We're into 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. Here's the story of Factor, and my relationship with them. This is the second of five journals about bikes, and in particular, Factor.
People always ask me what my favourite bike was while a pro. It doesn’t take much deliberation; it was my FELT while at Slipstream, especially the 2010 versions. There are three reasons for this:
1. I had arguably my best ever season in 2010 while on FELT.
2. Jim Felt (creator of the FELT brand) liked racing bikes and built his bikes for racers.
3. They were relatively newcomers on the road scene and were a little bit maverick in their attitude towards the sport e.g. they also made low-rider beach cruisers, they would bring fleets of these to the Giro and TdF starts for us to ride to sign in. I liked that.
Left: David Millar in 2010 Paris-Nice prologue. Right: 2010 Flanders, on the Muur, chasing Philippe Gilbert. Photo: Tim de Waele - tdwsport.com
Jim was no longer a majority owner of FELT at the time, but he'd turn up occasionally and be genuinely fascinated in our opinions, which was extremely rare for the big kahuna of a bike brand. I'm not sure if Jim has anything to do with FELT bikes anymore, but while he did his bikes were purist. Now don’t get me wrong, they were out-sourced frames, using very normal manufacturing processes, but the point was they were designed for racing, so although they were a bit heavy and not exactly cutting edge, they (pardon the pun) felt good.
Beyond FELT of 2010 all the bikes were similar, mostly disappointing, and as my career went on they got worse. The bike racer was the lowest priority for the brand, the frame construction was based on the end customer, and most of those were first time buyers who liked their bikes to have high handlebars and lazy geometry.
It may be a surprise to hear, but retiring from professional bike racing and being free of sponsor obligations was incredibly liberating, in fact it’s the reason CHPT3 exists - to apply what I’d learnt through experience on the edge of racing performance in a way nobody has done before.
It was Baden Cooke who first approached me about Factor, and I trusted him because of the fact we were long time friends and had both been fairly hardcore racers 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 over two years to figure Rob out (I think), and in doing so I've learnt he's not only enigmatic, but extremely humble. He's taught me more about bike design and manufacturing in the past year than I learnt in my 20 years racing. His trajectory the past 25 years is like a biography of the bicycle manufacturing industry, and I'll try and tell it as well as I can over the next three episodes...