A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to visit the biggest one day bike race in the US, the Philly Cycling Classic, thanks to an invite from our friends at Fuji Bikes. We had a great time checking out the excitement of the race (especially the finish up the famed Manayunk Wall), but the highlight of the trip was a chance to visit the home office of Fuji Bikes (and their sister brands in the Advanced Sports International or ASI family: Kestrel, Breezer and SE Bikes) with the members of the NetApp team, after the race.
ASI moved to their current headquarters in northern Philadelphia, from New Jersey, in 2004 so that they could triple the size of their warehouse.We followed along as the members of Team NetApp got a chance to meet everyone at the ASI offices, especially the bike design team. We learned more about the product development process, from assessing the market and looking at past sales, to talking to customers, attending trade shows, talking to dealers – even reading every bicycle magazine and good old-fashioned research on the internet. It’s definitely an in-depth process! Just the design process for a new bike can take over a year, and it’s not uncommon for a bike to go from concept to delivery to market in 18 months to 2 years.
We also got to learn more about the ASI/Fuji culture – needless to say they are really into bikes! There is a full Fuji demo fleet in their warehouse so that any employee can check out any type of bike for a month. Even though they are located in Philadelphia, they’re also building a full cyclocross course on the grounds near their warehouse, along with some mountain bike trails. And remember the Norcom Straight triathlon/time trial bike? Norcom Road is a favorite stretch of test road just a short ride from their offices. Fuji is also a huge presence in the local cycling community, with one of their main focuses being the Cadence Cycling Foundation – a group that engages youth through the sport of cycling to help them grow into healthy, responsible, and confident adults.
One of the highlights of the tour was the chance for everyone at ASI to have lunch and chat with the members of the NetApp team, all-rounder Blaz Jarc from Slovenia, classics rider Ralf Matzka from Germany, Jonathan McEvoy from the UK (11th place finisher in Philly), all-rounder Erick Rowsell from the UK, mountain specialist Frantisek Padour from the Czech Republic (who finished 12th in Philly), and Director Sportif Christian Pomer from Austria (a former pro cyclist himself). Fuji associates got the chance to pepper the members of Team NetApp with questions.
They described their Altamira racing bikes as a good quality all-around bike – light, stiff, and with good handling. The hardest race they’d ever done? Without a doubt, Paris Roubaix – they made it to the end, but the Arenberg cobble section was just super hard, since you go straight into it at a really high speed. They also compared Philly Cycling Classic to Europe and said that it was a different style. At Philly the racing was a lot more aggressive, and they were always fighting for position as it never settled down. In Europe, the racing starts hard, but then a break goes, it settles down, and it only gets really hard again at the end. But they loved the atmosphere on the Manayunk Wall (where they may, or may not, have received beer handups at the end of the race).
The team even talked a bit about how they got started in bike racing – most started in their early teens riding for development programs. In England, their academy system finds kids in grade schools and progresses them through their national Olympic training program – they were full time riders from an early age, but not pro until a few years ago. They also spoke about the stagiare program – wherein a professional team takes on ‘cycling interns’ starting in August. Young riders are released from their U23 team and get what amounts to a try out for a pro team, for free. It’s a big step up from the lower level, and the riders are under a huge amount of pressure to make a good impression in a few months. They even spoke about what they do in their off time – other than ride bikes, they just like to take a few weeks off the bike and not think about racing at all!
It was a great visit with the ASI/Fuji team, and with Team NetApp – we’re excited to cheer for the team as they compete in the Tour de France in July! To get a little sense of what pro racing is like from inside the peloton, check out this video we put together from the Manayunk Wall at the Philly Cycling Classic: