Chris Namba, Squid Bikes co-founder, is a busy guy this week at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Denmark. He’s helping USA Cycling wrench on bikes as well as looking after Squid (and Team USA) members Anthony Clark and Sammi Runnels.
We caught up with Chris to talk about topics including the significance of having two “Squid Squad” riders at the world championships. If you know Squid, you know it’s a fun and creative bike brand. Squid started out in Northern California’s grassroots cyclocross community, so it’s a great story to see them here in Bogense for cyclocross’s biggest race. We also love to bring you the perspectives of the people supporting the athletes. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation with Chris:
It’s quite an accomplishment for a small team like Squid to have two riders, one in Elite Men’s and one in Elite Women’s, at the world championship. What does that mean for the team?
That’s been part of the goal. We’ve always wanted to have one elite man and one elite women… It’s been huge. We don’t have a big staff. It’s just Emily [Kachorek] and I day to day. They’re both working class athletes. Anthony has a day job and Sammi is a student. It’s great to be able to rub elbows with all of these huge programs.
What is the team’s goal this weekend in Denmark?
Anthony, he wants to finish on the lead lap…. He would be over the moon if he could finish top 30. Sammi, she’s more open. This is her first time racing cyclocross in Europe even. She’s not really sure where she will stack up quite yet… We as a company, we’re just here to support them as much as possible. We don’t like to put a lot of external pressures on our riders, like ‘you need to race at this level or you’re cut.’ When we’ve approached riders it’s always, ‘This is a career contract for you. As long as you want to race with us, we want you to race with us.’ (Sammi finished a solid 30th in the Elite Women Saturday in Denmark.)
What’s your role on race day?
Mechanic and soigneur. Most race weekends it’s just me and the two athletes. I drive the van. I do all the washing, bike prep. I work the pits and then drive them back, then clean, prepare, get ready for the next day.
What do you see as the biggest difference from cyclocross to Europe compared with the North American circuit?
It’s how dense the field is. On a lot of American courses after the first couple of laps it really strings out. It seems like a lot of the European races, you have to race that full 45 minutes or hour… there’s always someone to chase, and there’s always someone chasing you.
Both of your athletes are running Force 1. What kind of gearing are they running?
Sammi is always a 38 front ring with 11-32 cassettes. Anthony’s almost always on the 42 front (with the same cassette).
What do you see as the benefits of running a 1x system?
Anthony even runs 1x on the road. He’s sold completely on it.
This season Squid switched from running tubular to tubeless with your Zipp wheels. What was behind that decision?
I was a very early adopter of tubeless. I knew that it worked for me in amateur racing, so I kind of eased into the idea of the athletes trying the system out. It’s really helpful for how much we travel. We’ll go to Australia, then to China, then Japan, then along to the domestic circuit. It allows us to bring far fewer sets of wheels because we don’t have to have as many sets, either that or your changing (tubular) tires week to week, which I did last year
And you said you’ve had fewer flats this year?
Talk about Squid Bikes a little bit. Who are your customers?
I feel like they’re a customer who’s interested in something that’s handmade or bespoke but can’t quite afford a full custom bike. That’s kind of what we went after. We’re producing domestically made frames but at a price point that’s closer to something that’s a little bit more widely produced. They’re stock sizes we do in small batches. They’re made in Sacramento. I go to the factory probably once a month to have oversight over the manufacturing process. We get to have benefits of a small handmade bike but also try to have the more competitive pricing of a production bicycle.
Are your customers mostly cyclocross athletes or gravel and road riders?
It’s both. It’s a lot of lower category master’s and cross racers. We have a few elite racers and then a couple of junior prospects. For the most part, I think they are people who are attracted to kind of the vibe we’re putting out. They like the flashy paintjobs and different style we’re trying to bring to the sport.
Do most people end up painting their own bike?
Initially it was that way. There was a time we sold paint. We sold bikes. You had to do it yourself. Then we had more and more requests (for us) to paint it…. Now I would say probably three quarters of the bikes we sell, we paint.
Photos of Sammi Runnels and Chris by boats in Bogense, Denmark by @dperker
Photo of Chris ready to paint by Wil Matthews
Photo of Chris with Zipp wheel by @eggoswithsyrup