Interview: Rob Roskopp on Skateboarding, the Syndicate, & Leaving Santa Cruz

Interview: Rob Roskopp on Skateboarding, the Syndicate, & Leaving Santa Cruz

Rob Roskopp and Wealthy Novak co-founded Santa Cruz Bicycles in 1993, with the three-inch-travel Tazmon full-suspension bike being their first mannequin in a time when the hardtail was nonetheless most riders’ go-to selection. Since then there have been numerous new bikes, a wildly profitable and constant World Cup crew, a rising firm, and even a number of errors. We sat down with Rob to speak about all that and extra, together with how Pon Holdings got here into the image and his departure from Santa Cruz, which you’ll take heed to on the Pinkbike podcast.

For many who’d slightly learn than pay attention, we’re double-dipping on this one and an edited model of the total interview is beneath.

Mike Levy: At this time we’re speaking to Rob Roskopp who co-founded Santa Cruz Bicycles again in 1994. That is almost 30 years in the past now. Rob, the place on the planet are you?

Rob Roskopp: I am nearly 60. So, yeah, now you make me actually outdated. I respect that. Thanks.

Levy: Oh, man. Nicely, you have carried out numerous loopy shit in that point, although, together with co-founding Santa Cruz Bicycles, which is fairly wonderful.

Rob: Yeah, thanks. No, it has been a great journey for positive. I’ve at all times stated it is at all times in regards to the journey and it has been fairly an unbelievable journey. So no complaints right here.

Levy: Earlier than we get into this, the place are you proper now and the way are you doing?

Rob: I am in a spot in Aptos. Under me is the place all of the devastation has hit in Seacliff Seashore. And like we have been speaking about earlier, Capitola, the pier bought break up in half or an enormous chunk of it was taken out from the storms, after which simply down the best way right here, Seacliff pier, half of it is gone, and the car parking zone is mainly decimated. So it has been tragic for lots of people right here and we want all of them one of the best, and hopefully the climate will again off a bit however does not appear like it, not less than for the subsequent week.

Levy: Yeah, Mom Nature is taking a cost proper now it seems to be like down there.

Rob: Yeah, she’s ferocious. She’s pissed off.

Levy: Nicely, Rob, the explanation that we’re speaking in the present day is since you dropped a little bit of a bomb on Instagram, in your private social media account, about driving an Unno Mith e-bike that positive made it appear like you aren’t at Santa Cruz anymore. So I simply wish to soar proper into this. Are you at Santa Cruz? What is going on on?

Rob: So my contract got here up in mid-October and that was just about it. We tried to resume it, however they weren’t . For me, personally, there are numerous good folks on the firm and I clearly have gotten an extended relationship with the corporate. I am nonetheless very tied in with the skateboard a part of it as a result of my associate, Wealthy Novak, he is the proprietor of that and, what are we at, thirty-five, nearly forty years later, or thirty-five years since I finished skating, I nonetheless get royalties from all of the skateboards they promote. In order that’s fairly cool. And we tried to current that after we have been negotiating and so they did not see something to it apparently and I do not assume they get it mainly. So wiped my palms and moved on to the subsequent factor. I’ve at all times been that method. It is about shifting to what I wish to do and what I am obsessed with. So from skateboarding, I went to the bikes, we did the Santa Cruz Bike Firm and did numerous enjoyable, and nice issues; put an important crew of individuals collectively and it was an unbelievable journey. So no complaints there.

Brian Park: Let’s do this. Let’s soar again to that kind of the beginning of Santa Cruz Bicycles and even earlier than with the skate firm, only for the parents which can be listening that possibly do not know the origin story, are you able to give a fast kind of Coles Notes of how we bought right here?

