Podcast: Wilde Bicycle Co. with founder, Jeffrey Frane

wilde bicycle co. podcast

Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, dives into the origin story of Wilde Bicycle Co with founder, Jeffrey Frane. As a child, Jeffrey found the bike and along the way found freedom, adventure, and ultimately, a calling. Jeffrey has spend over twenty years in the bike industry finding himself at QBP managing the All City Brand since its earliest days. His experience and passion has led to the founding of Wilde Bicycle Co.

Wilde Bicycle Co. Website

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Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)

[00:00:00]Craig Dalton (Host): Hey Jeff, welcome to the show.

[00:00:04]Jeff Frane: Uh, hey Craig. It’s great to be here.

[00:00:06]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah, this is gonna be a lot of fun. I’m excited to learn more about you and more about the Wild Bicycle brand. So let’s, let’s start off by where, where’d you grow up and how’d you discover the bike?

[00:00:16]Jeff Frane: All right, so, uh, for the listeners joining us, uh, my name is Jeffrey Frame and I am from, I grew up in the North Woods of Wisconsin. In a small logging slash milltown called Rhinelander, Wisconsin. A shout out to the Hoda. Um, so I grew up small town Wisconsin and luckily there were a bunch of mountain bikers around and we had, you know, several mountain bike races like twice a year. And, um, all these woods to explore. And got hooked on bikes as a kid because it was the only way I could leave my neighborhood. I lived outside of town where most of my friends lived in town, so I had to get there somehow.

And my parents had jobs, so it was ride the bike and I just never stopped. You know, when I was 16, when most people, you know, kind of put down the bike. I was really afraid of killing somebody. I was, I was immature. I’m, you know, I, I, up until like my 40th birthday, I was pretty immature. Um, but I was afraid of hurting somebody with, you know, the power of an automobile scared the crap out of me.

So I just like never got my license and I just kept riding. I did eventually get my license, you know, when I was 20 years old, but, so I just never stopped.

[00:01:34]Craig Dalton (Host): and was it just sort of pleasure riding back then, or you’d mentioned there was a couple

[00:01:37]Jeff Frane: Yeah.

[00:01:38]Craig Dalton (Host): Did you get drawn into the race scene at all?

[00:01:40]Jeff Frane: did. Um, and it was, it was wonderful. My parents were always incredibly, uh, supportive of my sporting endeavors. And, um, in Wisconsin, we’re really blessed to have the Wars series, uh, the Wisconsin Off-Road series, which is one of the largest and longest running, I think, state series in the country.

And, uh, they would take me to the races. I started racing in junior high, uh, in the local stuff on my Little Trek eight 30. And, uh, that was wonderful and then kind of progressed. And then in high school we started racing full war circuits and my parents were awesome enough to take the time off of work and to kinda lug me around so that I could get, you know, fifth place in a sport class or whatever.

[00:02:20]Craig Dalton (Host): I love it. And was there, was there a high school mountain bike scene back then, or was, were you a little bit of a, an outcast?

[00:02:26]Jeff Frane: yeah, I was the only, I had some friends kind of coming up or growing up who raced with me, but once we got to high school, it was largely me. You know, we didn’t have Nica or anything like that. In fact, I remember I played hockey as well, that um, I got a local sponsorship from Schwinn and like it was this big kerfuffle cuz like, they didn’t know if I was still eligible for hockey and all these people were really upset about it and, you know, whatever.

Um, I was, it turned out I was eligible for hockey, but,

[00:02:55]Craig Dalton (Host): Some, someone just need to explain to the hockey world that bicycle sponsorship is not exactly making a living.

[00:03:00]Jeff Frane: no, and you know, there was no money. But, uh, so, you know, I, I just, I just kept racing and mountain bikes were my first love and it was just a way of exploring, you know, the area around me. And we had a cool local shop, Mel’s trading post, and they were super rad to me and put me on the little bike team.

And then we got, that team got sponsored by Schwinn and, um, you know, it all, all just kind of held together until I went to the university and. As a poor college student, I really couldn’t afford to race, but I was able to still ride my bike all the time.

[00:03:32]Craig Dalton (Host): Were you still in Wisconsin at that point?

[00:03:34]Jeff Frane: Yeah. I went to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire,

[00:03:37]Craig Dalton (Host): Okay.

[00:03:37]Jeff Frane: um, which is like a, a rivertown and, you know, a couple trail systems, but found, started finding like the bigger community, you know, there were a bunch of really fast racers and I learned so much by chasing these people around, you know, eventually got to.

I still raced a little bit in college and was able to race expert where I got my butt absolutely handed to me. Um, and then after, after college, I spent a couple years living in my van, uh, 1992 Dodge Caravan.

[00:04:05]Craig Dalton (Host): out Dodge Caravan.

[00:04:07]Jeff Frane: I was gonna, I was like, I can’t shout out too many things, but yeah, the Dodge Caravan was a, was a workhorse.

Really good car. Went through transmissions like he wouldn’t believe though. Uh, so lived in that for a while. And then, um, I got tired of, of living on people’s couches and just being broke and there was a, a person I wanted to date. So I came back here and now I live in Minneapolis. I’ve been here since 2005.

And like that’s really kind of when I think things really took off for me in terms of bicycles as a lifestyle. You know, that was the height of the fixed gear. Boom. And, you know, so I, I moved to the, I moved to city, the city with like a single speed Magna Mountain bike that I had cut the bars down. I had like my little Dickies Messenger bag and I was like, oh, you know, like in the big, I’m gonna cut traffic.

And cuz I had grown up like seeing bike messengers and like MTV sports and stuff

[00:04:57]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah.

