When I was in high school, my basketball coach chose the slogan “Luck = Preparation + Opportunity” for one of our seasons. Cheesy? You betcha. But it can also be applied to the story of the Salsa Chase the Chaise lounge that has been a fan favorite at gravel events the last two years.
The Chase the Chaise lounge made its first appearance at the 2018 Land Run 100, and as race leaders Michael van den Ham and Mat Stephens approached, Salsa’s Mike Riemer and his team faced a big moment.
“We saw Mat and Michael coming up the rise and we could hear them talking, ‘Are we stopping? Let’s make it quick.’ And we were honestly ready for them like a poorly trained Formula One pit crew,” Riemer said. “In and out, and they were on their way, and those of us working the Chaise were so stoked, cheering for them and thanking them for stopping. That moment was amazing.”
The photo of Van den Ham and Stephens stopping on the couch could not have been better marketing. What better way to show the laid-back nature of gravel racing than with the two race leaders taking the time to pose for a photo on a red velvet couch in the middle of the Oklahoma plains?
Their two-man break was the opportunity. It turns out that there was some preparation from Riemer before that moment.
“At each event last year, I’d speak at the rider meeting and beg slash plead slash encourage the leaders to stop,” Riemer admitted.
Luck = Preparation + Opportunity.
The Chaise Lounge is Born
In retrospect, Van den Ham and Stephens stopping were likely not necessary to make the Chase the Chaise lounge a viral gravel hit.
With whiskey/Twizzler/tequila/bacon/you-name-it rest stops a regular part of gravel events, a laid-back way for the informal groups that form at gravel events to commemorate their afternoon of gravel succeeding is not surprising.
Salsa, the Minnesota company, was in a good place to capitalize on the gravel boom thanks to the company’s location, employees and history.
“When it comes to gravel, we were in the right place at the right time, with the right people,” Riemer said. “By that I mean Salsa really did design the first modern gravel race bike; the Warbird. That happened because so many of us at Salsa, including our engineers, were taking part in those early gravel events here in the Midwest.”
The story of how a couch ended up in the middle of gravel roads across the country did not happen overnight. Like many ideas, it was workshopped and bounced around until inspiration struck the team of Riemer, creative director Kelly McWilliams, copywriter Mark Sirek, graphic designer Collin Grant and brand manager Justin Julian.
“The idea really began with me wanting to figure out a good way to take portraits of the participants in the gravel scene,” Riemer said. “I brought the idea up once for discussion, but we didn’t get to a good place with it. A year later, I’d been thinking about it some more and had added the idea of using a piece of furniture as a consistent prop.”
“Kelly is the one who thought of using a chaise lounge. I believe she said, ‘It has to be something that you’d never expect to find on the side of the road,’ which is funny now because I know the cats down in Kansas City have actually found a chaise couch on one of their gravel rides.”
Once the idea was in place, the team had to find a couch. Last year, we saw the folks from the Hilly Billy Roubaix in West Virginia snag one from the side of the road. The Salsa folks went for the more virtual side of the road.
“Kelly searched the interwebs for the right one. I like to tell people that it was salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic,” Riemer joked.
The Chase the Chaise lounge and Salsa’s guerilla marketing campaign were born.
The Chaise in Action
By the time we saw the Chaise lounge during the 2018 Dirty Kanza expo, it had already taken on a life of its own after appearances at Land Run, La Grand du Nord in Minnesota and the Michigan Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder.
Last year’s events include the Land Run 100 and Dirty Kanza as “no-brainers,” and then Salsa added a few other events based on pre-existing sponsorship of those races.
This year, the Salsa team expanded their calendar and the events where the Chaise Lounge will appear. We have already seen it at the Land Run 100, and it will again be making the trek to the Flint Hills for the Dirty Kanza weekend. Other 2019 events include the Ochoco Gravel Roubaix in Oregon, unPAved of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania, Gravel MOB of California and Miami’s Gravel Gladiator.
There is no doubt that every rider who encountered the couch has a story—and likely a photo–of it, but it has also made numerous appearances at the pointy ends of the races.
While Stephens and Van den Ham stopped at Land Run last year, Women’s winner Amanda Nauman passed right by and ended up getting some flack for the decision.
Nauman, however, got redemption later in the spring when she took time to pose on the red velvet Chaise couch on the gravel roads of Michigan’s Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder. Who said there are no second acts in gravel race couch sitting?
At the Dirty Kanza 200 last year, the Chaise lounge gave aero-bar hater Geoff Kabush the chance to make amends with aero-bar proponent Stephens as the two battled for the third spot on the podium at the iconic gravel event.
This year, Salsa has a new couch, but the tradition of the race leaders stopping at the Chase Lounge continues for both the men and women.
Making Memories, One Seat at a Time
As has become clear during our coverage of gravel races across the country this year, gravel events are about everyone, not just those at the front of the respective races. For us mortals in the gravel world, the chance for a rest stop or some roadside encouragement can be a welcome relief during the long slog toward conquering our rough-road goals.
For Reimer, the Salsa Chase the Chaise lounge is another opportunity for folks to get some much-needed cheers.
“I am certainly pleased, blessed, thrilled and thankful at the response it receives, and more importantly, it really has created a lot of great memories for many people, including me,” he said. “Life can get pretty serious sometimes, even at bike races, and it is really nice seeing folks being able to take a brief timeout from all that, and to just relax for a bit.”
Of course, not everyone chooses to stop for a quick photo at the Chase the Chaise lounge, whatever the reason.
“We always hope they’ll stop, but if they don’t that is perfectly fine,” Riemer said. “There can be a lot of reasons that someone might not want to stop—trying to win, in a world of hurt, bad mood, don’t know what the heck is going on, just don’t give a hoot. Or our favorite, witness protection program.”
That said, thanks to the limited number of rules in gravel racing, if you choose to ride on past the Chaise, there is still a chance for couchy redemption.
“We try to offer some encouragement to everyone regardless of whether they are stopping or not, and you can usually coax a high five out of them. I’m pretty sure some that don’t stop regret it later, and we have had people turn around and ride back to the Chaise after first dismissing it.”
We will be keeping our eyes out for the Chase the Chaise lounge at the Dirty Kanza 200 less than 2 weeks from now, although it is likely unfair to everyone doing the work to hop out of the air-conditioned car for a photo on the couch.
For the 2019 schedule and photos from past events, you can visit chasethechaise.com