Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

NAHBS 2016 poster model and “Nicest Guy in the Industry,” Steve Potts, started his bike career in high school, reinforcing and modifying old steel junkyard bikes in his high school fabrication shop so they wouldn’t break as he pushed them further into the wilderness. By the late 70’s, he was building bikes with Mark Slate and Charlie Cunningham. When they couldn’t find the components to do what they wanted for these new mountain bikes they were developing they developed their own, founding Wilderness Trail Bikes.

Though Steve has built frames throughout his career, he’s really refocused his efforts on his brand in the past ten years. The Type II rigid fork that many thought would go out with suspension, has been retooled for 29in and, most recently, gravel applications. There are also projects in the works for stock steel frames, being made with the help and input of his sons who have been dipping their toes into the family business.

BIKERUMOR: What was the first bike that you made?

STEVE: My very first bike I made in my little shop in Mumford Avenue, where I cut the tubes and everything, was probably in 1979, or something like that. From there I just started building bikes, I didn’t realize anyone would ever buy them ever. I started building bikes with Joe Breeze. Joe and I grew up together.

BIKERUMOR: Your dads knew each other, right?

STEVE: Yes. They built telescopes together. It was pretty cool.

BIKERUMOR: Was it a purely recreational thing?

STEVE: They were both astronomers. They were both really brilliant men, both my dad and Joe’s Dad were incredible. My dad did all the math and everything. He hand-ground his mirrors. I mean, he was brilliant. He would make the tube and the casing and the reflectors and the adjustments, he did everything. He made really sophisticated equipment and he was was so good at it at, he was offered a job at an observatory. He turned it down. It was just too far away. But they did it as a hobby.

Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

We would go up on Mount Tam and we would camp out with our dad, he called them “Star Parties.” We would be up all night long looking at stars through the telescope, looking at all these constellations. My dad would make sail planes. He made life-sized ones, ones that people really get in, but he made model ones that, he called them “Hurricane Specials” and he would put our name and address and phone number on them, and he would get every kid in the neighborhood after spending a week building it, and he’d get us to the very top of Mount Tam, he made such a big- fun big deal out of it. We’d be up there on a really windy day and he’d pitch the thing off the mountain and we would watch it sail out of sight. We did that several times until one time, many months later, we got a telephone call from somebody in Berkeley. One flew all the way from Mt Tam to Berkeley. My dad was a pretty inspirational guy.

BIKERUMOR: How many brothers did you have?

STEVE: There were four boys and one girl.

BIKERUMOR: As a single dad, wow.

STEVE: Yeah. My mom and dad were childhood sweethearts, sandbox sweeties. They got married when they were 15 and 16. My mom unfortunately died at 39, in just the prime of her life. She’d gotten sick. We didn’t know, a flu bug or something, and she went to a new doctor. They said she needed surgery. She said, “Well, let’s take care of it. I have a family to take care of.” I was with her at the doctors as a little kid, hanging on to her dress.

To put it mildly, she had an incompetent doctor- who we believe was on call at a bar. She died from the anesthetic in minutes. Just killed her.

BIKERUMOR: I’m so sorry. That’s so tragic!

STEVE: Yeah, it was a pretty bad scene. I was a little kid when it happened. I was eight. It was just devastating to the whole family. It’s not the kind of thing you bring up trying to find the answers for when you get older. There’s four boys and a girl, all of them very adventurous, my oldest brother was in the Navy. My other brother went in the Marines but he turned out to be a school teacher for 30 years, and a rancher. My older brother, he’s an architect designer and builder, and he’s building homes. I have a sister who is wonderful and she has a wonderful family.

And I have a brother that was just 11 months older than me, and he passed away in 1990. He had cancer- he was struggling and he took his own life. Another devastating blow to the family, but you just never know what kind of pain people are in. He was fisherman. He had his own boat and his captain’s license and all that. He’d adventure all over the world fishing. Very talented guy, pretty awesome guy.

BIKERUMOR: So much tragedy, Steve. I had no idea.

STEVE: It’s part of life. I can tell you that the one good thing about it- my dad told me, as a kid, that you should never let any of your suffering go to waste.

BIKERUMOR: That’s wonderful advice.

