Cameron Falconer Knows the Best Tools Are the Simplest

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Fire it up. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A couple of bikes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A little bit of smoke from the welding. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Di-Acro Model 4 hand-operated bender awaiting orders. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Disco ball, a must have for every office. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cutting metal. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A beauty shot of Cameron's personal Falconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cameron's favorite tool: his hand-made chainstay subassembly fixture Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cameron welding away. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Shavings from the milling machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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The workshop whiteboard Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A well-used lathe. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cameron working away inside his shop in San Francisco's Bayview district Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

While many bike frames are made with exotic materials these days, Cameron Falconer, of Falconer Cycles, uses good old-fashioned steel.

Located in the Bayview district, a stone’s throw away from the original Trouble Coffee company, Cameron is one of a handful of frame builders that calls San Francisco home, not to mention the dude’s quite a fixture in the local cross-country/cyclocross racing scene.

Instead of complicated tube shapes, which which have become the norm, Cameron is out to build simple and functional, TIG-welded steel bikes. They are precision-made tools that are meant to be used/ridden/abused day in and day out. That’s no BS.

It’s been three and a half years since Cameron got into building bikes full time. We met up with Cameron recently while he was working on a special non bike-related project for a buddy. But what the heck, we chatted anyway.

Five words to describe your bikes:
Simple. Practical. Forms follow function. Tools first.

Best part about the job:
The best thing is being able to do something creative and be able to constantly refine what I do in trying to improve it. I find it pretty rewarding, to see people riding my bikes and enjoying it.

Once I deliver the bike to somebody it’s theirs and they can do whatever they want with it quite honestly. They can cut it up and make pry bars, bongs out of it. That’s not really my business but I prefer, much prefer people to ride them. And they do. It’s always really nice running into somebody and having them do something cool and having a cool experience on something I made. That’s what keeps me going.

Cameron Flaconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

First thing you would do as a captain of a pirate ship:
Assumed I already only have one leg, I would make everyone brush their teeth, hygiene is important.

Uphill or downhill:
There’s no preference there, I like them both.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:
Ride a bike at somewhere interesting with people I like on mountain bikes … Bunch of real high places in Colorado. Oakridge, Oregon. I’d love to go to the Alps, never been there. A lot of places are just in the big mountains, pretty unique spots.

What’s it like at the transition from being a welder at a metal fabrication shop to a bike builder?
There were some challenges. I already knew the frame building trade from work at Ed Litton and a few other friends. I think you just keep getting better at what you do so I would never claim to say the stuff I made is perfect.

Design inspirations:
Ed Litton whom I worked for, Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles whom I’ve raced for and still race on a team supported by him. I started racing for him in 1997. He’s been a super big influence on me. Sean Walling at Soulcraft. I am really lucky to have a lot of my friends around here who do this for a living. They’re really good folks and we help each other out, so there’s definitely a lot of cross-pollination going on.

As far as inspiration goes most of my inspiration are people who do stuff that I think is really well executed and really simple.

The local frame-building scene here is amazing. There are tons of talented people doing it.

How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Marin?
Let’s say there’s an average of 15 windows in a building, and how many buildings are in Marin County anyway … 100,000 at least? So a couple million windows give or take. Assumed that’s a few year’s work I would guess, it’ll be pretty monotonous so I want to see $150k a year to do that. Half a million would be cool. Someone would have to pay for my gas too.

Thoughts about the new wave of axle, bottom bracket standard and disc brakes? Does that affect you in anyway?
Yes it does. It matters. Thru axles are generally a good thing, particularly with disc brakes. The boost standard that’s coming right now is also potentially a good thing for real strength. Most of the new BB standards I think are a waste of time… Other than the new T47 standard. That’ll be a good useful standard.

In my world I think it is going to be adopted by a lot of people. There are benefits for people like me for sure but I don’t see it as a necessity in particularly for steel builders. If you’re building titanium where you need bigger diameter tubes there are some definite benefits to it. In steel, there are benefits as well. You can run different cranks and such. It’s easier.

Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Hardest part of the job:
It would be being responsible for every aspect of it. You’re the CEO but you’re also the janitor. So whenever something goes wrong or right it’s your fault. Whatever responsibility there is in here is all mine and it can be a bit much sometimes.

What would you cook for your friends:
Same thing I cook most nights probably. Big pile of vegetables and some sausages.

