This was the first and most obvious partnership for a few reasons. Our paths have been entwined since 2005, both having been down in the doldrums at the time, albeit for different reasons: I was in the middle of a doping ban, and Castelli, having nearly gone bust, was in the process of being rebooted with new owners and management. Neither of us were hot property at the time, and the only team that would take them in the World Tour happened to be the smallest; a Spanish/Swiss team called Saunier Duval. It was there that I met Steve Smith (Castelli boss) for the first time, and probably due to the fact it was a small team, the pair of us were allowed to push the envelope when it came to product design, something a bigger team wouldn’t have permitted.
Over the ensuing years we formed a working relationship like no other, both sharing a passion for technical performance. It seems crazy to think now but the majority of apparel technology we take for granted these days didn’t even exist in 2006, and it’s fair to say the majority of what we now know was developed by Castelli with my involvement.
For this reason when it came to making cycling clothes for me in my post-racing life there was no consideration of doing it with anybody except Castelli. It was at the Vuelta Espana in 2014 that Richard Pearce and I pitched the CHPT3 project to Steve, and like everything else throughout the previous years, Steve and Castelli understood the vision immediately.
Brooks is one of the best known brands in cycling, having made leather goods since 1866 and cycling saddles since 1888. The Brooks saddle is one of the most iconic designs in cycling, there is no arguing with its heritage or reputation. Yet Brooks realise that they cannot base their entire future on their past, and so when it came to designing a saddle that could match the modern carbon composites out there they asked if I would help. I’d already worked with their sister company, fi’zi:k, for many years, in particular developing their shoe line, so there was already a working relationship that existed, especially when one of the designers from fi’zi:k moved over to Brooks.
The Cambium C13 is the fruit of these labours. I was one of the first people to test it in 2015, and have been using it on all my bikes since. There was a natural synergy in this relationship: I'd just left the racing ranks as Brooks were beginning the process of re-entering the world they had once dominated. It was like meeting in the middle of a crossroads, only instead of going their separate ways once the C13 was on the market the relationship has grown into something different. We will continue to work together in a collaborative manner, with limited runs of Brooks x CHPT3 products soon to be released.
After about 20 years of having to ride bikes supplied by sponsors, in 2015 I realised I could ride any bike I wanted, there were no longer any contracts or obligations. It just so happened that at the same time that my old friend and fellow ex-pro racer, Baden Cooke, called, asking if I had a bike deal. He then explained what he was up to.
Baden had met Rob Gitelis, an American ex-pro racer who had been in living in Taiwan for over 20 years and was a specialist carbon manufacturer. He had owned the factory in China where Cervelo, among other brands, were manufactured, and had decided it was time to manufacture his own branded bikes. Baden joined forces with Rob and they set about fulfilling Rob’s plan, but instead of creating a brand from scratch they bought Factor, a young British company that created an award winning concept bike back in 2010. They took the brand and the proprietary technology and set about making both better, but they needed help, not only in development but in brand building.
I loved the idea of creating something new, and after meeting Rob believed in the possibilities. Rob’s expertise was phenomenal, he wasn’t afraid to get hands-on and seemed to know more about bike manufacturing than anybody I’d ever met.
It might be a surprise to hear that in the previous 20 years of riding team bikes I’d never once been involved in bike development. The bike companies always tended to look down on the racers who rode their bikes as being: at worst, a necessary evil, or at best, an inconvenience. With Rob it was different, he listened and made the changes and was willing to experiment, perhaps it was his racing heritage, more likely the fact he owned the factory where his bikes were being made and could make things happen at will. Amazingly, Factor is one of only four premium road bike manufacturers in the world who own the factory where their bikes are made.
Will Butler-Adams, the CEO of Brompton, sat down next to me at a lunch in London – he knew as much about road racing as I did about Brompton Bicycles, well, apart them looking a bit silly and used by people who dressed oddly (turns out we both thought that about the other’s version of cycling). Will explained that he wanted to build a Brompton that attracted the new and booming road cycling demographic to what he believed to be the most practical transportation vehicle available. His original idea was that Brompton make a crossover road bike version that could be taken easily on holiday or in the car instead of a road bike; I tried to gently inform him that I didn’t think that would work, and that people loved their expensive road bikes and would find a way no matter how inconvenient to take them on their travels…
The conversation then got on to the origins of Brompton, it was a complete eye opener, the fact Will had next to no idea about the world of professional cycling (he didn’t know who Dave Brailsford was) and yet seemed to love cycling possibly more than anybody I’d ever met before was a breath of fresh air. Then learning about the ethical vision of Brompton to change the way people move around and to better both health and environment was inspirational. This was all backed up by the fact that the Brompton factory was in London and everything was designed and built there, they even had to make their own machines to make the parts. Will clearly believed in doing things in the right way and had the right reasons for doing it, and that’s what suckered me into saying ‘yes’ when Will asked me to take part in the Brompton World Championships (BWC) later that year. He said he’d sort the bike out and not to worry about it, it was just a bit of fun, but that’s another story...
The BWC was not my greatest ever World Championships performance although it was a massive amount of fun and sure enough, no doubt as Will anticipated, I finally understood the Brompton concept. It isn’t just a bike, it is an amazing vehicle, a time-saver of massive proportions and above all, it’s fun. And for that reason, we returned to the idea of creating a Brompton that would appeal to the booming road cycling demographic, yet not even attempt to make it a road bike – if anything it will be more like a BMX. It will be available to order soon, and you can read more about it here
Much like Castelli, POC is a company I’ve had a great deal of success with when it came to working together. It’s a design-led brand, with the primary mission to keep people safe, much like Volvo only with a bit of an edge, well I suppose they are both Swedish. The founder created POC after seeing his small children on the ski slope one day and suddenly realising how much at risk they appeared to be, as all parents do at some point. After that day’s skiing he researched safety wear and found nothing that was designed purely for children, so he decided to create it himself, and POC ended up being the company. Before long it became a brand that not only had a higher purpose, but also a successful business, and as almost all businesses it needed to maintain its position as a leader and in order to do that it needed to grow in order to have the means.
While skiing is not very scalable, the technology could be transferred, and cycling was the obvious choice. The helmet they designed, the POC Octal, was a game changer in the cycling world, not only in terms of safety but also performance. The first World Tour team to race on it was Garmin in 2014, and I was also the first ever World Tour rider to use the MIPS technology, in one of my final races, the Vuelta Espana 2014.
Over the upcoming years CHPT3 will be creating limited runs with POC: helmets and glasses. They are, in our opinion, the best at what they do.
I was one of the first riders to not only race, but win, wearing fi'zi:k shoes. Those years of partnership formed a relationship that not only reaped rewards but pushed design boundaries. The R1B shoes that many top racers use today can trace their origins to those early years of product development.
In my final year, 22 different pairs of shoes were designed, manufactured, raced, and finally auctioned on behalf of the charity, Small Steps Project. It was a crowning achievement of collaboration, and although dormant since my final race as a professional in 2014, it will see the light of day once again in 2018.