They Keep It Rolling: A Day With Pedro’s

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The matching soul patches were short-lived. © Natalia McKittrick

The matching soul patches were short-lived. © Natalia McKittrick

by Natalia McKittrick

Even if you have never entered a bicycle race in your life, you probably know that it doesn’t take a Boonen to jump a couple of gears up, but it does take a hell of a Cancellara to keep those gears rolling to deliver you into the welcoming embrace of the podium girls.

Pedro’s, a name associated with the intrinsic smell of bike lube, switched gears just recently by parting with its four-year captain Chris Zigmont and appointing Matt Simpson as interim CEO. The best part is that we get to watch if Pedro’s is indeed going to keep the momentum to victoriously ride through the Apple-esque gates of business heaven, or if they get to bite the dust raised by the wheels in front of them.

Switching gears at Pedro’s is news as fresh as your post-Sea-Otter chamois, so if you are looking for a cross-interrogation of Zigmont vs. Simpson, go put your fingers to use on a search engine. What stirred up the hornets’ nest of my thoughts was the irresistible aroma of something new cooking at Pedro’s. Mix that with the above-mentioned smell of lube, and 2.5hrs later you have me poking my head through the door at Pedro’s new headquarters in Haverhill, MA.

Brick walls in bright orange could not be more befitting to the image of an oven, and by now the smell of cooking is overwhelming. The oven’s door is wide open, narrowing into a short passageway to the three main zones: the trainer-equipped playground connected with the kitchenette, laundry/shower room and restroom; the R&D-to-be area, which currently houses all-things-tech and a handful of bicycles; and the “office,” which looks more like a living room. The tour guide on duty (Simpson) vocalizes his wish for a couch in the office area as I hear an unidentifiable snort from one of the crew members behind me. I believe this is a matter of personal and professional preference, but I don’t think I’d mind doing my laptop work on my “office” couch.

We catch “the other” Matt (Bracken, product manager and a legend in the cycling industry) shaving in the bathroom. As if sharing the same name, wits and a pissoir isn’t enough, Bracken leaves a soul patch to mirror Simpson’s. “Wheels on a bike must match” – wisdom extrapolated onto the management apparatus. However, the resemblance proves to be too cute to suit the manly Pedro’s image, and the soul patch quickly comes off Bracken’s face without a trace.

While facial hair and uniform fashion talks produce healthy laughs, even the simplest of design discussions ignite flames: should that yellow line on the Tutto multi-tool be thicker or thinner? (Psst – Pedro’s, thinner is leaner, and leaner means faster!) Should green be added to the logo? Should yellow stay as the dominant color? And so on.

Contemplating Pinkie - the wounded warrior. © Natalia McKittrick

Contemplating Pinkie - the wounded warrior. © Natalia McKittrick

We navigate over to the R&D department where on a stand, emitting sadness, hangs the crippled “Pinkie” – at Ronde de Rosey Simpson trashed the rear derailleur and bent the chainstays of his Barbie-pink Zanconato. The beat up frame is to be taken to the handsome doctor at Circle A in Providence, RI, en route to Newport, where the two are heading to trace down Pedro’s ancestry.

Simpson explains the journey as an introspective attempt to tie the two ends, past and present, together. The new captain also hopes that the remapping of the route from homeland to current position may help lay out a better course through the stormy waters of a shaky economy into the bounty land where clean, lubed and tuned bicycles not only run flawlessly and silently, but bring in the Yankee dollar, too. Well, hey, I swallowed The Pirates of the Caribbean with almost no recollection of being annoyed by my accompanying trainer workout, so let’s watch.

The journey back in time – and if Bracken’s car can pass for Black Pearl, I can surely be a faux Keira Kneightly – began with Simpson docking his battleship at Wrentham Outlets and grappling with Bracken’s hatch. After a few seconds of giggle tortures too gruesome to describe, Simpson revealed the map. In a true pirate fashion, it was drawn hectically on a napkin, I bet from a bay tavern the night before, and allowed a glimpse into the near future of marketing and operations developments at Pedro’s. Adhering to the true pirate fashion and loving the building suspense, I cannot reveal the details of it – that would be tantamount to Jack Sparrow publishing a treasure map on Facebook. I can tell you that it had a shape of a flower – very Pedro’s. Style points.

