Tree Bicycle Co. recently added Clint Reynolds and Brian Yeagle to their expanding team. In the coming weeks they will be unveiling another new rider. If the past two additions are any indication, I'm sure we will be in for a treat with another great web flick. Tree has a pretty unorthodox and interesting approach to just about everything they do, especially with their team. I recently went back and forth with Tree's Nathan Parker about what drives their ideas and direction.
ESPN.com: You've mentioned that Tree discontinuing production of frames would lead to new riders and new opportunities. Were Clint Reynolds and Brian Yeagle two that you had had your eye on prior to the decision?
Parker: Well, it's interesting how it's been working out because we knew that dropping frames would open up opportunities to work with other riders, but we didn't drop frames to work with anyone specific necessarily. There were talks of people that we thought seemed like a good fit for our ideas and the way we see things quite a while before we ever considered dropping frames. I had a vision for how I thought the team could be, the way it would feel, the way I want the videos and trip stories to feel as a result of having a group of riders who were in harmony with the bigger picture. Sam [Schulte] (Tree's owner) and I talked about those things and we were on the same wave length. All the guys we've added were personal favorites of mine, and suggestions I had made when Sam asked who I thought would be a good fit. Clint and Sam were already talking for a while before we dropped frames. Sam had been a fan of the way Clint does things for a long time already. Clint doing Credence and riding his own frames was not the reason things hadn't worked out, that was fine, but at the time he was riding for Bicycle Union and seemed to be happy, but liked Tree too and was on the fence. Sam went down to Austin to talk some more with Clint about the possibility of him riding for Tree and while down there he met Brian. By the end of the trip Clint was not on yet but Brian was, and later Clint came along too. So that's how it worked out. We basically just knew what we wanted and it just happened. Those two and a yet to be named third rider came together pretty quickly to round out the tribe.
Yeagle and Clint are without a doubt amazing bike riders but they aren't "flavor of the month" types -- they've been (relatively) underground legends for years. You guys also sponsor Derek Nelson, someone who is even more "underground" than Clint and Yeagle. Was it a conscious decision to sponsor riders like that?
No, it's not a rule that we have or anything like that to pick "underground" types of riders, but yes picking those kind of people was a conscious decision. We don't make decisions based on how elusive, or underground, or "unique" a rider is, but more about how we feel they are in tune with our ideas about what we want our piece of the BMX puzzle to look like. Those guys just have an approach to their lives that we appreciate and are excited to have them be part of what shapes Tree. They are also damn fine bike riders. We aren't measuring them up against all of BMX, but for us these guys have "it." Whatever it is, it's something just outside of time and trends, and it's more about the way they do things, than what they are doing.
As far as "flavor of the month" types and trends. At some point we were all part of some kind of trend, as a kid you start somewhere, and it's usually determined by what you're exposed to. The dividing line to me is when a rider finds himself in his riding, when that happens you step outside the realm of trends. It doesn't matter if you used to prefer riding one thing and now you prefer another, it's you and that awareness remains regardless of what set-up you have or terrain you ride, or if those things change from time to time. You're steering your own ship, being in or out of alignment with trends is irrelevant at that point. That's a personal thing, some riders come to that point sooner than others, it's all fine.
Right, but, to be fair, there are a ton of companies that do sponsor "flavor of the month" riders. While there is no question they are amazing bike riders, that's all there is to the package: the riding. You touched on this above but some of the riders are seemingly coming into their own while being sponsored, which is obviously fine, but I think you're slowed down approach is refreshing.
You're right, and it makes perfect sense to do that from a business standpoint. That's the usual template, gather the popular talent, and sell with it, that's the way it's done in pretty much every industry. Having a popular team often sells better than exceptional product quality. If we knew someone who might be considered "flavor of the month" personally and they were down with our cause, there's no reason we wouldn't try to work with them. We aren't interested in trying to pick up the new most popular/best rider out there based on that alone, it's more important that the rider has come into their own. When we see that, and we feel that the riders approach to their life is congruent with what we feel Tree represents, then that's a good fit. It's hard to put into words really, explanation seems overly complicated. They're powerful riders, and their approach to life beyond their bikes is why we want them to be part of what we do. They're amazing people without their bikes, driven with ideas, down paths we want to shed some light on.
And what exactly does Tree represent?
I guess the answer to this question just depends on who you're asking. For me the first thing that comes to mind is free thinking, to bring more good to riding and life. We want to continue to make BMX better and to do that you have to think past what you can already see.
Adventure. When you try something different and go off the beaten path I feel like that's the best chance for a person to learn something new about themselves and the world around them, it's fulfilling.
Integrity. being there for riders, being open and honest, and focussing on quality and being reliable are very important to us. It's not always easy to box things up in a few words. Some things you just feel, and most things change depending on context or timing, but those three qualities are the first to come to mind right now, and they are foundational aspects of Tree as a company, and what we want to shine through our products, riders, and employees.
You're whole approach to parts seems, for lack of a better word, pretty organic. Is there anything specific you guys are working on currently?
By organic do you mean slow moving? Popping something out just to have our name on a product is not what we are here to do. We have a core values and mission statement, and our presentation of the company and the approach to designing products are the main subjects. We work at making sure what we are designing is in line with those values, so between developing new products according to those standards and constantly re-evaluating our current products for possible improvements, we take our time. In the past though, the pace was due more to an overload of work being carried by too few to actually be efficient and a lot of problems with our domestic manufacturers. That's getting honed in and Sam will have a lot more time to focus on product development. We do have some new products in the works: grips, a fat version of the Ergo seat, a thorough revision on the hubs, and hopefully some forks coming out in the not too distant future. We also have some signature shirts in the works for the new guys.
Awesome. What's next? Can you speak on any new team riders you have in mind?
We have a good trip for the north east planned for around August that will start in Eastern Pa., and end up in New Brunswick on the bay. Basically just going exploring, seeing sites, northeast culture and riding bikes. As far as other new team riders, we have one more new guy to announce in a few weeks. We've been enjoying spreading them out a month apart to coincide with their inaugural Ride print ads, so I can't spoil the surprise.