May 9, 2023
Hey listeners! Are you a bike enthusiast always looking for better products to improve your riding experience? Then you don't want to miss this latest episode featuring Pius Kobler, founder of milKit.
Pius Kobler's passion for cycling started during his childhood in Switzerland where he grew up riding bikes and joining his family on biking holidays. He studied mechanical engineering at university in Zurich, and his love for biking took him on various long-distance rides and expeditions, including one from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
Pius worked for a design bureau that provided product development and design services for companies in the bike industry, such as Scott and BMC. Then, during a bike trip across the US, he got a flat tire in Colorado due to the dried-out tubular tires caused by the heat. This incident inspired him to create milKit, a company that offers a tire sealant solution that allows cyclists to check the amount and quality of the sealant inside their tires.
The importance of maintaining the sealant in tubeless bikes is emphasized; still, many bike owners neglect to check their sealant levels regularly. Pius came up with a valve system with a rubber foot that allows the air pressure to remain in the tire when checking the sealant levels. The technology allows for easy maintenance of tubeless bikes and prevents sealant from spilling out. But it doesn't end there! Pius also created the GTA Booster, a portable aluminum drinking bottle that helps push the tire bead out to the side and secure it in place. The booster delivers more air in one second than a compressor and is efficient in changing and installing new tires.
But that's not all; milKit's product line now includes additional consumables like rim tape and sealant that have unique features making them an essential tool for all bike enthusiasts. The company has also released a multi-tool with storage compartments for the plugs and other functions like a chain breaker. The latest trend in bike segments is having quick and easily accessible solutions, and Milk Kit has developed a solution in a compact way. The kit is super light and can be strapped to the bike or screwed to the frame.
Craig Dalton had a pleasure talking to Pius Kobler, who designed milKit systems with thought behind them. Don't miss this exciting episode - tune in now to hear all about Pius Kobler and his innovative products!
Visit milKit online
Episode Sponsor: Hammerhead Karoo 2 (use code: thegravelride)
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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport
I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.
This week on the show. We welcome Swiss-based founder and rider PS cobbler to the show to talk about his company. Milk it. And the system they've developed. Around tubeless tires and a brand new product that they've created.
To support that system in the form of a multi-tool. I happened to meet PS on the trail, on a group ride. I went on. Last week as he was in town for seawater classic. And we got to chatting about his entrepreneurial journey and his rider first perspective of design. And I thought it'd be great to have him on the show. And I was fortunate to grab him on a Friday night over in Switzerland.
To talk more about the company and the company's journey and some of the products I know you'll get value out of being aware of. I encourage you to check out some of the links on the show notes as some of the nuances of the product design, maybe best seen in a video. If you're watching the video of the podcast, you'll see PS reference and hold some of his products in his hands.
As part of the conversation, but detailed videos are available on the website, which is over at milk it's dot bike. Before we jump in, I do need to thank this. Week's sponsor hammerhead, hammerhead, and the crew to computer have been longtime sponsors of the show. As you know, The crew too, is the most advanced GPS cycling computer available today with industry leading mapping navigation, routing capabilities that set it apart from other GPS options out on the market.
Over the course of my conversation with PS, we talk a lot about rider oriented design hammerhead, and the team over a crew to definitely take that perspective. And they're constantly. Updating their products with bi-weekly software updates. There's nothing cooler to me on the hammerhead crew to then.
Getting that notification. That a software updates available because I know they're adding things. That are going to be of interest to me. Whether it's today or down the line. One of the biggest updates I received that I love is the climber feature, which has predictive path technology. Which basically shows you what's ahead of you on a climb.
While that may not necessarily be important on your daily routes for me when I'm doing an event or I've borrowed a route from someone that I've never done before. I'd love. Knowing is this a short, punchy climb ahead of me? Or do I really need to settle in for a longer climb? For a limited time offer our listeners can get a free heart rate monitor with the purchase of our hammerhead crew to simply visit hammerhead.io right now, and use the promo code, the gravel ride.
At checkout to get yours today, this is an exclusive limited time offer. So don't forget to use the promo code. The gravel ride.
Simply add that heart rate monitor, strap to your purchase cart. When you're checking out on the e-commerce system. At hammerhead.io, use the promo code. The gravel ride and that heart rate monitor will be yours for free. With that said let's jump right into my conversation with ps cobbler
PS welcome to the show.
[00:03:39] Pius Kobler: Thank you.
[00:03:40] Craig Dalton: You have the honor of being our first Swiss guest,
[00:03:43] Pius Kobler: Oh, I'm very honored. Yeah.
[00:03:46] Craig Dalton: and how cool was it that we got to ride together
[00:03:48] Pius Kobler: how cool
[00:03:49] Craig Dalton: prior to recording?
[00:03:50] Pius Kobler: other like three days later across an ocean? Yeah.
[00:03:54] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I love it. You know, I'd, I, as I mentioned to you on that ride, I'd been familiar with the, the Milk IT brand and some of the products specific to the, the Tire Sealant solution, um, for a number of years. But I'm, I'm curious to kind of just step back and learn a little bit about. More about you and then the formation of the company.
Cuz as the listener of this podcast knows, like, I'm super keen on the entrepreneurial ideas and, and journey as an entrepreneur myself. So let's start off by kind of where you grew up and how you discovered the bike. And then we'll get into how you decided to form this company.
[00:04:28] Pius Kobler: Yeah. Yeah. I grew up in Switzerland and I was always a cyclist, like I cycled to school. What's that? Um, 12 miles every day. Two ways. So, so when I was 14 or so, so yeah. And then with my family, we always went on bike trips in holidays. I, I, I literally grew up on bikes more or less. But then man, biking came quite late.
I, I, I started Mecca Mechanical Engineering at, um, et h Zurich here. And after studying, I. Um, took my recumbent and rode it from Alaska to Te del Fugo for one and a half years. So I've been cycling a bit.
[00:05:09] Craig Dalton: You spent some time on a bike. I see.
