The Tart Interview
by Ben Swales
popularity : 1%
Tarty Bikes is the world’s leading online bike trials shop, renowned for their huge range of bikes and parts and for their impeccable customer service and selling to trials riders all over the world. But it wasn’t always that way; owner Adam ’The Tart’ Read started out building and servicing wheels in his bedroom to fund his studies before seeing the need for a specialist trials shop where riders could buy the parts that they needed from people who knew what they were talking about, setting up the first incarnation of the Tarty Bikes website. Things have gone from strength to strength since that fateful day, and he now employs a team of dedicated and experienced staff, has moved, for the third time, into a much larger warehouse and sells products to 70 countries world wide. We recently caught up with Adam to talk about his phenomenal journey and his impressions of the modern trials industry and community. He gave us some very interesting and informative answers, which you can read below.
Hi Adam. Tarty Bikes are the world’s leading online trials shop, and is now the shop where pretty much everyone in the UK, and most people from around the world, buy their trials bikes, parts and gear. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how Tarty Bikes came into being and got to where it is now?
Hello! Well I guess the first ’seeds’ for the shop were sown when I was at university studying Sports Engineering around 2002. I’d been into trials for a few years and the bikes were starting to get more specialist, but getting hold of the parts wasn’t that easy. The internet was starting to be more popular, which helped, but it was still a bit slow getting hold of bits and ordering from various different shops. I often thought a ’one stop shop’ would serve the needs of riders much better.
I had been doing wheelbuilding and Chris King hub servicing from my bedroom for a while, which was paying my rent and food bills, and then got a job at Supercycles (Onza) building their complete bikes. This gave a route into the industry, without it things would have been tricky I think. At this time, late 2004, there was a pretty large minimum first order from Onza (around 5 complete bikes I seem to remember), but because of working there they allowed a small parts order instead.
Armed with a few sets of pedals, a couple of handlebars, some stems, grips and chains a very basic website was set up. The money made went straight back in for the next load of products, and things progressed from there!
We have now moved premises three times and have a 9500sqft ( 900 sqm) warehouse with indoor riding facility, and sell to over 70 countries. It’s weird looking back on photos of our old places!
What is the Tarty Bikes philosophy or mission?
I have never really thought about this before, just ran the business however felt ’right’, but I guess it would be something along the lines of... To supply riders with the best parts and service possible, constantly looking at the whole scenario from their point of view to ensure the experience is as good as it can be. Slightly long-winded but hopefully that covers it all!
Can you tell us a bit about your product range? How many different brands/products do you carry? There are some Tarty Bikes branded products in your catalogue aren’t there? Are these products that you’ve developed yourselves, or rebranded products?
Sure - at the moment we stock over 3000 different products from around 140 brands, and as you said there are a couple of own-brand items. Some of these, such as the 20" stem, are ’off the shelf’ products that we know offer great value for money and combine good weight with high strength. Other items, like the bashring, are custom made to our design to fill a gap in the market or get around problems with other brand’s offerings.
You recently moved into new premises, your third move since 2005. How did it go? What’s the new Tarty HQ like?
The move went pretty well, thanks! Closing for those two weeks was definitely worth doing I think, if we had stock in two locations and were trying to answer phones and emails while moving it would have been a complete nightmare, both for us and our customers. We now have a lot more space, which has allowed everything to be much more organised. We had outgrown the last warehouse and were having to work on top of each other which wasn’t great! We still have a bit of space to expand into, too.
and of the move and new warehouse
After moving it, we also produced a ’Warehouse Tour’ video, in order to show everyone round the new premises:
And another of Stan and Cap riding the new indoor riding area:
You have a very close-knit team of staff at Tarty Bikes, with a wealth of trials knowledge and experience between them. Tell us a bit about them and what they do. Are you all riders yourselves?
All the full-time guys here ride trials and have done for many years, but we also enjoy BMX and mountain biking as well. Right from the start I decided that employing riders would be the only way to keep the shop focused, since only riders know the needs of riders, but it does mean that getting good staff is tricky! Mark, Gav and Cap both travel around 25m/40km each way to get to work, and Stan’s journey is around 25 minutes too.
Stan mainly deals with emails, telephones and ordering and has been working here over 5 years now. Gav takes care of picking and packing, with Cap in the workshop. Mark now handles all the website stuff, including product photos and videos where his degree in digital media comes in handy, and is currently working on new detailed product videos which we are releasing gradually through Feb/March 2012. Claire, my fiancée, also works here doing accounts stuff and order picking/packing - she actually knows the warehouse better than me, although it is quite strange chatting bike jargon with her!
There’s quite a variety of styles and personalities on the staff, with Cap and Stan’s pure trials backgrounds and Mark’s street credentials and Clean blog etc., do you find that helps provide a more rounded service to your customers?
Absolutely! It’s great to have ’specialists’ in each individual area of trials, it really helps customers nail down exactly the parts/bikes they want. Trials is small, and requires specialist staff members anyway, but to be able to chat with customers in such a level of detail is really useful I think.
Tarty Bikes co-founder Dave Cleaver left to set up Trialtech and Inspired a few years ago, and these are now arguably the most popular trials brands in the UK, with street riders and competitors alike running their products. What do you make of Dave’s success? Does trials need more people like him/brands like Trialtech/Inspired?