STEVE: When I got a little older, I ended up having to raise my little kids myself since they were little kids, little babies. And I didn’t realize it until shortly after it happened that me losing my mom as a little kid prepared me to be the best dad in the world. I knew exactly what my boys needed and I made them a 100% priority in my life to raise them the best I could, and I look back and I don’t regret a minute of it.

BIKERUMOR: I can’t imagine being a builder and a single dad.

STEVE: The thing is that there are only so many hours in the day. And it’s just overwhelming, you know? I’ve always really worked alone. We lived out in the country. I raised my kids. I was sort of in my own little world. I over extend myself. And I get loaded with orders. It’s very hard to manage your time. I end up working seven days a week. It’s too much. With the help of my son now who is in college to be an engineer, he’s trying to streamline it so I can be more realistic.

It’s really nice to have Daniel’s help, and Daniel’s got one more year left to get his Engineering degree. He was ready to quit school and come to work here. I said, “Hey, Daniel, you’re so close. You’re a straight A student. Besides that, you’ll be one of the few real engineers in the bike business.” He knows SolidWorks and he’s so good at math and all the technical stuff and he’s good at making tools, he’s just really got a really well balanced view of it. I’m just a seat of my pants guy. But I didn’t have as much of a formal education. Daniel’ and his brother Brennan have been building things in the shop since they were little babies. Brennan’s a certified food grade welder. He can fabricate anything. He’s been coming in and practicing. The older brother really wants the little brother to work together. They are 20 and 24. Daniel, the older son, is saying things like, “Well Dad, Brennan’s not ready yet, but he’ll come around.”

He’d love to work with his little brother. Brennan has been- he probably just watched me too much. He can do anything, make anything. He’s a smart kid. He did well in school. He just knows how to get it done. They just kind of blow me away. They are both really super talented.

BIKERUMOR: Are nudging them this way? Is this just happening? Is this a secret hope that this happens, that they join you?

STEVE: I think it’s every dad’s dream to have their kids want to do something with them, you know? And I told both the boys, “Look it, you guys, I want you to do what you want to do. What I really want is for you to be happy.”

BIKERUMOR: Who is the best welder out of the three?

Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

STEVE: Between me and the boys? Oh, definitely Dad. Well, they don’t have the years that I have. I’ve built 5000+ bikes. And that’s welding every one. And they’re really good, they aren’t welding bikes yet, but they come in and they go through literally boxes of titanium and steel practicing. Brennan is going to help me weld a line of steel bikes we’re doing right now. Daniel got me to start building steel bikes again.

BIKERUMOR: No kidding!

STEVE: Yeah, we’re doing a road bike called the Steelhead which I made years and years ago. And we’re making a 27.5+ steel bike that’s going to be a stock bike, we’re making it in three sizes. We’re making the road bike in five sizes. We want to do it so we can keep some consistency in the company. All the other stuff, all the custom work is all titanium- I do all of those. Daniel helps, he does the mitering and the machining. He does an absolutely beautiful job. When he’s here, we just kick butt. It’s really fun.

BIKERUMOR: That’s just so cool! I love it.

STEVE: I have to tell you. My kids have been a big joy in my life. I think being a single dad really softened me up in a way that is hard for a lot of dads in that, like he’s going to make some mistakes. It’s okay. What else can I leave him? I’ve been very patient with them and they really respect that.

Daniel, about a year ago, he said, “Hey dad, I gotta ask you if I can do something and just tell me yes or no. I want to make a bike all by myself and I don’t want you to say a word.” He says, “I want you to make all the mistakes I can possibly make. And I don’t want you to stand over my shoulder and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I’ll just use crummy tubing, and I’m gonna screw it up. It’s just for practice.”

I said, “Hey go for it.” It was really hard for me to resist. “Oh! Don’t do that!”

“Dad, dad, let me just make a mess, okay?”

He did it, he made a huge mess. And he took things apart and it put them back together and he made them again. And then I made him miter his first bike, and I went “Oh my god this thing is perfect.”

And he looks at me and say, “Dad, I’m going to tell you something if you hadn’t let me make all those mistakes myself, I wouldn’t know what you were talking about.” As he gets older, I actually trust him more. He really gets it.

