The where did you go era…
Have you ever wanted something so bad you are willing to put everything on the line for it. In poker it is called – All IN!
In real life it is called STUPIDITY! My blessing and savior through my adult life has been April.
She is the voice of reason verses my live on the edge strategy. In 1995 Block Alternatives was running full blast. A real life sweatshop with 25 people working wide open manufacturing clothing, hockey and BMX accessories. By 1998 things had slowed down and we entered a year of what I call damage control. I remember sitting at my desk with every bill spread out in front of me. The total due to suppliers, general bills, and taxes was a little over $120,000. How did we get here I was thinking to myself? This was 100% my doing, I had done this with my decisions. Simple math; payroll was 10K a month overhead was another 10K that alone is $20,000. Have a few slow months of industry changes, slow sales and complacency and you dig into a hole really fast. I got on the phone with everyone that we owed money to. Anyone else at that moment (with any sense) would have called it quits – bankrupt. Not me I have been unable to surrender my whole life. Probably not the best trait in this scenario but never the less I was going down with the ship!
My dad had always told me take care of local first no matter what. So that is what I did. All of our supplies cooperated and allowed us to make payments without cutting us off. We leaned out staff and actually moved a year later to a smaller more affordable unit. We took on outside contract work to pay bills and in reality that was the end of the Block Alternatives brand as we knew it. From that point on we focused on outside accounts and did our line as the secondary. It was unfortunate but necessary. You have to make decisions based on economics not passion when you get in that situation. We paid off every single account 100% in the next couple of years and redeemed ourselves in the industry. April went after outside accounts and we became busier by the day. But that was only a fraction of the problems that had to be overcome.
I have always put 100% into whatever I am involved in. Some people exaggerate and say 110% but that is impossible. 100% is absolutely everything, that is my investment. There was a distinct day of change. I had been playing a lot of hockey and not riding bikes much. Wayne Croasdale built a mountain bike for me and brought it to the shop. I hadn’t really ridden bikes in the past two years but was pretty fit from hockey which crosses over pretty well. He told me to meet him at his house the next day, which was Saturday for a ride.This date is pretty unforgettable as it was April’s birthday. I got my bad habits from Wayne. Two things happen on every ride. They are LONGER and they are HARDER then promised – ALWAYS! I left early, told April I’d be home in a few hours and met Wayne at his house. We drove to Valyermo and got on our bikes headed up the mountain to Wrightwood. I knew it was going to be a big ride, but I had no idea how big. The most impressive thing in the world at the time for me was a TV show called Eco Challenge. It was a documentary of an Expedition Race that would last 7-10 days with no assistance and a number of outdoor disciplines (hiking, biking, paddling,swimming, mountaineering, horseback, rope climbing. etc). It was everything that i ever wanted to do but it didn’t seem in any way humanly possible. As we rode all I talked about to Wayne was Eco. How whatever we were doing was just a fraction of what they do. We were out for a few hour ride. They went 10 days straight. This probably annoyed Wayne as the day progressed and he probably went into I’ll show you mode… This might have been the point where the ride quadrupled in length. He was thinking – I’ll show you Eco Challenge…
So we climbed the mountain past Jackson Lake, past the ski lifts to the very top
and then descended Acorn into Wrightwood and had lunch. I was prepared for a 2 hour MTB ride and we were already 4 hours in. Just like Everest, when you reach the summit you are exactly half way done. After lunch we climbed out on Highway 2 to the lifts, up Blue Ridge, and descended back down to Jackson Lake. Then we did the gnarliest descent above Manzanita with an absolutely insane skree slide that dumped us back into Valyermo. Now remember this is the hard tail era, high seat posts and 80mm forks. Total ride time – just under 8 hours, just over 65 miles. Welcome back to cycling! One other take for granted element of today – no cell phones. I would not be talking to April for another half hour or so until we got back to Wayne’s. That is to say if she was ever going to talk to me again… This story is 100% relevant to what was about to happen next. I was in for big changes. Block Bikes was in for some big changes. And April? She was about to become the most patient woman on the planet… Till next time!…
Somehow it worked itself out an I survived from 1983 – 1991 without becoming bankrupt. What I learned was economy and survival skills of how to live off minimal without taking advantage of others. In other words make something out of nothing. Of course there were people that were always there for me and took me in when the bottom fell out. I am still friends with each of these people to this day. I will never be able to pay those individuals back personally so the pay it forward is in effect. That is really what made me into who I am today.
But, I did end up with a career. It has been a long winding road and most of the time I feel like I am just getting going. I started Block in 1990 by having a BMX frame made by my sponsor Cycle Craft in Tennessee. We made about 100 Block frames and I had a difficult time with it as I was under capitalized and unable to satisfy demand. I only made a few dollars per frame and it went back into accessories. I couldn’t get enough bikes made to survive on the small margins I had to work with.
