Interview: Meet MOOTS’ Jon Cariveau
Recently, PEZ had the chance to spend a little time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with titanium frame builders, Moots. The down to earth company in one of the best cities in Colorado has been making great bikes for years, but their latest and greatest, the Vamoots RSL, is a significant leap forward. PEZ recently spoke with Jon Cariveau from Moots about everything from the RSL to carbon to why coupling is so awesome.
A complete titanium bike with basic components that weighs in at 15 pounds and can do battle as a race bike? Really? Yep. For 2010, Steamboat Springs, Colorado based, titanium masters, Moots, went back to the drawing board to figure out how to “build the lightest and stiffest high performance titanium road bike available to the racer today, and do it with absolutely zero compromise to the longstanding premium Moots quality and lifetime durability.” The result from Moots, a company that produces around 1500 frames per year, is a bike that not only accomplishes those lofty goals, but puts it on par with many carbon offerings, and then takes a huge step beyond vis a vis the ride quality and lifetime possibilities a titanium frame embodies.
Click on the article thumbnail above for a large version of the Vamoots RSL.
Moots was born and raised in the thin air of Steamboat Springs, 6700 feet above sea level. The company was founded in 1981 as a manufacturer of steel bikes. The change to working entirely with titanium came not too long after, and in 2010, Moots is celebrating their 20th anniversary in the titanium bike market.
Jon Cariveau has been working with Moots almost since they converted to titanium. The man responsible for a little bit of everything: marketing, sales, dealer relationships, social media, and on and on and on started with Moots 14 years ago and has worked in virtually every department at Moots, including welding.
We caught up with the passionate cyclocross racer, husband, and father of two, to talk more about the company, the brand, the bike, and what makes Moots special.
Why Moots and what makes you different?
JC: There are a lot of similar builders in the titanium world, but it really comes down to some basic elements: quality from start to finish, whether that means the base material that we’re sourcing from the tubing suppliers, to the methods we’re using once we get that material, all the way through the miter weld finish, final quality control, and even the final box. That really has a lot to do with the material part of it, the physical frame part of it. That’s a big difference.
If you start diving into some of the others out there that are, sometimes they’re equally as priced, or maybe a little lower. They’re definitely going with the other sources of material out there to save money here and there.
Ashley learns the finer points of welding.
Our focus at Moots has always been about the ride quality of the bike. It can look pretty all day long, to us, that’s kind of a byproduct, what really matters when you get on the RSL or the CR, and you ride down the road and you go, wow, this just oozes experience. I can feel it. You get on to another bike and you can tell the difference. A lot of people say it: once you get on a Moots and then go to another titanium bike, there’s something intangible about the Moots ride.
To us, it’s experience with the material, collective years of experience with the staff here, anywhere from an amateur to casual rider to a racer, a lot of that feedback goes into the bikes. It’s a phrase we hear often, and it’s so fantastic to hear: Moots frames are built by people that actually ride. I think that’s something that really makes a difference in the Moots experience. As lifelong riders and bike builders, we can form a unique connection with our customer.
You can watch a bike in each phase of the build in a short walk through the Moots offices in Steamboat.
When you call here and you talk to anyone in the building on the phone, they can immediately relate to the customer or dealer and say, yeah, I’ve ridden the cross bike on 90 miles of dirt road, here’s what you can expect to feel afterwards; here’s what we can do to help change it to suit you (that’s exactly what Cariveau did just a couple of days after this conversation).
The build and ride quality is our first and foremost goal, but I think we’re also a down to earth company that the consumer can relate to. I thinks staying down to earth and close to our roots is a vital part of the persona, we as a company, try to convey. We want to be infinitely approachable, easy to communicate with, and available.
Here’s a person for the most part that’s saving and scrimping and dreaming about owning this dream bike someday, and they’ve come up through the ranks of the lower end bike, the mid level bike, and they take this step and get this bike, and that experience should be nothing but positive when you’re dealing with the customer, whether it’s directly on the phone, asking for suggestions, calming their concerns, moving outward to working with good dealers.
Beautiful bikes hang everywhere it seems.