[00:05:11] Pius Kobler: Yeah, I was, I was in in the Bay Area earlier already passing through. Yeah. And,
[00:05:19] Craig Dalton: That's interesting. You know it's funny when you even mentioned the word recumbent as a style of bicycle. That's in my mind, that's such an engineering type vehicle. Why did you choose to tour on that?
[00:05:30] Pius Kobler: the perfect nerd in personification, uh, that you can have sometimes as in the US it was most fun. We were getting off recumbent and people go, oh, but you are not handicapped. Why would you, why are you riding one of these?
[00:05:47] Craig Dalton: Yeah. And, and not, not, and not to derail the conversation too much, but is, is it from an engineering perspective, is riding a recumbent sort of mechanically or aero aerodynamically better for long distances than other style bikes
[00:06:02] Pius Kobler: There is no, no doubt. No.
[00:06:05] Craig Dalton: Really?
[00:06:05] Pius Kobler: so much for long distances. There is no discussion actually, but nobody knows and, and everybody thinks that they can't be good because then more people will be doing it. You, you don't have any. Pain in your wrists, neck, uh, butt. Wherever you, you have a relaxed sitting position.
You have a third less wind drag. You have several of these advantages. You have a lower, um, center of gravity. You have a much better curve stability. You have a longer wheel base, more stability. But then the main, the main factor for me is, You are, you have a completely different way of sitting on the bike.
It's not, you're not sitting like this and staring on the road in front of you. You're sitting like this open, you like, like on a couch riding through the countryside. You know, it's for traveling by far the best. But I would never use it in a city or so, like daily life. I don't have one. You know, I, I sold it after I traveled.
[00:07:03] Craig Dalton: That's so interesting yet. So off topic for this podcast.
[00:07:07] Pius Kobler: Yeah, this was the perfectly wrong start for this, for this episode.
[00:07:11] Craig Dalton: Right. And then, you know, I feel like now there's this, uh, potential that a listener isn't imagining you being some nerdy bike nerd on a recumbent yet. My interaction with you was on a mountain bike where you tackled every complicated shoot that we came in front of on Mount
[00:07:30] Pius Kobler: rich in Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly.
[00:07:34] Craig Dalton: Great. Okay, so we, we've, we've established engineering degree. We've established you spent a lot of time on a bike. This is a big leap, leap before, you know, between getting an engineering degree and obviously looking at bicycles from a mechanical engineering perspective, and then starting a company. What was the journey like to that point?
[00:07:55] Pius Kobler: Yeah, basically when I came back, I, I haven't, I haven't done kind of performance cycling. It was always holiday or, or work or whatever, traveling. But when I came back, I was in, in okay shape, let's say, and a body of mine was in man biking. So I joined him for some longer rides. And that's how I got into man biking only after I did that trip.
And, um, Basically I, I started working, that's the coincidence that led to things. I started working in a, in a company that, it's a design bureau, you could say it's a, they, they do product development and design as a service for large companies. We, you could say we were professional inventors, uh, uh, and we were, we were developing products.
For many companies in the bike industry as well. Like we were working for Scott for B m c, for, for these brands here in Switzerland among others. And we were, um, a group of bikers in that company. So one thing led to another and, and what made the. The, the deciding point for for to go into tubeless was basically a, a bit later, after that long trip, I, I had the chance to take an unpaid leave for eight weeks and.
Go to the us, buy a van and drive it from one I M b A epic ride to the other for eight weeks, which was amazing. I might have ridden more trails in the US than most Americans, you could say. Here.
[00:09:31] Craig Dalton: I bet you have.
[00:09:32] Pius Kobler: Yeah. No, that that was really, really good. But the not so smart part about it is W we were going to Colorado and Utah in July, which is not the right moment.
It's like 120 degrees or so over there. So we was a bit warmer that than we were used to. And. We ended up with a flat because our tubeless tires were completely dried out because it was so warm. And so I, I'm in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on the continental divide in Colorado with that dried out tire, putting a tube in what everybody hates when you write tubeless, you know, to take the whole thing apart and put the tube in.
And that's when I, when I, when I. Started thinking, you know, I had few weeks more to go and which means a lot of time to think and, and I said, wait, if I'm me as a bike freak and, and, and tech developer, like, if I have this problem of, of not being able to maintain my steel and I should other people do it, you know,
[00:10:37] Craig Dalton: And when you thought about that problem, p was it, it was, if I'm articulating this correctly, the problem was you just weren't aware of the level of sealant that was remaining in the tire.
[00:10:49] Pius Kobler: I had no idea. I had no idea that it was just drying up faster because it was a bit warmer, you know?
[00:10:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I and I, and I encourage, like everyone listening right now, think about your bike, think about the sealant, and think if you have any idea whether there's enough sealant in there or not. I can guarantee looking around my garage right now, I would say 80% of the bikes I have. They have to be bone dry.
It's like without a question, but I don't know. And I'm a bit lazy to find out, right? Like, it's like if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But to your point, you get out there and you have the situation where sealant is a godsend, right? It steals that hole and it's not there. That's that. That's a problem.
[00:11:35] Pius Kobler: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's basically we say if you split up bikers into people that ride tubeless and don't, then the ones who are ride tubeless, you can basically split them up into the ones who know that you have to maintain it and the ones who don't know and find it out a bit later. And then the ones who know how to maintain.
They have to maintain it. Um, a good part of those things. Yeah. I'm always feeling a bit sealed in and it's fine, but the not, not so big part know that they should look at what, in what's inside. Like they should check the old sealant or get it out before they push in the new ones or you have a, a really good working sealant in there and, and yeah,
[00:12:19] Craig Dalton: Yeah. So you, you sort of recognize, you recognize this problem, which when you articulated is pretty obvious, I think, to us. All right, we, no one wants to look inside their tires. What's the solution? How do you go about solving that problem?
