Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast has Lizard Skins founder, Brian Fruit, to learn the original story of the brand founded in 1993. From cycling bar tape and accessories now to baseball, hockey and lacrosse, the brand has had an interesting journey making its products in the United States.
Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport
I’m your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don’t need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist. This week on the show. We welcome Brian fruit, the founder of lizard skins. Was there a skin spin part of the cycling industry since 1993. It’s been quite an incredible journey for the company. Y’all know how much I love the business side stories behind the brands we know and love. So I was super excited to get into it with Brian and just learn more about the journey.
With respect to their bar tape. What I find is interesting is that the material they have is definitely. Sort of on the gummy air side and you’ll hear Brian, describe a bit about that product. But also it’s worth noting. They offer four different sizes of kind of the diameter. Of the bar tape, which really changes the feel you can go from super thin. I E a lot of bar feel all the way out to kind of pair Ruby style, super cush.
Which I think is an interesting option that you don’t see across the board. A lot of times when you go into your local bike shop, You see only one diameter tape that’s available. So it’s an interesting thing to play around with and something I’ve enjoyed while testing out some of the lizard skin tape.
Just before we jump in, I need to thank this week sponsor the hammerhead crew to. I am literally in Spain as you’re listening to this, I’m recording this intro just before I’m boarding my flight and definitely thinking about all the adventures I’m going to have on the roads of Jarana. I thought about borrowing a computer from the group that I’m going with, but it was from another brand that I had a little bit of a bad experience with back way back when.
I’ve come to love many things about my hammerhead computer. And I am convinced it’s the most advanced GPS cycling computer available today. It’s got industry leading mapping navigation and routing capabilities that set it apart from other GPS options. Free global maps with points of interest included like cafes and campsites.
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And they’re always listening. You can provide feedback to the team in hammerhead and potentially it’s going to end up in a software update. You’re not locked to a particular software package because they’re always upgrading it. I really look for the climber feature. That’s one of my favorite features these days. It was particularly poignant for me when I was riding in, uh, Bentonville Arkansas, a few weeks back at the big sugar gravel event, all those punchy climbs. I was really on the limit. I’m much more of a sit and grind on the coastal range here in California.
So this punchy climbs or something I wasn’t used to. So understanding exactly how far I was to the top and how many candles I could burn staying with the groups I was desperate to stay with really came in handy. So very much recommend the hammerhead crew to it’s my exclusive computer. For gosh, probably over a year now.
I’m not the only one singing its praises. It was named bicycling magazines, editors choice in GPS, cycling computers. For the past two years. Take a look on their websites for a limited time offer our listeners can get a free heart rate monitor with the purchase of a hammerhead crew to just visit hammerhead IO right now, and use the promo code, the gravel ride at checkout to get yours today. Remember it’s an exclusive limited time offer for our podcast listeners.
So don’t forget that promo code, the gravel ride for that free heart rate monitor strap. Would that business behind us, let’s jump right into my conversation with Brian.
Hey Brian, welcome to the show.
[00:04:27] Brian Fruit: Awesome. Super glad to be beyond today.
[00:04:30] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I’m excited to dig into Lizard Skins a little bit, but I’d love to start out, as we always do, by a little bit about your history and how you ultimately got into cycling, and let’s talk about the origin story of lizard skin.
[00:04:44] Brian Fruit: Well, that’s a, that’s a good one. Yeah, it’s been. Three decades ago now dating myself a little bit I was a college student at BYU and I got my first mountain bike. I worked, you know, most of the summer and saved up some money and got a mountain bike and, and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it.
Not just for the awesome writing that we were able to do in the mountains. Just as a way to get around campus and commute. It was just so much more liberating than fighting the parking spots. So I just fell in love with cycling. I think I’d, you know, from a very small age, I’ve always loved everything with wheels on it.
And then this mountain bike was, that was a revelation. So fast forward a few more years and I’m a senior about to graduate and there’s a company. Called Reflex bikes.
[00:05:35] Craig Dalton: I remembered them.