BIKERUMOR: I’m excited to see what this looks like in a few years.

STEVE: I am too. All the guys in the area are like, “We’re excited to see your kids kinda taking over so you can go fishing once in awhile.” I’m like the lone wolf here.

I think for the boys, they could go to work with some engineering firm or do something else. But if you can steer your own ship and you have a place where you know, hey, I can make stuff and do things, and if I have a dream about making something, I can make it. The reason I’m telling you this is I feel very strongly about leaving them something where they can steer their own vocation. They may want to make something else in addition to building bikes. They may have something that pops into their heads in the middle of the night.

As tough as it is, it’s very liberating to be able to come in here and draw things and create things and go to the drawing table or go to your SolidWorks computer program and machine it on the tools or weld it. It’s a cool thing and not enough people in the world do that anymore. All the machine shops and trade schools have closed.

BIKERUMOR: So, to take a bit of a step back… a big part of your history is your work with Charlie Cunningham and Mark Slate with WTB. You didn’t just start building bikes, there’s this whole other endeavor that you created and developed simultaneously out of necessity.

STEVE: What happened was, in my early bike building career, Mark started helping me on the bikes. He’d build bikes and he started working in the shop a little bit. And Charlie was over building his aluminum bikes and we were all friends and we did riding and stuff.

BIKERUMOR: Whenabouts was this?

Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

STEVE: That was probably ‘79-’80 or so? About 36 years ago. So what happened was I remember Charlie was making his one-off roller cam brakes and he made some hubs out of some old Hi-Es? We were all talking about what was available out there. Oh man, there were just so few parts available. There was just nothing. We just matched stuff together the best we could. It’s so long ago I’m forgetting the parts we even used.

We ended up making some hubs together. How we did it was we divided up the labor. Like, I would take the hub shells. Charlie would make the axles. Mark would help with assembly, things like that. We thought, “We’ll make like ten of them.”

BIKERUMOR: You were building these components because there just wasn’t anything for what you wanted to do.

STEVE: No. There was like a Mafac cantilever brake. What was the French crank? The TA crank. It was just impossible to get parts. The hubs were like 125mm at the time and it wasn’t really wide enough to get the tires in there with the chain line. We started making stuff and it kind of blossomed from there. We were making some brakes for our bikes. We made some stem parts. One thing after another. Can you make a couple extra hubs for my bikes? Somebody would say, would you make something like this? And it sort of snowballed. Next thing you know we’re making parts like crazy.

We started this company called Wilderness Trail Bikes. It was Mark and Charlie and I. And we had a lot of fun. We actually made some really cool things. At one time, we were possibly the largest licencor of intellectual property in the bike industry. We worked with Suntour and Specialized- we put Specialized on the map with with the tire designs. The Ground Control is the best selling tire in the world. It all started snowballing. All the money, we actually put back into the company. I don’t think any of us really took much money out of the company.

Long story short, we did bike designs for Trek and grease with Finish Line and brakes with Suntour. We were just going- really cranking and having fun and building bikes. We always wanted to make American made things in our shop and then of course it grew and we started doing OE and things were made overseas, but we continued to have American made products, so we wanted to always have that. As time went on, we got a business partner, who also happened to be an attorney, and that- changed things dramatically.

Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

The long and short story of it, without getting into details, it did go in a different direction. Charlie and I really remained true to our core values. And Mark and Patrick, the other partner, kind of wanted to go another direction- it just wasn’t the direction Charlie and I wanted to go. It was always a two-to-two deadlock at decision making. Charlie and I sold our interest in everything and basically walked away. It was heartbreaking after 27 years of hard work in that company, Built it from the ground up from our little garage. Heartbreaking, but, it did a lot of great things, a lot of great memories.

BIKERUMOR: A lot of to be proud of, certainly. There was such a massive need, and it’s not like large component or bike companies were taking the genre seriously off the bat. You facilitated the components an entire movement.

STEVE: Yeah, and we actually had no idea, Anna, what we had. We didn’t know. I remember being in my little garage in Mumford Ave. I was so broke. My rent was $35 a month. I was building bikes not knowing if anybody would even buy them, and when they did I was really surprised. I had a water faucet in the front right hand side of the shop. I had a telephone and I had an old kerosene heater and I lived in the shop. I would ride my bike down to the Schwinn shop to use the bathroom.