We arrive at what looks like a cemeterial pantheon of wrecked toy trading ships in the middle of Providence, RI. A human-size Barbie figurehead points to the sky, and I am wondering to myself if inside the glittering pantheon there is a secret door in the floor that leads into the basement that is Circle Anarchy. It turns out to be just a distraction for the fools who fall for bling, taking it for gold. The real deal is next door, behind the red brick.

Brian Chapman, one of the two frame builders at Circle A, puts Pinkie on the stand for a quick physical and gets right  to work. I have my own theory on how to tell a good frame builder: the level of camera shyness may be directly proportional to the amount of time spent away from people  – with the tubes, machines and tools. With this in mind, where do I find Chris Bull, the other builder? Yep, locked away from people, painting a Gaulzetti frameset. As he comes out and peels off the 80s space suit, the first words out of his mouth: “Do you want some coffee?” Not just some coffee, there is a robust espresso machine which concludes the tool bench. Style points.

While Chapman is sandblasting the tubes, Bull and Bracken engage in a ping-pong game of storytelling, like long lost brothers from an Indian movie. Legends from the beginning of bike times keep coming: lugs, tig welding, steel and Ti mountain bikes back in the eighties, modern craftsmanship (or lack thereof), builder battles, brand building, NAHBS. Connecting the dots, Matt lets out a whine that because Pedro’s very first product, a mountain bike lube released in the same time period, became a generalized simile of the company, they are often nicknamed “the lube people.” Clearly not a fanatic about the nickname, Simpson chimes in with a brief preview of the changes to come: green vs. performance readjustment, new tools hot from the R&D oven, revamping the image and design, no plastic wrap packaging, logistics enhancement, personal outreach. If only we didn’t know already that this pace is not for everybody to keep, we would all start throwing congratulatory bouquets at them right now.

Brewer Street - where it all began. © Natalia McKittrick

Brewer Street - where it all began. © Natalia McKittrick

As though hearing my inner monologue, Matt and Matt cross the river to Newport, RI, where they were intending to begin their Pedro’s genealogy quest; but instead of going to look for the original headquarters inland, we stay close to the waterline to visit a local bike shop – Ten Speed Spokes. The personal outreach mission brings the two face to face with the owner who, on hearing the name, is anything but happy. No, he loves the product, and so do the customers, but he can’t get it. With Simpson melting the ice of the cold reception, Bracken takes the time to stroll through the store and gather photographic evidence of Pedro’s under-representation. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look upset and says that it is good to hear this kind of feedback because it indicates, with the precision of the stinging pain of road rash on embrocated leg, where the problems lie. I can’t say they left with hugs from the owner, but the two did charm a few smiles out of him.

As we are heading to the historical location of Pedro’s, Matt and Matt crack the family closet door open; fresh out of college, Tufts classmates Andrew Herrick and Bruce Fina started the company in 1989 in a 200-yr old farmhouse they shared, half a mile from the beach and within biking distance of what would become Pedro’s Global Headquarters in Providence, RI. Four years later, $7,000 of start-up became $1M in sales.

Now, neither Andrew nor Bruce even remotely resemble “Pedro.”  What’s in the name?

Meet Pedro S. de Movellan, friends with the founders since all three attended the Berkshire School, and now an accomplished industrial design artist living and working in his Providence hometown. Pedro originally sketched what became the company’s logo.

After the company was sold to Swix Sport USA in 1997 (in 2008, ownership again switched to Sports adVentures International S.A.), Andrew moved to west coast, and Bruce went all-Euro and now lives in Austria, still involved as Pedro’s EU sales broker.

The story-telling skills are killed by the frustration with the one-way streets in Newport that make us circle around our destination like starved wolves around caged prey. With no alternative, we settle for the transportation mode foreign to most cyclists, walking. The weather was a treat, so I couldn’t tell if the duo’s tune about moving Pedro’s back to the roots was in a joking key or not. The founder’s former residence at 30 Brewer St. was easy to spot, even though it was evidently renovated and unoccupied. With the owner some 100 miles away, the mission would have been a failure if not for the lead that the owner slips in: a guy next door may as well be the unofficial historian of the Pedro’s early years. To be continued as we delve more into the company’s past…

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Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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