[00:12:33] Pius Kobler: Yeah, that, that was, uh, as, as often in product development. It, it was a step by step process where, where first we had the idea we need to drill a second hole into the rim to somehow look in there and then, Refill through the valve, and then eventually we, no, we are not gonna have a second hole. We have to make it through the hole that's already there.
So eventually we were going through the valve, but then we still had a, because the, the first thing you think about is a dipstick. You know, you need to, to go in and check the sealant, and then you fill and then, By coincidence, like by using it, by having prototypes realized weight. And, and maybe at this point I should explain the, the whole valve.
Basically what we do is we have a normal tubeless valve, uh, that you install into the rim like any tubeless valve. But at the, at the bottom, the. At the bottom of the rubber foot, the, the, the rubber is closed and it's slid into, into rubber flaps. So when you unscrew the valve core, the, the air stays in the tire because these rubber flaps at the bottom are closed.
And now we have, uh, we have a syringe, kind of a syringe and needle with a, with a flexible extension. And, and the sealant regulator that you connect together.
[00:13:53] Craig Dalton: Let's take a pause for one second PS and just so the listener understands. So if you can imagine that your normal valve core for tubeless, you've got a, a, a, a section that is inside the rim and obviously the section you see outside the rim and what you've described and shown to people who are on the video, you've got sort of on that inside piece, a rubber gasket that its natural state is to be closed.
So if you're not pushing air or something else through it, Nothing's coming back through it. No air's coming back through it, et cetera. And then you've,
[00:14:26] Pius Kobler: the ketchup bottles, you know, you have to ketchup bottles that have these, these, these flaps on the top. That's a, that's the function. More or less we have,
[00:14:34] Craig Dalton: I love it. I love it. Take taking a, a commonplace design concept and putting it in something technical on the bike. So then you just, you just had picked up the syringe and you knows some people are used to using just sort of their bottle of sealant and pouring it directly into the tire. Some years ago, I started adopting the syringe for more precise measurement and the ability to insert through the valve core.
It's possible in a standard valve cord to do that, but it's kind of difficult in, in a number of ways, which I think you'll get into in describing the value of having that seal on the inside of the valve and how that interacts with the sort of plunger, if you will. I don't know if that's gonna be the right term that's attached to the syringe.
[00:15:22] Pius Kobler: yeah. Like the wording is we, we, the, the part inside the, the inside the tire. Inside the rim, we call it the rubber foot. And then you have the, the, the aluminum part, uh, that you screw onto the rim, that's the valve stem. And then you have the valve cord that goes into the valve stem. And we removed the valve core.
And the air is still the, the, the, the. The tire remains pressurized because the rubber flaps are closed. And now the trick is that with this needle here that we have connected to the syringe, you can push through the rubber flaps into the tire with the air pressure still being in the tire. That's the, the core of our technology because now you with the needle, you go to the bottom of the tire, the sealant has accumulated at the bottom of the tire, and, and now basically all you have to do is you open the sealant to regulator.
And the, the, the air pressure in the tire is pushing the sealant into your syringe. You don't even have to suck it out. It's, it's pushing out, it's, it's automatically flowing into your syringe
[00:16:24] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that was a point you had made to me on the trail the other day, which was the aha moment for me. Cuz when you first described the mechanism, I was like, oh, that's great. You know, you. You push the syringe kind of legs into that, the bottom of your tire, and you can touch the sealant. But that nuance there that since you've left the air in the tire, you have air pressure, which you can then draw out the, the sealant into the tube with the air pressure pushing it effectively into the syringe, and you can see the exact measurement of what remains in the tire at that point.
[00:17:01] Pius Kobler: And the main reason, back in the days when we invented this, the main reason why it was important to to, to have the pressure remain in the tire is when you release the air from the, uh, from the tire back then the tire would fall back into your rim, you know, and then you would have trouble inflating it again.
Nowadays, this is becoming better because you have these rims where the, the tire stays outside when you deflated, but it's still. A cool feature to not breaking the bead, to not, um, losing any sealant and not having some, some sealant getting out on, on the side and it, and it's just, Literally more fun doing a tubeless maintenance.
If you go in, it comes out automatically and you just push it back. So once you've extracted that sealant, you see how much was left, you might realize, oh, that wasn't, that wasn't much left and. This, this looks bad. I'm gonna, I'm gonna throw this off. So you disconnect the syringe, you throw it out, or you just top it up with new one.
And then what you do is you push against the tire pressure. You push the ceiling back into the tire with with your syringe, and that was the original idea. To, to be able to measure and refill the sealant in a minute or two without, without a drop spilled, you know, and that's, that's literally our claim.
You can install a tubeless tire and maintain it without ever seeing a drop of sealant.
[00:18:27] Craig Dalton: And that, that to me is a godsend. When I sort of think about my process for updating tires and sealants and whatnot, like I think I, in my mind it's so laborious that I don't even wanna do it. And that's exactly the bad. It's exactly a bad approach, cuz that's why 80% of my tires are bone dry right now.
[00:18:47] Pius Kobler: Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's the, the challenge. That's our chance. We, we, we, what we do, and it's our challenge. At the same time, you know, we, we, we really solve something that hassle that people have, but still, we have so many customers that we. Don't get to sell our product because they, they haven't started looking into it yet, even, you know.
[00:19:11] Craig Dalton: Yeah. There's definitely like a journey that I went on, which was like, first I had a good friend who would help me every time I needed to. Change or put sealant in the tire and he would handle it. Then I got some of the tools myself, particularly an inflater, like a booster to help seal the tire. But still to this day, like the, the, the maintenance of it is beyond me.
And I, I am super keen to get these installed on my bike just so I can be more diligent about checking the sealant, particularly when I go off to events and it's been. You know, three, four months between checking and I'm concerned, do I have any sealant in there in a day, or, you know, a big mountain adventure that really counts.
I wanna know and be confident that I have the sealant I need.