I remember one day Junzo Kawai the owner and president of Suntour drove up in a nice big black rental car with a bunch of engineers, they just walked down the driveway to my shop and they wanted to see what was going on. One of the engineers says, “Can I use your restroom?” And I went into a complete full on panic. I said, “Yes! Yes! Just wait one moment!” And I ran in and I called John Lewis at the Schwinn shop. I said, “John I’m in a horrible bind! Mr. Kawai is here from Suntour and they need to use the bathroom! Can I show them your shop so they can use the bathroom?” “Oh yeah, come on down.” So I told them, “Yeah, we’re going to go to the bathroom and we’re going down to the Schwinn shop too!” We got in the rental car and hurried down there. They got to use the bathroom and I got out of my bind. It was a fun visit, but I was a little stressed.

BIKERUMOR: You were sleeping out of the shop too, right?

STEVE: For about two years I slept in the shop, yeah.

BIKERUMOR: Wow.

STEVE: Yeah. It was hard. It’s a horrible way to live. But that’s youth for you. You know, you can get through anything. It’s interesting when you look back, it really took all of our personalities to make that business go. Just the different talents that we each had, they were very complimentary. Nowadays, business seems to be more about a formula for where you’re going to work overseas and what your profit margins are. In the old days, we had real relationships and talents and skills and we all really worked hard together. It was a great experience.

BIKERUMOR: In addition to the component business, you were building bikes throughout, right?

STEVE: WTB became a pretty large original equipment supplier, with tires and saddles and everything, what it is is that you can’t really have a bike company and supply OE stuff because trying to sell to your competitors. So what we did is we made enough bikes to make premiere bikes to showcase all our parts but not enough to threaten any big bike company. I think the most bikes I made one year was 300, and that’s still pretty small. You can sell to companies like GT that were selling hundreds and thousands of bikes- they didn’t care about you. As a matter a fact, they actually wanted it because we would go to the trade shows and we’d be showing beautiful bikes with all the parts on it- it kind of lended credibility in a lot of ways. You could go out and ride and test and build things and kind of match everything. You weren’t just a component maker, you were making complete bikes so you knew the whole picture. It lended credibility because it was a high end image and high end product all made in America so it was really cool.

BIKERUMOR: It’s really hard to do components at the forefront of everything with a market and product that’s evolving that dramatically. Every six months it’s different. I could see how you would have to have a bike brand at that point because that’s the only way everything could move quickly enough. The brand of bikes that were being produced, that was Wilderness Trail Bikes?

STEVE: We made the WTB Phoenix. We made the Bon Tempe. I still made a handful of my own bikes here and there. Not only did I make bikes there, in my machine shop we were making components and repairing components and making tooling. It was a good deal.

BIKERUMOR: Totally a good deal. So after you sold your interest, which was mid to late ‘00s, am I right? You said you refocused your efforts on your personal brand. Can you talk about that a bit? How did that work?

STEVE: What happened, kind of in the midst of all that, the breakup of WTB, I had two little baby boys. Daniel and Brennan that I talked about, and their mom who I married and I was madly in love with her- she sort of had a midlife crisis and left our family. Now, she’s doing really well, but looking back it was a heartbreak. And it’s a heartbreak to her that she did it. She’s talked to us about that.

BIKERUMOR: Wow. So your wife is gone… and you lose WTB all at once.

STEVE: It was like a double divorce. And I was heartbroken. And quite honestly, it did happen all at once.

BIKERUMOR: Jeez, Steve, how did you wake up in the morning?

STEVE: It was so hard. I told you a little earlier about how losing my mom prepared me to be a good dad… I got up every morning and I made my boys the focus of life, which was that they had a clean house, they had clean clothes, they had consistency, they had somebody to do their homework at night, somebody to show up to their games and see their teachers every day. I didn’t miss anything. Every school project and school field trip. And while doing that, of course losing the business and going through a divorce, I went into debt.