[00:04:58]Jeff Frane: and uh, you know, got a job at a bike shop, started wrenching. And, um, started my little company Bike Jerks. So if you find me on Instagram, my handle is bike jerks, uh, which was a dumb inside joke at the shop. And it seemed like a real funny thing to call my, my little company, uh, when I was 25.

Now I’m 43. Not as funny, but I’m stuck with it. Um, and the reason that started is like I needed a, I always needed a creative outlet and I really wanted to participate in the community. I wanted to organize, I wanted to throw races. So I needed a platform to do that. So I invented this thing, bike Jerks, which was the little, um, you know, platform for me to throw Alley Cats and Bandit Cross and, and other events.

[00:05:41]Craig Dalton (Host): gotcha. Yeah, it seems like that Minneapolis bike scene is, has always been so creative and spanned so many different disciplines of the B of the sport, including disciplines that no one knows even exists, like tall bikes and random cobbled together bikes.

[00:05:58]Jeff Frane: Yeah, it’s, it’s weird being here cuz we’re a straight flyover country. You know, anything that gets media attention or national renowned is pretty much coastal. Um, so we, it’s awesome to hear people say that. And, you know, people know that we’re a bike city, but like, nobody comes visits Minneapolis, you know, um, we’re kind of forgotten about.

But we have this really, really special and unique culture. And, you know, there was Gene Ober, pillar and Hur ever stone. And Paul Ziegel and you know, the surly bikes and there’s all these pretty amazing contributions that have been made. You know, single speed mountain biking. It wasn’t invented here by any means, but I think it took on like its bigger cultural relevance.

There was a huge push for that here, especially with, you know, surly bikes coming on outta the scene. Um, so we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. There is an amazing, amazing culture that goes back generations, uh, here in the Twin Cities.

[00:06:53]Craig Dalton (Host): And then I’m not sure exactly when quality bike parts came to be, but qbp is this cornerstone sort of backbone of the bicycle industry. Maybe you can describe who they are and what they do.

[00:07:05]Jeff Frane: Yeah, so q uh, so the first shop I worked at here in Minneapolis was FreeWheel Bike. It was originally a co-op. By the time I got there, it was no longer a co-op. Uh, but, uh, what Steve Flagg, the owner of qbp, was one of the owners of the co-op, and they were, Essentially frustrated not being able to get small repair parts from Europe.

And so he started bringing in repair parts and boom, that’s how Quality Bicycles products got started. Him and his wife Mary, and you know, now it’s the largest bicycle distributor distribution business in North America. They own Surly, they own Salsa, they own All City. They own whiskey. They own 45 North.

Um, you know, it’s a, it’s a massive, massive operation.

[00:07:48]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Yeah. Super interesting. I never, I never knew that backstory, but I’ve, I’ve certainly known Q BP my entire cycling life, it seems like. And you’ve ultimately, you’ve found your way

[00:07:58]Jeff Frane: to Q. Yeah. So you know, there Qbp was always like the, you know, like the beacon on the hill kind of thing. It was like all the shop rats were like trying to get to Q and uh, I was lucky enough to get hired there, so I worked like part-time seasonal at FreeWheel bike my first year in Minneapolis. Got laid off for the winter, uh, took a bunch of weird random jobs and eventually, um, QVP was hiring for warehouse people.

And so I started there. I think in, it would’ve been 2006, uh, as part-time seasonal picking, packing, labeling, like literally the bottom rung on the totem pole. You know, it doesn’t get much lower. Um, you know, in terms of. I mean, it’s a fine job. I don’t mean to say that the job was low, but you know, as far as the ranking goes, you’re a part-time seasonal employee.

[00:08:52]Craig Dalton (Host): it’s the entry point. The very

[00:08:53]Jeff Frane: Yeah, it’s the entry entry point for sure. Um, so I got a job there and you know, by that time I was already kind of getting a reputation as like the fixed gear guy and I was already active in the community here in Minneapolis, organizing events. And they recognized that love and that passion that I had.

And so, um, a few years in, I was able to start suggesting some product to Lisa Snyder, um, who was the brand manager of Dimension at the time. So there was the Dimension brand and they had like some track things and you know, kind of the whole thing was I was like, Yo, I’m really into track bikes and you have nothing I wanna buy.

Like I’m buying all my stuff from Mary Sales and from these other distributors, Euro, Asia, imports, et cetera. Like, what’s going on? Like, you’re freaking qbp. Like, y’all need to do better. And so I started suggesting some product to her and she brought them in under the dimension label, and they did well.

And then I was able to suggest more products. And then those did well. And eventually, um, I kind of got the, I was talking to Lisa about doing some other stuff. It just didn’t go anywhere. And eventually I kind of got the guts up to say, oh, screw it. I’m going right to the top. And I drafted this, like, you know, at the time I thought it was really like rock solid, but it’s ridiculously amateurish, like little business proposal for a brand that I was calling All City.

Um, and the reason I needed a name change was I was like, I wanna do nicer stuff and people don’t wanna buy nice stuff from dimension like that is repair level parts. So, I wanted a track crank, um, because there was a shortage at that time of 1 44 bolt, circle, diameter, you know, track cranks. And um, so I was like, let’s call it All City.

So All City Championships was the name of my alley cat that I was throwing every year. So the name comes from, uh, graffiti, uh, in New York City. Um, There’s a term called being All City. And what that meant was that you had a piece on, on a train in all five boroughs. You were all city. So my race went to every part of the city, so that’s why it was the All City Championships.

And I just thought that would be a slick name for, you know, an urban track bike brand.