[00:05:36] Brian Fruit: yeah, they made these cool lugged frames. You know, some of them were aluminum tubes, some of ’em were carbon tubes, and they sold to another company.
Look, that makes, you know, pedals and things like that.
[00:05:49] Craig Dalton: And did Reflex have some sort of Utah connection or were you just familiar?
[00:05:54] Brian Fruit: they were making ’em here in Utah,
[00:05:56] Craig Dalton: I, Wow, I didn’t know that. I had a girlfriend who had that one of those bikes in the very early nineties.
[00:06:02] Brian Fruit: Did it creak?
[00:06:03] Craig Dalton: It creeped. And the one thing I remembered too about it was that there was some really challenging cable routing. So when it came time to build it up, it was like a nightmare.
Getting something through the bottom bracket, I think was what I struggled with.
[00:06:17] Brian Fruit: Yeah. So it was a cool bike and it had a great designer and, and he had sold the business. And, and moved over to Europe actually to, to work on design there. And, and apparently there was a, a trademark issue on the name reflex. And the people that owned it were no longer willing to allow that name to be used.
And so, Look just said, I think we’re just done with this, but this doesn’t make sense for us to be involved with. So they decided to liquidate everything. So rims and cranks and headsets, and you name it, bottom brackets, shifters, handlebar. And, and so they sent out these postcards to all these stores, and my friend worked as a bike patrol at Sundance Ski Resort, brought the.
Postcard home. And I’m like, that’s kind of interesting. So I drove up there the next day and I bought $300 worth of bike parts. Didn’t have any money. I was just a college student and all the way home like, Oh, what am I doing? I don’t have 300 bucks is the worst decision ever. And I sold all those parts that night to just random people in the apartment complex and friends that I rode with.
It’s cuz there was no social media back then. This is, you know, early 90. 92, I believe. And and the next day I went up there again, like, you know, being drawn to the, you know, bike parts, like the bug to the blue light zapper, and bought like $300 of the parts again and all the way home. Like, Oh, what am I doing?
This is the worst decision ever. Sold all those parts again. And that was it. You know, over the next six weeks I was buying and selling parts and I sold them to bike stores and I sold them to individuals and I, I sold about $30,000 worth of parts, made a decent amount of money on that, bought my wife a wedding ring and saved up a little money for us to get married.
And, and that’s kind of how how my life got started. You know, in the bike world, I just kind of fell in love with the whole, the whole scene and, and not the people, but even like the smells when you walk into a bike store, I just like the smell of a bike store. It just, I know that sounds weird, but it just feels right in bike stores.
I, even, when I’m on vacation, I like to go try to find a bike store to pop my head in and look around, so,
[00:08:49] Craig Dalton: What an, that’s an amazing kind of origin story, and I love the name dropping of reflex. It brings back very, very fond memories for me. So did you continue sort of pursuing kind of like a distribution type business model?
[00:09:04] Brian Fruit: So, that lasted for about six weeks. You know, they were selling all those parts at this big discount and that just kind of made me think, man, something in the bike industry would be really fun. And we looked at two or three ideas and, and. None of ’em actually worked out. And then a friend introduced me to another friend and that guy’s name was Lance Larson.
And Lance had this idea of making neoprene and Velcro accessories for bicycles and calling ’em lizard skin. and but Lance wasn’t a, a writer and he wasn’t really familiar with the space. So he and I connected and, and in the simplest terms, the original, you know, premise was that he would make the products and I would sell ’em.
It, it didn’t really work out exactly like that. There was a lot more crossing over, back and forth, but Lance and I got to work together for eight and a half years. And, and built the company from nothing. The very first month we did $350 of annual sales.
[00:10:09] Craig Dalton: Do you remember what the first product was that you came out with?
[00:10:12] Brian Fruit: Yeah, yeah, it was the little neoprine and Velcro chainstay protector and man, they were small back then.
It was like a really small length and really small diameter. And now, you know, they make the tubes so much larger. You know, the, the old one wouldn’t even fit on a bike today.