Rob: I got here out right here in ’82 from Cincinnati. I went to highschool there. I used to be born in Detroit, Michigan. Inside three months I turned skilled skating after which mainly did that, toured the world, and competed a bit of bit however discovered it was extra about life-style and having a great time. And the best way we promoted ourselves was by doing demos everywhere in the world. And that is what I discovered for me, personally, essentially the most fulfilling skating with different children everywhere in the world and introducing skateboarding to children that had simply gotten into it. So I did that up till about ’90. In ’91, I went again to work at Santa Cruz Skateboards. I managed a division of SIMS Skateboards for a bit of bit and at the moment I fell in love with mountain biking, and I began racing.

So I began driving mountain bikes round ’87 after which began racing round ’90. So Novak requested me someday, and I bought him into it too, which was fairly cool as a result of at the moment I feel he was in his late forties and I bought him to compete a bit of bit. So he introduced it up someday, “What do you consider doing bikes?” And I am like, “Yeah, okay, let me perform some research.” I did that and bought along with Mike Marquez and a good friend of mine, and he needed to work at RockShox and Fox and now he is bought his personal firm. In order that’s been actually cool to try this. And constructed Santa Cruz, did the Tazmon, after which over time launched all these completely different fashions, put collectively the Syndicate race crew, and the remainder is historical past.

Brian: The Tazmon was the primary mannequin, yeah?

Rob: Sure it was.

Brian: When did the deal with downhill racing and the Syndicate come about? That was later?

Rob: Yeah, so we sponsored plenty of athletes in cross-country, and downhill over time, however we did not have the funds to area a World Cup crew. And our first large sponsorship was the Luna Chix crew in 2001, I feel it was, and we did that for 4 years. Because the enterprise grew then we had the cash, downhill was declining a bit, simply the game for a interval. And that was the chance I noticed to leap in and construct up the crew. And at that time I needed to, I did not wish to do something half-ass, I needed to convey one of the best guys in. Derin Stockton was doing the intense-Santa Cruz crew and I bought him to handle it at first. And we introduced on Nathan Rennie and constructed that out, and Johnny Waddell.

After which in ’06 we introduced on Steve Peat and Kathy Sessler. Kathy was serving to us at first a bit of bit, however then when Derin determined to go some completely different path, I introduced Kathy on as crew supervisor full-time. Introduced on Peaty, Rennie was there, after which Mark Hendershot, and Jamie Goldman. Johnny Waddell had that large accident at Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2000, shit, what was that? ’03 I feel it was. After which we have at all times supported him for the final nearly twenty years now. And he is extra of an endurance rider, and he is doing a bunch of enduros now too. Yeah, so then introduced on Greg and we constructed the syndicate to what actually was an extension of our household. All my children grew up touring to all of the World Cups. It was a enjoyable journey for positive.

Brian: How did Greg pop up in your radar?

Rob: I feel it was Worlds at Fort William in ’07 and he completed fourth crashing and with a damaged scapula and I am like, “Hmm, if the man can f*cking end fourth with a damaged scapula, he is a winner.”

Brian: Cannot imagine you simply glossed over the historical past of the superheroes like that, Rob. Come on!

Rob: Oh, okay. Nicely, you have been speaking in regards to the syndicate. Jesus. Nicely, all of the superheroes, that was enjoyable too. I imply that was the late ’90s…

Levy: Randy Spangler!

Rob: Oh sure, Spangler. Yeah, for positive. All these guys. I imply, yeah, that was a cool time too.

Levy: I used to be simply going to leap ahead to 2015. There’s so much that occurs between the Syndicate and when PON exhibits up. However how did Pon present up?

Rob: I feel it was round 2012. We had simply moved into the brand new constructing the place we’re now. Their former CEO simply cold-called me and stated, “Hey, I am on the town, I would love to come back by and meet you.” And he got here by and we had a pleasant dialog. He was telling me what they have been planning on doing and at the moment that they had purchased Cervelo and Derby, I feel, and Gazelle, I feel that they had already owned too. So these have been the three manufacturers that I am conscious of at that time. However shortly after he left round 2014 or the top of 2013, we determined for us, Novak and I, it was going to be an enormous funding to develop our distribution in Europe. We did not actually wish to put out the cash. And I used to be getting to a degree the place, personally, my children have been youngsters, however there wasn’t actually any curiosity for any of them to hold on a legacy.

