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Dec 9, 2018

An interview with Matt Quann, Founder ORNOT discussing gravel bike clothing, bar bags and 'the rules'

Episode Links:

Ornot Website

Ornot Instagram

'The Rules'

 

Automatic Transciption (please forgive any errors)

Matt, welcome to the show today.

Thank you. Thanks for having me.
I'm excited to get into it and talk more about the Ornot clothing line and some of the other products should doing. But first, we always like to start off by learning a little bit more about you as a cyclist and what your background is.

I've got both of those things, a background as a cyclist and then a separate background that isn't a cyclist. Um, I'll start out with my background as a cyclist and it begins when I was a kid and I learned how to ride a bike and I loved it and I think it was about five when I learned how to ride my bike. And after that, uh, I kind of got into bike racing at a time when it wasn't so popular. I'm kind of in the Greg Lamond era, uh, in the late eighties and I was about 13 years old and uh, I discovered a bicycling magazine. These bikes just looked so cool, you know, and it looked like you would go so fast with them. And this was kind of like in the era of, uh, right when aerobars work were invented and written curriculum on had just one, you know, the crazy tour, the aero bars. So I got a road bike. Uh, I was, I had been really into skateboarding, but I was Kinda like, if I get this road bike then I can like go all these places and get around really fast and just have this freedom. And that was kind of, that's, that's kind of what got me to where I am right now. Uh, you know, it goes a little bit because a whole lot deeper than that. But that's kind of like the catalyst for

Was your passion always on the road?

Well, my passion then was on the road because that's all that there was, right.  I guess there was cyclocross and I did do some cyclocross races, uh, but I did them on my mountain bike when mountain bikes. We're just kind of invented. I mean, this was in the late eighties, early nineties. Uh, so my, I began racing on the road, uh, but then when mountain bikes essentially when spds were invented for mountain bikes, um, I got a mountain bike and then I was like, well, this is a ton of fun too. Um, but

Were you in California at that point or did you grow up somewhere else?

Yeah, good question. Uh, no, I grew up in, in Wisconsin, in the walkie. There's quite a cycling scene there or there has been for quite a long time. Uh, I think a lot of it is due to the speed skating. It was just like a big speed skating scene. They're like Dan Jansen was from West Alice was, which is actually where I grew up, um, and a few other like really famous speed skaters and they would race bikes in the summer to kind of cross rate. Uh, so we had this big bike racing scene in Milwaukee and so I grew up racing on the road as well as race velodrome. Helps a little bit south of Milwaukee and another one in Northbrook. When was a kid? I had the opportunity to race during the summer. Uh, you know, about four days a week, which was fun. Wow. Yeah. It's not your typical high school sport, you know, uh, and especially in the. So for me, this was, I was in high school in the early nineties, uh, you know, bike racing was just not, no one else did it, you know, I had a couple other friends who were my age that raced a, but they were just friends that I met through racing. Uh, I didn't have any other friends that were just my friends that also raced bikes.

Yeah. It's so different today. I know, and maybe we get into this later that you guys are a sponsor of that. The SF composite high school mountain bike racing team, but what a foreign concept back where we were in high school.

Oh yeah. You know, I go out to their, uh, to their team practices sometimes sometimes and I'm just kind of blown away that they have the opportunity to, you know, show up after school and kind of practice bike racing, you know, practice riding bikes and you know, most of it is fun. They get to hang out. They do some drills, then they, you know, ride around and mess around. I mean it's, it's, it's, it's so cool that, that, uh, is a school sport these days.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So obviously, you know, you retained your personal passion for the sport, but now you have a company that's in the sport. How did that all come about?

So that came about five years ago, which is when I started or not. Um, and it began as a side project. Uh, I had been a graphic designer a forever. That was my trade and I had been freelancing for a long time designing motion graphics. I was still racing bikes. I've kind of had this on and off relationship with racing. I was racing at that time. I was racing on the road, uh, and I think I was also racing cross the team that we were sponsored by, had a rather embarrassing sponsor and I just felt so awkward wearing the clothing and it was plastered like right across the chest and right on the sides of the legs and it was just really, it was a rolling billboard and it was a rolling billboard for like a product that I wasn't that into. So I decided to make my own sort of like side projects. Uh, and the reason that I started it was sort of twofold. One of them, you know, one reason was to have clothing, but I felt comfortable in the second reason was to create a project where I could get outside and ride my bike and create content, you know, shoot photos, uh, make videos, you know, kind of give myself an excuse to get outside and uh, and do some fun stuff. That's, that's where it began.

