Monday, March 14, 2011

Race Face RIP

I was hoping there'd be some more news up today before I commented on this. But there isn't. So prepare to get weepy. For me to get weepy. Probably not you.

I remember the first time I ever layed eyes on a Race Face component. It must have been 1993 or therabouts. I was young and impressionable and I somehow found myself hanging out with my friends older brother and his good friend, Chris Sheppard. Chris was a Kamloops XC god at the time and to find myself hanging out with him at a bike shop, looking at new parts was kind of surreal. I remember standing around with him, looking at these new cranks. He was blown away by them and it became another one of those things that I just never imagined would be on my bike.

The first Race Face part I ever owned was a pair of Gold Turbine LP cranks. We had ridden our bikes downtown from UBC and we got about halfway there and my crankarm fell off. I had an 8mm so I screwed it back on and then it fell off again. Sugino square taper cranks weren't made for the North Shore.

We rolled in to Simons and I started trying to figure out how to make a new set of cranks work on my tight budget. I asked Simon if he had any cranks and he showed me a set of gold Race Face Turbine LP's that he had pulled off a bike that the new owner didn't want. I had a brown Rocky Mountain Equipe at the time. The prospect of throwing a set of gold Race Face LP's on there just blew my mind. "One hundred and twenty-five dollars." I gave him the money before he could change his mind. I think those cranks are still rolling strong on my old Stiffee that I sold to my friend Dan. I miss those cranks.

97/98 rolled around and I had to explain why I had nothing but Race Face parts on my bike when I started my co-op job at Syncros. Man, those guys just did not get it. Here we were, at the epicenter of the mountain biking universe of the moment and they just couldn't see it going on. They sponsored XC teams. They were totally isolated from other bike companies in the city. They laughed when I suggested flowing some parts to some of those crazy, upstart "freeriders" that were all around them. They were bankrupt 8 months after my Co-op term ended.

But that was just the craziest time in Vancouver for biking. Every week there was some new trail. Some new stunt. The energy on each mountain was thick. Vancouver was making the bikes that mattered, the parts that mattered, the trails that mattered, the riders that mattered. Everything. And then it slowly began to fall apart.

Syncros. Gone. Dekerf. Not really relevant in the era of full suspension. Brodie. Cheapened. Rocky Mountain. Let's not talk about that. Race Face. Race Face was still there.

My only bad memory of Race Face was applying for an engineering job there a few years after that. My friend was marketing manager there at the time and it just seemed perfect for me. I've never approached something so confidently. I sent him my resume and cover letter. I started drawing up ideas for the interview. I learned 3d modelling in my spare time. It just seemed totally inconceivable that I wouldn't get that job. And I didn't even get an interview.

A few years after that, I was building my first hardtail and I needed parts for it. I dropped Race Face a line and one of the marketing guys helped me out. Diabolus had just come out and there was no real middle ground between the XC stuff and Diabolus. I ended up with the heaviest hardtail you could ever imagine (Marzocchi 66...Diabolus...insanely heavy Syncros wheels). I still have all of the Diabolus stuff running somewhere on one bike or another.

A few years after that, I'd gone in to production on the Rented Mule. I got an e-mail out of the blue from one of the Race Face Sales guys with an OEM price list and an invitation to start ordering parts. Jesus Christ did that ever help me out. It knocked a couple hundred bucks off each part and bailed me out of a few last minute parts problems. I really did start to plan all of my parts builds outwards from the Race Face parts. Yes, the headsets weren't all that great. The seatposts were a bit awkward (shit...that reminds me...I have a broken one that I was going to try to warranty) and the chainguides were a bit ugly. But the cranks, stems and handlebars were all a rock solid start to a well spec'd bike.

I completed my last Race Face order two weeks ago. I received the parts last Wednesday. I was e-mailing the sales guys on Thursday looking for a couple of bolts that I couldn't find. He was going to throw them in an envelope for me until I found them an hour later. It couldn't have been more than an hour after that conversation that it all got shut down. It just seemed so baffling to me. I honestly looked at my watch to see if it was April 1st when I saw the announcement. It was inconceivable. Just like not getting an interview for that Engineering job.

Nobody seems to know what went wrong at this point and time. Everybody had an opinion. My only comment was that as I looked through their last price list, I couldn't believe how much shit there was. So many crank options. Bar options. Colours. Grips. Chainrings. Stems. Some of it at prices that I couldn't imagine. But so, so much overlap. Perhaps that's the way you have to do things in this day and age but it took me an hour to sort through everything and make sure I had all my numbers right, just to order a couple of cranks, a chainring, some grips and a few other miscellaneous parts.

Vancouver has slowly lost it's position as the place to be for mountain biking. Trails are disappearing. Companies are disappearing. We exploded on to the scene and now we're left with Norco and a few small little companies here and there. I was a teenager when it first started to blow up. Everything seems pretty awesome when you're that age. Whatever it is, this Race Face thing depresses the hell out of me.