Chosen superpower?
My girlfriend asked a question like that the other night. We were watching a skateboarding video at a friend’s house and she was like if you can speak every language or skateboard like these guys … and both my friend and I were like we want to skate like these guys. It’s like defying gravity. I see it as nearly a super power. I would love to be able to get on a skateboard and do super high-level skateboard tricks. It’s totally outside of my world. I am the world’s worst skateboarder. It’s close enough to be a super power for my taste.

Guilty pleasures? Not really. Honestly I don’t watch whatever housewives, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or anything. I don’t even watch TV.

Favorite cocktail: Good proper margarita.

Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

If you get to be any animal what would you be?
Maybe a marmot. Because they get to hang around in the rocks in altitude at beautiful places and sleep all winter.

Anything else you would like to add? Any tips for those who are looking into building bikes?
As far as people wanting to learn how to build bikes, don’t have any illusion to it … it’s a hard way to make a living and certainly not the best way to make money. It’s rewarding in a lot of ways but it sure as hell isn’t easy.

The stuff I make, I feel like if you’re buying from somebody you’re buying the tangible representation of what they think is important. So you should buy a bike from someone you get along with the best, regardless who that is, and whose world view in regards to cycling best matches yours.


Carla McCord at Pivot Cycles Takes Your Fun Budget Seriously

Carla McCord of Pivot Cycles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Carla McCord is a veteran of the cycling industry. Now the marketing manager at Pivot Cycle, she’s been a bike shop salesperson, a mechanic, and a graphic designer. She was even there when the first woman-specific Terry saddle was introduced (more on that in a bit.)

Named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the Industry by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News in 2014, Carla has been helping various companies in marketing and communicating products to customers. Call it the bridge between you and [insert your favorite bike company here]. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s easier said than done really, as you’ll read in the following interview.

On top of it all, Carla is one of the nicest and hardest working people I’ve had a chance to meet since I’ve started shooting/writing cycling stuff. Oh, and I hear she’s blazing fast on the bike, too.

So what do you really do for work?

Well, the official title is the marketing manager for Pivot Cycles. The unofficial title would be more interesting. You know, it’s a funny combo, marketing is a lot of things to a lot of people and I think there’s an impression out there that you’ll spend a lot of time bro-ing down … I joke about it all the time that I am at these events just to give free stuff and hangout.

And the reality is that is actually a very tiny part of it. The biggest part is you’re trying to think about what is it you do and how that is going to be interesting to people. You’ll spend a lot of time strategizing, you’ll spend a lot of time planning one year, two years down the road. I am in a really privileged place in a sense that my job is to essentially make people happy.

It’s a huge responsibility. We think about this, the stuff we make at Pivot, these bikes, when someone decides to buy one of our bikes and that’s going to be the thing they ride. For most people that is a significant thing—that’s going to be their fun budget for a while. So it’s a huge responsibility to make sure we communicate in a way they get the real one, it fits them perfectly, it’s set up perfectly so that six months from now, heck, we’re responsible for their fun. They believe our stuff is going to help them to go out and to enjoy the trails, the mountains, the desert and we‘ve got to make sure we hold up to our end of the bargain. So we work really hard to do that.

Were you always in marketing?

Oh gosh that’s the funny one. I have a painting degree. I have a BFA from the University of Washington and I was really serious about it for a while. And then I realized I can pay my bills if I’m employed. At the same time I had worked my way through college at bike shops as a mechanic and salesperson.

The wrenching was an accident. And honestly I wasn’t that great of a wrench. Though if you’ve got a 20 year-old, one-inch-threaded-everything beater old road bike and a campy tool set, I can fix the hell out of that bike. Since then, there are other mechanics that are better than I am.

But I was actually really good at helping people find things and helping people solve their problems. I started working at bike shops pretty much exactly the same time the first women’s saddle was introduced. It was about ’91-’92.

Georgena Terry should be in the cycling hall of fame for that saddle. It really was that one product. For years it was like you had to know that in order to make your saddle comfortable as a woman means you go to the bike shop, borrow the dremel tool and dremel out the plastic in the inside of the nose of the saddle. For beginner cyclists, that was completely inaccessible. They didn’t even know what to ask.

Being a woman in a bike shop in the ’90s was really, really rare. I happened to work at a woman-owned bike shop in Seattle so it was even more rare. I learned a lot of cool stuff about how to talk to different demographics of people not as demographics, and that’s one of the things that was really important.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

I’ll just guess: 567,000

Uphill or downhill?

