An email from Carl:
MY RR Story
I think it was 92, I was attending Northern Illinois University where "if your not Greek, your a geek" and I refused to pledge. I was riding for BADD & Co. and I told them that next year I wanted to get paid, $200-500 a month. They stopped taking my phone calls. Okay fine. I told my mom and dad that I wanted to start my own frame company. Every sponsor I ever had (excluding BADD) I had to have a custom made bike because they were all too short. My long legs were cramped. My dad said to look into it, so I called Shag at Cyclecraft. We talked prices and that was it, I never even looked at another mfg. company. I had ridden their bikes before and I knew they were good. Or, good enough. Shortly after that conversation, I called Barry McManus and in these exact words
"Hey man, if I start a company, and I make you a pro model, would you ride for me?" Luckily for me he said yes. His only question was, "What are you going to call it? You'd better put your name on it." I didn't think I was cool enough to have my name on it, but he and Steve Buddendeck recommended it. Steve and Hal Brindley of 2B made my RR design, and made my jerseys. I've always been a fan of geometry, and measurements, so I knew long before I started RR what I wanted/needed in a frame size wise. I sat down and drew a primitave diagram of my first RR. 21.5" top tube, 12" bb, 16.25" chain stays, 74 degree heat tube. One thing I NEVER knew though was the seat tube angle, so for the first prototype I guessed, 71. Two weeks later the first one showed up at my apartment at school. I had it out of the box for 30 seconds before I realized what I had done wrong. I guess that's why they call them prototypes. I built it anyway and went to race in Memphis. Superclass, two thirds on the weekend. Went home, called Shag, told him to ramp up the seat tube to 73. Another sample comes two weeks later, perfect, and LONG! The Fresh 40 had been born.
(I have forgotten how much there is to tell)
That spring, my college education took a back seat, and my real world education took center stage. I left school to concentrate on RR and racing.
Barry's bike shows up some time in the spring, I drive it over to his house in Ft. Wayne (Columbia street) We break down his old bike and build up his Rap 42 (42 inch wheelbase), the entire bike went together seamlessly, and as soon as it was rideable he jumps on it, no brakes. I see him take off and bust into a sprint and I kept thinking, "PLEASE STAY TOGETHER!" I knew he liked it when he rode to the top of his street, turned around, gave it a few hard cranks and pulled into a manual, a high speed manual, and held it around the corner of his street. 100 yard manual maybe, maybe longer. I sh@t my pants.
So skipping to the next model, the Puppy. I rode at this spot that was 1/2 mile from my house in Park Forest called Monee Trails. I had ridden there since I was 11. That place helped me a ton become a better rider, all throughout my career. Well, there were TONS of kids there, on a good day we'd have 20 riders, most racers, because back then, the trails were more racy, and not today's trails. Well they all had these sub-par bikes, and I hated that they wanted to be better, but their bikes were holding them back. They were all riding bikes that were too big and it would have taken them years to grow into it. So I figured I'd make a bike for them. A bunch of little dudes who rode with me inspired me to make a bike, and I'm so thankful for them. I could have called it anything, but The Puppy seemed to fit for all of them. I can't remember how I thought of the top tube length or the chain stays, but I wanted the rest of the angles and bb height to be consistent with the Fresh 40 and the Rap 42 so in the event they grew up and still raced, they could move on to a bike that was essentially the same.
At this time I was having all of my frames shipped to my parent's house where I would inventory them, sticker them, and drive them over to the local UPS location where I would ship them out. I became very good friends with the UPS guy who would deliver my bikes, I forgot his name, but he was a great guy. I had stacks and stacks of frames in my garage. When one model would get down to 5-10 I'd place another order. All of the money the company made I put back in. Either ordering more frames, sticker sets, t-shirts, ads anything that I felt would help the business. So you know, I never had any experience with running a business. My parents were in the stock market and the legal field, so they didn't either. I was winging it the entire time. Common sense was what I was using when deciding what to do next. I had a lot of phone conversations with Steve and McManus too.
I had a good relationship with the shops I sold to, and instead of waiting for them to call, I was on the phone a lot, trying to keep the interest up. It took a while for me to realize that the gap between The Puppy and the Fresh 40 was a big gap. I needed a model to fill in, and that's where the Formula came in. Again, same angles with the lengths adjusted. So now I had a line that would handle a wide range of riders, for a long time. The phone meeting I had with Steve regarding the name of the frame went something like this.
Steve: "What are you going to call it?"
CR: "I'm not sure, I haven't thought of it."
S: "Got any ideas?"
C: "It's got to be something funny so people rememer it."
S: "Okay, what do you think?"
C: "No idea. I'm getting the dictionary, and what ever name I open to, that's what we are calling it."
S: laughing "Okay."
C: after opening the book and pointing to a random page; "Steve, the new bike is going to be called "The Refrigerator"
We laughed for a long time after that, a very long time! The name came out of F1. First it was F1, then Formula 1, then it became the Formula, because in the end, it was that same formula that made up all of my bikes. 4130, gimmick free, same feel throughout the line.
So, outside of British Racing Green and Red, I felt that Black or White were great racing colors. It had nothing to do with my heritage. At first, I wanted to only do white frames, like the Model T Ford. You can have any color as long as it's black. Chrome would have been good, but it was hard to get. Plus, too many colors meant problems with stocking them, and making people wait for the correct color to come in.