[00:10:29] Craig Dalton: Yep. Yeah. If you think about those old steel tube change stays that used to wrap, they were tiny, like the, like the size of your pink.
[00:10:36] Brian Fruit: Yeah, so small. Exactly. And we made all kinds of fun colors and, and we made these little headset seals that would keep the dirt and grim out of the headset. And then eventually we started making fork boots, which would keep the dirt out of the front fork because the seals back then weren’t very good.
And then we made a same kind of a boot for the rear shock. And eventually started making rubber injection molded grips. And then we added in some BMX products. We made BMX pad sets and BMX plates and BMX shin guards and elbow guards. And and then, you know, I bought my partner out and, and that, that took several years and there wasn’t a lot of extra cash, you know, cuz.
Everything just seemed to go to him to, to buy him out. And, and eventually we got that all done. And, and then we were able to really kind of move forward more dramatically because we had, you know, some money to work with.
[00:11:34] Craig Dalton: Right, Right, right. Yeah, I, I think back across that period that you’re describing, and I do remember those original lizard skin chain guards, but I probably, I remember more. Like the arrival of color, cuz back in the early nineties, certainly on the mountain bike scene, that was the heyday of anize parts and finding any, any way to make your bike a little bit more colorful and have a little flare to it.
[00:11:59] Brian Fruit: Oh, people were putting on Coca Cranks and Cook Brothers and, and you know, Paul components and everything was purple and red and yellow and, you know, green and yeah, you could buy a, a Chris King headset and it was all Rastafari and
[00:12:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah, a hundred percent. A hundred percent. So, yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was, it was like there was so much innovation going on back then in the world of mountain bikes, and I mean, I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed about the last several years in the gravel bike world is you just see that kind of innovation.
No one knows exactly what’s right. The bike designers have been given a lot of freedom to design bikes that, you know, range from a road plus bike to a full on bike packing bike, and they’re all in this, this quote unquote new genre of gravel cycling.
[00:12:49] Brian Fruit: It is fun. I rode a friend of mine’s you know, bike packing bike just earlier this week, and. It was super fun, you know, it just had a, a cool geometry to it. And, and he had, he had outfitted mountain bike breaks onto his, you know, drop bar controls, and it had some significant breaks. You know, he’s a bike store guy and he figured out how to do it.
It was awesome.
[00:13:16] Craig Dalton: at what year did you sort of transition your business partner out and start to think really like what new products could you innovate?
[00:13:24] Brian Fruit: Yeah, so I bought him out in 2001 you know, early part of 2001. And you know, we, the philosophy then was like, turn over every rock just. If nothing else to see what was under underneath. And you know, we bought different equipment to do our manufacturing with. We, we just really tightened up to try to make everything more frankly more profitable and more efficient.
[00:13:50] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I meant to ask earlier, did you, at what point did you bring manufacturing in-house and what does that look like from an equipment perspective?
[00:13:59] Brian Fruit: So we were making these little neoprine and Velcro accessories in the United States from day one and, and still do 30 years later. So what it takes is, I mean, we did it differently. You know, in the old days, the equipment we used wasn’t very efficient. We’ve got. Good stuff now. And so it’s a dye press with a still rule dye and then that allows you to cut the fabric out in these perfect shapes. And anybody that’s working on the dye press the first day, you know, you have to make sure and tell ’em, you know, if, if you’re dropping the dye or if the dye is slipping outta your hands, just let it hit the ground. Like don’t try to catch it, you know, cuz it’s
[00:14:45] Craig Dalton: Sharp all over. Yep.
[00:14:47] Brian Fruit: we can, we can fix the, we can fix the dye.
[00:14:50] Craig Dalton: And then after you, after you’re dye cutting the neo printer, are you then going into a sewing process?
[00:14:57] Brian Fruit: We have really nice commercial sewing machines. We use a zigzag stitch on it and we sew that in-house with different sizes of Velcro on each side. And then kind of do some trimming to make it look. And then we package it up all, you know, done in the us. So, you know, that was a good thing and we were able to make a super high quality product and, and we sold a lot of those.