What happened was I ended up getting up at three in the morning, going up in the shop, welding bikes, getting the boys up at 6:30 or 7, getting them off to school. Going back to school and picking them up at 3pm, then do whatever we needed to. We’d do homework right away. We’d make dinner. We’d read stories and they’d go to bed. I’d go back to the shop at 8:30 at night and work until midnight. There were days where I started milling lumber and doing sheet lumber work, whatever I could do to pay the bills. It was a day to day deal. There was some days I didn’t even know how I was going to put food on the table. It was brutal.

So that’s kind of what happens. I reinvented myself and at a certain point I reestablished my bike building business to a point where that’s just what I was doing. So that’s where it’s at right now.

BIKERUMOR: How long were you building on your own before WTB?

STEVE: So I started doing my junk yard bikes a little bit in high school. I graduated in ‘71.

BIKERUMOR: Junkyard bikes. I love it. Can you tell me about some of these bikes? It sounds great.

STEVE: They were all Rollfasts, Schwinns, Colsons- anything that was old. I have a picture of one where I got an old piece of leather at Mount Carmel’s Thrift Shop, and I redid the saddle in leather, I pinstriped the bike and painted it and I welded it where I knew it would break eventually because I put gussets in. I put 105 spokes on and a five speed. It weighed 54 pounds. And it was the coolest bike I ever had and I put a milllion miles on that thing. That was what I called my junkyard bike.

Then what happened is I started building bikes in my garage, my little two car garage, I built bikes for probably two years- maybe three years before we actually established WTB. You know, I was building bikes, but obviously we needed parts. That became an integral part of it. I continued to build bikes, continued to make WTB parts- because I had all the lathes and mills- I was cranking out WTB parts. A lot of them. Axles and end caps and hub parts. I was doing that while building bikes. And then WTB sort of got larger and larger, and then I continued to build bikes and then once WTB moved into a bike building, I moved my bike building operation into the same building.

I had to travel a lot going to trade shows and talking to people, but I wasn’t good at going to Giant and drinking and doing all that stupid stuff. I’d rather weld a bike up. My interest mainly lied in fabricating stuff at home, in the United States. So even though WTB had a huge OE business and all that, I still continued to build bikes up to the time I left.

BIKERUMOR: You’re emphasis was more on the physical production.

STEVE: Physical product, solving problems, helping with the design stuff.

BIKERUMOR: Was it more about the frames or the components for you?

STEVE: What did I enjoy doing more? I enjoyed it all, actually. Everything that you made, everything that you designed- let’s say we designed something together, this is the kind of beauty of the relationship- let’s say somebody came up with a good idea. It sorts of starts to manifest in certain ways. The idea starts to grow, but when it comes to manufacturing something, you have to have a particular eye on things so that you can actually make it in a really safe, functional way that’s cost effective and aesthetically beautiful, and that’s kind of where I came in. Charlie would design something, and he’d come up with a really great idea, but his execution, even if it would be a great product, wasn’t as clean or simple as it could be. What I was saying earlier is that our energies worked really well together because I had a knack for finishing out something really nice. If you look at Charlie’s bikes and you look at my bikes, his bikes are absolutely perfectly functional and brilliant but they’re rough looking, and people really like that look, by the way, but if you look at one of my bikes, they’re finished beautifully.

Photo used with permission of Steve Potts
Photo used with permission of Steve Potts

BIKERUMOR: They are very clean.

STEVE: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean that Charlie’s bikes are any less of a bike than mine, but his emphasis was never really in the aesthetics. He didn’t care if it looked like a beer can as long as it worked perfectly. And I’m not saying that to disparage Charlie, his bikes are beautifully made and strong, but he’d be like, “Yeah, it works great.” That’s where he ended. And then what happened is Charlie and I both really enjoyed our relationship because we have that magic together where he can come up with something and I can execute it in a way that’s like, wow, that’s really cool. Like I said, everybody wants to take credit for this and that, but really we’re standing on each other’s shoulders. We’ve all been helping each other for years.

I didn’t invite the bicycle. Thank god somebody did because I’m having a lot of fun with it. You know what I’m saying? You hear people say “I did this and this, and this is my contribution.” But we’re really standing on the last guy’s best idea. All we’re trying to do is make it better, so it works better. Obviously now when you see these kids riding these bikes at these Red Bull things, “My god, we’re asking these things to do so much.”

