US Editor Daniel Dunn had the opportunity to have a nice long chat with new Easton Cycling owner Chris Tutton. Tutton rescued Race Face a few years back from bankruptcy after spending years growing up with the brand. He’s now forging ahead with big plans for the new, bigger company. All that, and headsets rattling loose in the early Whistler days.

Race Face and Easton owner Chris Tutton aboard his Rocky Mountain Altitude. Photo: Sterling Lorence.
Race Face and Easton owner Chris Tutton aboard his Rocky Mountain Altitude. Photo: Sterling Lorence.

What’s your background and then specifically in cycling?

I grew up in Whistler, between Whistler and the North Shore of Vancouver. I got out of high school and worked in Whistler for a couple seasons and then through some friends heard about an opportunity to work at Rocky Mountain bicycles in their component division which at the time was called Race Face components. This was in 1993, September ’93 I started I think. Yeah I started packing boxes, phoning dealers and shipping products, and that was my first role there. At the time Rocky Mountain was designing bicycles that needed a better quality of component, they didn’t have cranks that were holding up, didn’t have product that was holding up. There was a designer by the name of Bryn Johnson that now works for Sram and Bryn started working on the original products. Things took off from there and I was hired shortly thereafter to well, do everything, from shipping to sales. I mean we were really really small. We’re talking inside Rocky, there were three people that did Race Face stuff.

Ha ha, that’s funny I worked at the bike shop in Pittsburgh right around that time and I was probably selling some of your product that you had shipped yourself.

Wow, that’s crazy I remember when Inter Bike had an East Coast show in Philadelphia and the Syncros guys would make fun of me because they had a great big booth and all I had was a little table with banner on it.

So that tells a little story in itself. You have a long presence at Race Face. How or why did you end up purchasing them and then why Easton?

I’ve worked with Race Face for very long time obviously and we grew Race Face from next to nothing to, well you know, a fairly decent brand in global cycling. And at that time I was fairly young and I invested some money with the old owners of Race Face and then about 2007 maybe 2008 I really had a disagreement with how they were running the business. So at that point I left, I quit. I said I’m out of here and went to work for Easton cycling and Easton hired me to be the director of OEM sales. So when I left in about September of 2008. About 18 months later unfortunately they had basically gone bankrupt. So you say why purchase Race Face? At that point I had been gone roughly 2 years and obviously had a lot of sweat equity in the brand. I had been around the brand my whole professional life and I just didn’t want to see it go away. I obviously knew that there was a lot of great product, a lot of great people, and we could certainly salvage it So yeah, so I did.

And then with Easton it was sort of a different way that it came about. Bell Riddell Giro sort of decided that being in components and being in wheels wasn’t what they really wanted to do.They wanted to focus on helmets. There was a real lack of focus around the Easton brand inside their group. So in November I went to see Terry Lee who’s the CEO of the group there, who I have a huge amount of respect for and I know really well through my time at Easton, and I said, “Well, what are we going to do, are we gonna fix this thing, are we gonna work on it, do you want to grow it, what’s going on? Or are you going to sell it.” And he said “Well you know it’s just not in our core stream of what we want to do.” And I said, “Well, I’d be interested in buying it.” And so we’ve started working in November on it and finally made it happen, it took a little bit longer than I thought it would but it’s all come together now. So obviously there is some big synergies with myself and Race Face and Easton. We share some admin duties now, but both have facilities in Taiwan, both have facilities in North America, they share a lot of customers, so there are lots of great business synergies and I really just thought we could put a package together that worked for everybody.

So will the Easton name remain and how to differentiate between the other existing Easton brands?

Good question, and the Easton name will definitely remain. Easton is an iconic name in cycling. Easton has been in cycling for over 20 years with multiple Tour de France wins, world championships, and UCI downhill wins.It’s a long history and pedigree that Easton has in cycling, so no interest on my part in changing that.

So, I’ve kept the Easton design team intact in California. The Race Face design team is here in Vancouver, so, just by geography, you’re going to get a different organic process on design. You know, Easton definitely is on the road and the cross country side, but growing on the all mountain side, whereas, being based a North Shore, Vancouver based company, Race Face has been cued into the cross country and free ride. So I think there’s lots of room in the market to differentiate the product and still be able to hold healthy pieces of the market.

The two brands will co-exist, But sure, if the market says we need a 740 bar in a certain rise, and we need a 760 bar in a certain rise, we probably won’t do them both in the same brand, so what we’re trying to do is make ourselves more valuable to the consumers and the bike shops. I think that clearly, we can share technology, we can share all sorts of stuff, which makes us a stronger company as a group.

As far as the other Easton sporting groups (hockey, baseball, basketball), I know that part has been sold to the Bauer group, a huge sporting conglomerate. And hockey has been sold to a private equity group.

Any kind of big changes happening very quickly or down the road?

Certainly, we’re amalgamating two big companies, there will be some changes. We’re keeping marketing and engineering separate, but everything else is going to be shared. We’ll be sharing administration, and all of our back end, and wow, that’s a pretty big one to swallow out of the gate, but looking down the line, we’re looking at carbon crank projects for Easton, and other things for Race Face. So, we’ll definitely be sharing technology back and forth.

So, unfortunately, it sounds like some jobs will go away?

Well, no, not really. Interestingly enough, because Bell Sports was a shared interest sports business, we didn’t take any of their accounting people, we didn’t take any R&D, so, nobody lost a job, we’ve actually added 12 new jobs overall. And because Bell Sports is still a big company, those people all still have lots of duties, but now with us, we had to add a few people in purchasing, to accommodate buying more raw product. So yeah, we’re growing internally.

Will you remain in the “Dome” (a building where Bell Giro is housed) in Scott’s Valley, or even in Scott’s Valley, CA?