And so,

[00:11:14]Craig Dalton (Host): such a cool origin story of the name All City. I’d never heard that before.

[00:11:20]Jeff Frane: Yeah, well, there’s not many people, many. There’s no one left to tell the story, like, I’m it, I’m the dinosaur. Um,

[00:11:27]Craig Dalton (Host): So you started out All City and and didn’t know this also All City started out with a basic concept of more premium track. Track componentry.

[00:11:37]Jeff Frane: to make nicer stuff and I didn’t think anybody would buy nicer stuff with the dimension label. Um, you know, it was kind of a weird deal cuz I like nice stuff. I’ve always been in a vintage bicycles and so like we had to kind of Trojan horse some of the ideas in, so like, I was like, okay, cool, now we have these parts.

I wanna do a track bike and I wanna do a Minneapolis track bike. And we have winners in Minneapolis, which means, and fixed gears are like, are the best thing for winter commuters because, Maintaining a geared bike is just, that’s way too much work. You know, I want the simplest bike I possibly can for these salty, crappy, slushy wind, you know, weather we have.

Um, so I want our track bike that’s a real track bike with real track geometry, but I wanna be able to fit a bigger tire. And, you know, at that time, like $500 complete fixed gears we’re like dominating the market. And so I’m like, yeah, we’re gonna do a $500, you know, uh, track bike just to like get the project rolling.

Knowing damn well I don’t wanna ride a $500 track bike. Like, no way. I wanna, I like nice stuff. Um, so then it was, you know, we kick off the project and I’m like, you know, I’ve done some market research and I really think that that price point is saturated. Like what we really need to do is do a thousand dollars track bike.

Uh, no one’s there, like no one’s in that market space and we can put all our own parts on it and we don’t have to use this cheap stuff. And that’s how the big block was born. That’s why it’s a nice bike. Uh, because I convinced them that the $500 price point, price point, there was too much competition and we could never win that game.

So we need to go upmarket.

[00:13:10]Craig Dalton (Host): And at that point had QBP acquired or started any other, uh, full bike brand

[00:13:15]Jeff Frane: Yeah. So Surly started, um, in like 1999. They changed their name to Surly in 98. So 1998 was when the Surly, or was when the one by one. Which was the precursor name to Surly Rat Ride came out and they had done some parts before that. Uh, sh I’m gonna do another shout out to Wakeman Massey, uh, founder of Surly Bikes.

He, um, freaking visionary surly bikes, in my opinion, is the most influential bike brand of the last, you know, 30 years. Um, the steel Renaissance fat tire clearance. Every modern gravel bike is a crosscheck. Like I know they’re, they didn’t invent that stuff. Um, you know, big tire clearances, blah, blah, blah.

But they popularized it and democratized it, and I think brought it to the forefront of the culture.

[00:14:03]Craig Dalton (Host): Certainly democratized it. I would, I would double click on that one. And yes, double shout out to Wakeman. He may, he definitely doesn’t remember this, but I met him back when I was at Dean Bicycles. I think he rolled in his first, Ever framed that he welded himself at university, a 24 inch dirt jumper that was ratty as hell, but he was super enthusiastic and passionate, and I think we even tried to hire him, but he wanted to go move somewhere else other than Boulder.

[00:14:30]Jeff Frane: Yeah. Um, you know, and the fat bikes and 29 ERs and blah, blah, blah. Like surly, you know, they’ve done some really special things for sure. Um, and you know, QBP had already bought salsa, um, prior to that. So they had salsa and qbp, or I’m sorry, salsa and surly they had Sylvia at that time. Um,

[00:14:51]Craig Dalton (Host): had, you started to kind of understand what a supply chain for a full bicycle looked like at that point when you brought the idea of the track bike to them.

[00:14:59]Jeff Frane: I mean, kind of, you know, so like I, again, like with it was all baby steps, right?

Um, You know, I was at first when All City started in 2008. It was 15 hours a week, and I was the sales and marketing coordinator, and then I made it to 20 hours a week, and then I made it to 30 hours a week. Well, you know, I was still doing warehouse stuff and all this, you know, and eventually it got to be a full-time position for me. Um, with Lisa still, like with Lisa still in charge. Like Lisa was awesome. She was the operations person and she had a really strong product background.

[00:15:37]Craig Dalton (Host): yeah.

[00:15:38]Jeff Frane: Um, and I was able to contribute, you know, my ideas and passion for the urban, you know, what we used then called urban cycling, um, for that. And, you know, we were a really, really great team.

[00:15:50]Craig Dalton (Host): So that was probably the urban cycling angle for all cities, probably where my knowledge intersected with the existence of all cities. I started seeing these steel bikes underneath who were clearly passionate commuters in San Francisco. So how, how quickly did it kind of go from track bike? It’s a commuter bike.

And when did you start to see, hey, people are using these to ride on dirt?

[00:16:14]Jeff Frane: Um, I mean, so right away the big block cleared a 32 seat tire, which in 2009 was like a pretty good sized tire. And you know, we were, before track lacrosse was track lacrosse, we were riding our fixes, you know, in the dirt, uh, doing that kind of stuff. Um, I had gotten interested in cycl lacrosse. We put out the Nature Boy, which is a single speed cross bike.

You know, all city’s evolution was always, there were always constraints for all city. We had surly on one side of us, we had salsa on the other. And it was like, how are we going to be different and offer something actually unique and not just, um, you know, compete with our sister brand. So, you know, the Nature Boy was a dedicated single speed, which didn’t exist in the QBP for portfolio, you know, and when people came up, they’re like, oh, that’s just a stop and crosscheck like, what are you idiot kids doing?

