Episode 5: The End of the Beginning

Episode 5: The End of the Beginning

We're into the fifth and final journal entry of Time Traveller 05: The Tech. Granted there are lots of areas of tech in cycling, this week we're focussing on the bike, and one brand in particular that I've had an affinity with since stopping racing. 

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.

He can blame Baden Cooke for inspiring him to make the leap - Rob had contacted Baden (in his capacity as a rider agent), to help place a young rider Rob thought could make it as a pro, Baden and him struck up a relationship.  The timing was perfect, Rob was ready for change, and Baden always has mad crazy plans.  The idea of creating a bike brand had been sitting in Baden's mind, so meeting Rob was serendipity at it's best.  Both Baden and Rob knew that creating a brand from the ground up would require too much time, so Rob bought Factor: a concept British brand that launched the F1 of bikes in 2012 to critical acclaim if not commercial success.  The positioning was perfect for what they wanted to do, because Rob was only interested in making the best bikes in the world, something he felt he hadn't done yet.

Factor Aston Martin

The 2012 £25,000 FACTOR x Aston Martin, a critical success - not so much commercially...

The only things Rob kept of the original concept, apart the brand positioning (well, not quite so stratospheric) were the Twin Vane down tube and quality of design.  Everything else he rebuilt better, because to be fair the original had shoddy handling and was slightly over-engineered, albeit beautifully so. 

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...  

FACTOR frame layout 1

A FACTOR frame being constructed at their factory in China, a factory that solely exists to build FACTOR frames - https://factorbikes.com/about/manufacturing-standards/FACTOR frame layout 2

During this period Rob created a factory that would only build FACTOR frames, there were two reasons for this, the first meant that he could dedicate all resources to one goal, the second meant he could keep tight control of his Intellectual Property.  With FACTOR he decided that he was no longer going to share his knowledge.

During this same period the World Tour team, AG2r, found out that their bike sponsor, FOCUS, would be pulling out of its three year contract as it's new owners wanted to focus (sorry) the brand on mountain biking.  AG2r allowed their leader, Romain Bardet, to do his research and come up with a list of possible bike brands that could replace them.  FACTOR was on the list, so an unbranded bike was sent to him and within weeks he'd made his decision.  Fortunately for Romain, and AG2r, Rob was up to the task.  So the FACTOR factory immediately found itself flat out to fulfil a full World Team's requirement in three months.  

In two years Rob and Baden went from a dream of an idea to watching their bikes race at the very front of the Tour de France.  I was commentating on the race for ITV, and I have to say I took particular joy in watching AG2r attack as a team on descents - because if a whole team can do that then that means every one of them has 100% belief in the bike that they are pushing to the very edge of their abilities.  It just so happened that Romain Bardet won atop the steepest climb of the Tour on the very same bike... 

I wonder if the Carmichael brothers, while living in Miami in the early 1970's, ever thought the kid next door would end up in Taiwan, fluent in Chinese, building Tour de France winning bikes.  One thing is certain, they don't know how much he wanted to be them.  Life, it's a funny old thing.