The Bikes /// 03.

CHPT3 x Factor

You’d think during my 20 odd years of racing I’d have collaborated on numerous bike designs and ridden countless prototypes. You’d be wrong, I’ve only collaborated on two bikes, the first was my custom-made Dave Russell (currently MIA) when I was 17 and the second was my MBK TT bike when I was an amateur in France at the grand old age of 19. 

The end of my professional cyclist life was the beginning of my re-entry into life as an independently minded bike owner. So when friend and former pro Baden Cooke approached me about working with a new bike company where I would be able to contribute to design I was immediately interested. The fact it was a British brand with an enigmatic American owner based in Taiwan made it even more fascinating.

Disturbing the norm

I trusted Baden because he had been fairly hardcore racer. back in our day. I figured if Baden was backing Factor then it must be proper.  Yet what made me really believe in it was when I met Rob Gitelis.

Over all those years one of the things I had learnt was that the best brands were the ones that had a clear and identifiable vision, and more often than not that came from one person's passion and belief.  With Castelli it's Steve Smith, with Brompton it's Will Butler-Adams, and with Factor it's Rob Gitelis.  

All three of them believe in disrupting the norm, not for the sake of it, but because they believe they can find better solutions to normalised problems.  It has taken me a few years to figure Rob out (I think), and in doing so I've learnt he's not only enigmatic, but extremely humble.  

Rob Gitelis has taught me more about bike design and manufacturing in the time I’ve known him than I learnt in my 20 years racing.

The Owners Story

Shortly afterwards he moved from components to frames, one of the earliest and most successful of these being Cervelo for whom he made their aluminium frames, the iconic Soloist in fact, and the only reason Cervelo chose Rob was because he promised he could deliver them a full carbon frame within five months.

This is where things get interesting. The first step was for Rob to deliver a bike asap, this was the P3 in 2002, at the time CSC were sponsored by LOOK, but Rob's ability to deliver the P3 in time for the 2002 TdF showed Riis that Cervelo were up to the task for sponsoring the team in 2003.  The team were so pleased with that original P3 that they painted it up as LOOK and Laurent Jalabert used it in the 2002 Tour.  

The next year saw Rob developing and delivering the Cervelo R2.5, the bike Tyler Hamilton rode with his broken collarbone in the 2003 Tour de France. The rest is history, Cervelo went from being the smallest bike manufacturer in the pro-peloton to one of the most successful and respected bicycle racing brands in the world in just a few short years. Rob and his factory in Taiwan was making them.

The carbon boom in bicycle manufacturing, according to Rob, took place between 2007-2010, that’s when things went mad for him, he was making frames for the majority of big brands you’ve heard of, and many small boutique companies you haven’t, or if you own one, don’t ask. At this point he had a factory in China with over 1000 people working there. Rob Gitelis became the person you went to if you wanted the best carbon fibre bicycles and parts manufactured.

At that point in time there were only two big brands on the road scene who owned their factories, Giant and Merida. So Rob decided to create another: FACTOR…

The Renaissance of Factor

I've asked Rob why he did it, after all, he had a very successful business; as long as there was demand he was the go-to man to supply it.  His answer is quite succinct and very honest, 'Ego.'  He was tired of being the hidden engine powering other brand's success, he needed a vision, something that would motivate him to push himself beyond what he would ever do for other people.  He'd already built Tour de France and Monument winning bikes, but nobody knew that, and I can understand that would start to niggle a little.

Rob and Baden knew the only way they could accelerate the renaissance of Factor was to introduce it to top level racing, both coming from a racing background meant they knew it was the only place you could truly validate performance.  There was no way they could jump straight into the World Tour, so that first year Factor sponsored the UK ONE Pro Cycling Team.  

It was at that team's training camp in Spain, 2015, that I met Rob for the first time. He was with the mechanics helping them build bikes.  Unlike any other big bike brand owner in the world Rob cannot only mechanic with the best of them, but also build any one of his bikes from the ground up, he knows perfectly how to cut/lay/cook carbon, he never hesitates to get his hands dirty.  This in itself says so much...

In the following 8 years we've created Limited Editions, shared Studios, and I've ridden the Vista, the O2, the Hanzo, and now the Lando XC.