Phat forks. The skinny forks that came with my frame were exactly that, skinny. I wanted a beefier look, and something with bit more strength. I called the Essers in Florida, and they made them for me. I didn't offer them with the frame, I offered them as an upgrade. I never got into any other parts, but towards the end (before it went over to System Cycle Supply) I wanted to do parts. Seat post clamps, stems, bars (although I used Slam Bars and I liked them so much, I couldn't see making a bar that could be better).
So I ran it out of my parent's house for a few years, McManus and I doing a bunch of clinics in the Midwest and hitting all of the NBL races. My office was my bedroom. The desk with my computer an all of my office supplies was next to my bed. I remember the phone waking me up at 3am a bunch of times, only to have some kids stutter and stammer into the phone then hang up. I guess I should have let my answering machine pick it up. Over the years the team ranged from Whitey, Colgrove, Josh Henry, Vaghun Stout, Nathan Fons (my last rider) but it was McManus and I who traveled together the most. Those were some of the best, if not the best years of my career. Very carefree, relaxed and fun. It was before bmx became a job for me.
I knew my business intelligence could only take RR so far, and I felt that using a full fledged distribution company would help RR move to the next level. It would also free up some of my time to focus more time on racing. I noticed that each time I went to a race and did well (me and McM) I would have more sales on Monday (win on Sunday, sell on Monday). This is where System Cycle Supply came in. I spoke with Billy at DK and I gave him a history of RR. Knowing his father, since he sponsored me for so many years with DK stems, I trusted them and felt it would be a good move. The whole plan was for me to be the racer, and spokesperson, and SCS to handle the sales. It was understood that when I retired, I'd move to Ohio to run RR in their office. So they bought my stock, data base and the name. The bikes stopped being made my Cyclecraft and started being made my Kastan. That's where the square chain stays came in. I wanted to set them apart from the CC bikes, and the change in chain stays was it. The dropouts were thicker as well. I forgot who Alan Foster was riding for, but when he told me that his sponsor was going to make bikes with a Euro bb, I jumped on it. I believe RR was the second company to make a pro size frame with a Euro bb. I recall someone saying it was a joke and I was stupid. The whole industry must be stupid now. I was hesitant to change to the Ahead set though. I don't know why, but I wasn't sure that was the way to go. I was set in my ways with that old stem. I ran a very short stem with the long frame. The longer your stem, it changes the way the bike handles, it steers different. I realized that with the bigger diameter, it would make my bike bigger with a longer stem, so I had to shorten my frame. It went from 21.5 to an even 21. That was a huge change. The bike was easier to ride, and a bit lighter. By the time we got to SCS, the Rap 42 wasn't selling much anymore. The big dudes who bought my frame, were still on them, and after they upgraded to the Kastan model, that was it. They never broke so they stayed on them. So I was down to 3 models, the Supermodel (changed from the Fresh 40 since the wheelbase wasn't 40" anymore), the Formula, and the Puppy. The bikes were being powdercoated now, and I included Red and Blue. Red is my favorite color, and I only rode one red one the entire time. Blue was the last color I rode.
The bikes were great, but the availability was messed up. Manufacturing delays really hurt my sales. I was constantly being told the bikes would be in, but 2 months later, still no bikes. It was bad having to change the arrival date to my customers. It was definitely more efficient when it was in my parent's garage. There are times that I wish I had kept it myself, but in the long run it was the right decision...I think.
We were at a race one weekend, and I hadn't had bikes in for quite some time, and I heard that SCS had been laying people off. I KNEW that was the end. I called Billy that Monday and asked him what was going on and where this left RR "We're not going to be able to do it anymore. You can have the name and do anything you want with it, but we are unable to do it."
Can you imagine how I felt? Probably not. RR meant so much to me. I was floored. I didn't feel that I could run it by myself anymore, and I didn't want to put out an inferior product. At the bike show that year, Billy pulled me aside and told me we could get the bikes made in Taiwan and keep it going. I told him no. At that time I didn't think Taiwan was making a quality product, and again, I didn't want to disappoint any of my customers, past, current or future so I declined that offer. I declined it in less than 30 seconds. I ended up getting the prototype that they made and giving it to my brother-in-law. The seat stays were so flimsy, his brakes wouldn't work. They flexed too much. (at least I was told it was a prototype)
My last race was in Lake Perris, CA. I went out in a consi main. After that lap, I took my own little victory lap on the track. I wanted to take one lap by myself. I had started the company by myself, and that was my little way of saying goodbye to something that mean the world to me, and it still does. After that I went over to Neal Wood, we hugged told each other how much fun it had been traveling together and that was it. McManus had long retired, or slowed down his racing to run his store, Steve was busy handling the Marketing duties at DK, Hal was doing anything he wanted, Colegrove is a father, Whitey is here, and the rest of my team,well, I don't know where they ended up.
Well, I think that pretty much covers it. I left out a lot of stuff, a lot of details. To include them all would require a TON of writing, and probably my own page on Vintage. If anyone has ANY questions that I didn't cover, just ask and I'll answer. Thanks for listening, and helping me remember some of the best times of my life.