Transition Bikes are a company doing things their own way and Pete had the luck to bump into their owners in a drizzly (yes it was Fort William) World Cup pits.
Every bike company has its roots in people and the vision of those people steer that brand to the bikes, teams, products and riders they will become synonymous with. Kevin Menard and Kyle Young are the two people at the helm of The Good Ship Transition Bikes.
Pete had a chat with them as the skies began to darken after racing had finished in Fort William.
Who is Kevin Menard?
Right out of the gate with a deep philosophical question?
To keep it simple I represent 50% ownership of an extremely large worldwide bike corporation called Transition Bikes. My primary roles are heading up the Sales and Marketing teams and basically expressing our company culture to the world and why we love making bikes.
How did Transition Bikes come about?
Over a game of ping pong about 17 years ago. It is a long and complicated story but to distil it down to it’s most basic form I basically said to Kyle, “Hey, we should start a bike company.”
What’s your background in cycling?
BMX kid growing up. Not a racer, more of a wood ramp huck-to-flat type of BMX kid. Kyle has a pretty extensive flatland BMX background where he competed.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
I worked for 4 years for a bike manufactured where we made in house from scratch bikes called Vision Recumbents. Here’s a photo of me for a catalog photo shoot we did. I did everything from assembly, metal fab, sales, marketing. Even though the bikes were recumbents it definitely got me excited about the whole process of creating bikes.
What was the first bike you produced?
First bike was our DirtBag. A proper very heavy, poor pedalling bike designed to huck to flat and ride skinnies. See that photo here.
Was it a comedy of errors or plain sailing?
Massive exercise in learning as you go. It had it’s issues but we made it work and lucky for us pretty much everybody around us was still figuring out what proper geometry and suspension looked like for an aggressive freeride bike. I feel like as an industry as a whole we stumbled together until we figured it out.
How did you choose the factories you work with?
We basically just used the Taiwan Bicycle Source bible and started to email factories. The ones that answered our emails where the ones we used. Over the years as your experience and quality get’s better you just keep going to better and better factories. Today we have amazing partners that can perfectly execute any vision we have.
How did you nail down what kind of bikes you wanted to make?
It is the same as it has always been, we just build what we want to ride. Back in the early day we liked big travel freeride bikes but were also into these aggressive short travel bikes which you weren’t seeing much of. That is where the Preston FR and the Bottlerocket came from.
How many people make up Transition and what do they do?
We have 14 people and they do the same things that pretty much any other bike company does large or small. The difference is that for a smaller company one person will probably do 3-5 different things instead of just one. This allows the employees and owners to really understand the business and see it from all perspectives.
How do you choose the riders and athletes that represent Transition?
Lars our Marketing and Sponsorship guy (He also races and does product development) really curates our athletes. We look for people like us. Not necessarily the top athletes but people that are highly involved in their local scene and just love to ride and have fun.
Lars was crucial in putting the deal together to work with FMD Racing but in all honesty they reached out to us because they really wanted to work with us even though we are small. Our philosophies overlap nicely and they appreciate our ability to be serious about our product but also take a more laid back approach with our athletes.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
The biggest sacrifice is our time. To be relevant in this industry we feel you have to get out and travel and ride in different parts of the world. See what other people are into and connect with people at their local spot. It is tougher when you have a family but it is something we love to do and genuinely enjoy it.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
Kyle and I both had full time corporate America style jobs for 3 years before we could quit and tackle Transition full time. Having two jobs is definitely very hard to juggle. When we started Transition we really always thought it would just be a fun side job to our normal job. If we could grow it so we could quit our jobs was always something we wanted but did not expect it to happen.
How make or break is the company for you?
At this point we have pretty much achieved our biggest goals with the company. Growth is not a measure of success for us at this point. We want to continue to connect and ride with our customers and be a very relevant brand that people seek out.
Did any previous you work did help with Transition Bikes?
Kyle had a business degree and web development that he is definitely using and I had graphic design, marketing and video production degree that I use on a daily basis. When we started the company between the two of us we had every skill we would need to start the company without needing any outside help. We have always been very hands on owners who would rather just do it ourselves and get it done rather than rely on someone else.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your own company off the ground and the bikes in hand?
We really learned most of what we needed as we went. We taught ourselves CAD and Solidworks to design and model frames, we created a sales and inventory management system from scratch to manage all the internal business stuff as well. We were not in a hurry to grow the company in the beginning, we were happy with slow small growth to give us the time needed to learn everything.
How many prototypes did you have before getting to the first production bike, and does it get any easier?
We did two prototypes and two different factories to get the final production DirtBag. I would say the same principals apply now but we have a much more streamlined process for getting a project done that gets routed through various departments and reviews. Also we are doing much more complex modelling so now we have an in house 3D printer to print frames and parts for evaluation which would have been amazing back then.
Beyond the development of prototypes, what form did your testing take?
There are the usual factory stress tests that everyone does but nothing can replace just good getting out and riding the product as hard as you can. This is the bulk of our testing. Now we get several mule frames that have different geos and suspension settings to dial in what we want.
Where next for Transition? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
We are pretty excited about the future. We are a small company but committed to a very high degree of product development and pushing the boundaries of what bikes can do and how fun they can be. Back in the day we were lucky if we would look 3 months ahead to see what product we would produce. Now we are looking 3-5 years ahead and predicting and shaping the future of what bikes will be and we are very excited about what we are coming up with.
Anybody to thank at this point in the Transition journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
We are lucky to have a following of dealers, distributors, customers and athletes that truly believe in our brand and have been supporting us from the beginning. Thank you for your support and being a part of our family.