Eventually a lot of the brands started adding some type of a. Chain protector or you know, chain stay guard to the bikes and it, and definitely impacted our sales. But we added these other products, you know, injection molded grips, and eventually we created a great relationship with odi where they made a.
a significant line of lock on grips for us under their, under their patent and technology, but sold by us, under our name and, and to our customers.
[00:15:53] Craig Dalton: With ODI manufacturing in the US as well.
[00:15:56] Brian Fruit: That’s correct. Yep. They’re out in California actually, so, you know, it’s like, double hard in the United States and California , but great product and they, they have great tooling and they could make these grips just so crisp and clean and, and the technology they have just, and still have is, is second to none.
So we teamed up with them on, on lock, on grips. And then eventually we really wanted to come up with a lightweight mountain by grip that was just different. And so we checked into another industry and we made some appointments and we started visiting factories, hoping to get this lightweight grip you know, maybe for cross country racing.
And, and unfortunately we weren’t successful in finding, you know, that. You know, through maybe another industry. But on that trip we figured out that we found a company that could make tape for us. And it was literally my, my general manager, Brad Barker. And he and I were on this trip together, and as we were about to walk out the, the the building, the business, he kind of turned around and asked them.
It was like, Hey, could you guys make tape for. And they’re like, Oh yeah, we could totally do that. He says, Great. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll be in touch. So, you know, he says, Brian, I really wanna try this. I really wanna, you know, sink my teeth into it. So, you know, he was working with the factory back and forth about nine months and making samples for handlebar tape for road bikes.
The first sample was like, what, 12 or 18 inches long? And we’re like, Well, this is not gonna work. And then the next sample was, you know, really long, but the product didn’t stretch. Well, that’s not gonna work. And so we went through rendition, after rendition after rendition, frankly, not knowing how to create the proper tech kit to speed the process along, but just trial and error and.
[00:18:01] Craig Dalton: was there something in the road bike market that you felt was missing like some type of performance out of the grip that you guys saw as an opportunity?
[00:18:09] Brian Fruit: Yeah, that’s a great a great question. We, we did feel like that there could be something different. Most of the tape that was available at that time was the synthetic cork and you know, gets dirty and it kind of slippery and it wasn’t really any. as to it or any technical, anything. So when we came out with ours, it was completely different and had a much different texture and feel.
It, it actually felt softer even though it was the same thickness and way more grippy and it was cleanable. You could just take a little alcohol and a, and a clean, you know, white rag or something. You could clean it right up and, and it wasn’t stained and dirty. So we ended up finding a product that was gonna work and we were really proud of, of the product we had designed.
And then the factory told us how much it was gonna cost and it was like one of those, you know, stressful moments and we’re like, Ugh, how’s this ever gonna work? Cuz Bar Tape at that time sold for 15 to $20 for, you know, the common synthetic co.
[00:19:18] Craig Dalton: Yep.
[00:19:19] Brian Fruit: Ours was gonna be $35. . And so we’re just like, Oh, this is gonna be tough.
But everybody that touched our tape loved it. And so we’re like, Well, we just gotta get people to touch it, you know? Cuz once they do, they’ll love it. And that’s the phrase, Touch it, feel it, love it came from
[00:19:39] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I, you know, it’s so, it is poignant when you put your hands on some lizard skin tape, it feels different. You know, I’m riding it on my, my bike right now and. Everything you’ve just described is what I’ve felt about it, like it feels When I’m barehanded I often ride barehanded and I, I feel much more connected to the grip because of the sort of, I dunno, stickiness is the right word, but this kind of sticky quality that I feel when riding it that’s quite different than court grip.
[00:20:12] Brian Fruit: Yeah, it’s, it’s grippy, you know, and it’s from this patented, you know, technology and material that that our partner supplier created in tandem with us. And and it’s just been absolutely wonderful.