And I am not going to push it down their throats, as a result of I would like them to exit and be themselves. So we determined to place a guide collectively and promote, and we did that. After which in, I feel it was the top of 2014, we simply completed it and I stored that relationship with Pon and I simply gave them a name and I stated, “Hey, we’re doing this. We’ll provide the first write of refusal.” They usually have been all about it and we made a deal and instructed the corporate at, what was it? Starting of July 2015.

Levy: All of it sounds fairly easy and is smart, however I wish to ask you, out of your perspective, you created this factor, Rob, and it is apparent it is one of many best-known manufacturers within the historical past of mountain biking. You and your crew made this factor, you co-founded it.

Rob: Yep. Thanks.

Levy: Was it arduous to let go of that? There’s bought to be some problem letting go of {that a} bit.

Rob: Yeah, it is your child. However it was like after I was skating; it is like I bought into the subsequent factor, I at all times look ahead, I simply go on to the subsequent factor. I do not look again. I at all times look ahead.

Brian: There’s the trope of founders struggling after a sale. And I feel possibly folks assumed that you just and a few of the different OGs would, after the sale, take a quiet exit ahead of later, however then A, you caught round for an additional eight years, and B, this is not a quiet exit when the exit did come.

Rob: Nicely, so there was nothing carried out on their half which appeared odd, proper? No announcement, nothing. After which what I did with that yesterday was it wasn’t about that. I have not posted something in over, shit, nearly two years I feel. I am probably not large into the social media factor, to be sincere. So I simply actually like what Cesar was doing at Unno. We would been speaking a bit forwards and backwards over the past, what? Eight months or so. And I bought numerous time on the bike. I’ve ridden a bunch of different e-bikes on the market. Not all of them clearly, however the ones I’ve ridden, this factor impresses me so much. So yeah.

Brian: That is all kind of an elaborate angle to grow to be Pinkbike’s e-bike tester, proper?

Rob: You caught me. Yeah, you bought me. That is it. Good. No, however for me, that is what brings enjoyment again a bit to driving my bike, is I can do it extra and I can descend much more. So I’ve a good time. It is simply numerous enjoyable.

Brian: So yeah, you talked about that there have been some frustrations within the lead-up to not renewing your contract the place issues weren’t being listened to or issues weren’t going the course you needed. What have been you pushing that fell on deaf ears or what have been you hoping to get carried out?

Rob: It is simply there’s plenty of issues. I do not actually wish to get into that apart from, mainly, I felt I used to be losing my time, losing my breath. And if it falls on deaf ears, so be it. That is their concern. That is their downside. There have been some actually cool issues that might have been, however nobody adopted up on them even after 3 times attempting to current one thing and get it going and it simply falls on deaf ears. f*ck it. Transfer on.

Levy: Rob, it sounds very very like you continue to have issues that you just wish to make. Appears like you have got plans.

Rob: Yeah, I am engaged on some shit. My spouse’s bought me actually busy. We have taken on this undertaking, the Breakers F.C. Soccer Academy. All of our youngsters performed membership soccer from 5 till highschool. And together with a good friend from Montenegro, who’s an ex-footballer. He performed for Bordeaux professionally, he performed within the World Cup and all the pieces. He is the director of the membership and we’re purchased a twenty-acre parcel for the membership simply between Monterey and, nicely, simply actually simply out of Watsonville. So we’re attempting to construct a stadium, get that going and dorms and actually simply construct up this membership and hopefully grow to be a member of the MLS Subsequent Professional, which is a brand new stage.