It’s great that Dave’s been able to make a success of his new brands; for both him and the progression of the sport in my opinion. His way of working is pretty similar to ours I think, rider-owned, very focused and huge attention to detail. I believe this is the only way to supply the best service/products in such a niche market, you have to know every detail inside out. It seems these are the sorts of companies who are succeeding at the moment, too.
There’s a lot of debate at the moment between the two ‘factions’ in trials, the purists and the street riders, with some purists getting up in arms and saying that street isn’t really trials, and other pure trials riders such as Ben Travis and Thomas Remvik Aasen moving to shorter, streety frames with seats and talking about having more fun on their bikes. What do you make of it all? Is there any reflection of the trends in your sales etc.? Where do you see trials going in the next few years?
I can understand it, but I often wonder how much is internet bravado! If you put everyone on a ride together, I can’t imagine anything other than people getting along and having a laugh - at least I hope it would be that way. Trials is too small to try and fight itself in my opinion.
I think riders ’returning to their roots’ (remember small XC frames with seats and big, home-made bashrings?) is just a way to get some interest back into riding after having been into it for a long time, just like Ben and TRA are doing. I guess it’s like fashion, haha, it comes and goes in cycles. Since trials is so young still we are only just hitting the second ’wave’ I think, and the guys who are out there ’inch pinching’ at the moment (nothing wrong with that, of course!) may find that they want to change tack at some point and do something different once progression has slowed down.
We are certainly finding that there seems to be a correlation between the ages of riders and buying ’streety’ parts, with people who have been into the sport longer often trying a new angle (and if they are like me they are getting less flexible so extreme sidehop tucking isn’t possible any more, haha).
Difficult to say what will happen in the future, but I think with the new wave of streety riders/bikes it can only be a good thing in terms of offering riders more options of having fun on their bikes, and making the sport more visible to other areas of cycling and the general public (I guess that discussion is a completely different can of worms though!). I sincerely hope the competition scene doesn’t suffer mind you, because there are a lot of people who put a lot of time and effort in there, and without comps you could say there is no yardstick for riders to measure themselves up against.
You have quite a comprehensive team of riders that you sponsor and support, from elite competition riders like Jack Carthy to street monsters like Danny MacAskill. Do you have a preferred style yourself? To ride? To watch?
I’m going to kop out here and not pick out a particular style, haha!
To watch, I definitely enjoy both though, any rider who can put together a few moves with style and precision is always great viewing. I’m equally amazed by a huge techy gap up to front wheel, massive sidehop over a rail, or crazy 360 spin crankflip tailwhip combo, even more so if it’s done with a style that flows.
Riding, I am hopeless at streety stuff (and had a bad experience with a brakeless bike, my ankle, and a few weeks with crutches as my best friend), but would like to give it a go this summer if I get time - with brakes on though! Like I mentioned above, I’m in that bracket of riders who have been riding for ages, my body is starting to give up a bit and I’ve come to a point where I can’t see any discernable progression in my riding (in terms of size of moves), so learning something new is very appealing.
What do you make of competition trials at the moment? In the UK? Internationally? We’ve seen a few freestyle events over the years, with the Red Bull Bike Battle a few years ago and Mark’s Clean: Section 01 and the Red Bull Street Light Sessions last year. Do you think this is something we’ll see more of as the street side of things develops?
Competitions seem to be a bit less busy than when I entered them many years ago, but it’s great that there are still a dedicated ’hardcore’ of riders keeping them going. I am sure, with a few injections of fresh ideas, they will start to grow again. Bringing in fresh ideas is why I think the Red Bull and Clean events succeeded, plus they were all about having fun without boundaries. There is definitely room for both ’styles’ of events and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future!
You ran a big trials event in 2011, Tarty Days, have you any plans to run a similar event in 2012? What do you think of events like RadFest?
At the moment it’s still ’in limbo’. I would very much like to do it, but only if we have full control of everything. Last year, sharing the event with Woodfest made certain things not run as smoothly as I wanted, but the major cost of the event would be building a riding area which is where we gained by sharing the event. This is where RadFest has a big advantage, as all the obstacles are already built - which makes for a great weekend automatically. Should be good again this year!
What are the best/worst things about working in a trials shop, making a living from the sport that you love? Have there been any unforgettable highs or lows?
The best thing is definitely when you get good feedback from the customer. It’s amazing when they say thanks for the quick service, or help choosing parts which they enjoy - really feels like the job is worthwhile.
The worst bit is that my hobby is now my job. I think everyone who has done the same would say the same thing (if they work hard). After spending 8 hours (well, usually more like 10-12 for me) a day working with bikes, then going home and having something to eat, it’s usually after 9pm and I’m too tired to ride, plus the motivation to spend even more time with bikes can sometimes be tricky to find. The summer always helps with this though - light nights definitely draw me outside!
Highs and lows... well these seem to come on a daily basis, and unfortunately my memory is too bad to remember anything specific...
Do you read Tribal Zine? What do you think of the site?
I am not a religious TribalZine reader (but the same can be said of every website in the world!), however I always have a look at the latest articles when I see them pop up on Trials-Forum. It’s great that there is a frequently-updated and in-depth resource for all trials news though, especially being translated into a few languages. Pretty impressive amount of work - hats off to you guys, and thank you for providing such a great resource!