Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, spoke with Jon Cariveau from Moots while touring their factory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In this episode, they explore the benefits of titanium, the value of in-house manufacturing and the evolution of the brand.
Automatic Transcription (please excuse all errors)
All right, everyone. I’m actually in steamboat springs this week. I’m talking to John from Moots and I just got a tour of the Moots factory, which was absolutely fascinating. I love seeing how everything was built from the raw tube set across the board. So John, first off, thanks for that tour. Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for coming on, uh, being here with us. So just, I always like to give a little bit of context about you as an athlete to get your perspective. So how did you sort of arrive at gravel? What’s your background as a cyclist? I know you’ve been in this sport a long time. Yeah,
I think, um, you know, my, my background is mainly coming from a cyclocross, I mean, as a kid I was a BMX rat and racer through college on the mountain bikes and then a road bike. And then, you know, around here in steamboat, uh, I just got really into cyclocross and was competitive and traveling and doing quite a bit of that. And you know, you don’t go out and train on a cyclocross course. You go out and you ride some miles. And this bike that could take a bigger tire than a road bike all of a sudden became really useful, um, to explore these roads that are around here. And, uh, that’s, that’s kind of how me, myself personally got into it. Um, and uh, you know, I was not the first person in the valley to have a cyclocross bike, but kinda one of the first, and I found myself loaning that bike out to friends that wanted to check it out and they were like, Oh man, this is incredible. I can turn off this paved road and I can go down this junkie dirt field Rockfield road and explore and have a good time and get away from the traffic.
Nice. Well, we’ll definitely get into some of the roads around here cause we’re out here for steamboat gravel on it. I understand we’ve got a lot of great miles ahead of us, but for those of the listeners who haven’t heard of Moots, can you tell us a little bit about the history of Moots?
We’re located here in steamboat springs. We always have been here. We were founded in this town in 1981 and the first 10 years of our business we built out of steel. And that was the material of the time. And in 1991, we had a pivotal moment with the company based on our why BB soft tail that we had been building that out of steel. And it was prestige to mean at the time and the fatigue resistance of steel is not nearly what titanium is. So when we made the switch, the YGB was kind of the driver, uh, with the fatigue, resistance and longevity that titanium offered. And we made that switch in 91 and haven’t deviated from that path since it’s our material of choice and it’s what we’re, uh, experts at. And if we tried another material, it would only be us kind of faking it. So that’s, that’s kind of our take on it. It’s for us, it’s the material that rides so nicely under the rider. It can be customized, it can be tuned to a heavier or lighter rider. And the durability is just kind of second to none out there.
Yeah. I imagine as gravel started to pick up titanium as a material is a pretty natural choice given the sort of suppleness that can be built into the frame when you’re going off-road on stutter bumps and what have you.
Yeah. You know, people always ask us, you know, why, why would I ride a tie bike? And um, many of them have been on steel bikes over the years. And I think the best analogy is a tie bike rides a lot like a really nicely made steel bike and ride quality smoothness, but it has this, um, a little bit more backbone to it, so to speak. And it’s lighter, it doesn’t corrode and it doesn’t fatigue like steel will over time. You know, when you get a tie bike on day number one, it will ride the same in year number three. So it really, the ride quality doesn’t degrade over time like other materials can.
Right. And then for someone who’s considering a carbon bike in the market, how do you talk about the differences in feel from boots, titanium frame versus a, you know, a nice carbon frame in the market?
Yeah, it’s, you know, we, we get that question a lot too. And it’s a, it’s a great comparison and, and you know, carbon is definitely the material of choice out there in, in most of the cycling world. But we, uh, we always talk about our bikes and what we can offer as a ride quality, um, compared to carbon and [inaudible], you know, carbon, um, when it first came out, you know, people wanted to step as possible and now they’ve really kind of backed down from that a little bit. And actually they’re doing a really good job of providing different layups and different tube diameters that really affect the ride quality. And so, you know, it just really depends on what the rider is looking for. I think there’s somebody that, um, gravitates towards titanium because it Kinda has this, a bit of soulfulness to it in some ways where it’s like, man, I feel connected to the ground, but I’m not feeling every little jarring crack in the, in the road or, or stutter bump on the gravel road.