You have bought MLS and then you definately bought MLS Subsequent. It is like a farm crew sort of factor. So we’re attempting to get that going and that is an enormous undertaking in itself. Large. So far as bike-related issues, yeah, there are a number of tasks I am engaged on. I am unable to say something at this level but when we get what we have to get carried out within the subsequent few months, it will be a number of years, or it needs to be rather less than that earlier than it could come out however it’s a sport changer. I will depart it at that.

Levy: Out of your publish, individuals are assuming that you’ve got possibly some tie-in with Unno. Are you able to make clear?

Rob: Oh, yeah, no, I simply respect what Cesar’s constructing and what he’s doing. I feel it is the best-looking bike in the marketplace, it is a piece of artwork, however higher. It rides extremely nicely. It is at all times in regards to the journey and the way nicely it’s. It is an important product.

Brian: It does look fairly sick. So earlier than we try to discover different methods to get you to disclose what’s subsequent, let’s make it…

Rob: Yeah, that ain’t going to occur.

Brian: Let’s soar again. Let’s discuss…

Rob: Patents are concerned.

Brian: We’re relentless, however pondering again to Santa Cruz and your time, what are a few of the stuff you’re most pleased with?

Rob: So far as bicycles?

Brian: The whole lot.

Rob: The whole lot. Skateboards, simply the entire graphic sequence. We have been the primary guys to do a sequence of graphics. I had the bullseye with an arm popping out. Then extra of the creature got here out. Nobody had carried out that ever in skateboarding. So graphics-wise, yeah, that is in all probability the most important factor for skateboarding that I feel, I imply, to not toot my very own horn, however I in all probability offered extra skateboards than some other particular person on the planet, or near a prime two, prime three, much more than Tony Hawk as a result of they have been promoting these reissues for thirty-five years.

Brian: Wild.

Rob: Yeah. So I am actually pleased with that.

Brian: Honest. And on the bike aspect?

Rob: Bike aspect, plenty of issues, and simply the accomplishments of the Syndicate and the perspective we introduced, I feel. That was enjoyable, reminiscences that, as I stated, my children rising up with the riders, they noticed numerous shit, like loopy shit. However in a method, I believed it was actually a great life lesson of what to do and what to not do. There was numerous what to not do.

Brian: Oh man. And what in regards to the flip aspect? Are there key moments in Santa Cruz’s historical past if you assume you made a mistake or predicted one thing incorrectly?

Rob: Oh, yeah. I imply you solely be taught out of your errors, proper? So…

Brian: That is why Levy does not be taught something. No errors.

Rob: This Swobo factor, after we did that, it failed. That was in all probability the primary sizable failure. And all the pieces is about timing. We have been there time-wise, we have been there at first however then all people knocked it off and bought into it and jumped on the bandwagon, and we did not transfer quick sufficient there, sadly. We needed to license it to any person else after which it mainly simply disappeared, sadly. Sky Yaeger, who was the bike designer, and Tim Par, they’re good folks and it simply did not work out, sadly. That was in all probability a failure I realized so much from. However I feel, shifting ahead, should you’re not failing at one thing, you are not studying something. And should you do not listen, I imply, you do not ahead, I do not assume. You must fail to succeed, interval.

Brian: When it comes to failing and succeeding, the business in the present day is in an excellent bizarre place. I would be actually curious to listen to your predictions for each short-term 2023 stuff and possibly ten years down the street. The place are issues going?

Rob: This 12 months might be a glut of stock. And the final two and a half years, nobody might have predicted what COVID delivered to the sporting business typically. I imply, you have been an fool should you failed within the final two years. In the event you weren’t making some huge cash, you should not be within the enterprise you are in, within the sporting space as a result of all people was killing it as a result of all people needed to get outdoors as a result of they have been, relying on what nation you are in, you have been restricted to doing sure issues and that was an escape. Get in your bike, exit and journey, go run, mountain climb, no matter, simply to get outside as a result of everybody was relegated to being indoors and sporting a masks. There have been lead occasions, eighteen months for sure merchandise, and then you definately had the delivery concern the place container ships have been sitting out, ready to unload for months at a time.

