slate olson interview

slate olson

the march of the rapha machine seemingly knows no bounds. if my e-mail inbox is anything to go by, they have succeeded in capturing the imagination and wardrobes of a large proportion of britain's cyclists, and they're now working their way into north america with a similar degree of success, having launched the rapha continental. having initially recruited trystan cobbett to aid the stars and stripes in black and pink, further shining of the image will now be masterminded by slate olson, who takes on the title of general manager, usa.

it may be of lesser interest to rapha aficionados in the uk, but i thought american rapha wearers might like the introduction.

for the benefit of those (including me) who know you not, would you care to introduce yourself?

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon- spending most of my time on running tracks in the footsteps of distance greats like Prefontaine, Salazar, and Dellinger. A runner all my life, it wasn't until a couple years ago that I finally connected my ability to suffer any almost any conditions with my almost-five years throwing newspapers at 5am.
When I moved to San Francisco to work in advertising my eyes were opened up to what the world of cycling really could hold-- riding Tam and the Santa Cruz mountains religiously for the first few years. Then a little guy named Rocky (little is a good thing, because I happen to ride a 51/52) sold me a beautiful celeste green Bianchi to start my road life. Which turned into a complete love affair with cyclocross as I made the move to Portland in 2001 to work at Nike.
I just came on at Rapha four weeks ago, before that I had the pleasure of helping to build the Nike Cycling, Livestrong & 10//2, Nike Running and Nike Women's brands from Beaverton. When I could, I enjoyed a lunch-time drubbing from any number of strong racers that work for Nike- it's never a lunch ride, it's a lunch race. I've been really fortunate on so many fronts, but none more than with my wife of ten-years (Lisa), our nine-month old son (Beckett) and a great chocolate labrador (Marley). Lisa rides when she can, and Beckett and Marley will soon be commuting to school and joining me at work side-by-side in a Burley trailer.

how did you become involved with rapha?

I had my first Rapha conversation three+ years ago on the set of big Nike spot we were shooting for Lance called 'Magnet'. The director Jake Scott and a great friend and brilliant art director from W+K named James Selman had their bikes and road up the Marin Headlands to the set. Jake was wearing Rapha and James knew of Rapha already- so you could say they both opened the door for my own appreciation.
I spent half a day with Simon in Vegas this past September after hearing that Rapha was looking to invest and grow the business from a few of my friends around the States. We hit it off and somehow I popped off the front through the hiring process. I am very, very excited about what lies ahead for us in the US.

it seems that rapha now have a parallel universe in the usa. and you're in charge. how does that feel?

It's funny going from a campus with 4,000 of my closest friends and $16Billion annually to Rapha. Funny, in the best way. If my four weeks introduction to Rapha has shown me anything it's that the passion and love of the sport of cycling and the act of suffering is genuine. Simon and team have developed a very special brand and continue to create mind-blowing, beautiful product. I feel very fortunate to be part of this company at this stage-- and more than a little bit excited.

i believe that rapha usa will be based in portland, oregon - whose decision was that?

slate olson

That decision came out of the process really. I don't think it hurts that Portland is genuinely one of the greatest cycling cities I've ever known. The riding here is fantastic. The culture is really strong and fresh (like the coffee). The racing scene is held together by a great organization in OBRA and the Cross Crusade guys. It's just a tremendous community for cyclists.

what will trystan's role be?

Trystan has been a one-man-band for a long time, and he's done a terrific job. He's just moved up to Portland at the start of the year and we're working through how we're going to organize for growth. He's one of those guys that truly knows everybody and can pretty much build anything from scratch- just give him some tubing, a rubber band and drill- and voila!

do you figure that rapha clothing will need a different marketing strategy in the usa than in the uk and europe.

I do think that there are some differences as to how we'll approach the US market. That said, it's very important to me that Rapha never lose sense of it's London roots. There are many programs that Simon and team have created in the UK that will translate beautifully to the States with some spelling changes and a slight skew for the US.

will this mean, eventually, that north american customers will be ordering from portland, rather than from perren street as at the moment?

Current plans are to keep orders coming from Perren Street, keeping all inventories in London. However, we do have plans to bring the customer service and returns to Portland to make it easier for our customers to get what they need more efficiently.

i know that you moved into the hot seat just before the north american handbuilt show, but what's the master plan?

Funny, Simon's been asking the same question. For now my plan is to ride as hard as we can, for as long as we can. We have a great customer base already that we'd like to grow. We also have partnered with strong retailers in some key markets- we'll be looking to expand smartly this year into a few more markets.

does this mean you have to buy a travco too, or will you just share trystan's?

slate olson

Trystan might be looking to offload that Travco for a steal if you know of anyone. We love that vehicle, just not sure if it will love us much longer. We might sell it to buy more bikes.

can we expect major development in the rapha continental, or are you happy to let it take its course over time?

We are planning to build a NE Rapha Continental squadra later this spring. One of the guys just joined us this past weekend for a brilliant ride that took the best parts of stage 1 of the Tour of California and expanded upon it. Funnily enough, he beat me in a sprint to the line at USGP in Portland this past December- so you can imagine I'm going to tell you he's very fast.

how soon can you have a pink couch installed in the portland office?

Just can't decide upon materials. Leather is nice, but not so considered/not so Portland. Thinking soft, fluffy. Hoping the guys from Super Relaxed are having a garage sale soon.

i notice that there was a rapha 'andy hampsten' jersey at the portland show. is this the start of a split in rapha's product line - specific products for a specific market?

That beautiful jersey in honor of 20 years since Andy's Gavia pass will be available worldwide in a limited run. We're looking however to put together a great event around it's debut in the US next month.

how much input are you likely to have into the product line?

I think Simon and Luke have been pretty spot-on thus far, so I'm thinking I need to earn that right a bit yet. However, I've never been afraid to toss an idea into the mix.

are you an accomplished racer yourself, or are the training wheels still in place?

Think I made myself sound like a better cyclist than I am in my intro. I have never won a bike race. I had a few podiums last year in 'cross, but those will likely be my last because I was moved up to race 1/2, and in Portland that means I start with racers called Skerritt, Decker, Tonkin, Molly C. and about 50 other guys faster than me. Maybe I'll take my masters age and see what it's like to get beat by guys named Bannink and Benno instead.

money no object, which frame/bicycle do you buy?

I have a BMC that I got from CBS in Seattle a couple of years ago, and I love it- so I'd probably get the new Team SLC. And, since I have some money left over I'd invest in Portland handbuilt-- Vanilla, Ira Ryan, Tony Pereira, Hufnagel and A'Hearne to name a few.

campag or shimano?

Simon hates this, but somehow all my bikes since my first Bianchi have been Shimano- so I'm in that camp.

slate olson

are you mechanically adept, as in could you fix the bike out on the road, or will you just hand it to ira ryan?

I can probably get home. It might be a little noisy, or a little out of round, but I'll find my way home. If Ira or Trystan are around however- have at it fellas.

favourite item in the rapha wardrobe?

The new 3/4 knicker bibs might be the best thing I've worn ever in the cold of winter. But, you cannot go wrong with the classic soft-shell. | rapha continental |

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