So I think it’s, um, yeah, I don’t know. We’re, we’re never going to build our moods bikes as light as you could get a carbon bike. That’s always kinda like the first thing is how light is it. And, uh, we will never have fake that. If you build a titanium bike that is large light as a carbon bike, it’s going to ride horribly and it’s, it just gets too light. It’s not stiff enough. And so we, we don’t lead with that. We lead with, it’s a, a ride quality that you just can’t find elsewhere. And you know, weight is third or fourth on the list for us. Really.
Yeah. And as you said, I mean, when you buy a tie frame, you expect that the ride quality is going to remain the same for years and it’s just simply not going to degrade.
Yeah. And it’s, you know, it’s a lot of people come at it like, Oh man, this is going to be my last bike, my lifetime bike. And, and that’s, and, and titanium’s a great material for that. But as you know, the, you know, standards change and, you know, through axles come along and different fittings come along. And, and we, we really try to evolve with the good standards that do evolve out in the industry. Um, for a good purpose. You know, through axles. Um, it’s the perfect made up with disc brakes. You get no rotor rub, you get no flex between the frame and the wheel. And so that was a good one for sure. Yeah, it has a positive outcome on the ride quality of the bike for sure. When you lean on a, on a thru-axle bike, it goes where you put it. You know, on the older quick release bikes, there’s a little wiggle room in there. Yeah.
Speaking of evolution, obviously, this sport of gravel kind of was birthed out of opportunity and desire. So the opportunity was dyspraxia, tubeless, tires, all these things that made it. So if you rode a drop-bar bike with narrow tires off road, you weren’t flatting all the time and opportunity obviously like as traffic becomes more and more of a problem, people just want to get off-road for that adventure. In my mind, you know, Moots having such a long history, obviously I was familiar with you on the road and on the mountain and I started to see what I categorize it as adventure bikes come out. I started to see people doing the tour divide on Moots bikes, moods designed bikes, which was really interesting. But then I started to see you guys move into the sweet spot of the great quote unquote gravel market at this point. What was the first model that was sort of that pure gravel bike that you, you made? Yeah,
it’s a great question. So the first model we made, we actually took one of our older cross bikes and it was called the Cyclo ax. And the first year that we really moved towards like a true gravel geometry of lower bottom bracket, little longer chain stays in the cross bike, more tire clearance and maybe a little more relaxed angles. Um, we changed the geometry, but we didn’t change the name. And in hindsight we were, we’ve all, all of us have said to each other like, what were we thinking? Um, we didn’t rename it and people always kept thinking it was the Cyclo x, uh, cyclocross bike. And so that was actually put out as a product. Um, gosh, it was
probably about 2013 maybe something like that over six years ago. And it was an instant hit. And what, what kind of drove that was our own riding around steamboat, like everybody up Moots rides in some form or another. And we started using cross bikes as that and then we were like, you know, we can tweak this to be better for the purpose. And we had several shops ordering our cross bikes as customs and tweaking the geometry themselves to lower bottom brackets, the longer chain stays. And there was one in one shop in particular. Um, in Northern Illinois, uh, that Toby DePaul, a very good friend of ours was involved with and he kept ordering this bike with this same geometry. And we’re like, what are you doing? He’s like, it’s for these big heavy gravel roads out here. And they called it the minute tar in their shop.
It was like their own name for one of our bikes and a Toby’s super nice guys. He’s really involved in the industry and development of tires now and things like that. But that was the start of it. And, um, the following year, you know, we finally, uh, realize, hey, we need to change the name of this. And, uh, that’s where the route name, uh, came in and the, the, the history of their route. R O u t t is actually the county that we live in, uh, here in steamboat. It’s called Routt County, Colorado. And we thought it was a clever play on words, you know, hey, I’m going to go out and do a route or this route or that route. And we were like, yeah, that should be our gravel bike name. And so that first bike went from cyclo acts the first year with the gravel geometry and then it was renamed the second year to the route.
Okay. Yeah. And then the line has expanded from there at this point. Yeah, it, it really has. And, and you know, as the evolution of great bike components like really started happening, um, tires got better, rims got better. And so the need to expand our, our tire sizes, uh, accessibility was there. So, uh, shortly after that, um, we developed the route 45 and that is named, there’s a couple of reasons. His name, route 45 is, there’s a county road out here called Cow Creek. And on the map it’s actually county road 45 and it is in the steamboat gravel race this year. It’s got some of the bigger, chunkier stuff in the county. And so with that we expanded the tire clearance to a 45 millimeter on that bike. And we also, we had to bump the chain, stays out to a 45 centimeter chain stay for the clearance.