The worst thing you can do is have Customer A see our dealer here in their town and they walk in there and have a horrible experience – they’ll say that the dealer was really condescending, didn’t want to help me out, what’s up with that? We try really hard to partner ourselves with dealers that best represent us and tell our story. As a consumer, you don’t ask to be treated like royalty, but you do want to be treated by a helpful, knowledgeable staff and with respect. No one wants to be talked down to, and yet it’s something that most people can confess to having experienced.
We can’t cover everything, but when I’m out on the road, sometimes I go into shops anonymously, and I don’t introduce myself as working for Moots, and one of the things I like to do the most is walk over to the shoe area and pick up the 550 dollar carbon shoe, spend a lot of time looking at it – just to see what kind of response I get from the shop. Will somebody come by and say hi, can I help you out, do you have any questions, are you looking for some new shoes, I see you’re looking at a 550 dollar pair of shoes… I feel like it’s a tell tale sign of the retail experience. Sometimes you walk in and people are like, what do you want, and sometimes you walk through and nobody talks to you and you leave – we don’t want to work with or be involved with a dealer that’s like that.
It’s those principles that make us different from the competition. We’re all after a similar customer in a lot of ways, and if you can outwardly bring some insight into the culture of the company, then that’s even better. We’re in Colorado, we build our bikes here, we ride them here, we tweak them here, we test them here. I think that has a lot to do with it in this day and age where people are looking for a good price, value, and a longterm relationship from who they’re buying from. It’s a big difference.
Moots bikes are pretty much the opposite of flashy. Is that intentional?
JC: We lean on the conservative edge of design, but the RSL is a great example of really taking titanium and what we’ve known for so many years and pushing the envelope and incorporating those elements, which we know will make a better bike.
I was spoiled for a few days and got to ride this bike around Steamboat.
How did the Vamoots RSL come about?
We wanted to make a better bike, but we wanted to add new things that would actually incur some real benefit, not just adding features for the sake of it. We didn’t want to jump on the us too bandwagon, but we really wanted to thoroughly think the bike out, piece by piece, then assemble it.
The Press Fit 30 bottom bracket allowed for a much stiffer platform in the RSL compared to a traditional bottom bracket.
It’s really competitive with the weight of carbon frames, 2.5 pounds on average. And you’ve got a bike with a lifetime warranty, it’s plenty stiff to be raced at the highest level, but it still has this underlying tone of the titanium feel. You could build a titanium bike that was as stiff as aluminum if you wanted, but what’s the point of that? You could buy a thousand dollar aluminum frame instead. It’s good. We’re conservative, but with a lot of forward thinking – how far can we push it without making the bike ride bad?
Typically, in titanium, you start shaving that much weight out of a frame, you start to develop these not so beneficial riding characteristics. It becomes soft, it becomes flexy, then you disappoint people. We could build a 2 pound titanium frame, but it wouldn’t ride that nicely. 2.5 pounds is nice, and over the next couple of years, we’ll see how we can apply that same kind of process with the RSL across the line – literally, we picked each tube by hand, weighed them out, what can we do to this, how can we do this? What kind of butting are we going to use?
Lots and lots of titanium.
What kind of butting DID you use?
The tubing on that bike is the same US made material that we source on all of our other bikes, however, it’s our only butted tubeset, so we take that tubeset and we work with Reynolds in England. We cut the tubes to a certain length, then we ship them to England, and they do the butting for us. It’s to our spec, the ratio of thick to thin and diamater. They’re some of the best in the world at butting tubing. They’ve been doing that since the 1800’s. That has been a big deal for us.
The titanium tubing is straight gauge when it shows up to us, then it’s butted in England. They draw it over a mandril in England and butt it. The tubing elongates by a certain percentage during the process – you thin it out in the middle and thicken it at the ends where the heat affected zone is for welding. It becomes this weight saving process without losing stiffness. It’s really cool.
You used some 6-4 titanium in the RSL…
It’s the only bike that we’ve used a little 6-4 tubing in as well – the micro-diameter seat stays. You notice that they’re really small – those are 6-4, seamless tubes. It adds a bit of stiffness, but it also counter-reacts a little bit of that in the saddle harshness. It keeps it pleasantly smooth when you’re in the saddle. We’re using a 30.9 seatpost in that bike, oversized, versus the CR, which utilizes a standard diameter seatpost. If you rode those bikes side by side, you’d notice a stiffness increase in the saddle for sure. The bigger diameter really brings that to life.