We’ll see all that take impact this 12 months, in all probability by means of the subsequent couple of years, to be sincere. Down the street so far as suspension, there are numerous actually good bikes on the market now. All people’s coming to frequent floor. So I feel, to be sincere, your guys’ job is de facto arduous. I imply, you are choosing aside little items right here and there and it isn’t straightforward, for positive. I feel electronics, clearly. They beginning to play an even bigger position and so they’ll proceed to play a good higher position within the bikes.

Levy: One place the place issues might soar ahead so much is e-bikes. Proper now, numerous these e-bikes are fairly tough, with cables in all places and rattling and stuff like that.

Brian: I noticed Kazimer a number of days in the past and he has an e-bike the place the battery door is simply this positively floppy factor. It is out the aspect and it is the floppiest battery door ever. It simply shovels loam and water immediately into the motor and battery. It is loopy. These merchandise aren’t very nicely resolved but.

Rob: Yeah, nicely, I imply they’re vastly forward of the place they have been 5 years in the past. 5 years in the past I used to be like, “No, we’re by no means going to make one.” After which because the motors bought higher… I’ll say this factor, one of many greatest benefits to e-bikes, apart from having the ability to go on longer rides, go additional, is that the load of the bikes really helps enhance the efficiency of the suspension.

They’ve extra traction, the suspension’s working higher, I imagine. That is my private opinion. And I do not assume you wish to go an excessive amount of lighter. I imply, there’s this large push now with the lighter bikes. I desire a battery that’s 750Wh, no matter, the load does not matter. I imply, 45 kilos, 48, 50. I feel it is going to settle round 40, low 40s, or one thing which you can go greater than you possibly can put up with. It is a 5, six-hour journey, and the battery expertise that is popping out within the subsequent few years I feel will provide that. It will be half the load, however be capable of go that very same distance.

Brian: Attention-grabbing. All people appears to counsel that battery tech will hit automobiles first, so we’ll see it coming, and that it is nonetheless fairly a methods out. Do you assume it is ahead of that?

Rob: It is actually, I do not know learn how to say this with out… It is there if you’d like it, I will depart it at that. In the event you’re keen to do the work, it is there. You are able to do it. I do not assume electrical automobiles are the longer term. It’ll be a hybrid. There are new artificial fuels which have zero emissions. I feel the core of the auto, if we get on that topic actual fast, might be a hydrogen-powered automobile. Tesla is altering all of theirs to hydrogen with electrical motors. That is the longer term.

Brian: And what is the patent quantity you have got once more that you just’re engaged on proper now, actual fast?

Rob: Yeah, if we get this, if you see it on the bike and also you play with it, you may be like, “Holy shit, why hasn’t somebody carried out that?” Proper? It is a type of odd moments, I name it, or holy shit moments. To not construct it up too large, apart from that is why I am very involved in engaged on this undertaking with a number of others.

Levy: That positively seems like it is going to be fascinating. I am picturing motors mounted in hubs and whatnot.

Rob: One thing less complicated. The objective of life is to make issues so simple as you might be. Granted life and a human being may be very complicated and the extra you possibly can simplify issues, the higher off you’re. I imagine that is my opinion.

Levy: I agree. So Rob, different bikes within the business, apart from Unno, who do you want on the market? Who’s doing good things that you just’re involved in, that you just’re impressed with?

Rob: Nicely, Specialised. I imply, I am a reasonably fierce competitor however I at all times revered what Specialised has carried out, and oddly sufficient, I stay throughout the road from Sinyard. So we have been speaking so much within the final, nicely, not so much, however we have talked so much, greater than we now have within the final twenty years and I’ve at all times revered what he is constructed. I won’t agree with all the pieces he is carried out, however he is at all times there. I imply, again to that Important survey, he is primary nonetheless. Very commendable, they began in ’74 I feel, and so they’ve been prime canine now, between us and them, for twenty years. That is an enormous accomplishment.