It’s like, well, you know, ride the thing like, Um, you know, the nature boy, all the canal cities, I think have, have aged really well and become kind of culty classic bikes. Um, so, you know, I think, I think that came out well. We, we put out a bunch of fixie freestyle bikes if people remember fixed gear freestyle, which were also super fun to ride on dirt cuz they had big tire clearance.

Uh, then we did the Nature Boy. Um, I think the bike after that was we went geared with the, with the macho man. And the Mr. Pink and the Space Horse and the Space horse was like the bike that really unlocked all cities potential. And you know, we’ve always been, I’ve always been interested in all facets of cycling and, you know, we saw what was happening with the crosscheck and it was like, well let’s, if we make a bike like that, we’re gonna sell a bunch.

And that was the Space Horse, and it was our own spin on things. It was as sporty of a light touring bike as we could possibly make. Um, You know, that was Anna Schwinn’s design and she absolutely crushed it with that. And that’s the one that like started really opening doors and opening a lot of outside eyes to the brand because it was just a really good looking, functional and practical bike.

[00:18:17]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah, yeah. And and clearly quite versatile. I think if you talk to anybody who’s been around gravel for a while, as people were getting those first generation gravel bikes, you were seeing people on that bike, on the trails.

[00:18:29]Jeff Frane: For sure.

[00:18:30]Craig Dalton (Host): I already have the first generation. It’s been underneath my legs for a few years.

[00:18:34]Jeff Frane: Well, and you know, the Mr. Pink cleared 30 twos, so that was my, uh, I, I raced gravel on that for a number of seasons. You know, um, the, the, the Minnesota gravel at that time was strictly like gravel roads. Like we weren’t doing like, necessarily a much of like minimum maintenance stuff or double track. It was gravel, gravel.

The El Manzo 100 and you could ride a 28 C in that race. Uh, Mr. Pink Fit 32. So that was my gravel race bike at that time. I eventually moved over to the space horse because it had longer chain stays in a lower bottom bracket, which as you know, our awesome for descending fast on gravel. Um, you just, it’s just significantly more stable and more planted in, I think, confidence inspiring.

And so then, then the space horse. And my big regret with the space horse is that so many people got them and just put racks and fenders and they became these beasts of burden. But if you build built a light space horse canny, it was a ripper of a gravel racer. Um, it was fast and it was fun, and it really came alive under power.

[00:19:41]Craig Dalton (Host): And you know, looking at the other Q BP brands was all city, and I know, I believe Surly is the same way. All City was always focused on steel as the frame material.

[00:19:51]Jeff Frane: Yeah, I mean steel was definitely our focus. Uh, we did have an aluminum track bike because aluminum in, in track, velodrome racing is an incredibly relevant material. But yeah, it was always steel. And you know, as I was saying, we were always trying to find that niche and there were all these guardrails.

Well, you know, how am I gonna make a steel bike that’s different than surly. Well, I love ornateness in bikes. You know, I love those classic details. And so it was, let’s design our own fancy pants dropouts. Uh, let’s do the reinforcement stars on the bottle bosses. Let’s design our own braised on seat collar.

And you know, my whole, the whole concept there was if you stripped the frame of all of its paint, could you still tell it wasn’t all city and nothing else? And that was what we were going for, was, you know, unique detailers and details and bringing. Back kind of beauty into a production bicycle. Cause like a surly is a pretty utilitarian, stripped down thing.

And so we wanted, uh, and, and you know, the salsas were kind of, of that ilk too. And so we wanted a little more embellishments, a little more, um, call out to the, you know, the, the, the frame building, uh, heritage of the sixties and seventies and eighties, you know, internal top tube cable routing. You know, those kind of details became an important signifier of the brand.

[00:21:03]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Gotcha. I wanted to spend a few minutes on your QBP experience, cuz I just think it goes to underscore how much time you’ve thought about bikes, bicycle frames.

[00:21:14]Jeff Frane: adult life, like this is it. Um, you know, and, um, so I, I became the brand manager and the leader of All City, officially, uh, Lisa was needed elsewhere in the company. And they were like, okay, dude, like, you’re ready. I, I wasn’t ready, turns out. But they were like, all right, so in 2013, I became the brand manager and kind of started assembling a bigger team because the brand was growing

and you know, we put out a lot of bikes that I’m really proud of.

Uh, you know, the cosmic stallion I think was a pretty, a pretty special and cool, uh, steel gravel racer, you know, and that was really the first gravel race bike that we, that we put out. You know, prior to that it was, we were using our cross bikes. Um, for these things, and now it was, okay, this is like, this is what a dedicated gravel bike should be.

[00:22:07]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Yeah. So obviously working within an organization like Q bp, you’ve gotta advocate, you’ve gotta create the business case, but they’ve got the capital to bring an idea to market, and they’ve got the infrastructure to get it out. You’ve subsequently left qbp and you decided to go on your own journey and create your own brand in wild.

What was, what was that journey like and. Why? Why are you doing wild?

[00:22:36]Jeff Frane: Um, so in 2019, I left qbp, um, after being with them for, what, 13, 14 years. And, you know, I, I had a really, really wonderful experience. I, I learned so much at QBP that it was really time for me to move on. I’m kind of a weird dude. And, you know, in a corporate environment, any kind of nonconformity will only be tolerated for a finite period of time.