Downhill.

First thing you’d do as a captain of a pirate ship?

I’d probably make sure everybody has really frilly blouses because I want a really picture-esque pirate ship that’s aesthetically pleasing. I would design the pirate ship experience to make it visually impressive.

A friend’s coming over, what would you cook them for dinner?

That’s pretty easy. That’s all about getting some really good Mexican food going. That is just my home food. Awesome guacs, good skirt steak, and some homemade tortilla if I am really adventurous but honestly my tortillas are really bad. More guac because I am an avocado addict. I used to live in LA and that is definitely something I miss about LA, just the nonstop availability of a Mexican butcher shop.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.

I am kind of a sit in one place kind of person so when I go on vacation what I like to do is to find a spot and basically live there as long as I can. Honestly my vacation I usually try to turn into something I can also get a little work in so I can stay for a month. The cool thing about that is you get to know the local restaurants, bakeries, the food, the people and you’ll start to see the stuff you don’t see otherwise. Always got to have a bike on hand cause you’ll see so many more things on bike than by car. I walk everywhere, always with a loved one, so I’d definitely go with my husband Cam … and our baby on the way … it’ll be a family vacation.

Carla McCord of Pivot Cycles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

If you were a stalker would you be good at it?

Yeah I’d be awesome at it actually. I am really good at getting information. It’s part of being a good marketing manager. You have to be able to do your research, to do your Google things. You’ve got to be able to come up with ideas and figure things from what you find, so I think I’ll be pretty kickass at it.

Most embarrassing story?

I don’t know. I got myself tangled up with some packing tape this morning.

Chosen superpower?

I’d like to be a Google billionaire so I can give all my money away to all the schools. I think it’s something that’s really important that we don’t do enough of.

Choose a car, any car, to represent yourself.

Exactly the car I drive. It’s a Subaru Outback with all kinds of things attached to it. It’s got a rooftop box, a Thule rack, and special shocks so I can run a 4 banger Thule rack and not bottom out my rear suspension.

It’s filled with Border Collie hair at all times. You can’t get into my car without getting coated in dog hair because I always have a dog. There’s probably one snow shoe and some camping gear.

If you were an animal in the wild, what would you be?

Ravens, because they’re super smart. They remember everything and they know you. If you’ve got local ravens they see you. They’re gorgeous that there are lot of beautiful colors in their feathers. Ravens just seem like they kind of have it together. They’re always out there doing interesting raven stuff that they seem they’re smart enough that they have plans.

Any advice for those looking into breaking into this sport industry?

You can’t just think it’s a bro thing. And by bro I mean all these folks want to come in thinking it’s super easy, fun time thing that they get to be a cool guy.

I spend a lot of time in front of Excel, work really hard, think a lot about what I am doing and I also have a lot of folks who work really hard around me. It’s awesome and I try to be respectful of that.

At the same time, it’s a small industry and the most important thing is to have integrity around what you do because if you don’t, man, first of all, what are you doing for yourself, and in the end, that’ll come back to you six months or six years down the road. Somebody’s going to remember and you’ll see the same people over and over. It’s important that you treat them all very well.


Nice Guys Can Finish First (Or At Least With Silver)

"Climbing," said Adrien Costa. "It' like heaven for me. I don't mind time-trialing, but it's not the same."
“Climbing,” said Adrien Costa. “It’ like heaven for me. I don’t mind time-trialing, but it’s not the same.” Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Adrien Costa has been all over the cycling media after winning silver in the junior Worlds time trial championships in Richmond, 17 seconds off the lead.

The 18-year-old hopes his junior success will eventually lead to a contract in the pro peleton, but for now he is just trying to keep it all in perspective and accomplish one goal at a time.

“He might be humble, but he doesn’t back down from any challenge,” said Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Cannondale-Garmin cycling team. “Doing a World Tour training camp? No problem. Quite a bit stronger than many of the pros and did all of the training miles.”

Costa has been living in Bend, Oregon after growing up in Los Altos, California.

“It is small town life, relaxed and a ton of things to do outside,” said Costa. “Hiking and they have the rivers and the lakes there. It is perfect offseason territory. I love it.”

So what has he been up to since being on the podium?

“Since Worlds, it’s been a month now, and I haven’t really ridden that much,” said Costa. “I started with two weeks completely off. And now just messing around a couple times a week.. Yeah, for any level of cyclist it is important to have the rest, mentally especially.”