No, next week (happening by now) we’re moving into a 5,000 sq.ft. building just down the road in Scott’s Valley, so we’re our own office, our own entity, all of our engineers, our testing and our wheel service for North America. Sure, in reality, it would have been easiest to just move everything to Vancouver. But, we thought about it. And first of all, we want to retain people. You know, moving people, with families, across borders, moving anytime is never easy. So, first and foremost, we wanted to retain the talent that we had. And two, Scott’s Valley is such a hub of the bike biz, and such a riding mecca, we thought, what a better place to keep things, they’re already in place. So now we have riding here on the North Shore of Vancouver, British Columbia, and now, Santa Cruz, California. Hah, those are not two bad places to base your cycling business. But hey, if was totally up to me, I’d put everything in Whistler, but not everyone wants to listen to me (laughs).

Is it a big deal for things to be “Made in Canada”, sort of the way it is to be “Made in the USA” for Americans?

Yeah, it’s a point, but honestly, it’s more about being able to turn the best possible, quality products around quickly for our consumers. We can make product changes, we can develop product faster here than a lot of our competitors would in Asia. If I wanted to develop a new carbon crank in Asia, the lead time, the tooling, everything I needed to do, would probably add a year to the project. But here, my engineers sit three feet from the carbon presses, they’re just on the other side of the door. We can prototype here, we can make change, we have our full testing lab here. So I think it’s more productivity than anything. Certainly there’s a quality aspect, we make excellent, high end, quality product, but it’s also productivity.

Sure, if I’m holding two products, one made in Canada, one made in the United States, those are the two things I’m buying over ones made in Taiwan any day of the week. I’m patriotic to both the US and Canada (laughs) but with that being said, it’s less about that, and more about just being able to turn high quality product around quickly.

So, since you hinted at it, when it comes time to produce carbon cranks, will that happen in Canada?

Oh yeah, it will.

What else might be coming down the line from you, from either brand?

We have some new product launches happening at EuroBike, Easton has some new carbon wheels coming. We have development going full steam for a carbon road crank for Easton and three new carbon wheel sets for Race Face. We have a whole bunch of new product coming down the pipe.

What bikes are in your garage right now?

Hah, that’s a long list. On the road side, I have a Kona Red Zone, wchi is a full SRAM Red bike, I’ve got a Cervelo R5ca, which is my favorite bike of all time, hah, that sits in my living room, that doesn’t go in the garage, yeah, that’s a full Di2 bike, that’s my go to weapon, I love it! On the mountain side, I’ve got a Rocky Mountain Altitude 27.5 that I LOVE, and I just got a Santa Cruz Bronson that hasn’t shown up yet, it’s coming!

Ok, what about any kind of fond memories involving bikes?

Well, I grew up in Whistler, so I could give you a bunch of instances of skiing and biking. When I was 13, I worked at Blackcomb, before there was any lift access (for bikes), and I had a Rocky Mountain Hammer, and we used to duct tape the top tube and hang it on the chairs and take it up, and we’d bomb down the fire roads. Which was always interesting, because you’d always have to stop at the mid station and tighten up your headset with a wrench cause it would vibrate loose. It was brutal. You probably remember those days well. (I do) But I always think back to those times, working at Whistler/Blackcomb from 13-18, every summer, sort of gives you a different perspective of life.

How did you end up living there?

My Dad built this little tiny A-frame cabin when he was going to University and he still lives there to this day. My Mom lived in Vancouver, so I sort of commuted back and forth, but I was definitely in Whistler most of the time! But you do have to remember, Whistler was nothing back then. No one was there in the summer. It was all rigid forks, so it was tricky at times. But, I could work in Whistler, that’s just how it was in my family, even as a teenager. You had to work.

Speaking about social media, and the life of the “digital brand”, how do things get pushed forward in regards to Easton and Race Face?

I think it gives you a direct conduit to your consumer. One of the things that I find so interesting, is when I read any of the reviews, is that I love to read the comments, it gives you direct consumer feedback. Which is something that we’ve never had access to before. We can now design and release a new product, then push it out to 50, or 70 thousand Facebook followers, and get an immediate reaction. Something that we could have never have done back in the “old days”, when you were lucky to get a 2% response in 6 months, now, we can get a 20% response in two HOURS. It just gives you so much more powerful information that we never had access to before. And, I think it helps us design better products, and to give our customers what they want. And it also gives you a great big global perspective, we have customers dropping in online from France, the UK, from South America, it’s really cool, it’s quite a community.

Does Race Face and Easton have plans to grow, on a sponsorship level, specifically in terms of Enduro racing?

We do. We love the Rocky Mountain team, we just entered into a deal with Pivot, we’re working with Evil. Being a small manufacturer, we’re not going to get into the big teams, and sponsoring them ourselves, but we love doing it on more of a grassroots level, based on feedback we’ve received from our customers. We want to support the guys that are already using our products in the field. You know, in today’s time, if the two big guys, SRAM and Shimano, want any team, they can just buy ‘em. And I can’t compete with that. I just can’t. And I don’t think it’s the right thing for my brand to do that anyways. Quite frankly, I’d rather help out the guy that’s the weekend warrior, that’s going to get two races in this year, if he’s lucky. Those are the guys that we really love as ambassadors.

What else?

I just want to say, both for Race Face and Easton, we’re having a great couple of years, we’ve had huge support from the marketplace. We’re just really stoked to be here and to be growing like we are. The bike business is never an easy business to be in, but hey, we’re in it, and I love it.
We can’t wait for the Enduro World Series to be in Whistler, we’re so pumped for it. We have a new event trailer that will be showing up at that race. We’ve never had that before, so we’re just really excited to have that and show it off, and take it to lots of events.

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