Yeah. And one of the things we were talking about offline, which I think is interesting as it comes up often on the podcast, is just the notion of 700 c versus six 50 and a lot of bike brands are offering the ability to run both. But you guys have have said sort of, unless it’s custom, we’re squarely in the 700 c route. Um, can you talk a little bit about that decision and that sort of ramifications on design and performance that you see? Yeah, and
you know, I think, um, for Moots we really, when we talk to our customers, our dealers out there as well, it’s really about the best ride quality we can give them. And when it comes down to bike frame switching in between 700 c and six 50 B on the same bike frame, it, it can be done. But in some ways you’re, you’re kind of, uh, settling for like maybe not the best performance with each one of those setups. It’s kind of the middle ground. Um, and with titanium we run into a pretty big issue of manipulating the curves of the chain stays to accommodate that tire size. So we, we really feel, you know, when we come out with our, our line, which now includes the route RSL, which is the racier gravel bike, the route 45 and then the route y BB, we really design from the onset around 700.
See it’s optimized to perform best with that wheel set and that’s anywhere from a 35 millimeter to a 45 millimeter tire. And for us, when you go to the six 50 [inaudible], um, it drops our bottom bracket height too much and we’re really afraid that we’re going to give a customer out there a ride experience that is not optimal. They’re going to be hitting cranks on trail debris and rocks and stuff like that because the bottom bracket changes, the height is different. Um, and so we haven’t got there yet. Um, we’ll see what the future holds for us. I’m not, not saying that we have one in the works or anything, but we definitely understand the need for the six 50. That’s, it’s really a very regional in, in a lot of places, you know, where it’s steep trails and, and we’ve kind of migrated back to riding our mountain bike trails, um, on drop bar bikes now and gravel bikes. So there is that, um, you know, the coastal California stuff where it’s really steep and rocky and, and it’s the old school mountain bike trails. Um, we, we definitely understand the need for that.
And then the, on the outer end of your lineup, you do have the Baxter, which would you describe it as a drop bar? Mountain bike? Yeah, exactly. It’s, you
know, drop bar mountain bike or monster cross. But it really, that bike is specifically made, um, you know, for 2.1 to 2.2 tires, um, in a 29 format. And geometry is adept adjusted for drop bar reach versus a flat bar reach. And that’s, that’s our, you know, our super adventure, you know, ha, super heavy gravel, light trail, even heavy trail. And then loaded, uh, bike packing on drop bars for sure.
And then if you run a narrower tire on that bike, what are the shortcomings like if you, if you chose that as the model of choice for you, but you wrote it on the road as well, where, where are you seeing the shortcomings?
Well, it’s, it’s kind of a, a Mutt of a bike. So it’s primarily basically designed around a mountain bike drive, train. And so if you were to put real small tires on it and go out and hit the road, you would pretty soon find out that your gearing was not where you wanted to be. And that’s, you know, again, you’ve got to kind of got to straddle the fence a little bit of trying to, um, you know, design a bike that we see that as primarily being written on single track and double track and stuff like that. And you’re going to suffer a little bit on a smooth paved section to get to the next dirt.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I think that’s been sort of a challenge as, as a consumer in the gravel market. And really the reason I started podcasting was I went on this journey of soul searching as to what bike did I really need for the type of riding that was going to give me the most pleasure. And I optimized around that and you know, it wasn’t optimized around the road side of things, but I’ll still ride that bike on the road. So I think it’s, it’s something that consumers have to contend with. You know, you have to make that, that choice at some point. Yeah.
There’s always a little bit of sacrifice, like unless it’s a very specific area, um, there’s going to be some, some, uh, sacrifice of a how it’s not going to perform the best right in this setting, but for 80% of my riding it is, and then you kind of suffer through the 20% a little bit here and there.
Yeah. Yeah. Talking about sort of choices consumers have to make, there seems to be a growing trend towards looking at adding more and more suppleness to these gravel bikes. And it was exciting to see at sea otter this year, the release of your YTB based gravel bike. You mentioned earlier that the technology obviously was created many years ago on the mountain bike and was responsible for a lot of Moots growth during that time period. Can you talk about the why BB specifically and maybe distill some of that, that concern someone might have about a non-pivot point suspension on gravel bikes.