Brian: What’s loopy, although, is that Santa Cruz bought there too, into that one-two spot.

Rob: Yeah, and there is a mutual respect there from Mike. It has been good attending to know him a bit higher.

Brian: I simply keep in mind again in my bike store days, Specialised has at all times been large so far as I have been within the bike business. And it has been fascinating to see Santa Cruz go from an upstart model to essentially battling for the highest spot in numerous the classes.

Rob: Specialised is, I am guessing and I do not know the precise numbers, a multi-billion greenback firm. That is in all probability my proudest accomplishment, is to be a part of the crew we created to construct Santa Cruz as much as that, to compete at that stage. That is fairly cool.

Brian: Is there anyone else that is impressing you nowadays?

Rob: A number of momentum proper now, I would say, from Orbea. They appear to have nailed it with that lighter e-bike.

Brian: The Rise is tremendous fascinating, for positive.

Rob: If you begin noticing should you do not see competitor’s bikes round on the paths, that does not imply they do not exist, however they don’t seem to be doing nicely as a result of this space is likely one of the greatest mountain bike areas on the planet. There’s numerous power from Northern California within the mountain bike market. And should you do not see a model, it isn’t that they do not exist, however I am seeing numerous Orbeas abruptly. In order that they’re doing very well.

Brian: They seem to be a cool firm, too. Actually completely different construction.

Rob: Yeah, no, I would say Orbea has bought it happening. Transition, they’ve carried out an important job, too. These are those that come off the highest of my head at this level.

Levy: You talked about one thing only a few minutes earlier about conserving it easy, after which however we now have Specialised who has seen unbelievable success and has grown into this huge factor. So I am simply questioning, on your subsequent undertaking, is your objective to create one thing small, or do you wish to develop one thing that large, as large as Santa Cruz has grow to be? Or is there a line, and you do not need an organization to grow to be that large?

Rob: That is a great query. Once I left, Santa Cruz was a fairly large firm and now it is a lot larger. The toughest factor in any enterprise is managing folks. So in a method, I do not actually wish to develop the corporate that large, however there are different methods to do issues. Licensing your patents or your concepts to different firms that get all of the work or must do all of the work, I ought to say. We have now to do the work upfront, clearly. You bought to get the patents and do all that. However yeah, managing folks might be the toughest a part of any enterprise there may be. And you’ll discuss to any enterprise proprietor and I am positive they’re going to all agree, that is a reasonably frequent factor.

Levy: I think about you are driving some bikes nowadays. Are you driving that Unno? Is that your bike of selection?

Rob: Yeah, the Unno is what I am driving at present. Clearly, I wish to hold attempting out different bikes and seeing what’s on the market and see how issues are progressing as a result of that is what pursuits me. For me, the entire premise of Santa Cruz was to construct one of the best product we might construct and let the product communicate for itself. That is at all times been how my thought sample works, and the crew we constructed and the assist we had across the firm to construct one of the best product we might. And personally, it at all times got here right down to what we needed to journey it. It is a egocentric curiosity, so I wish to proceed that method and never everybody’s going to love it. Everybody’s bought an opinion extra so than ever on this world. Yeah, it is just like the information. Yeah, it is sort of information, however it’s extra any person’s opinion of what is going on on. There’s an occasion after which there are all these opinions of the occasion proper or flawed or no matter. So, there’s numerous trivia on the market.

Brian: We do love our lukewarm takes over right here for positive.

Levy: Sure. That is what we’re identified for. All proper, Rob, thanks a lot on your time. Each of us are trying ahead to seeing what you have bought cooking. Tell us after we might see no matter it’s that you just’re engaged on. We’ll be conserving an eye fixed open for it.

Rob: Yeah, we’ll positively be in contact. It’ll be a while but, however we’ll attain out to you guys for positive. Nicely, thanks once more.

Levy: Thanks once more.

Rob: Admire it. Have a great one.

Jan twelfth, 2022

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