[00:19:56] Pius Kobler: It's actually interesting you saying that because that's my answer. When people ask us how often do I have to re have, do I have to check my sealant? And my answer is that I can't give you a number. No way. Uh, I can give you a time span because the guy riding in Mexico summer or in let's say Utah in summer, riding every day having his bike in a, in a shed, in, in, in the heat, that guy and the other guy in Montana riding a maybe.
Double ply downhill tire or, or something every second week. That's com two completely different cases. The one has to, to measure four times more often than the other. And, and, and what we say is exactly what you just said. Measure your sealant before an important race, before, uh, uh, a weakened with your bodies because before you go to the holidays, Just do the check quickly and you have to peace of mind.
My tubal system's gonna be perfect for that occasion and be because you do that, you'll, you'll eventually realize, oh, my, my system with that setup every three, four months is fine. And, and another will see, oh shit, I have to do this every second month.
[00:21:09] Craig Dalton: Yeah, yeah. Interesting. So as you guys have designed the product and brought it to manufacturing, where, where did you end up manufacturing this product?
[00:21:17] Pius Kobler: that's, that's, uh, that's, uh, one of these startup stories. You know, we, we, we literally started in the south of Switzerland to the Italian border where you get. Italian manufacturing pricing and, and, and across the border some, some legal, um, opportunities. Like it was just easier due to be in Switzerland.
And, um, that worked well from the, let's say, from the quality perspective, but then, uh, logistics and organization were. Um, how to not be unpolite, um, to towards Italians. Uh, it wasn't optimal. And then we did, we did some risk diversification where we went to the, the future of, uh, cycling industry in, in Europe, which is Portugal, which.
Might be true, but only if you really know what you're doing when you're sourcing a manufacturing partner, which we didn't entirely know back then. So we ran into into quality problems, which actually led to one of the. Darkest hours of our startup. We, I, I'm gonna come to the booster, to our, our inflater.
We, we had a recall on that product just after releasing it because of some quality problems in production. Uh, you can imagine how, how, how that feels when you release your second product as a startup and, and, and you're gonna recall it from, from everywhere. So, so that led us to. Basically learn the lesson and, and say when you are, when you are an early stage startup, it's so much more important that you, that it works, that you have a production that works.
The price, the 20% more cost for your product doesn't matter in the beginning. And we went to Germany and, and we, and we are still in Germany because having a reliable system, having, having. Production that you, you can just rely on is up, up till, till. Today's super important and, and we, we, we are now stretching out towards other regions because the, the, the numbers are getting higher, but for a long time you can, you better go for reliable than for, for cheap.
[00:23:40] Craig Dalton: Yeah, for sure, for sure. And um, I can definitely commiserate with that hardware development and production journey that you just described. Just so everyone understands, when was the company first founded? What year?
[00:23:54] Pius Kobler: Um, basically that trip to the US was in 13, summer 13. Then, The original idea was to, that job that I had at that at product developing company was really cool. So, so I was, I was perfectly happy there. And, and the idea was to develop the whole system and sell it on an on, in an online store besides working there, which sounds a bit naive now looking back, but, but that was the original plan.
And step by step we realized, no, no, no, you, you have to do this. Properly or, or there is no chance. And so in summer 14, I quit my job there and started bootstrapping. We, we, we, in Switzerland, you have, um, let's say not so optimal investment, um, environment like, like in, in, especially in the Bay Area and in the US in general.
But what's very good is the, the start of support ecosystem. Like you, you have many coaching programs and, and. Prizes and, and we were lucky enough to win some, some startup prizes, uh, because the story was good. And, and, and, and I had a, a co-founder who already had started a startup before and I was this e t h engineer bike guy.
So that, that was a good mix. And, um, that, that's basically how we started bootstrapping. And then in 2015 we started the company and did, uh, raised a, a financing round to, to get production started and everything that there was, there was capital needed for that.
[00:25:26] Craig Dalton: It's such a hard business. Any, any business that involves inventory, there's just so much additional risk beyond your own personal sacrifice and time to get the business up and running.
[00:25:38] Pius Kobler: And that's where you're, you're, you're from the very beginning in Mm, how to say you're, you're not perfectly independent from the very beginning because you already have your shareholders that you, that you have to justify always what you're doing, you know? So the pressure is on from the first minute kind of,
[00:25:58] Craig Dalton: yeah, for sure. So we went through sort of the valve system and then you had just mentioned the, the booster. And I think the booster actually is where I first came, encountered, encountered the brand. So can you describe the, what the functionality of a booster is? What does it, what does it do for a rider?
Cuz I, I imagine many people don't have that type of product.
[00:26:17] Pius Kobler: Yeah, maybe let me just quickly finish, uh, the, the valve system there, the, the original idea was to do that measuring and the refilling, which, which is still the, one of the major usps. But then that's a also a nice story. I, one day I was, I was installing a tire. I, you removed the valve core because you need a good airflow.
I inflated the tire and literally I was. The air wasn't coming out because I, I was holding my, usually you hold your finger on the valve stem and then you really quickly, you screw your, your valve core back, you know? And I was, I wanted to do that and then realized, The air isn't coming out. That's how we, we, we basically invented or realized our second big U s P is the air stays inside.
You have like a one-way valve with these rubber flaps, so well, it changes the whole installation of a tubeless tire where whereas normally you, nowadays you fill in the ceiling into the tire, then you push the tire on the, onto your rim, then you inflate it and while popping it, some, some seal this.
Spilling over. You know, that's the messy part. When you're inflating a tire with our valves, you, you take the valve core out, you have the full airflow and the tire. They do that without sealant in the tire. So you have a dry installing of the tire and once it sits well, Then you take the syringe and add the sealant into the already installed tire.
So that's, that's the, the, the no drops build part is, is, is with installation also, because you do that new sequence of installing. And then the third big advantage is the rubber flaps are closed at the bottom. That means no sealant gets to the valve core, which means you don't have the, the clock valve cores anymore.
