like never before. At the same time, I see individuals and small brands focused on the urban space creating a new kind of identity for urban cycling that is chic, sophisticated and, most importantly, inspiring to both men and women.

Byron: What have you learned?

Eric: Every rider is unique.

Byron: And what would you do differently?

Eric: Kick Mark Vandiver (Giant) in the ass. No, honestly, nothing.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Eric: Ebikes with an integration theme, like the Faraday. The Rise of women.

Chris Mahan, REI

Chris Mahan, REI

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Chris: I started 17 years ago with Raleigh, doing graphics for the Nishiki brand.

Byron: What have you learned?

Chris: Cycling’s variety keeps riding fresh. There is always a new twist. Right now it’s gravel riding but it has been fixed gears or snow bikes. With all of that I'll never stop riding.

Byron: What would do differently?

Chris: A smart man would have done a lot of things differently. But I love trying new things. If you do that there are always some failures along with success. I think I'd do it all again.

Byron: Finally, in your career, what trends have you spotted?

Chris: When I started seriously riding bikes you were either a road rider or mountain biker and you were expected to act and dress like one. The trend now is that it’s ok to do it all. Even technology from mountain bikes is moving to road and the things we love from the road side are moving to dirt.

Steve Gluckman, REI

Steve Gluckman, REI

Byron: How did you get into the bike business?

Steve: Assembling Free Spirits at SEARS during High School was the first place I got paid to turn a wrench. However my real start at learning the business and getting exposed to bike culture began at Freewheeling Bicycles in San Marcos, TX while I was in college.

Byron: What have you learned?

Steve: Trends and fads come and go over the years but the one thing that will never change is that bicycles will always be cool and fun to ride.

Byron: What would you do differently?

Steve: Not a thing…. No regrets.

Zap

Zap

Zap didn’t respond to my questions and instead we discussed the weather, trade shows, and where to get a good burrito at the Mandalay. I reminded him of the funniest thing I’ve seen him do. At the SRAM 22 launch he showed up for the group ride and all the assembled media were adjusting stems, saddles, aero helmets, etc. Frustrated and ready to ride, Zap said, “A’ight you roadie motherfuckers, put the tape measurers away, and let’s get this show on the road!” They all stopped and got on their bikes.

  • giving_me_a_migrane

    no women. typical. nothing ever changes in this industry. and only one of my friends. there are way more folks you need to know, worth knowing in this industry than all of your buddies featured here.

  • Jennifer Kraatz

    Yes, please add some features on women changing the face of the bicycle industry. There are quite a few.

    • Merithew

      Ok.

  • ezweave

    Zap was the editor for Mountain Bike Action when I was a teenager. I think he works for Road Bike Action now. He’s worked for other magazines too.

    • jonnyknight

      yup, Motocross Action

  • Dave Towle

    MZ is one of the best guys working in cycling. Total pro!

  • Shawn Moore

    Sky Yeager is a huge omission from this list.

    • Merithew

      Great idea. I love the Sky. My dog drinks from one of her carbon fiber dog bowls every morning. I’m reaching out to her right now. Stay tuned.

    • Byron DL

      Sky wasn’t at Interbike and was def on the list. I interviewed her last year with Shinola.

  • Paige Dunn

    Interesting list….is there a reason that you left out all of the kick ass women that work at these very same companies you profile?

    • Jakob_Schiller

      You’re absolutely right. Who would you suggest?

      • Paige Dunn

        Hillary Benjamin is at the helm of Rapha here in North America and doing an amazing job. In her first year there she launched some pretty powerful women’s initiatives and continues to strengthen the brand with her creativity and strategic efforts. It’s rare that you see women in leadership positions in this industry and she is definitely a rare gem.

        Erin Sprague at Specialized is continuing to invest in the development of women’s cycling. She smart, savvy and definitely one to watch.

        Stacy Sims at Osmo is changing the way cyclists (men and women) fuel their bodies. She is one of the first to discover the need for and develop a women’s specific product and it’s shaking up the sports hydration market.

        Megan Tompkins at Bicycler Retailer another amazing female in a leadership position in the industry. Though this is an industry focused role she is one of the few who knows where the industry is headed and definitely knows a thing or two about how to ride.

        Katie Boiling of World Bicycle Relief – the amount of impact this woman has had is pretty incredible. And at the end of the day she reminds us just how powerful a bike can be.

        • Greg Randolph

          can I get a little Elayna Caldwell for chrissakes?

          • Mauriceman

            Cuz elayna rules.

  • Mike Porter

    I raced against him a couple times back in the 80’s…125 intermediates

  • Padraig

    My understanding is this is a piece that was based on who Byron actually interacts with on a regular basis and were at Interbike. It’s true that there are plenty of amazing women in the bike biz, but it’s unfair to bash a piece about people someone interacts with for not being a survey of the most amazing women in the bike industry. That’s just a different piece. And some of the women mentioned weren’t even at Interbike this year. But hey, shooting the messenger is always easy.

    • Shawn Moore

      I understand your point, but the title of the piece uses the word “people” and therefore leaving out women is very glaring. If the title used the word “men” we would naturally expect another article of “women”, but “people” connotes a one and done aspect. This sport has been traditionally male dominated as has the industry, but efforts should be made to have a more inclusive view of both. My wife raced for Bianchi while Sky was there and always talked about what a force she was.

      • Byron DL

        And hey a cigar is sometimes just a cigar.

      • Padraig

        Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If he’d used “men” in the title he’d have been called out for being sexist, which is currently what’s happening anyway. Maybe what we should do is shoot Byron for working in an industry that is male-dominated.

    • ladyfleur

      Perhaps Byron could seek out a woman or two at Interbike to interview and photograph. I suspect he didn’t know Zap before Interbike.

      • Byron DL

        Known Zap for years. The story about him I shared was from last year. Sarai wrote about women here and Jen See posted another great piece on her blog.

  • Tara Moeller

    Some of the greats for sure! Love me some Nic Simms.

    The Feb issue of Bicycle Retailer recognized the 50 Most Influential Women in the Bike Industry and here are some of those greats as well!

    from the Executive Category:
    Elysa Walk
    Sally McCoy

    from Sales & Marketing Category:
    Jennifer Boldry
    Karen Bliss
    Dorothy Nichols
    Megan Tompkins

    from the Advocacy Category:
    Jenn Dice
    Ashley Korenblat

    In a nutshell, it’s great to know that we can all learn from each other and spread the love of building such an amazing industry together.

    • Byron DL

      That’s right Tara! Busy right and Feb seems so long ago. Thanks for sharing.

  • craig glaspell

    No women, figures. Another circle jerk session.

  • Great list. Missing many talented men and women that make this industry fantastic.

    • Byron DL

      There’s probably a whole blog in all the great work that gets done day in and out.