[00:20:28] Craig Dalton: So it’s, so, it’s so interesting to me as, Sorry to interrupt Brian. Just as like a business journey, you sort of realize, hey, we’ve got something unique here, but I can’t tell you about it. You’ve gotta feel it and touch it to believe and see. I can imagine, like in the bike industry, that’s a challenge, right?
To kind of just translate that into the hands of enough people to develop a passionate following to say, I’m willing to pay this premium price for this performance now that I know about it.
[00:20:59] Brian Fruit: So I happened to be on a, a family trip, and again, I love bike stores, right? So we have a distributor in Guatemala that, that was selling our product and they had a bike store. So I went and visited that store while we were on this family trip. And there was a customer that came in and he had a road bike, I think it was a tri bike actually.
And the handlebar tape was all falling off and, and I just happened to hand him my handlebar sample that I had and he just fell in love with it. And he told the, the manager owner of the store there, he’s like, I want this. And and we told him kind of what the price was, and that’s a lot of money in Guatemala.
and he’s like, No, no, I want that tape. Like, so give me that tape. And, and that’s kind of how it’s worked. Like we pay a ton more for our tape. It’s not that we make a lot of money on it. We actually have a pretty tight margin on it, but the manufacturing cost is just a lot more because of what the product is and the, the materials that are, that are used.
But once you feel it, it’s like, . Yeah. Yeah. I’m gonna splurge and I’m, I’m, This is what I want.
[00:22:12] Craig Dalton: So are you still using the same manufacturing partner
[00:22:15] Brian Fruit: We are, Yeah. And they’ve come up with, you know, new technology and, and you know, improvements to the polymer to make it, you know, even more grippy and even more durable. So it’s been nice. You know, we did a complete redesign on the tape a couple years ago, two or three years ago now. And the new tape actually has a pattern on it.
And if you looked at that pattern with like a, a jeweler’s loop or a magnifying glass, you would see that the pattern is like, It, it’s multi depth. So some of the little bumps are really deep, some are less deep, some are really shallow, just to maximize the feel and control on the bike you know, with, with these different dimensions into the pattern.
So pretty technical.
[00:23:05] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I think as as riders, we benefit from your obsession over this one little part of the bike. Say, how can we make it the best it can be?
[00:23:15] Brian Fruit: I mean down that same conversation, and this is not a, This is me telling a bad story about myself. Unfortunately, not a good business story, but our plug that we had was really cool looking and was shiny and, and had the little lizard on it, but it did have a tendency to fall out. You know, if you didn’t leave enough tape tucked in.
So some people, it worked great and it never fell out, but other people, it fell out. So I wanted to get a new screw in plug and, and unfortunately we allowed ourselves to run out of plugs during that process. And probably lost a million dollars of sales just because we didn’t. The actual plug that I wanted and I didn’t want to go back to the old plug, cuz in my mind it already moved on to the new plug and the supplier for the new plug was being a Turkey and not making a for us.
And, and we had to actually switch, you know, suppliers and, and but honestly now we have an amazing screw and plug which is a super simple thing and like, it shouldn’t even be like a big thought, but. It probably cost me a ton of money making that transition, just cuz we didn’t, we didn’t wanna continue on with the old one and we didn’t have our ducks in a row on the new one we thought we did.
[00:24:32] Craig Dalton: I think anybody who’s ever manufactured anything can commiserate with that story, myself included.
[00:24:39] Brian Fruit: So, but now we got a great plug and the supplier’s good and, and everything’s, everything’s functioning well.
[00:24:46] Craig Dalton: You know, one of the, one of the things when you visit the lizards in skin site as a customer is that the first thing you see is an array of colors. And you’re like, Great, if I wanna create some accent color, like you just have so many different unique colors available for the bar tape. But when you select your color and you get into it, you also then realize there’s this secondary, probably much more important from a performance perspective, opportunity to choose your thick.
Of color. For most riders, you probably buy bar tape and you don’t even think about it. I don’t know what the average is. Maybe it’s a two and a half millimeter, but on your site you’ve got, I think it’s 1.8 millimeter, 2.5, 3.2, and 4.6 millimeter bar tape, which is a pretty wide array.
