Interview with Jamie Wightman of Revel Outdoors

Posted: February 28, 2011 in 2011, Interviews
Tags: , ,

I have been speaking to Jamie Wightman of Revel Outdoors. Revel are a local bike shop with branches in Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds. Riders from the shops are frequently seen on the MTB race scene and on the road in their distinctive green and white jerseys. The good thing about having a bike shop run by committed cyclists is that they really do know what they are talking about, what works and what doesn’t. If you haven’t visited either shop yet, I suggest you give them a try, you will be pleasantly surprised!

Have you always been a cyclist or is it something you started relatively recently?

I’ve had a bike(s) of some sort ever since I could walk! I used to cycle to school and deliver papers when I was young, and started mountain biking as soon as I left school and could afford to buy one. To me, cycling has always been so much more than just exercise – it represents freedom and independence, and an easy and cheap way to explore.

 

I know you do a lot of racing has it always been off road or do you get involved in any other disciplines?

I used to participate in a lot of multi-sport events, usually off-road (adventure races) but sometimes on-road (triathlons). The biggest of these was a 6-day event called the Raid Reunion, which involved mountain biking, coasteering, rock-climbing, roller-blading, abseiling and running across the Reunion island. I’ve also done a few big road rides, like the Argus cycle tour in Cape Town, the world’s largest individually timed cycle race with 30,000+ riders. (Incidentally, I’ve also done the other two “world’s largest” South African events – the Comrades Ultramarathon (60miles) and Midmar mile swim). At the moment I take part in the local club time trials as well as any mountain bike races – and I train on a road bike. I also enjoying going to the velodrome with our local club.

 

Have you ever won anything?

Our 3 man team won the Dusk ‘til Dawn in 2009. And I’m the current track champion for the Newmarket Cycling and Triathlon Club. Otherwise, I’ve had several top 10s but never won anything significant.

 

Have you had any notable cycling experiences? Anything that sticks in your mind as “special” or out of the ordinary?

In 1996 I spent 3 months with my brother cycling 4000miles around Eastern Europe, which was pretty special. We covered the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Italy and the South of France.

 

You started Revel Outdoors in April 2007

I have always wondered, what is behind the name Revel Outdoors?

As you might have guessed by now we enjoy doing most outdoor things, and we wanted the ability to expand the business into other outdoor activities. Revel Outdoors means literally “have fun outdoors.”

 

What did you do before opening the shop?

Sarah and I were both doing an MBA at Cambridge – prior to that I was writing software for a Cambridge company.

 

What made you leave that and move into the bike trade?

Sarah and I both wanted to do something for ourselves, and we both enjoyed cycling and running etc. so it seemed like a good idea. Neither of us wanted to carry on with desk jobs. I’ve always tried to convince people to cycle more – for health reasons, fun, and environmental reasons, so this seemed like a good outlet.

 

You now have two shops, one in Bury and one in Newmarket, have you got any plans for expansion or are you staying with two for the time being?

We’re staying with two for the moment. We feel the Bury shop has a huge amount of potential and we need to focus on developing that potential before we try anything new.

 

Do you cater for different markets in each shop or are does each shop have a similar proposition?

Both shops offer the same proposition, although the markets are slightly different – Newmarket has no other bike shop so we get all sorts of customers, whereas in Bury we tend to get more specialist trade.

 

Has, or how do you think, the recession will impact on trade?

The bike trade, in general, did well during the recession, although the last few months of 2010 were very slow. I think this year (2011) will be quite tough, although there are still so many positive signs for bikes. Cycling is pretty cheap when you compare it to other forms of transport/entertainment. And it’s in fashion at the moment.

 

Has there been an increase in interest in commuter type bikes now we are heading towards £1.50 a litre for petrol?

To be honest we don’t do enough commuter bikes to draw any definite conclusions. In Suffolk, a lot of people will use their road / mountain bike to commute, unlike places like London and Cambridge where a lot of bikes are for commuting only. My personal feeling is that people will drive regardless of the cost – they need to be convinced that cycling is better (more fun, easier, quicker, etc.).

 

Do you ride or drive to work?

Mostly ride. It’s a good way to sneak in training miles, if nothing else. I only take the car if there’s a good reason (like I need to carry something huge).

 

If you ride, how far do you go?

It’s only about 5 miles each way to Newmarket. It’s about 14 miles each way when I go to Bury.

 

Do you sneak in extra miles on the way home?

It depends if I’m in “training mode” or not. Recently, I’ve been a bit busy, but I used to regularly go for longer rides on the way home.

