The latest in the series of Interesting Interviews sees us heading over to China to meet someone who I find truly inspirational and has earned some big respect for what he’s achieving for our cycling community. Let me introduce to you, Roc Fu.
Q: Who is Roc Fu?
A: I am Chinese, born in 1981, live in Beijing, and work for a construction company.
Q: Is there a strong vintage cycling culture in China?
A: Not yet. You might think that there are no Chinese vintage MTB fans in the world because of the language barrier, but you would be wrong because the translation app can help you to talk to anyone on the earth. There are the following two reasons why there is not yet a strong vintage cycling culture in China:
1. A new Culture is being born.
The early 1990’s saw a golden age of cycling, the Chinese MTB market had only just opened, but lot of people couldn’t afford a bike at price more than $200. Since the middle of the 1990’s, a few bike shops opened up in the big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. Giant and Diamond Back were the first global bike brands that Chinese people were introduced to as high performing MTB and road bikes. Nowadays, in the growing vintage MTB market in China, there are lots of people who don’t know any of the early brands that can be found in the MTB mountain bike museum. Because people don’t know the full history of MTBs, they only concentrate on frame weight and what kind of series the tubing is. There is another special culture only in China – the King of Diamond Back. In the 1990’s there was an OEM Diamond Back factory in China, and sales were generated with great marketing, so the brand and bikes are number 1 to have in a collection.
2. ‘Mouse parts’ or ‘Mouse items’
We all know that the mouse likes food, but there is another kind of mouse that lives in the warehouses of bike factories and prefers bike parts. In the late 1990’s many Chinese factories started to make OEM bikes for some big international brands. There was a big factory supply of OEM parts for Diamond Back, but there was some bad management in the business and there were lots of bike parts stolen by the workers from the factory warehouse, which were then sold in the local bike shops on the black market. A friend who owned a big shop in the 1990’s told me about some of his experiences of being offered the mouse items. Buyers who wanted parts were told to meet at a special location, and after a few hours, a van brought many boxes that contained more than 10 sets of cranks in them. The boxes were unloaded and sold at $30 per box, but you wouldn’t know what was actually in the sealed box until you made your payment, and if you were lucky, there would be some Shimano XTR 950 cranks inside. I remember seeing lots of brand new Shimano XT M739 V brakes for sale at $20 in 1998. This means that many Chinese fans of vintage bikes will not accept the parts at the latest high, vintage market prices because they used to be so cheap. There are currently still many quite modern parts for sale at low prices on the black market, but they are without warranty as the identification number has been removed.
So I often say: There is only the cycling business in China, and not yet a true cycling culture.
Q: What is great about Beijing and China?
A: There are many places which UNESCO recognizes as the top cultural heritage sites of the world that you should visit. Beijing has 7 of these sites and aims to be known as a city of museums. In recent years, Beijing built some cycling lanes to support tourism in the ancient suburbs, as well as to reduce emissions from vehicles. In these ancient streets, you will find the many kinds of country culture and food from Beijing, and nowadays, riding these streets at the weekend is a new fashion instead of driving around them at the weekend. As in many international cities, the center of Beijing has a lot of traffic stress, so riding to visit somewhere is actually a better choice.
Beijing has places called Hutongs, which are a type of narrow alley or street, and are very typical and unique to the city. With a history of over 700 years, Hutongs in Beijing display every aspect of Chinese cultural history.
China has a huge latitude and longitude and you will experience many different races, cultures, landscapes and food. In one day of travel in a city located in southwest China, it is possible to experience at least 4 different seasons.
Cycling from Chengdu in the Sichuan Province to the Potala Palace of Tibet is a heroic, 2000km ride of adventure in the bicycle community of China, because you will experience the extreme weather, and the elevation of the Potala Palace of Tibet, which is more than 5000 meters in altitude. This is 10 times higher than the start point in Sichuan Province. There is not only suffering due to the weather, but a testing of your spirit as well. On the way to Tibet, you may not see any people for 1-2 days. That’s why we call this more than 2000km mountainous road, a heroic ride because the person who completes the ride will experience extreme suffering from a physical and spiritual perspective, and huge satisfaction, which is certainly deserved. So, do you want to take on this challenge?
Q: Where do you go MTB riding?