[00:25:35] Brian Fruit: So when we started this journey on making Hbar tape And we really tried to figure out what everybody else was doing and trying to get understanding. So we were out there with a micrometer trying to measure it and, and kind of the normal standard tape out there was about 2.5 millimeters, but nobody ever called that out.
There was never any technical data. It was just a box and it. You know, Hbar tape with no detail. So we came out originally with the 2.5, which is still our very best seller and it’s kind of the most common that you would see. But we had a request for some thinner tape, and there were some customers that said, Oh man, you know, you need to make it a little thinner.
So then we came out with a 1.8 in limited colors. And, and we found that certain people in, in certain, you know, applications really like the thinner product and especially people with a little bit smaller hand because they just couldn’t get their hand comfortably around, you know, this big fat bar. Big fat tape.
Then we had a lot of people was like, Oh, why don’t you make a thicker tape? You know? And I think they were like, Man, if you’re gonna make a thinner one, why don’t you make a thicker one? So then we came out with a 3.2 and you know, the packaging was bigger. Everything about the, the thing is just bigger.
And people loved it. Like, man, it, it quickly became a great seller for us. Not better than the 2.5, but it was better than the one eight in fact. And so we’ve done real well with the three, two, and it lays down nice. And then we just had certain customers you know, wanting to do gravel rides, you know, cobbles, maybe they just have hands that hurt.
You know, they have, could be an injury, just could be the way they are on the bike. But their hands just go numb and get sore. They. They wanted more cued. And so some people would like double wrap their bars. You know, but that, that has some challenges to it. So it came out with this 4.6 and it’s a beast.
It is a big, old fat role. But super comfortable when you get it on. It is a little harder to lay it down, you know? And. In all honesty, if you’re wrapping 2.5, that’s pretty easy. 3.2 takes a little more finesse and 4.6, it takes a decent amount of experience to make it lay nice and flat, but.
[00:28:07] Craig Dalton: interesting to layer in those op those options for gravel cyclists. Obviously, like on this podcast we’ve got had lots of discussions around, you know, how do you create suspension? You start with your body, then the tires. Then grip tape’s gonna play. Play a role in there. And again, for all the reasons you’re just talking about, for some people, they’re really taking a lot of abuse in their hands for one reason or another.
Maybe they’ve got an injury and I, I could see having that option available to them, even if it’s for a special purpose, a special event, wrapping your bars in a separate way. I remember back in the Perry Ru Bay classic days. When you’re talking about people doing double wrap bar tape, everybody was consorting themselves in the prop peloton to find some way to make their bikes more comfortable.
For days like Perry rba.
[00:28:57] Brian Fruit: Yeah, and there’s been a few different products made, you know, like, little gel packs and little foam pieces and stuff to put underneath there, and. And, and they work to some degree, but you know, the gel packs are break or they’ll get kind of wiggly and the handlebar tape doesn’t work well with it. And by doing this nice 4.6 and the 3.2, like, it just fits.
It’s just there. It’s solid. You don’t have to worry about a bump or a weird spot on there. And it, and it’s been successful.
[00:29:30] Craig Dalton: And as I understand things, you’ve been also getting feedback from a couple pro tour teams for the bar tape.
[00:29:36] Brian Fruit: We were very fortunate to get a pro tour team to use the HA Bar tape many, many years ago. That first team was the con and this was kind of like a Forest Gump moment. But they were using our tape and one of their writers Johnny Hoer. Always being indebted to him. He was leading the polka dot jersey competition, the mountain mountain points in the tour, Frances, and it was a flat part of the beginning of the, of the tour.
So ultimately he was doing breakaways and getting these points and on one of those days that he was in a breakaway, you know, getting a, a handful of mountain. A press car bumped him and another rider. And they went off the road and into a Bob wire fence. They hit that fence so hard that it actually pulled the P wood post outta the ground.