Like I said earlier, the YBB made it with the titanium material. So you’ve got this material that has a fatigue resistance that um, with our, uh, testing that we’ve, we’ve sent our products off too and had them cycle tested. They just very rarely if ever fail. And so basically what we’re relying on is the flex of the chain stay true to provide travel at the axle. And with the new, the route y BB gravel bike, we are, we’re mapping out just a little over 20 millimeters of travel at the axle. And so we use that modest a, a piece that conceals a steel spring. And on the last summer core, very simple set up. There’s no air. There’s no, uh, compressed air or compressed oil to leak. It’s greased, has a wiper seal on it, just like your, a suspension fork does it serviceable by the consumer, very easy.
Um, and it’s only really needed to be serviced every two to three years. And so what that provides us is this ability to take the edge off of all the little tiny frequency hits that are out there on the gravel road. So washboard, potholes, bigger rocks, things like that. And it allows the, the rider of the bike to stay seated in the saddle instead of having to lift their weight out and activate their thigh muscles or their back muscles. And you can kinda stay seated and pedal right through a lot of stuff. And in the end, you know, like on a hundred mile day that like on a tomorrow for the, the gravel race, you’re going to feel fresher. Um, you’re not going to be taking it in the lower back all day long. And, uh, yeah, it’s, it’s kinda where we see things going.
Um, and it’s, it’s been with us, like we were talking earlier since the late eighties in a steel mountain bike and then on into our, our regular mountain bikes. So we really know our tech, that technology and um, it’s, it’s pretty simple stuff. Do you tune it based on the rider weight? Yes, as the frame. Uh, as that model goes up through the sizes, um, it’s stiffened up towards the bigger bikes and then it’s softened up towards the smaller bikes and it all kind of operates on kind of an average rider weight for the given size. And if we, if we get a customer that’s maybe on the light side for 56, say, uh, we can soften it up a little bit. If they’re on the heavy side for 56, we can add a little bit of stiffness to it. Um, but really it’s, you’re not trying to control a ton of travel, so there’s a very limited amount of tuning that can actually be felt or, or notice.
But there is a little bit. So if you’re, if you’re a consumer kind of thinking about that model, or is it typically going to be someone who’s writing primarily off road and not using that as a, as a road bike? Um, we get, we have, um, but heavy on the off road use for sure. Um, you can still put a, a set of, uh, you know, slick 35 millimeter tires in that bike and go and enjoy a, a paved road ride. And it’s interesting about the Y BBI. People get on it and they ride it for a couple of weeks when they, when they buy it and they’re like, yeah, I, I kinda understand it. I kind of feel it. Um, and then you say, okay, we’ll put that bike away in the garage and then get back on your old bike and go for a ride. And then they come back and they go, oh, now I get it.
Yeah. I think that’s probably the best thing if they can only just kind of feel it. Yeah. And then they’ll start to learn, like the fatigue factor is minimized by having that kind of design element.
Yep, absolutely. Yeah, it’s, it is, it’s, you know, short distances, long distance. It’s just a great feeling bike. And, um, many years ago we used to build, um, our road bike with a y BB unit in it, kind of like a Perry Roubaix style bike. And there weren’t many of those out there in the world, but those that have them absolutely swear by them, even on the pavement all day long. Yeah. Um, with Frost heaves and, you know, the state of most paved roads that we have around our or is not very good.
Yeah, absolutely. I jokingly say that in Sonoma there’s a big series called the grasshopper series, and I find that Rhodes to be more dangerous than the trails we’re on. Right, exactly. Uh, yeah. Well, it’s, I mean, it’s, I think it’s really fascinating, as I said before, that there’s the notion of suspension coming to gravel bikes and how it’s gonna fit into people’s lives and, um, it’s going to be really interesting, I think over the next couple of years just to see where, you know, where it ends up falling. Is everybody attracted to that or is there a little bit of resistance and I mean that’s the beauty of gravel to each their own right. Get the bike that works for you. Yeah,
I think there, there is a definitely a writer that is like, that is absolutely what I’m looking for. And then there’s some that’ll stick with the, you know, the RSL or the route 45 in the hard tail. Um, that, you know, they’ll get their suspension from high volume tires and low pressures and um, but I think, you know, as we kind of see people riding for many years during their lifetime, you know, they want to continue riding into their, you know, golden years, so to speak. It’s definitely going to be a factor of a, this is more comfortable. I can ride longer and I’m not as stiff afterwards.