It is not possible to run a small business solely. I worked 7 days a week at least 12 hours a day. I stopped racing, in fact I had stopped riding except for occasional clinics that I used to promote the brand. I couldn’t answer the phone, take orders, print shirts, deliver orders, collect payments and design stuff by myself. My cousin gave me every minute of his spare time and days off which was like 16 days a month but we were struggling. We landed a couple of huge orders. One to Pacific Sunwear and anther to Hot Topic. Thankfully that was the time that April came on board. I was not happy, I was at my limit, I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. The local neighborhood (Trend) kids helped package, fold, stack and ship product. I hired a couple of friends as printers. I found a really good graffiti artist who took us to another level. We moved to a small warehouse and we were officially in business!!!
Ever have a kid wander in like a lost puppy and never leave? This my friends is Brandon Koch! (Bran-done Cook) Brandon was the very first kid on the Block Jr. DEVO Team. Not only was he the first, he was actually 2 weeks early. Well, he was on time, the weather didn’t cooperate and we postponed our tryouts two more weeks but officially he was the first!
Brandon was just 16. He had just come off of leg surgery from a bad soccer career ending injury. He bought an entry level mountain bike to start rehab and we told him about the plans to start this kids mountain bike team.
Little did he know that he was about to enter a hornets nest. You see, the kids on this team were national champion BMX racers (Sean McElroy, Angelo Loskota, Dawson Terry) and then a handful of beginners. Brandon was at least 4 years older then the next oldest. I gotta say after the first day I would have bet anything Brandon was never coming back! When you are 16 there is a certain pride and having your ass handed to you by 11 and 12 year olds is unacceptable! Brandon never left, he never quit and to this day is one of the most loyal and true to his words people that I have ever met!
His gimp started to go away as he got stronger and his love for all things bicycle grew. He excelled and got faster every week. We spent a lot of hours in the desert across the street from the shop building trails, doing clinics and training. Brandon was not naturally gifted but he was a student of the sport and his improvement was huge! The thing was he had a big engine from all the soccer that he played he just didn’t know how to control it. Little by little his technical skills improved. The problem was so did the rest of the kids and Sean would continue to haunt Brandon (and the rest of us) for years to come. But this is what assisted Brandon’s progression. This is what his passion grew from!
Then one day things started to come together. Brandon started taking chances. Somehow… he lived! But there seemed to be an overnight transformation that took him to another level. He didn’t so much have the aspirations to become some big racer but he was able to do all disciplines (road & mountain) and do them pretty well! Maybe it was young kids beating him up. Maybe he matured. Maybe it was showing up to every event and practice and putting 100% effort into riding. Something definitely worked!
In 2011 we relocated Block Bikes from the old warehouse location to the current location. The day that we moved Brandon went from a “team rider” to a full time employee and even more a “family member”. This kid at about 100 lbs soaking wet, worked nonstop as a volunteer for the move. Brandon could lift boxes twice his weight over his head and we built scaffolding that we nearly died on. Nothing phased him! Brandon was industrious, intelligent and motivated – things you don’t see in modern day youth! He was sent up to Specialized where he earned and BG Fit certificate and did a ton of bike fits on our customers. In that 3-4 hour process a lot of people got to know Brandon and always complimented at how big an asset he was! He knew every detail of the shop and could do every job description. He was one of the most customer friendly employees that you could ever ask for!
The next few years went by in a flash! The next thing we knew Brandon was loading up and heading out to Tempe Arizona for his engineering degree. It was a huge loss to us although he has come back and worked every vacation since. He is currently the president of the ASU Cycling Team and races the collegiate series in both road and mountain. He has like a million bikes. That’s not true, but you would think that for how many bikes he has had and swapped around. He commutes around campus on his fixie (we are waiting to see his beard), trains on the road bike and races anything that he can get to. Such a dramatic change to the skinny teenager getting whooped up on by gradeschoolers!
During his visits and in between work Brandon does adventures. He loves to ride and travel and do new things. He always seems to be able to get a race in while he is back home. His climbing skills keep improving and it helps when you only way a hundred and nothing… Somehow this kid can manage a full load at school, lead a cycling team, race, travel and still juggle visits with his family in there. Somehow he makes it work. Brandon Koch is already successful but we can’t wait to see where he goes from here!!
Dave Sullivan came into the shop one day to look at road bikes because running was hurting too much. That is a common issue as we get older. Sooner or later the abuse of all that pounding creates takes a toll on knees and ankles. Dave was full rookie, and like many was probably expecting to find a $300 road bike. After he came to from the cold-cock of road bike sticker shock we got to talk a little. I tried to explain and educate him on the whole road experience. First off the bike itself is only half of the cost. Secondly it is only worth purchasing a road bike if you commit and actually ride it. When you ride it and can justify the miles and hours the sky is the limit on price you will be willing to pay for what you really want. We talked a little more and he asked about brands and products. I gave him my best advice: “you buy the shop not the bike”. He listened and explained to me that he had no problem buying a bike but that he felt it wasn’t fair to the family for him to spend that much money on himself. I explained to him that we had a network of riders and if he choose to get into the road bike world he would be best suited with us. I would give him all of the tools to justify the purchase and ride!