A: The Beijing area does not have much off-road riding, so I often ride my bike in the park or on the road.
Q: Favorite food, & music?
A: Food: I like dairy and eggs very much, and BBQs with my family and friends.
A: Music: I usually play music when I work or study. Peaceful music with studying and vibe music with work.
Q: What are you good at?
A: I’m good-tempered, and I like to learn something new every day and make new friends. I am good at cycling and repairing bikes, so I want to be a cycling guide. I hope in some years that I can give up my job to be a full-time cycling guide and provide a great cross-Province tourism service by bike, just like cycling to Tibet.
Q: What made you want to start making vintage Cannondale parts?
A: Some years ago, when Cannondale upgraded their suspension forks and produced the Lefty fork without a rubber boot, I realized that they had officially stopped making replacement rubber boots to service all of the previous fork series. It wasn’t until I saw a aging yellow HeadShok boot at a crazy price on eBay, that I felt determined to do something for our vintage MTB community.
Q: Where have you travelled in the world?
A: I have never travelled abroad. I had a plan to travel to some countries around China in 2020, but the pandemic stopped travel. Before 2020, I took a drive every year with my wife to explore China.
Q: Which country or countries would you like to ride?
A: As I have never ridden an MTB in any other country ☹️, I want to go to Marin County, which is the birthplace of mountain biking, and where I want to ride with my wife. Oh! I forgot to introduce my wife to you, and who is another MTB fan. She prefers to ride an MTB to a road bike. She often complains that her bike is always changing because I continuously modify her bike. In addition, I want to visit the museum of cycling, so if I cannot travel to US to ride, I want to have a ticket to the museum.
Q: Who in the world inspires you and why?
A: My Mum. When I was young, she told me that “you have to learn to do anything by yourself and be used to nobody actively helping”.
Another person is Michael Roach, the founder of Andin International. The inspiration is not from his business, but a book, as he is not only a CEO of the company, but a teacher of Buddhism. Many years ago a friend recommended a book named ‘Diamond Cutter’ to me. I prefer the Chinese translation more, which is ‘When a Buddhist monk meets a diamond’. There is a sentence in the book that has influenced me to this day, and it means “there is no right or wrong meaning for anything, but judgment’s are made by people who have based them on their own experiences, but there is never the same experience from anyone”.
Q: What do you think that the Chinese year of the OX will bring to the world after the 2020 year of the Rat?
A: Honestly, I don’t know, because the pandemic has changed everything, but I think that the changes mean opportunities, and we have to re-consider our lifestyles.
I do plan to make many parts for vintage bikes though.
Q: What is the greatest thing that anyone has done for you?
A: The constant Encouragement and support from my wife, which I am especially grateful for. Even if she doesn’t want me to do what I want to do, she will still support me along the journey. She will keep telling some doubting people that what I am doing is good until they change their minds and support me also.
When I showed the final sample of my HeadShok boot to everyone and announced that the new boot was in the mass production stage, I received so much appreciation from Cannondale fans from across the world, which is more than I have ever received before in my whole life. This appreciation confirms that I’m doing the right thing whatever success or failure. I want to say that this appreciation makes me feel strong.
Q: What vintage bicycle parts will you produce next?
A: Some boots for Cannondale Lefty, Manitou and Rockshox forks, and then I will try to produce some anodized alloy parts and special tools.
In this answer, I want to talk about the Lefty boot especially. I want to try another form of design. I want to improve the process of designing. We don’t design a new product, we just want to improve the original one. We don’t need a booth and machine to test our ideas as the official designers did. We have a treasure, a huge riding experience of bikes and parts from owners worldwide. The cycling enthusiasts will tell us what it is that they really want to see improved. When I start to redesign the new Lefty fork boot, I will start an internet discussion about what we need to improve in the Lefty boot, and after collecting all of the feedback and suggestions, I will make a better product than before.
In addition, I believe every MTB fan is a genius of different aspects, so I will study English harder and I hope I can communicate better with everyone, because I want to help people to make customized parts. If the custom parts are well received and the design allows mass production, I will be able to share the parts with everyone.
Q: Have you got a lucky charm?
A: Yes. It is my wife as ‘the’ person. For the ‘object’, it is the new HeadShok boot, because it makes me believe that I can do something special in my ordinary life.