BIKERUMOR: Are you still excited about bikes in the same way you were when you started? What gets you excited about what you do now?

STEVE: I am excited about building bikes, and I’m always excited about building a better bike every day. It’s sort of a state of mind. It’s an attitude. And quite frankly, if anybody thinks they’ve mastered something, they’re in serious trouble, because every day I’m trying to improve every process I have. And for me, I’m just going to say it, we grew up poor and no one’s going to cheat me out of it. I grew up watching my dad make everything. He made my mom’s wedding ring. He made tools, he made telescopes, he made bows and arrows. When we needed something, he made it. When he needed a table saw, he bought an old saw at the thrift store for $3 and turned it into a table saw with a picnic bench. I know money is necessary. It would be wonderful to have a bunch of it, but it’s never been my goal. I’ve never said, yes, this is my goal, I’m making money.

I really feel fortunate, Anna, that I love just to make stuff. If you make something that’s useful and purposeful and it improves somebody’s health, like a bicycle or life saving equipment or whatever, you go, “Well, that really made a difference.” I’d hate to say it, I’m just kind of a simple guy and I love to make things. I have wonderful relationships with my customers, that I’d have to say is a big part of it.

Photo by Steve Potts
Photo by Steve Potts

The only thing you get to leave behind that’s truly lasting is your relationships and memories that you leave with your kids and your friends and the people that knew you. You can have a bunch of money and a bunch of stuff, but eventually it rusts and goes away. I really feel- here I am at the shop and I’m 62 years old, and I’m like, “What am I doing? I’m still here busting 14 plus hours a day,” and then I go, “You know, it’s fun!”

BIKERUMOR: So what are you excited about bike-wise right now? What are you bringing to the show that you’re excited about?

STEVE: Well, I’m bringing a lot of gravel bikes because I developed a mini Type-II fork. It’s a fork that originally Charlie designed and I really put it into production and made it a really functional beautiful fork. I’ve made probably 1000+ of those for mountain bikes. And I just now developed one for gravel grinders. All new tooling, all new tubing. And it’s absolutely beautiful for the bikes I’m doing now. Having a road bike with the capacity for larger tires and rugged riding is really taking off because people really want functional and they want something that’s efficient and functional.

I’m also making 27.5 plus bikes. We call them “Camp and Lamp” bikes. People are putting big racks on them, packing their tents on them and their little stove. I’m noticing a lot of people don’t have a lot of time and or money to go on big vacations, so a lot of my buddies are going, “Hey this weekend, we’re going to drive up to the coast and ride our bikes up this mountain and we’re going to pack out for one night, and we’re bringing spaghetti and a couple of beers, a light, a tent, and a sleeping bag. They pack it all on their bike, go out there, look at the moon, and have a great time. You know, you just gotta do more of that stuff, and I think that 27.5 plus bike, the mountain camper bike, is an awesome way to go have fun from your house and have a good time and they are just a gas.

BIKERUMOR: Have you done this camping?

STEVE: I haven’t done it on the new bike because I haven’t had time to get out of the shop. When I was younger, I absolutely lived on my bike. I would take a piece of tape and rope and wrap my sleeping bag on it and I would camp for days. I’d just be gone. I’ve done it my whole life. I’ve done some really cool trips. I did a New Zealand trip a few years ago. Australia, Canada, and around the US. One of the dreams that I have is when the boys take over, I can go one more- the things I want to do do is just jump on a train and take my bike and ride back as far as I want, and just go. Just go. A year and a half ago, I did a part of the continental divide trail. I did a couple days on it. I’d like to just go, this summer I’m going to take off a week and ride a part of the trail and just have fun. So I kind of look forward to that. I’m totally inspired. I love to fly fish. I like to be places where there’s water, streams, and a place to ride my bike. That’s all I need, really.

BIKERUMOR: I like how you have this plan to spend more time on a bike and in a stream.

STEVE: I just hope I stay healthy enough to be able to do that until these kids kind of come online here.

BIKERUMOR: Come on, kids.

STEVE: Gear up, man.