 

In the past, people seem to have bought mtbs as their commute, but the development of the mode dedicated fast commuting machine has opened the market up a bit. Have you noticed an increase in interest in this style of bike?

There are definitely more (and better) commuting bikes on the market now than there have ever been, and this has certainly resulted in more interest in these bikes. One of our biggest challenges is overcoming the myths about cheap mountain bikes and their (un)suitability as commuting bikes. Unfortunately, the non-cyclist public is constantly bombarded with messages (from the big advertisers and “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” stores) of just how cheap and comfortable full suspension mountain bikes are (we call them Bicycle Shaped Objects or BSOs in the trade. You can see my contributions to this subject here: http://bicycleshapedobject.wordpress.com/hall-of-shame/). This is a topic that really bugs me – these “bikes” are dangerous, uncomfortable and costly to maintain, and as such they put people off cycling, people who could otherwise become long term bikers.

 

What would you say to someone coming into your shop, looking to ride a bike to work for the first time?

We always try to find out as much as we can about the customer (Where will she be riding? How fit is she? Does she want comfort? Or speed? Low maintenance? Etc.) Once we think we know what the customer wants we can then try and suggest the best bike to fit the customer’s budget. For riding to work, we always try to emphasize simplicity and ease of maintenance.

 

What should they avoid, what should they buy?

For riding to work, don’t think mountain bike! Otherwise, it’s hard to give generic advice without knowing the customer’s specific requirements.

 

Would you say that helmet awareness has increased? I see lots of children wearing helmets that are either too big, too small or are perched on the back of their heads – worse than useless IMO. How would you address the helmet issue when people come into the shop?

Yes – I think helmet awareness has definitely increased. Most people want one with a new bike. And yes – I would guess there are very few people who really know how to wear a helmet properly. We always try to advise people how to fit them properly, even if they haven’t bought the helmet from us.

 

Do you see it as your responsibility to tell people how to wear their helmet properly or is it down to them?

As with any of our products, I think we should make it clear to our customers how they should best be used, and we’d be failing in our jobs if we weren’t doing this. And this includes customers with products that haven’t been bought from us. But no – I think it is important that people take responsibility for safety themselves. Wearing a helmet is only one part of being safe on a bicycle. You could equally ask me if I think it’s our responsibility to ensure our customers are very competent cyclists before selling them any kit/bike, and my answer would be the same: No – people need to take responsibility for themselves.

 

Do they take any notice?

Yes – people wearing their helmets incorrectly are almost always happy to take advice. But do they actually remember it / use it? Who knows?

 

What would you say to a politician or public figure like David Cameron or Boris Johnson who are frequently seen on television or in the papers, with a helmet draped over their handlebars and not on their head?

I’m just really happy they’re out on their bikes promoting cycling. How they choose to go about cycling is up to them.

 

Moving onto the performance end of the market, what would you recommend to someone wanting to enter into the world of club or competitive cycling for the first time? Do they need to go out and buy a carbon framed dream machine like you see on the Tour or can they do just as well on a budget model?

Cycling suffers from the law of diminishing returns (like anything!). So the difference between a £500 bike and a £1,000 bike is massive. The difference between a £4,500 bike and £5,000 is small. Also, you usually need to be a better rider to notice the difference at the higher levels. You certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if you went straight out and bought a fancy bike, but you’d probably do better to start off with something simple and upgrade as you figure out what kind of riding you like (and what kind of rider you are). Basically, if you’re on a tight budget, buy the best you can. If you’ve got money to spend, buy something with upgrade potential – a decent frameset (aluminium is fine), and a 10-speed groupset, so you can upgrade bits as you see fit. If you really get into it and decide you need a much nicer bike, you haven’t wasted anything, because it’s always useful to have a nice simple winter training bike.

 

What is the difference between a top end and say, a £1,500 bike? Would a normal rider notice the difference?

£1,500 would typically get you a carbon frame and perhaps a 105 groupset, with basic wheels. Or an aluminium frame with an Ultegra groupset and slightly nicer wheels. A good top end bike will have massively better wheels – the difference will be very noticeable even to an average rider. The bike will be light and stiff, but smooth over rough roads. Things like stiffness are obviously more noticeable the more fit and serious you are.

 

What is your most popular upgrade? What has people coming into your shop to part with money? Forks, chainsets, the latest bit of CNC bling or is it something like bars or saddles?

Wheels – whether it’s off-the-shelf Mavics and Reynolds for the road bikes, or our handbuilt, colourful choice of Hope / Stans mountain bike race wheels. Converting to 1×9 or 1×10 groupsets has been popular recently too.