Q: What was the best single day you have ever had, and which is associated with cycling.
A: 13/2/2021, which was the day I first rode a red Cannondale MTB with one of my new yellow boots fitted, and which was designed by myself. After the first test, which was for a few hours, I uploaded the video of the test onto Facebook and Instagram, and then the whole community of vintage Cannondale fans got excited. I have never done anything like this to make people react so well and who live in different countries, speak different languages, and not know who I am.
Q: What is your favourite bike
1: Volvo Cannondale racing team in red.
2: GT Xizang U-Brake version.
3: Merlin Fat Ti XL Headshok version.
Q: What was the whole design and manufacturing process of the HeadShok boot, and how long did it take you from idea to shipping?
A: The thing that I had thought about for a long time did not come to life until I started drawing the picture of the boot, and I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I asked myself, do I just copy it or do something different? So, I looked at my Cannondale, and thought about what I would have to do to replace the boot with a new one. I realised that I would have to disassemble the needle bearings and cartridge before replacing the boot, and when you see the needle bearings, they are so delicate and complex to replace.
I could not find a way to resolve it until one day, after dinner, I was clearing the kitchen, and there were some potatoes leftover in a bowl. My wife asked me to keep them. A few months ago, she had bought some rubber lids that are used to cover the bowl for leftover food. These lids were not only very small and thin, but very elastic. They could be stretched more than twice their size. But when I started to cover the bowls, I realized nothing, until I covered the third bowl, and it seemed that somebody said to me, ‘Hey dude, look at your hands, what are they doing?’ Suddenly I realized that I can start to design a HeadShok boot that could be stretched over the fork into its place without any disassembly.
The first production failed. When I made the first sample, I was overconfident to think that making a HeadShok boot is an easy job. The reality of failure made me face the music. The first sample looked great and the elasticity was good, and I could attach it to a HeadShok in less than a half of minute, but it did not fold neatly, and I knew that I had missed a very important step. There is much experience in producing and designing things that I had ignored. I checked my design to find out where the issues were, I consulted the manufacturer, and they confirmed my judgment about the issue.
We resolved the issue and other two other issues which we had also ignored. The first being an issue of the original boots, which is that when they work, you will see the bottom ridge collapse easily, so I reinforced the bottom design of the boot. The second one I identified was I a potential issue, but I didn’t know whether it had happened. There is a collar ring around the steerer bottom of the fork in an area that prevents the boot sliding out of the fork and there is sometimes a bulge in this area. I decided that when I made the wall thicker, the change would also reduce the issue of the bulge, so I designed a shape around interior wall of the boot bottom that will lock into the collar ring of the Headshok (see picture below).
The other issue is hardness level of the rubber. We found that the elasticity of the rubber is difficult to control and to maintain the same level of elasticity when you mix something else with it. For example, when you put some color powder into the raw material of rubber to make the color you want, the elasticity of the product will change, so it’s much harder than just regulating powder to get the correct color that matches the bike colours. I have been so lucky to collaborate with a responsible manufacturer, especially as the factory is 300km away from my home. The distance does not slow the prototype process down though, because if they produce a sample today, I will receive it tomorrow afternoon by premium post.
After testing more than 5 different levels of elasticity in the rubber, we haven’t found out the absolutely perfect elasticity point, but we have found an acceptable, safe and high performance region of elasticity. This means that the boot will fold neatly under compression and the function of easy replacing will be retained entirely. Success!
Roc’s Sign-out message:
Whilst our vintage bikes represent the history of the cycle industry, it doesn’t mean they have died. These bikes and their parts can be developed continuously, and particularly as they are the bedrock of modern bikes that have provided the MTB evolution and change.
I will make more parts for our vintage bikes, and maybe my products will not be perfect first time, but trust me, I am doing everything I can. I need support (buy parts) and feedback (encouragement) to be able to finance future products, and I am always glad to hear any suggestions or ideas from people.
If people want to buy parts from me, they can contact me directly by this email firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook. I am also building a web shop that will be live soon with this address http://improvepart.com/
Finally, I will keep moving forward with your support and encouragement. Thanks again.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There will be an upcoming post on the testing of Roc’s HeadShok boots.
All photos courtesy of Roc Fu