BIKERUMOR: My last question: what’s the advice that you give to the kid wants to grow up to be Steve Potts?

Photo by Todd Pickering
Photo by Todd Pickering

STEVE: First, I think they need to follow their passions, but to come with terms with very early on that it won’t always be easy, that it is hard work and you have develop a really healthy attitude about life. It’s really hard these days, you have to buy equipment…. Learn how to live within your means, work really hard, don’t get discouraged, and be as honest and practical as you can honestly be in your lead times and all that. Try not to over commit yourself. You have to be really careful to set really firm realistic expectations of what you can do.

Do a really good job, be realistic, try not to get too involved with chasing around trends because they come and go. And just be really solid in your work and your design and the things that you make and it always helps, of course, if you ride a bike because it’s a reflection of what’s needed out there.

I’d say just do it and do a really good job. Be honest. Work hard. And be respectful to people. I would say give people much grace as we’ve all been given in our lives.

BIKERUMOR: I love how you talk about not chasing trends. I’m a big fan of rigid mountain bikes. I was looking at your 2012 show bike because there was an interview with you discussing it. “This is one of the best mountain bike forks.” Talk about not chasing trends…

STEVE: I thought that fork would die when suspension came out and I kind of was going to let it die. And people said, “No you can’t! It’s the most awesome rigid fork out there!” I’ve been making it for 36 years now. I made new tooling and I revived it and I can’t keep up, really.

The trends go “Oh, I got a new bike and it has 14in of travel.” You know, all those guys usually come back around. They want a really light efficient bike and you know what it’s like to get on a really simple clean bike. We don’t all have to go 80mph down a rock ridge. Sometimes you just want to go riding and you want to do a cross country ride and if it gets completely hairy you can just get off and walk or just go slow.

The way I put it is if you’re going to do a bike ride and it’s 100% from point A to point B, you want a bike that’s designed to enjoy not just the 10% of the rugged and fast downhill that’s exhilarating and exciting because now you have 90% of your ride that’s really just lightweight cross country and you’re carrying a bike that’s 15lbs too heavy with too much suspension. You want a bike that’s going to give you 75% or 80% enjoyment for your whole ride. Not just 10%, like, “Yeah! This is the most awesome bike and it’s so rad and I went down this hill at 80mph and blew by everybody!” It’s like, yeah but the thing doesn’t climb well and it’s a slug on the road.

I design a bike that you can ride from point A to B and you’re going to enjoy 80 or 90% of its ride all the time. And if you get to some big drop or some rocky thing that’s loaded with bowling balls, you can get off and walk or go slow, but you’re still going to enjoy your bike. You’ve gotta look up once in awhile and slow down and smell the roses. Who cares if you don’t go as fast as Joe Blow? It’s really just my philosophy these days. It just is.

StevePottsBicycles.com

20 COMMENTS

  1. I was lucky enough to have Steve build me a steel road frame eight years ago and its hands down the best riding bike I’ve had in 25+ years of riding and racing. A real master! Terrific piece.

  2. What a brilliant interview. I’ve always admired Steve Potts but his story sheds whole new light on what he has achieved. What a man. And he does immaculate welding.

  3. I remember stopping by Steves garage with a friend in the mid 80s, asking if he would build me a mt bike tandem. He had a tandem which he offered to have us try out to see if we liked it. We thought we may do it at a later date, but ended up buying an off the shelf Ritchey Mt bike tandem at Pt Reyes bikes. We needed it soon for a ride we had planned.
    http://drewsminiblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/early-ritchey-tandem.html
    Steve Potts bikes are absolutely beautiful. His brass fillets are awesome, as is his welding. I like the idea of riding my bike to the trails, and I don’t mind walking thru the really rough stuff. Some places are better experienced when hiked anyways. It’s nice to know that steel (non-suspended) mt bike forks have not died out.

  4. I find it curious that cycling seems to bring certain groups out of the woodwork. Two astronomers as dads and I believe that’s what Klein is doing now after leaving cycling. Well, telescopes anyway. Great interview.

  5. What a great interview. I have spoken with Steve a few times about my old WTB Phoenix, and he is one of the nicest, most genuine, and passionate people I have ever encountered. Just a stand up guy!

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