braintrust
Beggars Would Ride

The Human Resource

Photos Mike Ferrentino
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If my mission at Sea Otter this year was “see all the new stuff and report on it”, I clearly failed. I didn’t see all the new stuff. I barely saw any of the new stuff. Instead, I saw a lot of old people. And we talked a lot, because when you are old, you have time to talk, and the new stuff doesn’t seem as pressing or as important as the catching up. And reaffirming that we are still here is sometimes a long conversation, one we were probably in too much of a hurry doing Very Important Things to engage in when we were younger and more involved in doing Very Important Things.

A correction is needed. We are NOT all still here. The growing number of notable absences among the people I have been seeing every year (but one) for the thirty-some year span of the Sea Otter is felt with more weight and more sadness each year. This is one of those unavoidable truisms of aging. The older we get, the more familiar with death we become. And while this growing sense of our own mortality pulls our remaining time on this planet into a much tighter focus, it also provides some measure of circumspection and acceptance, even as it sets off quiet alarm bells in our heads. So we are not all here, but a surprising number of us are, and we have spent our lives in this fishbowl and are still here chugging along in love with bikes, albeit with quite a bit more gray in the mix.

And some of us are still doing Very Important Things, but we are all feeling those gaps and losses where other friends used to be, and we have more time to talk as a result. We make more time. The Very Important Things can wait for a minute, and we can instead catch up during the few short days where we are all in one place. So rather than talk about whether that fancy new helmet chin retention is going to be the next MIPS, or to what extent that Chinese company ripped off that German hub design, or debating the value proposition of everything from tires to new inverted forks, we show pictures of our kids graduating high school, or getting married, or we compare surgery scars for everything from basal cell carcinomas to heart surgery zippers. We talk about falling in love, about getting divorced, about getting drunk, about quitting drinking, about gardening, about food, about art, about war, about plastic in the oceans, about our dogs.

chrischance

Chris Freakin' Chance. Nicest guy in show business, absolute legend, godfather of east coast framebuilding, still at it.

We do this because we have seen each other riding bikes forever, and we have the time and space to talk about other things now, to get to know each other beyond the bikes. We were all skinny and Lycra clad once upon a time. Some of us were skinny and dressed in wool, with hairnets and toeclips instead of helmets and SPDs, because many of us are that old. We met on bikes, at a time when we were all a lot younger and more zealous about everything. Most of us have opened up our thinking since those younger days of strong opinions and heightened self-righteousness, but a few of us have gone the other way and hardened into crusty unwillingness to see anything but our own convictions. All of us have been in this rodeo long enough to have had our convictions about design and evolution overturned at least a few times. All of us have watched as our own sport, our own chosen industry, has chewed any number of us up, devouring projects, products, ideas, brands; rendering labors of love worthless while chasing profit with a bottomless thirst.

We meet here, at this Celebration Of Cycling, and we talk about the other shit that matters because we have spent our lives here, talking about bikes. We have spent decades at it; talking about bikes, about racing, about the manufacture of bikes, about the politics of industry, about the often stumbling incompetent dance of PR and marketing, about application of materials, about manufacturing techniques, about corporate consolidation. And for all those lifetimes spent working and talking about bikes, surprisingly few of us are looking at a comfortable retirement. So we steal a few minutes here, and we look each other in the eye, and we speak truths about life. We drop the uniform we’ve been wearing for 30 years, 40 years, more, and we drop the bullshit along with it, and we ask each other how we are doing.

I was in too much of a hurry, too self-absorbed, along with too shy, to talk about anything but bikes in the first couple decades of my working in the industry. The first decade I was also trying to absorb everything I could that pertained to bikes, so there never felt like there was time or bandwidth to talk about anything else. To this day I regret that I did not slow down, listen more, ask more questions of the humans I was meeting about the lives they lived when we weren’t all sharing time on bicycles. I feel like I missed out on a lot.

Nowadays, I probably swing too uncomfortably in the other direction for some folk. Not everyone wants to talk about non-binary children, cancer, increasing ocean temperatures or whether social media is turning us all into narcissists. In many respects, it’s way easier to just stick to bikes. I have gone from being too aloof to the human connection to being a little too pointed and not always reading the room correctly. The tells come in the form of clenched jaws, quick glints in the eye, and uncomfortable conversation endings.

But then something occurs like the colossal boner that Kent Outdoors pulled at the Sea Otter this year; directing the Kona employees there to stop assembling their booth and take it all apart instead, on the Thursday of the event, right there in front of thousands of spectators as well as most of the assembled bike industry. Talk about making an impression. For three days, in spite of all the rad new product on display elsewhere, in spite of the assembled industry lifers gathering to talk about all that other stuff that I have been navel-gazing about for 1000 words now, all ANYONE was talking about was Kona. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” P.T Barnum once quipped.