I figured like most of us he was on a strict budget, which he was, but for a different reason. He elected a pretty entry level aluminum endurance road bike and needed all of the apparel and accessories. He went over his budget but really went most economical for all necessities. We fitted him, went over the basics, and sent him on his way. The beauty in this story is Dave rode, and rode and rode. He got caught up with a Strava addiction but it was a different experience than most. He just wanted to improve. Dave did not care about what anyone else was doing. He just wanted to keep getting better, go further, and go faster. He came to the shop consistently to share his rides and get advice. What was funny was I could share my experiences with Dave and give him my advice but the fact is I was learning far more from him than him from me! He had so much passion and desire. Such a positive guy always psyched! Did I mention the lights…
Then came that day… The father’s most proud moment! His son Zach wanted to do what Dad was doing, he wanted to share the experience. Dave brought Zach to the shop. This was a whole different shopping experience. It wasn’t about budget, it wasn’t about saving money. This was for his son. Cost wasn’t the basis. Sure, you have to be thrifty and purchase within reason but he was buying something for his son, not himself and it turned into a – what is best for Zach rather than what is the lowest cost for myself. It became very clear that moment. Here is a guy who cares most for his family. To make a long story short Zach left the shop fitted, fully kitted and with a better bike than his father. Did I mention the lights…
Dave continued riding. He did weekday rides from the house and some Saturday morning Block rides. Some with Zach and some solo. He continued his Strava mission and earned his Climbers Jersey from one of the Spring Challenges. His mileage increased and his ability continued to improve. He also got some brighter lights…
Then one day a funny thing happened. Dave’s wife, Christine, witnessed Dave and Zach’s new passion and wanted in. Back to the shop came the family. This time was an even different situation. “I want the most comfortable bike for my wife.” So, Christine gets a full carbon endurance road bike. Better than Dave’s, of course and even more upgrades than Zach! We fitted her, she chose all of her, apparel, we got all of the accessories and Dave set up the LIGHTS…
The “LIGHTS” has been a funny but yet serious topic to Dave (as you can see above). Every bike has been fully equipped with blinding lights for both day and night use. He is very, very, concerned for his families safety and has done everything in his power to keep them as visible to traffic as possible. That is his main concern. Noting wrong with that mentality at all, in fact most of us would be better off if we followed suit.
All in all this is a story about family, love and health! It would be a much better world if we could share in each others family interests together more. I am immediately happy every time I see Dave come in the store. I know he is going to have something positive to say and experiences to share. He has some substantial mileage goals set and will be hitting it hard all fall and winter to achieve them. His goals have rewards and I can’t wait for that day!!!
There are so many people who go through life practically unnoticed for their achievements or at least unappreciated for. Sure there are World Champions, Olympic Medalists, Marathon Winners and every other title imaginable for the elite. But, what about the working class guy. The guy who goes out day after day for no other reason but that he loves it. The guy who wakes up in the morning happy to be alive and ready to challenge another day.
This, my friends, is John Moran!
John is a wealth of knowledge and not afraid of technology. He was born in the Greatest Generation and is a proud working class American. He served in the Army during a volatile time and went into media broadcasting with the telephone company as a career. He was light years ahead of technology working communications for the Olympics, Academy Awards and other high-profile Hollywood events. This brings us to current and explains why his Strava Group: AV Road Ronin came about and all that he does to inspire local cyclists!
John is fit! He does solo 50 mile morning rides into the canyons. He loves to climb. He is deceivingly fast but racing isn’t his reason for riding. He sees things for what they are! John is one of the most positive people who you can carry on a conversation with. Maturity brings knowledge and in most cases a bitterness because of the knowledge. Not the case with Mr. Moran. You can’t help but smile when you talk to him. He is inspiring and he makes you wish you could spend a day living it though his eyes. Don’t get me wrong, he is competitive. Always working to get stronger and faster but not for the reason that most people do. He is not looking for notoriety he simply wants to cover more ground. Maybe it is to hang with the fast group. Not to win, just to be there, to be surrounded by the best. When in reality he is already better, just because of who he is!
John is a huge ambassador to the local riding community! He has promoted contests on his Strava site and donated prizes to the winners out of his own pocket. He is always recruiting and trying to bring more riders to the group. He is submerged in cycling culture. He watches, records and distributes cycling rides and races constantly. John films most of his rides and has provided us with dozens of educational videos that keep us inspired. He rides an average of 100 mile a week and put in just about 5000 miles in 2014. He is on track for an even bigger 2015 year.
So next time you are out and see John ride up and have a conversation with this him. Not just small talk but a deep in-depth conversation. Whether it be cycling, lifestyle, politics, food, guns, traffic, you name it… He’ll engage you and give you a whole new perspective! It’s nice when someone asks you: “how are you doing?” and they are genuinely interested!!!