Tom Ritchey on Gravel in the 70s, Bikes as Billboards and the Future of Carbon

Grab some popcorn and a cold beer for this one. Here is a wonderfully entertaining interview with Tom Ritchey from the crew at Fahrstil. Tom discusses in length the early days of gravel riding in the Santa Cruz mountains, epic rides through he Sierra Nevada and why the Redwood Forests he grew up around was the perfect birthplace for adventure riding years before his first mountain bike was introduced. 

He also goes into his thoughts on steel verses carbon, why current frame design is more about marketing than ride quality and the problem with young bike designers. Here are a few of our favorite quotes:

On the First Gravel Rides

3:30 "If we lived in Gunnison, Colorado or Southern California it would have been very different. The kind of terrain, the rocks, the ruts of the east coast. All those things would have made it a lot more dangerous when we were playing around with our abilities, to not survive those kinds of horsing around and playing off road... the beginning of gravel riding and adventure riding has to do with an environment. Everyone has a different environment, everyone can only use that environment to the degree that their skills and the kind of bike that their riding can match that skill."

On e-Bikes

26:45 "We live in a very contradictory sport, because we celebrate the adventure, the gravel ride. What we celebrate is the independence. To be truly independent, of course you don't have something on the wall to plug in your bike."

On Steel Bikes

31:20 "The most efficient, proven of all bikes, in terms of being able to be ridden in all kinds of environments with the conditions that you are able to understand the bike, its systems, and not have problems with those systems... I believe still is steel."

On Carbon Bikes

35:50 "The ideal carbon bike is not the carbon bike that you see on the road today. As nice and as beautiful as it is, the ideal carbon bike is actually designed with diameters of tubing the same as steel. It's where carbon started out, and where carbon will probably some day end. Because only when you get back to those diameters are you going to get the ride quality characteristics of the steel bike. But they won't come back easily. This is the dirty little secret in the industry. The companies want a billboard, and the downtube gives them a billboard. And their not going to give up that billboard. So their gonna be big, their gonna be stiff, their gonna be harsh and that's just the nature of it."

On Cannondale and Aluminum

38:40 "Aluminum started the big billboard. Cannondale made the entire industry insecure. Cannondale gave everyone a heart attack in the 80's because they had the biggest billboard, the biggest name, and no one had a name that big. You could create a light bike with a billboard that big"

On Young Bike Company Owners and Designers

41:00 "In the 80's you go to a trade show and the owners' of companies were wearing 3 piece suits and 50 pounds on their belly. Things have changed. There's more and more company owners and designers that are true riders these days. But they're young, thats the problem. They're young people with probably too much CAD experience and not enough practical experience. And so the CAD becomes their fantasy land, it's their Game Boy. And they can design wonderful looking things on CAD, but the commitment to go from CAD to tooling is a significant commitment. And when you make that commitment your well invested in saying this is a good product, verses we don't know yet."