The, the, you can release the air reliably, you know,
[00:28:05] Craig Dalton: Yeah. That's my other embarrassing situation on one of my wheels right now. I can literally remove the valve core. And no air will come out. I've got a, I've got a, I've got a jam, a very tiny Alan wrench, Alan Key in there to, uh, pop it open, and even then it just trickles out.
[00:28:22] Pius Kobler: Yeah. So that, that's basically the three to three major USPS of the valve system. That That, yeah. Summarizes
[00:28:30] Craig Dalton: There's a, there's a ton of nuance in this and I definitely encourage people to go to your website cuz you've got detailed videos on how it plays out, but is very thoughtfully designed. And those small benefits add up to what we were talking before. It just means you're going to address your sealant more frequently.
You're not gonna have any trepidation. You're gonna know exactly what's going on in those key moments and days when you need to know.
[00:28:59] Pius Kobler: Yeah. And then basically having that problem solved, we, we went to, each year we go to fin, famous, famous riding place, uh, by the sea there in Italy and we. Uh, one of us had a, a problem with the tire. We needed to change a tire. So in the evening we are in the shed there trying to change a tire. We have a floor pump, but nothing else.
And the tire wouldn't sit, you know, and so we say we we're product developers. We are these. By tech freak. So we say, let's do a, a GTA booster. You know, the one with the big Coke bottle. You take a coke bottle, you drill a hole into the cap, you install a bike valve, and then you drill a second hole and you have a piece of tube and, and you kink it.
That's how you hold the air. Then you inflate it and then you hold it on the valve. And that's the GTA booster, you know, and
[00:29:49] Craig Dalton: I love talking to engineers.
[00:29:52] Pius Kobler: and, and. We, we, we nearly managed to inflate, like we managed to inflate the tire, but it wouldn't hold. So we, we just didn't get there. And so we had to drive through the gas station to use the compressor, and that's how we got the, the tire installed.
And that's when we said, said, this is, this is another problem that we have to address. And, and basically we, we could, we professionalized the, the, the ghetto booster. And what it turned out to be is, um, it's, it's now, um, Not a p e t plastic bottle, but it's, uh, it's an. Aluminum drinking bottle that you basically, you have that head that you screw on your bottle.
It's a, it's a plastic, a plastic part that you screw on the bottle. You get the bottle with a drinking cap, so you can actually use it as a drinking bottle, which, uh, being in a gravel podcast is very interesting for backpacking. You know, some people going to really remote areas might be interested in.
Generally, this isn't the, the story of it being so portable because it's a water bottle. It's a nice story and media love to write about it. But this is a, this is a product that you have in your workshop normally or in your pickup by, by the trail. By the trail head or something like, or going to holiday like we in, in Italy.
It's perfectly light, uh, uh, and inexpensive. So it's a good product to have with you. But, and, and the backpacking, like the remote part is for some, an interesting part as well. So basically, It's this plastic part that you screw on the bottle. You have, um, a bicycle valve, uh, core that allows you to inflate the whole thing up to 160 psi, which is a lot, but uh, 120 PSI is just fine.
And then, It has a little opening and the slider inside. So you basically push the head onto your valve stem and the slider inside opens and on all the air, um, pushes, rushes into your tire. And, and
[00:31:55] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:31:56] Pius Kobler: the, because there is no hose, that's a bit of tech, tech, uh, details here in a hose, you lose a lot of pressure.
So because there is no hose, you have all the pressure right by the valves and it that means, It is instant, like it's an explosion. We, we call it the booster effect. When when I do the live presentation and I push that booster on the wheel, I look into the faces of people because it's so funny to see, holy shit, that was really fast.
So that's the booster effect.
[00:32:28] Craig Dalton: And I think that's, that's the key. And, and again, just to kind of come back in case it's, it's a l it's unclear. You've got kind of this, uh, aluminum water bottle with a, a, a cap that you can screw into it. You then attach your home pump pump up, which pressurizes all the air in that canister. And then much like a, uh, you know, a cartridge.
When you're inflating your, your, your tire, you're just putting it onto the valve core, where, where you've removed the tip of the valve core, you're putting it onto the valve, and it's spitting very quickly a burst of air, which for the uninitiated, that's what's required to push the bead out to the side of the tire and get it into that locked and secured position that you need.
And that's what you generally cannot achieve just with a floor pump. You need that pressure and that burst.
[00:33:15] Pius Kobler: don't have a tube inside and the air is just ex escaping between the tire and the rim. So if you are slowly pumping, the tire is just move is not moving. So you need, you need that fast push of air to push the tire out. Yeah.
[00:33:29] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah. And I, if you do not have one of these in your garage, go out and get one today. It is like indispensable, in my opinion for.
[00:33:39] Pius Kobler: potential is very high to trying to in. Sometimes you're lucky and you can do it with a, with a floor pump, and if you're not lucky, it's very frustrating.
[00:33:47] Craig Dalton: and then I used to go to the gas station and I could never get adequate pressure out of those gas station versions. So when I got this product first, I was like, I, I'm now fully capable to change tires, install new tires.
[00:34:03] Pius Kobler: cool thing is it's a small bottle, you know, it's, it's, um, 20 ounces and 34 ounces. Uh, the, the sizes we have, this is not a lot of of volume, but because it's so fast flowing, because it makes it very efficient, it doesn't matter how long the air flows, it matters how much air flows in one second, you know, that's when the tire is pushed outside.
And that's why we did with this booster, you can. If you can't inflate the uh, tire with this booster, then then you have a problem. Then even the compressor, compressor doesn't deliver as much air in a second, like the booster, you know?
[00:34:39] Craig Dalton: so you just mentioned you have two different sizes for, you know, a typical gravel cyclist, maybe a 700 by 40. Is there a a product size that you'd recommend?
[00:34:48] Pius Kobler: Uh, basically talking about the us we only have the big, the, the, the, the 34 version available over there. The, the, the older, smaller version is, is basically not gonna be continued. There are some, some still available in Europe, but yeah, the, the, the, the, the, the 32, uh, 34, 32, um, version is, is just fine. Yeah.