Amazing. Well, certainly from your Instagram feed, I know that the lines are always very clean and all your garments and your crew is very adventurous. In fact, probably prior to me getting super jazzed about gravel riding, I always saw your imagery and your crew getting out there and getting off road. When did the dirt start to come into play for you guys?

That's a good question because I was kinda thinking about that and trying to figure out when, you know, when did I start riding on gravel or dirt? And I don't really know when it was. I mean, I mean, I can tell you for sure that five years ago when we shot the video to sort of start the project, maybe half of the video that we shot was on roads. Um, and then before that I lived in Massachusetts for a while and I ended up riding in Vermont and uh, you know, there are dirt roads all over the place in Vermont. It's just kind of a hard question for me to answer, you know, when, when did I start riding dirt? I feel like it's always kind of been there, but I feel like it's caught on and become a lot more popular and uh, and, and just more. It's just easier to do for everyone else now.

Yeah, I feel like that there's certainly been some advances in equipment that we've talked about on this show. Disc brakes and tubeless that have enabled it. Yeah. I feel like adventurous road riders obviously for decades have been going on gravel and dirt roads, but the consequences had always been a little bit severe in terms of like you were likely to flat if you did 100 k off road and now with now with modern equipment you can go do those kinds of rides and spend your entire day off road and not risk the flats that we had when we were riding with tubes and have more control obviously with the disc brakes.

Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. It's funny, I kind of chuckled when you say that because I have a. I'm kind of known within my circle of friends as the guy that gets flats all the time, a flat all the time. I'm an expert plug user. Uh, I get a lot of flat still.

Nice. That actually dovetails nicely into your background. Dovetails nicely into this conversation I wanted to have and I've been excited to talk to a clothing manufacturer for a while because I, I do think it's interesting that sort of utility of cycling clothing from a gravel perspective and how that changes and whether as a, a niche of the sport were more aligned with sort of the rules, if you will, like the code of conduct of euro cyclists or more akin to mountain bike clothing style. So what are your thoughts on that and how is that starting to infiltrate your product design choices that or not?

Well, first of all I like to talk a little bit about the rules because I am really not a fan of, of, of, of all of all the road cycling rules. And I grew up with them, you know, I've been racing on the road forever and a lot of those rules had kind of been ingrained in me and there's a couple of them that are good, you know like overlapping wheels are safety stuff. And I mean that, you know, I'm all about that, but, you know, I think there's a rule that all shorts shall be black, I mean, come on, there's just some rules that are just very kind of elitist and, and, and there for no reason, like the suffering, the suffering rule or harden harden up are, I am just so not into because bikes are fun. Uh, and that's kind of, that's been my, that's kind of how I've gone about a racing and riding my entire life.

Uh, you know, like I said before, I've been racing bikes for a long time, but I've always, people have always known me as someone who never trains, uh, because I didn't like the structure of training. I like bike, I liked going out and having fun, but I didn't like the structure which is the rules. Um, and part of that might be from my skateboarding background, you know, as, as a kid, I was really into skating and you know, that was pretty counterculture, a my personality and, and, and, and just kind of like outlook. Um, so yeah, the rules are really not into the idea about, about rules.

All right, so we, we, we throw the rules out, which I'm totally on board with because uh, I do think that's one of the tenants of gravel riding. It's just like get out there, have fun, explore, think less about your power meter and just think more about adventure and fun.

Yeah, exactly. So, I mean I think that kind of relates to the clothing as well. Uh, you can kind of get out there and number you feel comfortable, you know, obviously there's, you know, if you're doing a big ride, a long ride, you're gonna want to, you're gonna want to make sure that you're comfortable but people aren't comfortable in different ways, you know, some people can get away with, you know, just riding in their baggy shorts and, and, and, you know, no pad. Uh, personally I'm not a, but I know some people are and for shorter rides that does work. We're big fans of just kind of getting out there and doing what feels good to, you know, what's comfortable for you.