He got some of his wisdom about seeking balance from his coach, some from his mom and picked up even more during the Cannondale-Garmin training camp he got invited to earlier this year in Mallorca.

“It was amazing,” said Costa. “I learned so much and not just from cycling. Obviously you do learn just talking to the guys about how everyone finds their balance between cycling and regular life. They are some of the best in the world, but they still live interesting lives outside of cycling. You have to find the balance. It was really interesting and it gave me a good perspective on what I need to do and some thing I can relax upon a little more. To still be young for a little bit.”

Costa started riding on the track in San Jose at the ripe old age of 12.

“The track really is a great way to start,” he said. “Because you learn so much: pedal stroke, tactics, bike handling, it is so good.”

Costa hopes to eventually take his skills to the pro peleton and have what it takes to be a contender on the GC.

“In the junior races and amateur races I tend to get better as the race progresses,” he said. “And I’m good at time-trialing and climbing. And those are the three key ingredients. I absolutely love climbing. It’s heaven for me. I don’t mind time trialling, but it’s not the same.”

“He’s willing to do the hard work, live the solitary lifestyle, and make the real sacrifices,” said Vaughters. “Of course he’s talented. He can climb, he can time trial, and he can handle a big workload. But his desire to succeed and willingness to do what it takes to succeed is what sets him apart.”

Two minutes after our interview, Costa is headed to Europe to train in Nice and will be riding for theAxeon development team next season. He will be watched over by none other than Axel Merckx.

“Eventually you have to take a step and adapt,” said Costa. “I don’t think we are close to being able to produce riders independently without going through Europe. It’s because the country is so big and even though we might have more cyclists total, they are so spread out.”

Costa is keeping it all in perspective and attempting to remember why he loved riding his bike to begin with.

“I’ve been trying to rekindle the same passion I had when I was younger,” said Costa. “After school rides used to be my favorite. I would go out after school and just ride my bike. Then the next day you spend the whole day in school day dreaming about riding after school.”

“I’m still trying to find the perfect balance.” he said.

The Interview

Family: Oldest of three siblings

Yellow or Pink: Oh I think yellow, but I think the Giro is a race I find way more inspiring. Just because of the courses and the difficulty of it and the struggles with the weather. They race with way more passion at the Giro. The Tour just seems super calculated. But, it is the biggest race and I don’t think anyone would mind yellow.

How to win a TT: My best TTs are when you just really get into that rhythm where you are hurting really bad, but you can still hold that rhythm. It’s all about finding that sweet spot. It is definitely a huge, huge mental game.

Is your mom supportive: 100 percent.

What is your spirit animal: I have no idea. I’ll have to come up with one.

“He’s a thoroughbred,” said Jonathan Vaughters. “That’s his spirit animal.”

Favorite Meal: I would say burritos. Any burrito.

Three words friends would use to describe you: Focused. Adventurous. And hopefully smart.

Languages spoken: I speak French, Spanish and I’m learning Italian.

Favorite movie: I just watched The Godfather and I enjoyed that. A little bit of action and a little bit of history. I don’t watch a ton of movies.

Favorite music: I play guitar, so I’m into the ’70s rock stuff. I’m really into Carlos Santana. I’ve been doing a couple of his things note-by-note and I’m getting there.

KOMs: I want to come back and get the Old La Honda KOM one day. You tell the guy who has it I’m coming to get it.

One thing people don’t know about you: Let’s just say cyclist are aggressive drivers. I got pulled over doing triple digits. (In his van, no less)


How Park Tool Keeps the Bike World Running, One Blue Handle at a Time

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Pegboards full of blue-handled tools—nipple drivers, caliper wrenches and the like—cover nearly every inch of wall, and the floor is a kind of obstacle course of repair and truing stands.

It is the showroom and final stop on the tour of Park Tool’s 85,000-square-foot facility in Oakdale, MN and when CEO Eric Hawkins leans against it’s newest repair stand with a hydraulic lift, this seems to be where the tour will end.

But Hawkins likes to end the tour where the story of Park Tool actually begins. He walks over to an odd sculptural piece on caster wheels. It is made with the base of a dining room table, a shell casing filled with cement, a ’37 Ford truck axel and a broken hockey stick.

Hawkins never tires of showing his father’s creation, the very first bicycle repair stand.