And as just hardcore professionals, they got back on the bike, all cut up and dazed and, and jerseys and shorts all ripped up from the Bob wire. And, you know, their team gives ’em a push and off they go. You. At the end of the race, you know, Johnny gets off and he had been bandaged by the medical car and you know, they’re trying to bandage him as he was riding his bike.
So by the time he finished the race, you know, most of the bandages were falling off. It was a mess. And they interviewed him afterward and his attitude was like, this was an accident. I wished it wouldn’t happened. This is gonna really mess up my opportunities at the tour, but it could have been worse.
Let’s move on. The other gentleman, writer that got hit had a very different take. His team was trying to find out who was responsible, who was gonna pay. It was just very bitter and, and interestingly enough, everyone fell in love with Johnny. And they started looking at his bike and once those chain rings he used and what kind of bike it was and what was his saddle and what kind of handlebar tape he used.
Oh my goodness. Our handlebar tape started selling like crazy.
[00:31:55] Brian: So all the distributors started having a run on the product and they ran out of, you know, lizards, skins, bar tape, and and boom. That was it. That was our four Gump moment. Handlebar tape became the most popular aftermarket tape in the world. And it was because, you know, one guy was was cool, you know,
[00:32:17] Craig: And thrown into and thrown into a barb wire fence. I remember those images.
[00:32:22] Brian: Oh. But you know, he just handled it right. You know, I think a lot of times in life we all have bad things that happen to us that are out of our control, but it’s how we handle those things that kind of impact, you know. How we interact with the rest of the world
[00:32:42] Craig: Yeah, as you remind me of that story, I remember very viscerally thinking about, gosh, this is gonna be another Primadonna roadie that has a tantrum. And I remember how you describe like the other team, the other writer. It was just this big to do and you know, who’s gonna pay for this and how do we replace how he would’ve done throughout this tour juxtaposed to how Johnny handled it and how their team handled it.
[00:33:10] Brian: Yeah, it was it was, it was pretty crazy. So, taught me, you know, a great lesson, right, of, you know, it’s important to manage how we react you know, to, to potentially bad things, you know, happening to. So, you know, how we behave can really, you know, change overall how something goes down.
[00:33:34] Craig: Yeah. Such, such an amazing journey and so cool that you’ve been able to do it using us manufacturing all this time. I love that part of the story. Before I let you go, Brian, I did wanna touch on one other thing because I think it’s interesting. I mean, the gravel cyclist should go to your site and check out the different dimensions of bar tape and all those cool colors.
You have great product. It definitely delivers that kind of grippiness and unique feel that we were talking about earlier. But I was also bemused to learn that you’re also into several different sports, and I think the listeners would kind of dig hearing just a little bit about your journey into those other sports.
[00:34:13] Brian: Y. So Hannah Bar tape was, was doing extremely well. And one of the guys from work Brad Barker that helped design the tape. Originally, he loved baseball. He had boys that were playing on baseball teams. Had another friend from college that, that gave me that little postcard for the sale at at Reflex actually.
He. He was one of the guys that helped me feed my mountain bike passion. He had three boys that loved baseball and they were all putting this tape on baseball bats, bicycle tape on baseball bats. So it, it, it was like, Huh, is there something there? So we started making two thicknesses of baseball grip.
We made a 1.1. Which is kind of the traditional thickness for baseball. And we made a 1.8, which is a little thicker. You know, think of the 3.2 in cycling, that kind of thing. And we put it out there. We won best of show for the first trade show we went to, and, and you know, nothing really happened.
But when we sold the stuff into a store, it, it, it did. . So we figured out, it’s like, well, we just have to increase the amount of stores. So we eventually got a bunch of stores selling it, and then there was a local probe by the name of John Buck. He connected up with us and wanted to go to a trade show and we said, That’d be great.
You can share our booth and you can show your product in our booth and it, and it’ll be fun. So we start that and at that show, . He brings his bats and we wrap ’em for him. And the whole time he’s like feeling the bat, you know, while talking to customers about his products. And at the end of the show he’s like, you know, if you made this thinner, I would use it in the pros and I would get other people to use it in the pros and I think have something.