And we were starting to reach that point. And so I left in 2019 and, uh, you know, I never intended to start a bike company again. Um, you know, this is the thing I know how to do. I know how I have, I’m really good at having a vision and driving towards it. Obviously I know how to run a bike company cuz I had been doing it at Q P P for, you know, quite some time. Um, but kind of a random encounter with Paul Crick, uh, who owns Donkey Label here in Minneapolis. Donkey label’s a clothing company. He was starting up a fab shop, uh, for the brand Stomper here. And, um, we ran into each other kind of on the massage table. Um, cuz he has like a fit studio and a sports masseuse and stuff, um, in his building here in Minneapolis.

And he was like, oh, you can write work on bikes. Like, I need a mechanic. And so I was like, all right, cool. Um, started with Paul part-time and then he found out about my background and what I could do. And so I started taking over some of the operations, um, here in Minneapolis for Stomper. Um, and it was a pretty casual arrangement.

Um, and so this is 2019, right? And so 2020 comes around and I have the opportunity. So my background is in marketing. Um, that was my, um, comparative studies in religion and marketing with a re I got at Eau Claire, which is why I ended up in a bike shop in Minneapolis. Like those things, uh, wasn’t super employable at the time, so, Um, marketing came knocking and I had the opportunity to move to Portland to work with, uh, Billy Siford and his team at Echoes Communication.

And I was really excited about that. Um, you know, I, I enjoy marketing. I was really excited to work with their portfolio of brands

And I

[00:24:59]Craig Dalton (Host): is a, echos a marketing PR agency that works with a bunch of different brands in the bike

[00:25:05]Jeff Frane: Yeah. And they’re the ones doing the maid show, so the maid, hand-built bike show that’s happening in Portland this fall. Um, it’s an echoes thing, so I had the opportunity to do that and I was like, all right, yeah, of course. Like I’m, I’m there, you know, Billy’s been a friend of mine for a long time. He calls, I answer like, no problem.

And so I was, uh, I quit my thing at Stomper and I was gonna go be, you know, a marketing dude in Portland, Oregon. Um, pandemic hits. I’m one week away from moving to Oregon and everything just freaking shuts down. So, you know, he is like, you know, don’t come dude. Like, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. And I was like, that sounds really reasonable.

I’m not gonna come. No worries my friend. You know? And so I’m here in Minneapolis and while I was working with Paul, working on his operations, um, was one I learned how to paint, which was amazing. Painting bicycles, super fun. Uh, but I had developed an American supply chain and there was nobody really using that supply chain.

And some people hit me up when they were like, Sorry, I’m ahead of myself. So while I was working at Stomper, I built what is a, what was the first Earthship? I built this personal bike for me and Paul was in the process of potentially changing the name of the company. There wasn’t a solid name and I was like, you should call it wild.

Like that’s a good name for a bike company. Naming bike companies is hard and I think this is solid. So I painted wild on the side of, of my titanium bike. Um, and then shortly after left, and so I had this bike wild that people were seeing on my Instagram and people started reaching out to me and they’re like, yo, I see you got this bike.

Like, what’s up with that? Can I get one? And I was like, yes, actually, yeah, yes, you can get one. Like, let’s, let’s, let’s freaking go. And so started kind of doing onesie twosies there. Um, building, you know, in Oregon, uh, was simple. And then at Waterford, um, so using a couple different fabricators and started making a few, few bikes on my own.

Um, it was going really great. But,

[00:27:12]Craig Dalton (Host): And were you just following where the customer was taking you at that point? Like if they wanted a, a gravel bike, you were building a gravel bike. Road bike. A road

[00:27:20]Jeff Frane: a absolutely, you know, one of my biggest pleasures is working with a customer to co-create the bike of their dreams. So I don’t ever try, I have a vision for these things and I’ve been riding bikes and testing bikes and evaluating bikes my entire professional career now. Um, so I have a pretty good idea when they describe how they want a bike to handle what we have to do to get it there.

And, you know, I have a strong vision, but it’s really about facilitating their, what they want. Um, you know, and some people are like, I want this hedge two bangle and this C two bangle. And I’m like, bet. Like that’s cool. And then some people are just like, describe a feeling they want or the best bike ride they’ve ever been on, or tell me about the bikes they’ve rid the past that they’ve really liked.

Um, so at qbp, I was leading the team, uh, that created these bikes, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t the engineer.

[00:28:12]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah.

[00:28:12]Jeff Frane: Um, and I wasn’t the product manager. Like I was authoring the briefs and then leading the team of the engineers and the product manager to the, you know, to the finished product. But now, I got to learn all the things.

Uh, I got to learn how to do everything. And it, it is been amazing. Um, I consider myself to be pretty darn good at bike geometry now. Um, you know, I’m the one drafting all the bikes. I’m the one doing the mo doing, doing geo. Um, I was doing a lot of the tubing choosing, but I’m finding out that there’s significantly more knowledge than I have in that regard.

And so I’m always all about turning over those things to the best people, you know, who, who, who will get me the best outcome. And so, you know, we’re working with our fabrication partners on that part of it now, but I get to be significantly more involved with product than I ever was at Q, which has been really, really super fun for me.

[00:29:08]Craig Dalton (Host): I bet. So it sounds like, you know, people were coming to you, they were interested in the bike that you were riding and, and showing on your Instagram feed, et cetera. Was there, was there a moment that you sort of decided, Hey, I’ve made six or 10 for people I know I need to really kind of build some infrastructure around this brand, put up a website, get a little bit more structure so I can build a little bit more scale to this business?

[00:29:31]Jeff Frane: well, you know, um, building bikes in the US is really challenging. Um, there’s capacity issues in terms of how many frames we can get made. You can’t really scale up a ton, um, or at least at the level I was at. And more importantly, one of the driving factors for me is working with my friends at the bike shops.