The first repair stand made by Park Tool founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
The first repair stand made by Park Tools founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Two Sore Backs

Bicycles, whether in the peloton of the Tour de France or meandering along some state park bike path, are likely on the move because of Park Tool. Bike mechanics in more than 70 countries grab the tools to change break pads, spoke wheels, and adjust front and rear derailleurs.

That Park Tool rose up from a local fix-it shop in the Hazel Park neighborhood of St. Paul to having a 90 percent share of the global market for bicycle maintenance tools is a great American business success story.

“With us,” Hawkins says, “we have been in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”

The story, however, did not start with ambition. It began with two sore backs.

Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. (Courtesy of Park Tool)
Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. Photo: Courtesy of Park Tool

Howard Hawkins had just graduated from a technical college, where he learned welding and blacksmithing, when he bought a repair shop in 1956 with a friend, Art Engstrom. America was in the middle of a post-war housing boom and with it came all sorts of things to repair, like radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Ice skates were in constant need of sharpening during the long Minnesota winters.

The housing boom also meant growing families with children riding bikes. From their shop, Hawkins and Engstrom sold and repaired Schwinn bicycles. The two were growing tired of stooping over bicycles on the ground when they came up with the idea for a contraption that could hold a bike off the ground and rotate 360 degrees.

The Prototype

Even today, the first stand is something to behold. The odd mix of items are smartly arranged to provide a solid, anchored weight in the base, along with a strength to support and balance a bike. Howard Hawkins laid down sure and economical beads in his welds and his first stand still stands ready for any bike triage.

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins repaired bikes with it for a few years before showing it to Schwinn in 1963. At Schwinn’s direction, the two designed a commercial stand that soon took its place wherever Schwinn bikes were repaired.

“He didn’t know anything about bikes, but he learned by putting his hands on things,” the younger Hawkins said of his father. “To him, everything was about common sense.”

Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

That Midwest ingenuity began to come up against new challenges in the late 1960s, when the shifting and breaking mechanisms in bikes became more complex. Repairs were difficult because the tools for the new components did not exist.

The Tools

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins began making the tools: wrenches, frame alignment gauges, bracket and cable tools. The tools in the early years were built from scratch with whatever materials were left over in their shop.

Meanwhile, the two were among the nation’s top Schwinn dealers and at one point operated out of three different locations. The demands for tools became so great the two sold the shops in 1981.

Park Tool. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

As the tool line expanded, Park Tool have out-grown a couple of other facilities. They make close to 400 different kinds of tools for bikes and hold more than two dozen patents.

Park Tool tracks the cycling industry and seems to have a tool every time something new is released. Because of its standing, companies often share the specs on new components so that Park Tool can make tools to be available at the time of the item’s release. It has enjoyed spikes in growth thanks to mountain biking, BMX and American success in international cycling.

The company also recognized that cyclists began to learn how to take care of their bikes and has a robust line of consumer products, from folding allen wrench sets to tire patch kits.The Park Tool website is also a repository for informational articles and video tutorials.

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. (David Pierini)

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Bottom bracket tools (David Pierini)

Bottom bracket tools. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Chain whips ready for shipment. (David Pierini)

Chain whips ready for shipment. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

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Some of the employees commute to work by bike and factory floor fans are a good way to dry off clip shoes on a rainy day. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. (David Pierini)

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

“I think its important for us to take the mystery out of the bike,” Eric Hawkins said. “If you can show someone it’s easy to fix a flat tire, they’re likely to go for a ride. For a lot of people, being able to work on the bike is an ultimate goal. We are happy to give them that education.”

The Heir

Eric Hawkins grew up in his father’s bike shops and learned the business just from watching. He went off to college and came back to work for Park Tool for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

The younger Hawkins started making suggestions from what he learned from college marketing classes. He suggested having a presence at trade shows and other cycling events and his father agreed.

An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

It was Eric Hawkins idea to patent the Park Tool shade of blue, Pantone 2935, which in cycling has become as recognizable as the green of the John Deere tractor.

“What better childhood than to hang out in a bike shop,” he said. “I learned a lot about assembling bikes and without knowing it, common sense. My dad did have any great ambitions, he was content making a living with the bike shops, but to his credit, he let me try some things.”

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Even after both Engstrom and the elder Hawkins retired, Howard popped into the factory a couple of times a week just to check on things. He even helped assemble display boards for the industry’s two biggest events, Interbike and Eurobike.