 

The bike trade has begun to cater for women more recently. What do you see as the main improvement here? Is it just a case of a wide saddle and a pink paint job or is it more fundamental than that?

The saddle, now there’s a sexist stereotype if ever I saw one. The common opinion is, for a woman to be comfortable on a saddle, she needs to buy a wide one with lots of cushioning… what do you think?

How do you cater for women cyclists in your shop?

Do you stock women specific models or isn’t there the demand?

Luckily (or skilfully!), both our shops have women staff in them. This doesn’t only influence our buying choices, it also allows women to feel more comfortable about talking about the kit they need. The saddle is actually a massive issue for women – but it’s not about the width – it is about the shape and the position on the bike. We do actually stock a lot of women’s specific kit, but the proportion of sales to women is small. It’s a really tough one for cycle shops – to cater for women you have to have a really good range (particularly clothing), and you’re unlikely sell loads of it. A lot of “women specific” stuff is just marketing, but there’s a lot of good stuff too.

 

I see from your website that you support local clubs (Newmarket CC) and TIMBER. Honestly, can you see that TIMBER have made any difference to riding in Thetford Forest?

There are some bits of trail that are obviously TIMBER built, and some that aren’t. Either way, the impression I get is that if you want any building done, TIMBER are the people to support. From a personal point of view, I know the forest very well, and probably don’t use much of the TIMBER trails because I’m on the less used trails, but I’d guess they make a big difference to encouraging Joe Public to the main trails – which is a very good thing. There’s probably also a lot of essential maintenance work that goes unnoticed.

Is there anything you would like see them do?

I think it would be great if they could get permission to build some Chicksands-type stuff. For those who know it well, Thetford will always be great for singletrack, but it would be great to have some more exciting stuff.

 

Have they done anything that you feel is really good?

To have the trails we want, mountain bikers need to communicate with the FC, and ultimately this has got to be the best thing TIMBER can offer.

 

On the MTB scene, 29ers are becoming more popular in the UK. They have more or less taken over in the US, do you see more interest in the 29er or is it still pretty niche in the UK?

I’ve got a feeling it’s going to take off, but there’s still a lot of scepticism in the trade. It’s certainly growing quickly amongst the enduro racers – I was completely surrounded by 29ers at the last race!

What are the advantages of the 29er over the 26er or vice versa?

29er = smoother ride, less fatigue and more stability (easier to ride) because of the bigger tyre footprint.

26er = more responsive, more controllable on technical courses, faster

That’s why 29ers are great for enduros, and new riders. Also, if you need a full-sus 26er for a bumpy course, you can often get away with a hardtail 29er, eliminating the weight advantage of the 26er.

What is your ride of choice?

I’ve been riding an Orbea Oiz for a while now. It’s like the Cannondale Scapel, with a short travel rear end that eliminates a pivot by flexing the carbon chainstays. It rides like a hardtail, but is soft on the bumpy stuff. I also have an Orange R8 which has a fantastic feel on swoopy singletrack like we have in Thetford. I will be getting myself a 29er soon though!

On the road, I was on an Orbea Orca last year (ex-TDF team bike!), and a Giant Defy Advanced the year before. I’ll probably be on a Cannondale Super-six this year, but have yet to decide. As you can see I like to try out all the products.

How successful has your race team been over the last 12 months? Have you got any up and coming stars we need to keep an eye out for? Any proto Liam Kileens or Brad Wiggins?

Our race team has a strong emphasis on having fun, so we don’t necessarily pick members on ability. However we’re competitive enough to have a go at the podium when we can! Our biggest success was winning the 3 man Dusk ‘til Dawn race in 2009 – we came 3rd in 2010. We also came 3rd in the TORQ 12:12 endurance race. We always get top 10 finishers in the Winter Series races (we had two series podiums at the last race yesterday). And some of out riders do very well in local time trials.

Finally, your chance to talk about your shops and your stock. What is hot and what is not? Where are you seeing the most interest is it high end MTBs (like the lovely Giant Anthem 29er which I positively lust after) or is it something more mainstream?

Road generally seems more popular than MTB, even though we’re mostly MTBers at heart. Triathlon is a big growth area, and we always have a good stream of customers who are new to the sport and need advice on bikes and kit for doing local events. At the moment we are seeing a lot of interest in our custom race wheels and bikes (MTB) because they offer a good value alternative to the mainstream offerings. In general, we’re committed to offering products that we think are fit for purpose and suitable for our customers, rather than those that are just fashionable or look good. By being honest and offering sensible products we hope to get long term customers who keep coming back for more.

 

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