So many of my best friends, uh, own shops and. The US stuff is, is awesome, but it’s hard for them to make margin on it. And so I knew that I wanted to be in business with my friends and I knew that the best way to secure financial stability for my company was going to be to use my connections in Taiwan to have frames made. And luckily I was able to partner up with, um, Leche International Amazing Trading agent.

Um, I could name off a bunch of brands that they work with, but I don’t know if that would be polite, cuz I don’t know if people want that information out there. Um, and we partnered up with them, right? I knew I wanted to do these Taiwanese frames, but I didn’t have the resources to do it and nobody was gonna give me a loan for the money I needed.

But luckily, Because I like to work with my friends, I was able to reach out to my buddy Josh at the Angry Catfish, Josh, uh, and Andy Co-Own Angry Catfish, which is a pretty well known bike shop here in Minneapolis. And they were into it, you know, they were having was pandemic time, so they were having all these issues with their supply chain and they wanted to, they, they, they didn’t really feel like they could depend on anyone in the bike industry.

To supply them. So they were like, hell yeah. What we wanna do is to take more of our future into our own hands as well. And so by owning a bike company, we can make sure that our bike shop has frames to sell, has bikes to sell. And so they were all about it. And that gave me the financial, uh, horsepower to be able to afford to do our first batches of frames in Taiwan.

And we partnered up with the Max Way factory. Max Way is one of the best. One of the, one of the best places to make a bike. Um, their knowledge and depth in the industry is, is just incredible. The quality of their bikes are superb. Um, they’re not the cheapest by any means, but they are really, really great bicycles.

And so now we have this Taiwanese product that we’re able to sell to our dealers at a decent margin where they can make a living and partner, partner with us. And I don’t know, it’s just really cool that our small business. Supports their small business. And it’s the same thing when we work with our fabrication partners here in the US and we work with, um, you know, our designers and we work with our bag makers.

We try to make as much stuff locally as we possibly can. It’s our small business supporting the community, supporting their small business, keeping the money in the wealth in the community, among the culture creators. And that’s become really kind of a rai and detra for us is, um, building, building strong community, and.

Trying to keep as much of the wealth as we possibly can inside this kind of network of friends.

[00:32:36]Craig Dalton (Host): Amazing. So if I’m understanding you correctly, if a customer comes to your website and they’re interested in the bike, they’ve got two paths they can go down. One is kind of working with you on a custom US made frame. Second is either buying from you or from one of your bike shop partners, a production frame that you’ve designed.

[00:32:55]Jeff Frane: Yeah, so we do custom uh, and production here in the us you know, and there’s all shapes to that. Like somebody might say, Hey, I like the custom geo, but I want this and this, this paint job. You know? Um, I’m in the business of saying yes. Like, if you wanna do some stuff, you wanna try something And we haven’t done it.

Like I’m game. Like this is how we ex expand and grow our capability. And so, yeah, pretty much everything’s on the table. Yeah, we have the Taiwan stuff. Um, it’s cool because I feel like we can serve a customer at all levels of their kind of journey through bikes.

Um, where they, where they don’t, I mean, they can leave us if they want.

Like you can buy whatever you want, but they weren’t gonna outgrow us. Cause it’s like, okay, you’re gonna get in with a $2,300 complete Taiwanese bike. Awesome. And then maybe a few years down the line you’re like, you know, I really want, have this idea that I wanna see come to life. And then you order a custom, uh, you know, steel bike from us, uh, that we make here in the USA to your specifications.

And maybe a little later you’re like, oh, you know, I also need, um, you know, a titanium mountain bike. Like, let’s go wild. Like, can you make that? And then the answer is, hell yeah, we can, like nothing would give us the greatest pleasure. So it’s cool cause I’m hoping that customers kind of get in. They, they love their bikes and then they continue growing with us.

[00:34:14]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Gotcha. I love that vision. So on that $2,300 price point, which I think is so amazing, I mean, it’s so often that. We get people on the podcast and the, the bicycles they’re talking about are just unattainable by the majority of the population and you need to start somewhere. So the reason I was asking the question about kind of custom versus production line, the Taiwan Taiwanese lineup, you had to make some decisions there because it wasn’t a customer coming to you saying, I want 50 millimeter tire clearance, or I want this head two bangle.

Tell me about the design of that bike. What’s, who’s the rider that you designed for, and what are some of the attributes of that, of that model?

[00:34:56]Jeff Frane: Yeah, so if we’re talking about the Rambler, which is our Taiwanese made gravel platform, we sell it in two versions with a carbon fork. We call that the SL super light. And then we have the steel fork version that we just call Rambler. Um, that is kind of based on the earth ship as, um, it kind, it borrows heavily from the earth ship.

So in my lineage, as I progressed through the industry, we had the Space Horse, then we had the Cosmic Stallion, and then I created the Earth ship, which was an iter iteration of those works, an evolution of those works. And now we have the Rambler. And so when I, things I like in gravel bikes. I believe that an endurance bike comfortable is fast.

Um, I love a tall, I have a bad back, uh, as we talked about before the podcast. Um, so I like Tall Stack and I’m super stoked that the industry trend is going more and more towards tall stacks because, you know, high-end bikes serving elite athletes, professional racers is freaking ridiculous. Um, you know, most of us who ride even.

Those of us who ride, you know, 10,000 miles a year, we still don’t hold like that riding position for a long period of time. Um, the way a professional can, um, so you know, comfortable is fast. So taller stacks. I like to design our gravel bikes with a relatively quick handling front end. I try to keep the trail number in the low sixties because I want it to be really agile.