Hawkins and Engstrom were able to revel in the company’s 50 anniversary celebration in 2013. This past January, Howard Hawkins died in Arizona from a heart attack. He was 82.

Eric Hawkins has done much to modernize the company, but is a careful steward of his father’s legacy. There are pictures and newspaper clipping throughout the Park Tool office and one of every color and model of Schwinn Stingray ever made is lined up along an office, much like it looked in the old Hazel Park shop.

One way Eric Hawkins enjoys honoring his father is with a joke he always told people when asked how many people work for him. When I asked Eric how many work at Park Tool (between 50 and 60), he repeated his father’s line, “About half.”

Part of Park Tool's 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Part of Park Tool’s 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

We Get Into the Head of Kali’s Founder to Find Out Why He Protects Yours

Brad's favorite tool? This giant vernier caliper.

Brad's favorite tool? This giant vernier caliper.

With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.

With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.

Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.

Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.

There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.

There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.

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You can always find something interesting at Brad's workbench. Here's a part of a prototype rig Brad made to demonstrate how Bumper Fit 2.0 works in their line of helmets. It's an early rough prototype, but a really cool demonstrator at least.

A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel

A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel

A fully-equipped bike work area

A fully-equipped bike work area

Wall ride anyone?

Wall ride anyone?

Helmets, and more helmets.

Helmets, and more helmets.

Sample room.

Sample room.

An early helmet prototype in Brad's office

An early helmet prototype in Brad's office

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Prototype Bumper Fit layers in various shape and sizes. These never made the final cut.

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With a growing line of products Brad is pretty busy nowadays, but he still rides as much as he could. Motorcycles, bikes, or in this case, a skateboard.

If you want to talk about helmets, fighter jets, motorcycles, carbon fiber and beer in one conversation, Kali Protectives’ head honcho Brad Waldron is your guy.

Coming from a successful career building some of the most well-known fighter jets currently in existence and later as director of engineering at Specialized, Brad is the type of CEO that loves to get his hands dirty. Not from the comfort of his air-conditioned office but in his R&D “lab,” deep in the back of this cavernous warehouse. There he plans and prototypes the next big thing, hidden behind rows of helmets, in front of panels of whiteboards that he absolutely cannot live without — so much so that all the walls in his office are covered with them from top to bottom.

Intense right?

Well, Brad knows how to party too. He commutes on a skateboard around the office. There are dirt jumps on a purposely-built dirt track out back and he even has a half-pipe in the warehouse all in the name of fun. So we made a trip down to Morgan Hill for a quick visit and chatted over burritos.

So what do you really do for work?

You know, you start the stuff you do thinking you’re going to ride all the time. It’s like I am now in the industry, I’ve got my own company and I can ride all the time. But the reality isn’t that. You steal your time away right? That’s why we built the half-pipe, dirt jumps in the back so we can ride.

The first thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

First we’d kill all the lawyers … I used to live on a sailboat, I love the ocean, I love ships. But first thing I would do is just set sail, course, destination and enjoy.

If you can get a boat right now what would you get?

It’ll be something like a CT-41, a tall rig, something that can handle blue water cruiser anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t be brand new and super plastic—it’d be much sturdier.

Uphill or Downhill?

Oh damn, good question. Downhill. But l like to earn it.

Friend’s coming over, what would you cook?

Ribs. I’d slow cook them in beer for four hours, steam them for four hours before I throw them on the barbeque and lather on the barbeque sauce. It’s easy.

Brad Waldron, Kali Protectives
Brad filming his next video on Kali’s Composite Fusion Plus technology. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Describe your idea of perfect holiday.

Wake up early, do some riding whether it’s on the motorcycle or a bike. Something to get your blood pumping. I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So something that kicks your day off before the family gets up. You get home, you’re juiced up from that adrenaline and you bring your wife coffee, as she wakes up.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Unlimited muscle recovery so you can just go forever. So if you want to climb straight up for eight hours you can do without thinking about it. Wouldn’t it be nice? I don’t need strength, I don’t need flying, but to do the things that you love to do and never get tired from doing them, that’d be pretty cool.

Guilty pleasures?

Carne asada burritos.

What are you most proud of?

Obviously family. But when it comes to Kali, I am most proud that we never have to make a compromise. We never compromise anything about safety and nobody has ever put me in the position that I have to say I wouldn’t wear this or I wouldn’t put this on my kid’s head.

What is the transition like from building cool planes to helmets?

