I wouldn’t be telling the utmost truth if I said that I get regular offers to go testing prototype mountain bike (MTB from now on) tyres. However, I have had just this type of offer recently. Whilst most MTB riders in Switzerland are ordering studded ice tyres or oiling their fat bikes in readiness for winter, I snatched an unusually warm and dry Saturday afternoon to head out into the woods with the man behind an innovative start-up company called Terra One.
I’d noticed the early communications regarding this start-up business for a new MTB tyre, which had a unique tread pattern, and was designed for retro and vintage off-roaders, just like the types of MTBs I have in my shed. An unplanned, social media connection occurred with the company’s designer-founder, Terrance Malone, and one day, he asked me if I wanted to test (not, crash test) some of the early pre-production prototype tyres. Never one to turn down a bike ride opportunity, we ended up meeting up at my place for an afternoons tyre testing.
The term ‘business start-up’ always creates an image of open minded innovation, breaking new ground, questioning norms, trying to predict and invent the future, applying ultimate creativity to develop new social solutions, and the thought of becoming the next level in ‘Steve Jobs success’ (multi-million £s, €s, $s, ¥ etc). Talk to anyone who has gone down the start-up road and they’ll tell you it’s tough. It’s 24/7 and relentless. Funding is a rare as hens teeth, and everybody wants your product or service cheap. If you are a ‘starter-upper’ person, which is a new term I’ve just invented, then you’ll know that failure is inevitable, but great things can be learned from failing. It is the most successful start-ups that fail forward. They learn, but build on the learning to develop their own paths to stardom.
Ask anyone what age a stereotypical ‘starter-upper’ is and most will say around 25 to 35 years old. Not many of these are successful though. A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that the average age of a successful ‘starter-upper’ is 45. It’s one thing coming up with a great idea when you are young, but having the experience to build a growing and financially successful business requires, yes you guessed it, business experience. Also, the 45 years olds don’t sell out their concepts and ideas cheap to venture capitalists like the more inexperienced might. Interesting huh?
So, our man Terrance isn’t a 30 year old bike-rider-designer. He’s got years of experience in the bike trade in both sales and product development. He’s also got a great idea in a segment of the MTB world not usually seen as sexy. Tyres. He’s been around long enough to know that you can’t sell someone a Porsche that has a lawnmower engine in it. He’s an ambassador for products that work and knows that selling any old black, round, rubbery tyre crap isn’t sustainable. The special spirit and the goals of what he’s trying to achieve is, in his words, “to preserve history, build community and ride frequently”. So now we know the background, let’s get back to prototype test day…..
It’s a Saturday afternoon in December, in Switzerland and at our place, about 800 metres (2,400 feet) in altitude, and we’re going to ride higher by the time the day is out. It’s pretty warm for December and the sun is out, then it’s not, then it is again. Terrance, an American by birth, arrives with a 1984 British Saracen MTB. The frame of the bike has been chromed and it’s wearing a pair of his Rider T1 prototype tyres. Very cool!
We immediately start stripping the tyres off my 1991 Cannondale and Terrance produces out of his rucksack, a pair of his prototype tyres for my bike. We each take a wheel and fit the tyres to the rims, inflate them and put them back in the bike. It looks ace with its prototype Rider T1 tyres on it. These new tyres fill the void and spaces between the frame that my original tyres created. These are wholesome, well shaped tyres that just look right. But do they really work and live up to the designers claims?
The tyres on my bike are the medium weight version and Terrence has the heavyweight, more puncture proof version on his bike. So, we have a Yank riding a Brit’-bike and a Brit’ riding a Yank bike. Not planned. It just happened this way. Terrance’ design criteria was for the tyres to be good at almost everything, look great and be appropriately priced.
I’ve chosen a ride-route which will present our prototype tyres with challenges that includes greasy tree roots, mud, slippery stone, gravel, deep leaf mulch with loose stones underneath, and tarmac. Worst of all, we’ll be riding on grassy ground which is frozen, but will have a few millimetres of sun warmed surface. Unpredictable riding surface this absolutely is. All of these surfaces include elevation climbs and decents. This the first time I’ve ridden this Cannondale since rebuilding it From an eBay frame purchase, and it’s also the first time the Saracen has been out for many years. Needless to say, the tyres did everything really well, and bearing in mind the speed with which these old bikes can go before control is outsourced to a face plant. Whilst we weren’t up to our axles in mud, they didn’t over-clog with the stuff, and were predictable on that lethal frozen ground.
I was really amazed how fast, smooth and quiet they were on tarmac or forest tracks. Another point of unusual note was the fact that we’d been in mud and stuff, and when getting back onto tarmac, the tyres cleared themselves really well. In fact, they cleared all of the mud out in a rearwards direction and not everywhere. This is unusual. At one point, we reached tarmac after a muddy-ish descent, and I decided to sprint off down the road. Terrance, who was riding behind me, got a face full of what was in his tyres, and which were on my bike. All the joys of testing.
On reaching home, I took off my riding kit, and it was not splattered in mud or anything. In fact, I was (nearly) as clean as if I had been out on a road bike. So the tyres appear to expel mud everywhere, but the rider. This is unusual in my MTB experience.
We washed the bikes and then sadly, removed the prototype tyres from my bike as they had to go back for further evaluation with their designer. I was sorry to see them go and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on some of the first production batch. The killer question is, when?
There’s an early phase in any new business venture where funding provides the initial investment to get things made, marketed, distributed and hopefully, sold. The challenge Terrance has now, is to raise enough cash to get the first big batch made. The moulds are made and the manufacturing capability has been assigned. He’s got some further product pipeline concept ideas as well. So, now is the time to fund full-on production.
Raising money successfully isn’t easy, or everyone would be doing it. Terrence is taking the crowdfunding approach to strengthen his own investment. He needs help, support and some lucky breaks for him to realise ‘his dream for us MTBers’, and for people like me to get some great, differentiated tyres. If you’re remotely excited about this, then the first chance to order the RIDER T1 tyre will be through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which is planned to start in January 2020. If you are as impatient as me, then you can contact him directly here mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and see the Terra One web pages here http://www.rideterraone.com/
As a finale sign-ff, here’s Terrance’ own prediction for his RIDER T1 tyres; “The new tyre for our original, off-road legends.” Ride on!
Photos by the Author and Terrance Malone