[00:35:11] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Cool. Yeah, I think it's a, it to, in my mind, the bigger, the better, right? If you've got that pressure, it's just gonna make sure you, you, you only need to do it once, and you get the tire seated the way you want.
[00:35:21] Pius Kobler: Mm-hmm. Yeah, the, there is an interesting story about that, uh, that booster effect. Um, I was at sea other, some four years ago or so, and I was doing that booster live presentation and a guy from Bike Magazine comes, comes to, to, to see, and I, I, I do the presentation. I look into his face when I present the booster and he goes literally, Holy shit.
This was so cool. Can you do this again? I need to shoot the video. So he takes his mobile phone, shoots the video of me screwing the thing together, inflating it, pushing it on, pulling it off. And because our valves played together nicely with the booster, because you pushed the booster on without the valve core, you pull it off and the air stays inside because of the rubber flaps.
You can use it with any press, the valve with, with ours, you have that advantage. And so he does a video of that sequence. He puts it on. On their Facebook. And now, what would you say, what would you impress you as if view count of that video a year later?
[00:36:23] Craig Dalton: Uh, a million.
[00:36:25] Pius Kobler: That would be pretty impressive. You are good because many people say, oh, hundred thousand would be really much.
It was 3.2 million a year later, and now it's at 8.6 million views.
[00:36:37] Craig Dalton: Amazing.
[00:36:38] Pius Kobler: And I'm, I'm telling, I'm telling that story because. The, the whole tubeless story as we were talking, it's something that you don't really wanna touch. You don't really wanna look into it, you don't really want to be talking about, but then there is a lot of interest around it.
You know, people, many, many people realize that the topic is there and it's kind of, they have to look into it. So, so reaching that number is kind of a sign how, how important that that topic is.
[00:37:07] Craig Dalton: I think it's just a huge unlock. And to your point, like there's countless people who leave the bike shop with tubeless installed already and don't think about it, don't understand it, don't know about it, and you know, the minute they have to deal with their tire, they're completely ill-equipped to address it.
[00:37:24] Pius Kobler: Oh, that's, that's another, another good point. I, I mean, the reason why we met is because we were at sea o you know, we, we, we basically go to to sea other, and then we go a bit of riding once we are over there, um, at sea. Other, this year my key learning was I was talking to many brand managers of, of Mike brands and.
They love our system. They know what it does, and, and, and I say, okay, let's, let's, let's look into how we can equip this with your bags. And they say, yeah. The thing is, especially us customers, and that's interesting in the US things even more than in Europe, they have to be easy. It has to be easy and, and simple.
And, and, and, and when, when, when, when, when they sell a bike, they want to make the, the sale quick and easy and nice. It has to be a nice experience, you know? So what they don't wanna do is talk about some tech things, tubeless, when they sell a bank. Quite understandably, but that also means they send the customer home with a hundred percent sure problem.
That, that, that they're gonna have, you know, if they, if they convert it to tubeless. So it's a paradox really. They don't want to talk about it, but they should absolutely somehow talk about it.
[00:38:41] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that's why I'm, I'm sort of pleased to do this episode with you and just dig in a little bit deeper because again, it's easy for most riders to just forget and not think about it. But when you get to a product that's really thoughtfully designed around a solution, like it's, it's a really nice thing to have on your bike and a really nice thing to have in your garage.
[00:39:00] Pius Kobler: And I mean, that's exactly you, you can literally, if you are the right kind of person, let, let's say you can. It can be fun. Maintaining your tubeless after a while. Like I, I'm so used to it. I, I like doing it because it's so quick and so easy. It's, it's satisfying of, of doing it so quickly. But then obviously still even with our products, tubeless is not for everyone.
You know that there is people who just. Won't ever do that, which is fine. And for them it's, it's, it's good for the, for the mechanic, you know, for the shop where they bring it in. The shop can install the valves and then can do a, a much quicker job. When the, when the customer brings the bike in, in, in a minute, they have the, the tubes checked.
[00:39:43] Craig Dalton: Yeah, that makes sense. So continuing on the kind of product journey chronologically, where are you at now? Are there additional products in the product line?
[00:39:51] Pius Kobler: Yeah, so the, the plan was from the beginning to, to the, the booster and the valve cord and the valve system. That's basically what we call our, our backbone products. That's, that's also what we have patented. And, and, and the, the idea was to build the brand on these unique products and then be able to sell consumables like a rim tape and sealant.
Which, which we do, I, I, I don't have to go too much into the rim tape, even though rim tape is one of the, Biggest, um, factor of frustration in, in tubeless. Everybody who has, uh, installed a rim tape and it wasn't tight, and then take the whole thing apart again. Monster frustration, you know, so, so our rim tape does a really good job because it has a, a pressure activated glue.
It, it, it feels reli more reliably. It's, it's very strong. But let's not go into too much detail here. The, the, the more interesting part is, is the sealant where the idea was to, to, with the brand, be able to sell a sealant, but now the sealant has become its own sales driver because we, we have a different approach to the sealant where, oops.
I'm I'm saying. It fulfills all the, all it checks, all the boxes that a modern ceiling has to fulfill, like white temperature range. Um, Environmental friendly. It's water based. Um, it, it comes in a hundred percent recycled CO2 bottles. It's a natural, uh, it's, it's synthetic. Latex doesn't contain ammonia. It doesn't contain aggressive ingredients, so it, it's CO2 proof.
That's, uh, a big plus as well. It checks all these boxes. Uh, But then what, what makes it really different is, as you can see here, or the ones who don't see it, it, it, there is no particles at the bottom of the bottle. When you turn the bottle around that, uh, that accumulation, and then you have to shake it to, to get these particles, the, the, these crystals into solution that.