I was super fortunate because I was in R&D and working with military aircrafts, so I got to spend unlimited timelines and budgets. But when you move to consumer goods, it is very difficult because now there is a defined timeline and a defined amount of money you can spend. I am still accused from time to time of spending more time getting products ready than some people would like.

I would tell people when I was the director of engineering at Specialized that if I saw my own resume, I would have chucked it immediately because that transition from high-end aerospace to consumer goods is not an easy transition. You have to change your mentality. You have to think in shorter timelines.

When we were building an aircraft, I was able to build some that never saw the light of day, you did’t care what color it was. You didn’t care what the esthetics were. You just care about performance. Purely about performance.

Helmets are safety products. But in addition to that, they’re also fashion products. It’s something that if it looks stupid, people aren’t going to wear it. You have to have the balance between aesthetics, colors, graphics and everything like that.

I think it’s a very exciting time for helmets. We are really big into using softer foams. But the way the test standards are built, you have to use a hard foam to pass the test.

So engineers like me were always whining, “Oh the standards aren’t really good because they make our helmets too hard. We should change the standard, especially on the motorcycle side, the foam density is too hard.”

But what it started to do is force us to start looking at how to take care of the things that are important such as low-G impacts and smaller impacts without changing the standard. Instead of going about whining that the standards are wrong, it’s now like how do I accomplish what I want and still fit the standard. You’re starting to see a lot of people paying attention to low-G impacts.

It’s not required by the standards but we believe in it. We believe that foam densities are too hard so therefore how do we attack that problem and still pass the standard as they’re written.

Some companies start their design as an art project. So they start with a shape and then build in the engineering. We go the other way around. Giro did this great video on how they design helmets. It’s how we did it at Specialized, it’s how most people do it. It’s a good video. It starts with a designer, he started sketching out designs, started claying it, and then they brought in the engineer and said make this work.

While this is how helmets have been designed forever and it’s run by the design side, we like to start with the engineering and materials first and then see where we can fit it into the aesthetic side. You can’t do it without both. It’s got to be a marriage between performance, engineering, and the aesthetics.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

All out morning. I am dead by 10 o’clock at night but 5 o’clock in the morning—love that time. Nobody’s out, it’s that adrenaline junkie time. I get a lot more done in that time of day. How did that happen? I don’t know.

What is your favorite cocktail?

I am a beer guy at heart. But if I am going to have a cocktail, it’s going to be a Hendrix gin martini.

What about beer then?

How lucky are we living in northern California. I love a good micro beer – So many great options. City Beer is a great place, right next to SF Moto and has all the beers you want. My day-to-day beer is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Kali Protectives
The lobby at Kali Protective’s Morgan Hill Headquarters.

What is the one job in the world you would love to do?

This one, without all of the administrative part of running a company. I love being a designer, an engineer, and making new products. So if you would have told me 5, 10, 20 years ago that I’ll be doing this today I would have done anything to have this job.

Had I known all the other parts of this, I might not be quite as excited but I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position.

Favorite book or movie?

Not a huge movie person. I do love the Bourne series. I love action thrillers with a twist.


Dishing the Dirt With Mountain Bike Icon Hans Rey

Hans Rey
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Hans ‘No Way’ Rey is a legend. Mountain bike hall of famer, multiple world and national trials champion, freeride pioneer, the guy in that “Monkey See Monkey Do” video — on VHS, of course.

Those were the days where the GT LTS/RTS carbon were the hottest full suspension bikes on the block, The days of 56K modems, AOL 1,000 hour CDs in a tin can, Magura hydraulic rim brakes, print magazines …

Fast forward to 2015. The evergreen Hans is as strong as ever and still goes on epic bike trips across the globe riding in partnership with GT Bicycle. In fact, Hans is the longest GT-sponsored athlete for a whopping 28 years and running ever since the early days of mountain biking.

With that in mind, we sat down with Hans for a quick fireside (okay, a hotel lobby) chat in Park City, Utah.

So how did you get into mountain biking?

I started as a trials rider in Europe when it was just really trendy, kid’s sport really. I was about to retire from that and go to a university when an American trials rider came to Europe. Trials was a European sport then but he started telling us about this new sport in America called mountain biking and how there are always these stage races where a rider has to do downhill, cross country, and trials on the same bike. He said I should come over and show Americans what real trials are and I figured that’d be a great ending to my career.