Yeah. Since we’re out here for SBT gravel and you’re a local, I’d love to get your take on the course as I’m sure it’s inspired many of the models we’ve just talked about.
Yeah. It is a, it’s so awesome. It’s, you know, we host our own little event here in June every year, which is called the ranch rally. And it uses, uh, uh, some of the same courses and areas there’ll be on tomorrow. But, um, yeah, it’s uh, my take on it is, uh, [inaudible]
I think the fast people are going to go through this course pretty fast. It’s going to be, um, it’s, it’ll be a fast pace. Is it conducive to riding in groups? Um, there most of the course, yeah, the roads are fairly wide and we have, um, our, uh, road and bridge, which is county road maintenance around here. They do a treatment to the roads called MAG chloride. And so in June, after the rains hopefully stop in the spring, they grade them and then they seal them with this mag chloride that makes them, in some cases almost like pavement. Um, but in August, right now you get to the point where the roads are starting to fall apart a bit. Uh, the dirt roads and the gravel. So we’ll see. I think it’s going to be conducive to a pack racing. So there’ll be really important. On some of the longer, more dirt road versus gravel road sections to be with somebody or a group of people yeah.
To conserve some energy in and get a little free ride here and there. But uh, it’s gonna be tough. It’s, uh, you know, I look at this course and it’s kind of our three most favorite gravel loops tied into one big day. Okay. And that’s exciting because the folks that are racing it, you’re gonna get an unbelievable tour of Routt county. Um, and you’re going to probably want to come back and do some more writing. And for the, as, for the climbing, or is it mostly on sort of those same type of roads that the big climbs occur on? Or do we get a little bit on some quieter trails? Um, there’s no real trail out there, but the, the climbs that you’re going to be hitting, in my opinion, the, the steeper one will be up around steamboat lake. Uh, it goes up around the back and that’s dirt and there’s, there’s a few switchbacks in there.
It’s kind of gets to that point where it’s that steep and then, you know, it’s mainly five, six, maybe 7% Colorado grade where they can’t really build the roads too steep around here. Even the gravel roads because they still have to use them during the winter. And if they’re built super steep, that presents a problem with our amount of snow that we get. Yeah. And around here, but now I think it’s going to be amazing. You’re going to get views of north route up around the lake and then as you head south on the south end of the course, you’re gonna get some views of the flat top mountains that are, you’re going to get lost in your own head. It’s going to be very scenic. Nice. Or sure. I, for one athlete, we’ll probably need to get [inaudible]
lost a little bit to that. Forget about how much of my lungs are pounding and my legs are pounding. Yeah, yeah. The altitude. It’ll be okay.
Interesting. It’s, I think probably one of the grom longest gravel races at altitude. Um, that’s around. Yeah. You know,
We’re at base elevation. A Steamboat’s about 6,700 feet and I think you’ll get close to almost 9,000 feet out on the course.
Yeah, I think you’re right about, I hadn’t thought about that. But you know, if you think about as a professional athlete that the types of races they’re racing is, there’s a lot of sea level staff up there out in the calendar.
Yeah. I mean we, we were out at the DK and June and uh, that’s, that’s down to sea level for us. It felt like we were absolutely drinking oxygen, um, up here. That’ll be a challenge. You know, the, the longer day and the vertical climbed coupled with the altitude, it’ll be, it’ll be a tough day. Nice. For sure.
Well, thank you so much again for the tour. It was great to kind of look around moods I’ve, I’ve known about the brand for decades and decades and all this admired what you do and looking at the detail work that you’ve been able to achieve with the etching and the organization and bringing everything pretty much in house in Colorado. You can tell the output is so much in your control and the brand and the quality is so elevated that I encourage everybody to kind of look at the [inaudible] website, check out the imagery, find a local dealer to take a test drive on one of these bikes. I’ve done a little bit of time on a moot to myself and it was a pleasure. So John, thanks for having us look forward to seeing you out on the course tomorrow. Yeah, probably from behind at some point.
Well, thanks for coming in. Uh, yeah. Anytime you’re in steamboat, come and look us up.