Gotcha there, P.T. You might have just been proven wrong.

Empty Kona Booth at Sea Otter

'Nuff said about that...

Some of the grey haired faces that were missing this year used to work at Kona. The past few years have been a harrowing time in this industry, and the greying out of my peers has accelerated during and following the pandemic. There’s an element of this that is just the natural process of getting older. One day you wake up and you are grey, and so are all your friends, and it can be jarring to realize. But at the same time, as I traded hugs and fist bumps with people who have been absolutely foundational in the evolution of mountain biking, people without whom the sport may not have evolved at all, as I considered the lifetimes of accumulated experience as well as the lifetimes of service given to this sport, and we talked about the scars that life leaves, I couldn’t help but think that the mileage might be a little kinder if we hadn’t all experienced some variation of what happened at Kona ourselves, often repeatedly.

No-one gets out of here alive, right? I get that loud and clear. I have no regrets about the choices I have made. I could’ve gone and developed a career around something more lucrative than words and bicycles. But I love this shit, and I love the other lifers that washed up on this Island Of Misfit Toys alongside me. No tears.

It’d be nice though, even just once, when I read about yet another brand folding up its tent (literally, in the case of Kona at the Sea Otter) or hear about another wave of layoffs while knowing full well that some asshole in a suit got a healthy bonus for “increasing shareholder value” or some other such horseshit, that I also heard about the depth of that knowledge and experience being preserved instead of gutted. Honored instead of cut to the bone and discarded. Just once. I won’t hold my breath.

But you’ll have to excuse me while I steal a few minutes to knock back a beer with some other lifers and talk about anything but bikes on their bosses' dimes.

trio

About that intro photo... The dapper dude with the mustache is Chuck Teixeira. Butted aluminum? Easton Hyperlite handlebars? Thank him. Then ask him about milling all his own wood in order to rebuild his house after it got burned down in the CZU fires, fires that also took several of the impeccably restored hot rods that he built and god only knows how many bicycles that were absolutely instrumental in the evolution of mountain biking. The other guy? Steve Boehmke. Remember when Shimano launched the first matte grey XTR? And after that, when Rockshox were partying like they had built Valhalla? That happened on the big man's watch. Ask either of them about BMX or mountain biking in LA in the early 80s and prepare to be awed. Their fingerprints are all over everything. Human Resource defined.

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Comments

HMBA106
+33 Andy Eunson HughJass taprider ackshunW RobertAxleProject Dude@ Geof Harries Jeff White FlipSide shenzhe Dave Smith Timinger UMichael Pete Roggeman chacou bde1024 fartymarty Niels van Kampenhout Mammal araz Cr4w PowellRiviera vunugu Cam McRae Hardlylikely Merwinn Kerry Williams scarymyth Koelschejung cornedbeef trainedCADmonkey James Heath Curveball

Mike, you are an essential voice within our stupid little sub-culture. Thank you.

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gdharries
+3 Andy Eunson fartymarty Kerry Williams

Yes indeed.

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DaveSmith
+3 fartymarty Kerry Williams James Heath

Well said.

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fartymarty
+1 Kerry Williams

Hear hear.

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lacykemp
+13 Dude@ Andy Eunson fartymarty Geof Harries Pete Roggeman GB Mammal Dave Smith Velocipedestrian Carlos Matutes Nicholas Haig-Arack James Heath Curveball

Remember when we talked on the phone a few months ago about the bike industry and how it sometimes felt like an abusive relationship? Sigh. This is the cycle. This is the flowers and the, "I'm so sorry," and the "It'll never happen again." And just like you, I always come back to this place because of the people and the memories even though there is so much greed at play. 

That's the real monster.

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OLDF150
+1 Andy Eunson

The sentiment is genuine and real.  But, as someone from a completely different industry, and turning 55, the greed is not a cycling industry stand alone.  It happens because business in general needs to make profit, and those in charge are always scared to have less than an increase in profits.  Which in turn leaves those of us on the ground a bit raw when people making millions tell us the company can't afford an increase in pay at this time. Ahhh, life.  Nobody said it was going to be easy.

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Joe_Dick
+11 Jotegir Andy Eunson taprider Dude@ fartymarty Pete Roggeman Mammal Koelschejung vunugu Merwinn James Heath

The weirdest part about getting older is not that I am getting old, It’s that my friends are getting old too. At least bikes and skis still let us act like kids.