You don't have to do that with anymore. It just is in solution. So you just take with the syringe, you push it into your tire without the hurry, like shaking the bottle, and then really quickly fill it in because you might not get the right amount of, of particle in there. That's not a thing anymore. But then more importantly, It stays homogenous also in the tire, which means you don't have this separation where you have these rubbery leftovers, rubber balls.
It's, it's cold. Sometimes you don't have this separation into rubbery leftovers and watery leftovers, but it stays constant. It stays homogenous over time, so that leads to a, a, a longer, more reliable function. We,
[00:42:49] Craig Dalton: I've seen those, those rubber balls in certain tires when I've taken them off. Uh, so I know that effectively they're, that's dried up material, so it's not gonna act as a sealant, presumably. And if, if I'm hearing you correctly, by the way, your product is blended and stays consistent, doesn't need shaking, like as long as there's solution in the tire.
It will function as designed versus something that's separated into elements that need to be combined in order to work.
[00:43:19] Pius Kobler: Oh some. Some of the well-known sealants, if you wait a bit too long and you open the tire, you have basically a puddle of water like brownish, greenish, watery. Thing leftover, which is not sealant at all anymore. It's none. It has, has not been working for quite a while. And, and, and our sealant remains homogenous.
And it covers like the tire looks the same one day or, or, or a year after, after installing it. It's just covered like wet from the sealant, which is important. Uh, but then it doesn't accumulate, it doesn't leave these, add these robbery leftovers and, and. We, we have it nicely printed on our bottle here on our ceiling, but we, we won the, the seal test in, in this larger bike magazine here.
I, I always say we, we won by a, by a bit, uh, just a bit better than the other from function, you know, ceiling function. But I say if, if they's done the test two months later, we would've won by, by big margin. You know, because it's still working more constantly. And that's, that's a, that's a big advantage.
And the third, the third advantage of, of it's staying homogenous, and that's very important for, for users, is it doesn't go bad in the bottle because it stays stable, homogenous. You don't have to throw the bottle away after. Half a year or two a year, something like that, because it goes bad in the bottles.
So there, there is no separation in the bottle as well, which in the end is, uh, quite, uh, an environmental impact. You know, a lot of seal being thrown away and it's a financial aspect as well. You, you, you can buy a bigger bottle and use next year.
[00:45:06] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah. No, that is nice.
[00:45:08] Pius Kobler: So that being said, the the sealant is not just a sealant that we also sell with, with our, with our brand like we planned originally.
It's really, it's really a game changer. And, and talking about gravel, we, we, this is. This is originally we come from the mountain bike sector. You know, the whole tubus comes from the mountain bike sector or originally, but now with gravel and road coming, the, the challenges are different for, for sealants and, and there is two major differences.
One with the higher pressures, you have a lot more water loss ceilings dry up because, Tires are porous and tires are never perfectly tight. So you, you, you lose water through any tire and, and in a gravel or roads bike, because it's, the pressure is higher, you lose water faster, so it dries up faster than, than a mountain bike tire.
And that's why we, we, we are gonna actually now in May, we are gonna release our road and gravel sealant, which is a bit thinner and, and, and it's longer lasting. So, so that's the. One thing we adjusted. And the other thing is it seals cuts better at high pressures. So that's the be because sealing at high pressures is obviously a big challenge for sealants.
It's the higher the pressure, the the more difficult. So we, we, we've adjusted our formula to, to cover these two important factors for, for travelers and roadies.
[00:46:39] Craig Dalton: Interesting. I'm excited to see that as it's tested out, but I, I love that you're thinking kind of from first principles and thinking about the tire pressure differences and how they'll play out and affect the product.
[00:46:52] Pius Kobler: Yeah.
[00:46:53] Craig Dalton: And, and now going to the, your latest product that I think you just released at Sea Otter and I was able to see last weekend when we rode.
Tell me about the journey to creating a multi-tool. And obviously it's a category everybody's familiar with. Everybody has had one or many over the years. Like what may, what was the design perspective that you came to, to achieve this product? And then we can get into. How cleverly it was executed and the multitude of functions you have built into it.
[00:47:26] Pius Kobler: Basically the, the, the approach is the same as, as with any of the products that we brought. Um, there is still some, some, some trouble left, you know, some things to solve. And, and what's, what was missing for us is there are cuts in the tire that are too big to be sealed by the sealant, and that's when you need a block solution, you need to push something through that hole or slit from the outside.
To, to mechanically close that, that hole and then the ceiling can do the job to, to close off the rest. And so we, we knew, we, we've been, we, we've known for, for a long time that we have to bring some kind of a pl plug solution. We just never really knew where to put it and how to store it. You know, you can go into the handlebar, you can go into the stem, you can go somewhere.
What's. What's really popular now, and this is a really hot topic in, in, in any bike segment, is. Having it quickly accessible, you know, having a solution for in the backpacker or somewhere that's not really a solution that you wanna offer today. So it has to be quickly accessible. You might still hold, have your finger on the hole because what you can do is you're losing air your hold the finger on your hole.
So, so you can stop the, the, the air leak and then you have one hand left and you have to grab that tool with one hand very quickly. And so it has to be somewhere. We, we didn't wanna go into the handle bar or in the stem because you have a lot of compatibility, compatibility issues. So what we decided to do is we, we, we want to go to that formerly bottle cage interface.
We call it standard interface now, because there is sometimes like three or four on a bike or at least two. So we, we basically have a small box that you can screw onto your frame using this screw interface. And the, the original idea of having these plugs is you have, you have, um, rubber cover that you can open on the side and then you can pull out that handle with the plug right there.
So, Literally with one hand, you can open the thing and pull the plug out and then push it in.
[00:49:42] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:49:43] Pius Kobler: And we, we have, that's maybe a bit too detailed, but we have a side loading fork that makes it easier to load the, the plug into your fork tool. We have a twist shape of the fork tool because when the plug is twisted, when you push it into the tire, when you pu pull the tool out, the plug sticks better in the, in the tire.