So Brad came back from that show and we talked and he says, this is, this is the convers. and we both looked at each other like 130 years of history with people using like sticky stuff, pine tar on baseball bats. Like, how in the world are we gonna change that tradition? Like, that’s never gonna happen. And they were like, Yeah, probably not.
And they were like, What? What should we do? And we both agreed it’s a pro player, we should probably make it. So we did, we made a, a thinner version, one or a 0.5, really, really. and John started using it. Hunter Penn started using it. Big Poppy started using it like, you know, Miguel Cabret, I mean, just tons of these great players and they were sluggers and and eventually we got invited to go to the Equipment Manager show for Major League Baseball, which then led to us getting a license of Major League Baseball where we became the official bat grip on field license.
for Major League Baseball and, and it was amazing and our sales grew, grew, grew, which allowed us to hire more people and get into a bigger, you know, better facility and you know, hire more designers and then continue to make more products and and grow the company.
[00:37:33] Craig: Yeah, cuz now you’re in baseball, hockey, lacrosse as well as cycling.
[00:37:39] Brian: and recently we just added pickle.
[00:37:42] Craig: Of course, the rise of pickleball, that is the moment in time we’re in
[00:37:48] Brian: So it and each of these sports, the product is different. So we’re not just repackaging, we’re actually redesigning the product each time. So you know how long it needs to be, what’s the thickness, what type of a backing do we use? For cycling, we use an EVA backing, but for baseball we use afil.
[00:38:09] Craig: Yeah.
[00:38:10] Brian: you know, different patterns and the gripping qualities on the patterns are very different.
So, we’ve, we’ve replicated ourself effectively in all these different sports.
[00:38:23] Craig: When you, when you think about the business now, what percentage is cycling versus everything else?
[00:38:29] Brian: Wow. I mean, in 2020, you know, there was a surge and cycling was the biggest part of the. 2021, it was still great. 2022. You know, cycling sales have, have slowed a little bit because there’s a lot of inventory that’s been shipped out there. So baseball is now the biggest part of the, of the business.
Cycling is second, and then hockey would be third.
[00:38:52] Craig: Gotcha.
[00:38:53] Brian: So,
[00:38:55] Craig: Yeah, super interesting story. Totally appreciate you sharing the journey with me. I enjoyed the conversation.
[00:39:02] Brian: Oh, you bet. It, it’s been a lot of fun. You know, I look back I, I wouldn’t have wanted to go a different route, you know, I’ve loved the cycling industry and I actually started lizard scans and then several years later I, I started a bike store and then a couple years later I bought another bike store and, and I still have those bike stores.
They’re, they’re great. I love ’em. And, and it, it just, it feels like walking into the Cheers bar, you know, from, from that sitcom. So when you go in the bike store, that’s what it feels like, you know, it’s just like, it, it’s just, it’s another home, right?
[00:39:42] Craig: absolutely. Yeah. We all, I I hope that many of the listeners out there have that kind of relationship with their local bike shop, cuz I certainly do in my town. I love going there, I love seeing all the team that works there and, and just saying hi and having that familiar, you know, love of the sport that you can share.
[00:40:00] Brian: Yeah, it’s just, you know, fun getting to have friends continue to come in and get to see ’em. I mean, it’s almost like a little mini fan family reunion, like every day that you go in the store. So
[00:40:12] Craig: Yeah, absolutely. Well, have a great weekend, Brian, and we’ll talk again soon.
[00:40:17] Brian: appreciate it. Take.
[00:40:19] Craig Dalton: That’s going to do it for this week’s edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Brian from lizard skin for joining I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about his journey and are intrigued by some of the other product categories that they’ve found themselves in over the years. Definitely go check them [email protected].
Uh, as I mentioned earlier, that bar tape’s been, it’s been interesting trying out the different diameters. I’m still in the 2.4 camp,
But I am curious about that 1.8 thickness bar tape as well.
Until next time here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.