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T-mack
+3 Andy Eunson Merwinn James Heath

This. I moved away 3 years ago and so I only see my friends once or twice a year. Every time I see them they've developed new older person habits, like drinking 0% beer and needing to take pills for various ailments. it's pretty wild to witness and certainly forces me to look in the mirror and ask how old I am.

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tehllama42
+1 James Heath

That right there is exactly why grown men playing with bikes is a phenomenon that feeds an industry.

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Koelschejung
+5 Niels van Kampenhout Andy Eunson Hardlylikely James Heath Curveball

You are as old as you feel and that is exactly the point. Many of my friends and I too, all in their 50s and 60s, are still very active in sports, and most likely all of them are therefore quite healthy and this is also reflected in their positive attitude towards life. And the best thing of all is the serenity that comes with advancing age. You no longer have to prove it to anyone, in any respect. So friends, move your old bones, ride your bikes, feel like teenagers and look calmly into the future!

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jt
+9 Andy Eunson taprider Dude@ fartymarty shenzhe Pete Roggeman Koelschejung Merwinn Curveball

Hammer meet nail. Raced my first alley cat in well over a decade recently and met up with a couple of former couriers I worked with back in the day. We were chuckling some listening to the youngin's blab on about bikes/parts that suck/don't suck. Those chuckles came between chats of where we are career and life-wise, how our parents/spouses/kids are, what scares we've had. It also came after having a microsecond of a breakdown the day before remembering one of my best friends who had passed away. One of those blindside moments where you're humming along with tasks at hand and looking forward to the race and weekend to remembering it was near this time of the year he died.  Had to take a moment and was pretty happy I mostly work solo, as sometimes when things well up someone asking if you're ok makes it burst through the surface. 

There is shit that matters, then there is Shit That Really Matters. The love and care we have for one another lands squarely in the latter.

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xy9ine
+4 Andy Eunson Dave Smith Merwinn Curveball

chuck is giving GF some serious facial grooming competition. speaking of which (random aside) i once snapped a set of hyperlite bars; they were impressively light. given, during a dh race on blackcomb; my xc bike was my dh bike, because of course, we raced the hillclimb beforehand (how else did you get to the top of the mountain)?

tales from the rocking chair, hey? i occasionally look back & realize, holy shit, been doing this for a while.

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velocipedestrian
+1 Merwinn

Chuck's Gary costume was so convincing I had to scroll back up to confirm it wasn't him. 

Tempted to try making a mo' like that attached to some frames. Not up for rocking it every day, but on special occasions...

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North_Shore_Dirt_Farmer
+3 Andy Eunson taprider Dude@

The worst part of getting older is the loneliness of dying alone. Good article even though it was tough to read.

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andy-eunson
+3 Dude@ fartymarty Hardlylikely

I haven’t lost any close friends yet even though I’m 66. My circle of friends is pretty small though. Never had grandparents as they all had passed before I was born. All my aunts and uncles and some cousins are gone. A couple guys I knew died in accidents but not close friends. Lucky I guess. As I’ve gotten older I think I’ve become more aware and caring about other peoples problems. I’m way less conservative than when I was younger. Less selfish I hope. I mostly ride and cross country ski alone because I don’t want my pace to be affected by others. But when I come across others on the trail, I’ll talk their ears off. Am I becoming that John Prine song? "Old people just grow lonesome, Waiting for someone to say, Hello in there, Hello."

https://youtu.be/RfwGkplB_sY?si=ZmskbcwER8kv5x8e

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Hawkinsdad
+3 Koelschejung Andy Eunson Curveball

Mike, I thank you again for your hard-gleaned and poignant wisdom. As I age into an arthritic, sometimes scattered, and even more cantankerous Neanderthal with more hair on my ears than my head, I realize with deep gratitude what most matters. It is the precious time I get to spend with friends connected by a mutual love of bikes and the outdoors, and not the pursuit of best times or the most expensive bikes, that really matters. I cherish the blessing it is to still be out there, the laughs afterwards, and the desire to ride again soon.

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mikesee
+2 ClydeRide Cr4w

Moar please.

Reply

leverfingers
+1 Merwinn

Clinkity clink.

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mickeyD
0

The bike industry should stop giving a gym chain money to race through un-exploded ordinance and let Boehmke run a series of tiki parties at slalolm races nationwide.  

Except when it’s slalolm and cyclocross season at the same time, obviously.

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tim-lane

Boehmke is putting this event together now: goldcountryclassicbike.com

If it’s a roaring success I’m sure there’ll be a series!

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