Some, some details about using that plug. So this was, this was basically the tool that we had to bring, that we wanted to bring out. But then we said, now that we have this presence on the bike frame, now that we have this box anyway, we are adding something that anybody needs anyway. And that's, that, it's a, it's a little multi tool.
And what I'm holding into the camera now, for the ones who don't see it, it's, it's, it's, uh, like an L and key. It's a L-shaped L key, and it has on the side, it has a bit in bit technology, so the small bits are stored in the larger bits, and you can magnetically remove them, flip them around. And put them back.
So, and on both sides, on the long side and on the short side, you can exchange these bits. And this makes from one a key that is, Um, super lightweight, let's say compared to a folding tool. With all these functions, you have a proper tool that you have a lot of torque and, and good accessibility, and you have eight functions.
You have from two to eight millimeter, all Alan Keys, plus you have a Torque 25 all in one tool, and that's, that's a very attractive solution that you have, right? At the front, you know, you open that rubber cover, you pull that tool out, and you are ready to go. You, you need that often. I, I, I, I just went riding for four days over Easter.
I used it nine times in four days, and I didn't use it because I wanted to count higher. So literally to, to tighten the axle of the wheel, the handlebar was twisted. I had to put my seat post a bit higher. You need. Very often you need to, to adjust or tighten something. So this is very handy to have it quickly available. And then,
[00:51:54] Craig Dalton: Yeah, go ahead.
[00:51:54] Pius Kobler: sorry. This is basically level one usability. Use that tool often, but then this tool clips. Magnetically into, into a tire lever. This is like people have to go online to see, to see the form factor. This is the impressive part. You know how that L-shaped tool is clipping into the tire lever where you have a chain link storage, and then you have a chain breaker that clips into the chain breaker, into the tire lever, so it's all compactly stored together.
And then the, the last thing that we added is there was some more space. So we added a little cutter tool, a little Swiss army knife, scissors tool that you can open. And then it has this, this, this cutting function. This is, this is pretty fun tool as well. And it, it, it, it's also the storage for your replacement plugs.
So, In, in short, it's a very compact, um, way of having many, many solutions. The, the, the main solutions that you need, the tools in a, in a small box that's, um, super light to 835 grams, which is, let me check how many ounce Ansys
[00:53:07] Craig Dalton: think even in the US we think about grams when we think about bike parts.
[00:53:11] Pius Kobler: we say lighter than your phone. It's, it's lighter than your mobile phone, so yeah.
[00:53:18] Craig Dalton: that makes sense. And, and you mentioned this, I mean, and, and calling it like a, the shape of a deck of cards is not completely accurate because it's thinner than that. Um, and a lot less weight as you said. So you, you mentioned you've got the ability to both mount it to where any water bottles would've been mounted, and if I'm correct, you also have a way of strapping it to the bike.
[00:53:43] Pius Kobler: Exactly that. That's that. That's basically now. Now we have that box and. You screw that box onto your frame with two screws and basically with the two screws, we also screw this interface on top. It's a, it's like an aluminum bar. It's a sliding interface that's also on the side of the kit. So you have two of these interfaces and now you have what we call a strap clip.
It's a plastic part that you can slide onto onto that interface, and then you have a Velcro wrap where you can. Attach your pump, your CO2 cartridge, your tube, your banana, whatever you wanna bring along. And the idea is to have one clip on each of these items. So before you write, you decide, oh, today I need a pump.
You slide it on today, I need to bring my tube. And you slide it on. And sometimes you go without anything. So you have a modular system with these interfaces around your base box.
[00:54:41] Craig Dalton: yeah, yeah. It's super slickly designed and as you articulated, like everything kind of nestles into one another, and I like the thoughtfulness around. The plug is the thing you wanna access quickly, fast, and ideally with one hand, and making that kind of first and foremost in the design. And then if you need to dig out some of the other tools, they're all right there, but they're not as quickly accessible because you've aired towards what you need on the go fast.
[00:55:12] Pius Kobler: Yeah, and maybe to f to finish that, the top interface that is held in place by the two screws, you can leave the interface away and just put your bottle cage on top of, of the whole kit. And that's actually the. Primary idea you have that it's, it's so small, it's only half an inch thick, you know, so you have half an inch under your bottle cage and, uh, and it, it basically disappears under your bottle cage, but you can still acc accesses for access it from the side, and you can still slide your pump or whatever to the side with your bottle being on top.
That's the, the core idea of that, of that kit.
[00:55:51] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Thanks for clarifying that because when I saw it on your bike over the weekend, you did not have a bottle cage on top of
[00:55:58] Pius Kobler: Because then nobody would see it. You know,
[00:56:02] Craig Dalton: I love it. Good gorilla marketing.
[00:56:05] Pius Kobler: it worked. I'm here.
[00:56:07] Craig Dalton: Exactly. Well, this was amazing. I'm so glad that I, I met you and ran into you. Like I said, I've been familiar with the brand. You guys have been doing it for a, uh, quite some time now and great to kind of just dig into both your history as a product designer. How you always design from a writer first perspective and just hearing the totality of the systems you've built and the thought behind it.
It was a real pleasure to get to know you and I, I hope for the listeners they, they hit up milk it bike. I'll include that link in the show notes so everybody can see some of the videos and cool graphics that you have on the site to understand everything you've been describing.
[00:56:47] Pius Kobler: Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure.
[00:56:50] Craig Dalton: Yeah, great to talk to you.
[00:56:52] Pius Kobler: Yeah, thanks. Bye.
[00:56:54] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with PS. As much as I did, how fortunate was it that I was able to run into him on the trail and how interesting a journey he had to creating the milk at brand and the valve core system and the entire system that he described super happy to have made his acquaintance and get to know those products.
A big, thank you. Goes out to our friends at hammerhead and the hammerhead crew to, to crew. And the hammer had crew to computer. Remember, if you visit hammerhead.io and use the code, the gravel ride. You can get a free heart rate, monitor strap with your purchase of that career, to your computer.
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