The RSL is wicked light…
The bike that you rode (58 cm with Mavic Ksyrium SL’s and Red components), if you were to put a set of common Zipp 303 tubulars on there that are raced everyday with pedals, you’d be looking at 14.5 pounds, which is under the UCI limit.
It seems with the UCI weight limit and the advancement in bike componentry and wheels, that titanium can really be a viable contender now.
Absolutely. I think people are going to start to look back to titanium in the coming years. There’s a limit, in my opinion, you see some of these super special project bikes that are weighing 10-12 pounds. You go out and ride on them and there’s this diminishing amount of return, yeah it’s really light, you go up hill a lot easier, but putting in the long miles on bikes like those, it’s not that comfortable, it’s very twitchy, it’s harsh, skittish. With this, you can still keep the grounded, solid feel in the bike.
The RSL is a 2.5 pound frame, the standard CR and Vamoots frames are 3 pounds. Half a pound difference. In a frame, that’s a lot to take out of a frame, half a pound, and still keep the ride quality up there.
What about the geometry?
It really didn’t change much when we went from the previous year’s models. We basically had the CR and the Vamoots. Those two bikes, the CR was our sloping top tube design, whereas the Vamoots is a traditional non-sloping design. The two geometries were the same, which we felt were racey enough. No need to take the RSL and quicken it up even more, so we took that head and seat angle geometry and transferred it to the RSL. We did go a touch shorter on the chainstay, but that geometry really didn’t change the ride that drastically. The RSL, CR, and Vamoots – three very distinct bikes.
The CR is a slightly more upright fitting bike than the RSL, while the Vamoots is just a bit more so, and then there’s the Mootour, which is kind of an interesting bike – long reach road calipers, bigger tires, but still keeping that look of a road bike without going to cantilevers like a cross bike. That’s for your broken, chip seal, pave, stretched out. It can take up to a 32c tire. It’s a really fun bike. It’s kind of a club bike so to speak.
We have four very distinct ride setups and ride characteristics in that segmentation. That was big for us. That really pinpointed performance, weight, the rider that was going to go onto this bike, and the purpose they were going to use it for. We all want to feel very racy, but a lot of people in the world can’t do the big drop from saddle to bars like a pro racer can, for hours on end. We still get a lot of people who don’t mind, do it as a custom, and just raise their position via our custom options.
My time at Moots, riding and testing them, before we release them to the public, a lot of companies don’t do that. They’ll release a bike, and there will be problems and they’ll say, oh yeah, we didn’t know about that. A lot of these things you don’t find out until you put a thousand miles on to a bike. The RSL project was really cool to be involved in. Every aspect was really thought out. Not that our other bikes weren’t thought out, it was kind of the start of a future trend of development. Some of that is going to translate into other models, so we can make better bikes, and keep pushing the envelope of what’s possible with titanium without getting into the carbon game.
If you pick up the catalog, you can order part number 1001, put your decal on it, and we’ll take six different sizes, please.
What about coupling, that seems to have huge potential with airlines charging prohibitive costs to transport bikes.
We can do couplings on any of the bikes, except for the RSL. You could do it on the butted tubesets, but we won’t do it on the butted tubesets. There’s just too much risk to weld where the butting is – that’s exactly where the couplers would end up. That’s just not something we don’t want to risk. However, we can do couplers on the rest of the road line, the cross bike, and our whole mountain bike line, save for the dual suspension mountain bike.
How is the ride?
Like it was never there. It’s a fascinating possibility when you think about it. A bike that can basically be split in half and placed into a case the size of a normal suitcase. You’ll never have a problem with airport hassles again, and it only takes a couple of minutes to reassemble your steed when you arrive. It’s a brilliant concept, and an even better one considering the quality of the bike and its ride.
For more information, head on over to www.MOOTS.com
Thank you to Jon Cariveau and the rest of the Moots crew for all of their help.
For lots more pictures, head on over to Flickr for bonus Moots shots and lots more!