Yeah, I think the, uh, you know, it's interesting to me the adventure element of gravel riding, obviously you like in your local terrain, everybody has their loops that are, you know, not too adventurous but they are off-road, but when you go for an epic day and you're trying to link together some trail systems you may not have written before, I do think gravel attire needs to perhaps accommodate more gear or more food or just, you know, a little bit of safety factor to, uh, to cover the unknown things that, that happened to you out there on the trail.

Yeah, definitely. I mean like think about if you were going on a, on a long hike, you know, I lived up in Washington state for a long time in Seattle and I used to go hiking a lot and you know, when you go hiking you take all kinds of stuff just in case, uh, and the temperature changes for sure, you know, as you go up or you drop into the valley. So I think sleigh riding a bike, uh, you know, you're covering so much more ground. Yeah, carrying a few extra things definitely makes sense when you're on a big adventure.

Yeah. One of the things I've been thinking about, I feel like on my gravel bike I tend to climb a steeper gradient and put harder efforts in much like I do on the mountain bike, which leaves me at the top of the climb, particularly in the, you know, the winter months needing a bit more clothing than say if I'm out on a road rider, I'm just sort of riding at a more consistent effort level.

Yeah, exactly. Well, yeah, I think of those steep hills that you're climbing and the speed at which you're going, you know, it's just, you're kind of just crawling, you're probably going as slow as you'd be going if you were walking up, you know, you're carrying the big bike with you when. Yeah, the amount of the amount of uh, work that you're doing and, and without all of the, the sort of winds to cool you down like you would on like you'd have at a road bike, you definitely get a lot more sweaty. So then, yeah, having a different layers, layers that breathe differently, a jacket to put on a for the descent or if the weather changes,

couple of things that you guys do, which I find incredibly useful and I don't see as much as I would think I would see them would be one product would be the neck gaiter in terms of comfort per weight and size, neck gaiters if you live in a colder climate I think are an awesome addition to the wardrobe. Yeah, it's cozy, cozy addition. And then you guys just introduced a new jacket just recently. So you. Can you tell us a little bit about that jacket?

Uh, yeah. Uh, so the jacket, we're calling it the metal shell. Um, and what's really magic about we're able to use and it's a new mover, neo shell, and we're one of the first companies to make a cyclist. Yeah. And we've had sample yardage of this fabric for almost a year now. So we've been wearing the jacket for a long time. What's really cool about the jacket is that it's extremely breathable. We kind of didn't even want to make a waterproof jacket. We were sampling with other fabrics that were more of a soft shell type fast. Didn't claim to be waterproof. But when we got this new version of the neil shell jacket, you know, we sampled with it. We wrote in it and we actually called our rep at polar tech to make sure that they sent the right fabric. We were like, are you sure that this is the waterproof one because this feels like just an amazing soft shell.

Like, you know, and this was before the rain started last year. And then, uh, yeah, he was like, yeah, no, this is the new, this is the new neo shell. It's waterproof, you know, it's got this stretchy membrane that breathes and uh, and sure enough, once the rain started last year, we wrote in it and uh, you know, it keeps you dry and then it. And then, you know, if it does get wet, like, you know, a few times I was out in like this crazy hail storm and you get some water in your neck or up your sleeves, like you know, when it's just really pouring, you're going to get some water inside and the jacket dried out after it stopped raining on the way home. And um, yeah, the fabric, the fabric is really the star of that jacket. And uh, and that's Kinda why we call it the magic show. How compressible is the magic show? Yeah, the jacket, uh, it'll fit in a back into Jersey pocket in the back Jersey pocket. I'm a little bit. Might stick it out, but you can, you can get it in Jersey pocket and you can definitely get it a bag with extra, extra room.

Right. And speaking of which, that's the other product I really, really love that I've been using of yours for a couple of years now. The Bar bag?

Yeah, the bar bag. It's great. Uh, we developed it like, I guess probably about three years ago now. Um, and it took a while to Kinda, to Kinda get it exactly how he wanted it. Yeah. Bar back has just been great. I love it. It's been a really popular product, you know, we've had a lot of people buy it and then get in touch with us and be like, I love the bar bag. Um, and it just has kind of changed the way that, you know, we think about writing, especially, you know, if we're not doing like even for some short road rides, uh, you know, we'll keep the bar back on her bike. It's just, it just makes writing so much easier. You know, if you want to stop and grab something, you just jam it in the bag. If you want to take some extra clothes you put in the bag.