Um, I like bottom bracket heights. That are just slightly, they’re slightly lower than a road bike. Um, you know, traditionally, like a touring bike was an 80 mil bottom bracket drop. Uh, with a space horse, we have that cuz we want it to be sportier at 75. Uh, I think the cosmic stallion is 73 and the Rambler hits at 72 with the carbon fork on it.

And I really think that’s a good, uh, position for it to be in. Um, for, you know, keeping it stable on those gravel descents, having it be very confident, inspiring. Uh, we spec a big tire and with big tires come longer, chains stays. Our chains stays are 4 38, uh, which I kind of think is a magic number in terms of still being agile, but giving you a little bit of cush from that rear end.

Um, kind of interesting with the rambler is that the steel fork and the carbon fork have a little bit different geometry. The steel fork needed to be a little longer to clear that big tire. And I’m actually really excited about the change because it makes the, that version of the bike really slick for gnarlier double tracks.

Um, some, you know, single track more, more aggressive off-road terrain as well as it makes it really good for six 50 B conversions. When that conversion, it’s, it’s designed for it. So a six 50 B set up,

[00:37:43]Craig Dalton (Host): And what is, what is for 700 C? What kind of tire clearance were you able to achieve?

[00:37:48]Jeff Frane: uh, a 50 in the rear, and then the fork clears a two, one.

[00:37:51]Craig Dalton (Host): Okay.

[00:37:52]Jeff Frane: You know, I, I mean, to me that’s gravel standard now. Like if you’re not clearing a 50, like you’re off the back.

[00:37:57]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah, totally agree. It’s been interesting, like the journey over the last, at least for me, the last five years to come to that point and see the industry come along and you know, when I first got into it, it was like you had to have two sets of wheels because. If you wanted to get big tires, you had to go down to six 50 B and now not the case.

Right. I can run 700 by 55 on my current bike and that’s, that’s ample, right?

[00:38:21]Jeff Frane: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I love that. Um, like every once in a while, like a, like something that’s really popular, like, I’m gonna use the example like blood stones are really popular the last couple years, right. And I just so happen to be amazingly comfortable. Awesome shoes, like gravel bikes are super popular and they’re also the most versatile, most practical bike you can freaking buy.

Like, it’s spectacular when. The really good, smart thing also becomes the popular thing, cuz that’s not always the case.

[00:38:51]Craig Dalton (Host): Yep. Yeah. The, the idea that we have this one bike in our quiver that can do so many different things and have so many different personalities depending on where we wanna ride, is absolutely what’s drawn me to the sport. There’s no question about it.

[00:39:05]Jeff Frane: Totally. And you know, um, so I designed the Rambler so that it can also flex into bike packing if you want. It’ll fit a, a, a two two or 2 3 6 50 B. And, um, like on the Earthship, which is a, a dedicated gravel race product, um, I have just bottle mounts in the main triangle and a bottle mount underneath the down tube.

Uh, but on the rambler we have three pack mounts on the top of the bottom of the down tubes. A little more versatility there. I don’t have rack mounts on the earth ship because it’s a gravel race bike. But the rambler being, because it’s a little more of an all arounder, will have your rack mounts. Um, you know, all of our bikes have three-pack mounts on them because I think that’s standard internal dynamo routing, you know, um, all the features that I think should, should be on a, on a, on a current modern gravel bike.

[00:39:57]Craig Dalton (Host): All great stuff, Jeff. So if people are interested in finding out more about the brand or ultimately purchasing one of these bicycles, how, where are you encouraging them to go? I know you wanna work with local bike shops whenever possible, but what? Yeah. Tell me about your vision for how you interact with customers.

[00:40:15]Jeff Frane: well, um, you know, we’re working to expand our dealer network. Uh, we’re trying to keep it, we were trying to keep it significantly tighter. Um, but now we’re ready, now that we have a decent amount of inventory from Taiwan, like we’re ready to expand. The reason I wanted to keep it tighter is because I don’t wanna be a crappy supplier.

I don’t wanna open up all these dealers and then not have the product to serve them well.

[00:40:37]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah,

[00:40:38]Jeff Frane: So we’re starting to expand a little bit. It’s tough because people are like, oh, I saw this on your Instagram. Is there a place where I can go try it in my area? And for most of the people right now, the answer is no.

There, there, there isn’t really. Um, you know, I think we have 20 dealers around the country at this point, and then we have some in Canada and Japan as well. So, So it’s a little tough, you know, here in Minneapolis, like Angry Catfish has all of our stuff on the floor and that’s been a really awesome resource for it.

I feel a lot of conversations, uh, you know, of emails and such from, from customers asking about the product, um, it’s kind of handy cuz in a lot of cases I can be like, well, do you, can you write a space horse? Is there somewhere you can go check out a space horse or a cosmic stallion? Um, our bike is not the same geometry as that, but if that feels good to you, This was my previous, this was the previous work.

Check out the new iteration. I dunno if that sounded like a d Was that a jerky thing to say? I hope not much love to, to all this stuff that, you know, we’ve done in the past and much love to all city.

[00:41:43]Craig Dalton (Host): So are you guys holding inventory? Like if someone came to you today and said, I need a rambler,

[00:41:48]Jeff Frane: absolutely, absolutely. Um, you know, the struggle that we’re having a little bit is, uh, we’re offering complete bikes. Which is important and we’re offering complete bike shop bikes to our dealers. Um, cuz you know, it’s one thing to sell a frame to a dealer, but chances are that frame’s just gonna sit there.

Like, people need to, like to need, people need to be able to test ride it and, and see it and touch it. Um, so we’re selling our shops complete bikes as well, and it’s proving a little bit of challenging to put together kits sometimes, but we’re doing, uh, as good of a job as we possibly can.