I was 19-20 years old so I thought why don’t I take a semester off from the university and check it out.

I went over and the guy’s name is Kevin Norton and he had a real big interest in promoting trials and making it bigger. He introduced me not only to the mountain bike world but also into the whole BMX world because at that point trials was kind of living in both worlds. It went so well that I got a contract with GT and then I got hooked up at Swatch. They wanted me to tour America with skateboarder Rodney Mullen together to do shows and stuff so I thought maybe if I stay little bit longer I can take another semester off and it’ll be a great way to learn the language and see the country a bit. One year became two, three and next year will be number 30.

Hans Rey
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

How has mountain biking changed over the years, from your point of view?

If you look at the bikes from back then, you wonder how could you ride down these trails. Some of the trails you ride today are more or less the same trails you rode back then and it makes you sometimes wonder how you pulled it off.

I wasn’t one of the first guys but I was definitely there when the boom started. My roots go deep into all different sub-cultures of sport because I would eventually start racing some downhill, slalom … I even got third place at the Slalom World Championship one year.

I then started doing adventures on a mountain bike that really brought me the respect from the people that everyone who has a mountain bike knew how hard it was to bunny hop up and down a curb and this guy rides over cars and whatever.

The last 15-20 years were really based on changes and technology of the bike. I think the next 10-15 years will be about how we ride the bikes, purposed-built trails for example and all that stuff.

Was it more fun?

Usually when you look back at things you always be like the good old days were always better. You can look at that side too, but I don’t think the fun has stopped.

I’ve always said my philosophy is “I am going to do this as long as I have fun.” That hasn’t really stopped and that’s probably why I am still doing it. I embrace all the new trends, technologies and changes and have fun with it.

I still try to spread my roots. My roots are really deep now after being there for so long and I have a really solid foundation. And I still am interested in all the subcultures. My weekly riding habit involves several forms of riding. I do a lot of all-mountain stuff in connection with my adventure trips, regular mountain bike ride, but I ride trials once a week still. Sometimes I do shuttle runs, downhill runs and I even train on the road bike every once in a while to get some miles in. I even enjoy riding e-bikes sometimes.

Up hill or downhill?

Downhill.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.

For me it might be not to touch my bike. But no, I can only do that for a couple of days. My wife always says I get antsy if I am dis-attached from my bike for too long. But sometimes it’s nice to just go somewhere to relax, do nothing, to enjoy nature, and some spend time with my wife.

Any Particular place?

I like to go to new places. I like to go to special remote places, like I went to this really cool island with my wife a few years ago to Fiji. It was just a really nice vacation. Really special place with one-on-one time.

I get to do a lot of the cool biking stuff as my job. Luckily I have a dream job and I appreciate that. My office is some of the coolest biking trails and locations around the world so I don’t necessarily have to do that on my holiday.

If you had to choose a car that represents your personality, what would it be?

I am a fan of Audi, or a Land Rover kind of guy.

How much would you charge to wash all the windows in your town?

Probably a 7-figure amount.

How many golf balls can you fit in a schoolbus?

50,000?

Tell us your most embarrassing riding story.

In my downhill racing days which I was never really the guy to necessarily take home the world championships, I did start the world championship three times. I didn’t take it so serious, I was more just doing it without much preparation in those days. You have a water bottle with you and I was even drinking during my runs and stuff. But in one particular one at the Worlds in Italy in ’91, in the qualifying run I started out the gate and forgot to put my goggles on. It was really foggy and muddy … and I had to stop to put my goggles on and then continue riding. Hence the fact that I didn’t qualify in that one.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I like my cocktails and drinks.

Any advice for riders out there?

Well, if you want to make a living and be a professional, you’ve got to be professional. You have to treat it like a job. At the same time you don’t want to treat it too serious. You’ve got to have fun with it. At the end of the day, you have to make it happen for yourself.

We are a relatively small sport. It’s not like there are talent scouts out there looking for you. A lot of the guys who start becoming sponsored at one level or another often don’t understand the big picture — that it’s a business and these sponsors don’t just do it because they like you. There needs to be something in return. That “thing” in return can be in many different ways: It can be with a good
result, it can be with media exposure, it can be being a spokesperson or a communicator for the brand.

It could be in many forms, but you have to deliver that and you have to document it and show it to them. The bottom line is, have fun with it. As long you have fun, you’ve already won a lot.

If you could pick a super power, what would it be?

Time travel.