Yeah. I just think it's this great gravel accessory that I remember taking a lot of flack from my, my rowdy friends showing up with it, but it provides so much utility. I just, I mean obviously we don't live in a terribly cold climate, but we do go out and riding in the with the expectation of rain. And you know, we want to get after it and the weather forecasters in the bay area are all is horrible. So just having that peace of mind to throw a rain shell in the bar or bag or some food. It just, it's been great. And I spent a lot of time with that bar bag on my bike in the winter time.

Yeah, exactly. And then it also frees up your, your, your back. Um, you know, sometimes you know, you could theoretically jam all of that stuff into your Jersey pockets or under your jersey, which is, that was always my preferred method of, of carrying extra stuff. I just jam it all up underneath my jersey and you know, you can get away with that. But just having all that stuff in your back pockets as you move around isn't that comfortable. So I really like to lighten it up and put my accessories up in the air bag and, and keep my body kind of freedom move. Yeah.

I think these are sort of an example of one of those things were gravel. It's its own part of the sport in many ways. And the more that our riders can sort of not associate with the way they ride on the road or the way they ride on the mountain bike, the better because I think some of these solutions just emerge. They've always been there. You just need to kind of get over yourself and try one and then you'll be like, I'll take the crap that my friends will flip it me because of this thing is awesome. And so yeah,

useful. It's funny because the bar bag is to use a, to use a, probably a term from the room is so freddy, you know, it's like such a Fred, like you know, 1975, a touring thing, you know, you have a little bar bag, it's like on your bike, but it really works, you know, there's a great amount of utility to, to having a little bag strapped to your handlebars where you can just get your little snacks out of there. You can put your phone in there. Uh, you know, it's just, it's, it's, you can see it and it's right where your hands are.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean it's the Fred factor is what, what I've been taking flak on, but uh, again, like you can't beat the utility of it, so I'm, I'm a fan. I'm going to take the flag.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have been for years.

What's next for you guys as a brand? I mean, I know you're sort of known for a very clean, clean design and all your garments and they perform really well. What's, what's kind of next on the agenda

next on the agenda for us is clothing you could wear on your bike or not. So it's a technical apparel that is casual looking, you know, and, and, and I think a lot of the pieces could be, could work out really well for both gravel and mountain. And so that's what we have been working on and are getting ready to release next year. We're pretty excited about it. Yeah, that sounds really exciting.

Grappled yet to have its moment of sort of the defining wardrobe and it's interesting to see companies continue to explore what that looks like. And as you noted before, gravel is a little bit about individuality. So I think you're going to see all types, which is awesome, but it will be interesting to see if there's some sort of performance element to a little bit more casual garment that

you know, makes it all click. Yeah, exactly. So that'd be there. That's Kinda, that's kind of what we're working on. We've got some, we've got some shorts and we've got a couple of different pieces for the top. Some with a Merino Merino wool blend. We've got another sort of technical fleecy top and then technical writing tee shirt. All of this stuff though is made up, is, is made using sort of like technical fabrics. But uh, in the end hopefully we'll look super techie or I know they won't look super techie because I've. Because I've seen them and you and you've helped design them first name. Lovely. Exactly, exactly. Yeah. I mean, you know, it's no secret that every thing that we make is, is, is a, is a product that we want or I want a. So these are all things that I'd like to have in my, in my wardrobe, in my closet, which is kind of a fun way to design products.

Absolutely not. I mean, it sounds like that's your, that's been the orientation from day one, is that you wanted to build the company that supported the type of writing that you want to do.

Exactly. Yeah.

Yeah. And for, for those of you listeners who haven't checked out or not, I'll definitely put a note, a link to the instagram feed and the website because these guys are out there doing it and testing it, which is evident by all the great imagery you guys have and from Orange County and elsewhere.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Uh, yeah. Uh, I mean sometimes I feel like we don't ride enough. Um, but it, it all definitely comes from, from the, from the heart. You know, I kinda like to go for a bike ride right now.

Well, now that we have a break in the weather out here, it's a good day to get out.

I know, I know, tomorrow.

Well thanks. Thanks so much for sharing the story with us. On the podcast is great to have you.

Yeah. It was fun chatting with you.

ags and 'the rules'