[00:42:20]Craig Dalton (Host): And then on the custom side, if someone came to you and said, Hey, I want you to build this dream bike for me. What does that timeline look like and what’s sort of the process they go through?

[00:42:27]Jeff Frane: Well, uh, I didn’t answer the first part of your question, which is do we have inventory? Oh, yeah. We, we absolutely do. We have ramblers in stock. We have our bike packing bike Super Tramp. I have earth ships, US made gravel racers in stock ready to jam. Um, those are really interesting because it’s some of the last stuff to come outta Waterford before Waterford closes its doors.

And so if you wanted something from that historic, um, historic place, Um, we’ve got earth ships for you and every time I kind of sell one I’m like, Ooh, there’s one less Waterford,

Mike, like, we’re getting down to the end.

[00:43:00]Craig Dalton (Host): I hope the people who are buying them know that that’s where they were fabricated cuz that is a meaningful origin of that bike.

[00:43:07]Jeff Frane: absolutely. I mean, Waterford is American cycling to me, uh, Richard and his crew there. It’s a legendary place with legendary people. You know, I was fortunate enough to work with his daughter Anna, at All City, uh, who I mentioned earlier. And, um, it’s a huge, huge loss culturally to us and to the American bicycle industry, um, that they’re closing shop, but at the same time, Richard, that’s a freaking well earned retirement and what a legacy he li leaves behind.

So many happy riders, so many great bikes.

[00:43:40]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. If you, if for the listener, if you haven’t heard of Waterford, just do a little Googling and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

[00:43:46]Jeff Frane: Um, to answer your question about timeline, usually takes us about three to four months for a steel or titanium, uh, frame set for a custom. Uh, some of that, you know, we’ve got a pretty good handle on production time. Uh, some of the variability comes with finishing. Uh, you know, we use a number of people depending on if you want a saraco or if you want powder coat, or if you want. Or if you want really, really, really fancy ano, like those are all kind of different vendors to get us that.

[00:44:16]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah.

[00:44:16]Jeff Frane: so there’s a little bit of variability, but typically four months,

[00:44:20]Craig Dalton (Host): Nice. Nice. Anything else that we didn’t cover about the brands that you’d like to share,

[00:44:27]Jeff Frane: man, Craig, um, you know, I, I, I couldn’t be happier with where we are. Um, I get to continue to contribute to the, to the cycling world in some small way. And, you know, I’m super excited about that. Um, I do have something to say though, um, which is this brother. Um, when I trying to figure out how to, how to like, segue into this with, I’m just gonna say it, um, to all the people listening out there, the thing that.

Um, has really changed for me in my career and that has really helped me develop as a human being is this, um, you know, we live in a a, we live in the United States of America. We live in a capitalist society and we all have to work and we all have to hustle, uh, to make, to make life work. And, um, you know, one of the big things that, that, that happened to me, Was that I was so, I loved all city, I loved Q bp.

I was so emotionally connect, interconnected with this thing. And you know, I was Jeff from All City. Like, that was my identity. My work, my job was such a huge part of my identity that when it was time to leave, that it was like this huge crushing, I mean, it ended up being the best thing that could have possibly happened to me, um, because I was able to develop, um, into the human being.

I am, I am today, which is a much healthier. But I had conflated that my work with my value and my identity, right? And, um, so what I want everyone to just to know and to reiterate, like, you’re not your job. You’re not your output. You aren’t how many freaking widgets you made in a day. Um, you’re a beautiful special human being who deserves love.

And you know, for me, part of that deserving love is deserving to ride my bike every day. Because that’s when I feel at, at most, at peace with the world, at most, at peace with myself. Like, that’s what bikes are. Bikes are fucking, bikes are salvation. Pardon of my language. Um, and so I just, I don’t know, like this is like the message that I wanna just tell everyone is that, um, you’re amazing just the way you are.

You don’t have to make anything. You don’t have to produce anything. You don’t have to do anything. Just you being you, um, brings a big, big, big, big, big light into this world and. That I love you so much for everyone out there and, uh, yeah,

[00:46:51]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Thanks brother. I appreciate the sentiment and I appreciate all the, all the good energy you’ve put into the world, into the bike community. I mean, I think we all realize this, that, you know, we’re, we’re. It’s a luxury to be able to ride these great bikes that we ride. It’s a luxury to have the time.

It’s a luxury to have the community and the environment to get out there and do what we do. And for people like you who are putting it out there in good energy and creating brands like wild, I wish you all the success in the world.

[00:47:19]Jeff Frane: Yeah. Well, and thank you so much again for the opportunity to be here. It’s, um, you know, it takes a village. Um, we’re a little brand just trying to make our way in the world. You know, the, the biggest thing for us is like, people just, it’s not that people aren’t willing to choose us. It’s like that people don’t even know we’re an option.

And it’s really hard to build an audience with, like, the way the algorithms are set up. These days. So, you know, opportunities like this to be on the Gravel Ride podcast are, are freaking huge for us.

[00:47:47]Craig Dalton (Host): Yeah. Well, awesome. I appreciate the conversation, Jeff, and it was great to get to know you and we’ll make sure everybody knows how to get in touch with you guys.

[00:47:54]Jeff Frane: Yeah. If, if y’all are looking for, you know, if y’all are looking for bikes, we got ’em. And, uh, I think they’re real nice.

[00:48:01]Craig Dalton (Host): I love it. Thanks, Jeff.

[00:48:03]Jeff Frane: Thank you Craig.

Until next time here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.