If you walk through the central canals of Amsterdam, it is very easy that you end up finding yourself along Haarlemstraat. Close to that beautiful, old European street that links the center with the Westerpark, you will find a nice space full of bikes, music instruments, graphics, and a vibrant sense of things happening.
There, Jon will be moving around, buzzing energy, talking and always sporting one of those cycling caps.
How did you become a cyclist?
My grandparents were bike tourists, and my dad got into competitive riding. I got infected with cycling through that, and then in University it kind of became this political statement as it is in the States: choosing to cycle is/was a statement against driving. Then got involved with the bike messengers in Atlanta, ended up involved in a fixed-gear [track bikes meant for the velodrome with no brakes] shop, got into fixed gears, track bikes, messenger culture, alleycats (kind of clandestine urban race biking), all that kind of stuff.From there it became actual track racing, crits, road races and down the line also cyclocross, of course gravel and nowadays bikepacking races too.
What do you get out of cycling?
Historically I’d love to do it with people; so it’s a big social aspect: how I met people, how I built my network. Also, a common answer: people find headspace and kind of meditation, or it’s like a way of sort through your thoughts, and in all these long-distance things I have had it too: when I’m riding for days on it by myself, and you’re just by yourself. It’s like this out of body Peyotl experience when I’m riding along the Chinese border thinking “what is life?”, so it gives me that headspace where I don’t get notifications on my phone, I’m not checking messages, e-mails or whatever.
How and when did Twotone started?
It’s a pretty chronological thing, when I got into riding in the city in Atlanta, in college, I got into fixed gears, I built my first fixed gear conversion – which means like a road bike that you put a fixed gear wheel on, and I bought the frame I think like on Ebay. It was green and yellow, and I put yellow bar wrap, and yellow tires, and I was like man, I’m gonna get a yellow shirt, yellow jacket, yellow cap. I ride pass the messengers sat downtown and they were like “who is this Twotone m****er”, so I’d ride by and I was on a fixed gear, and there was only so many people that were on bikes at all, much less riding fixed. Then later I got a real track bike, a purple and orange Keiriin frame from Japan, and then my Vans were purple and orange, my bag was purple and orange and I ran with this Twotone thing, and it became my nickname.
And I’ve got this, kind of what I understood back then, brand equity, like a personal brand; and this is when Twitter was coming out, MySpace was kind of falling out, I knew I wanted to make my own Blog, to create something. As I got out of the bike shop I had back then,Twotone went from a nickname to a blog, like a personal thing. I came across recently that I was even in the media list of Rapha when they just started in US [Rapha is a cycling clothing brand that brought the hype, and even fashion, to the cycling world – also often criticized for that].
When I moved here, long, long story short, my first two jobs in Amsterdam didn’t work out, and I was OK, what I’m gonna do,… I have this Twotone thing, I think I’m just gonna freelance, I’m gonna change this into a commercial thing. And that made total sense to me because I already had this existence online. Five years into it, being an agency essentially, it’s not even my nickname anymore, except for some friends in America, they’d still call me Twotone.
What’s the most important decision you took as a cyclist?
I think getting into fixed gears and track bikes. Riding a bike with no brakes in the city is like this punk-rock thing and even if I had this background on my family, and that kind of foundation being there, the most important pivotal decision was to get into that type of riding, and all of that; and I think that predicated my whole philosophy on cycling, because now I’m one of those guys that thinks that bikes can save the world and make cities better. I can’t imagine being some roadie, working in a cubicle all week just caring about my carbon bike and driving an Audi or something; like it wouldn’t mean the same thing to me. There is an article that I put in our newsletter recently: the bicycle as a symbol of resistance. The bike became way more symbolic to me because of my roots.
And as a Businessperson?
When I started Twotone I established it as a corporation as opposed to setting out as a freelancer. I knew I wanted to have colleagues and people work with me; I love the solidarity and the vibe of people sharing a common goal, the team feeling.
How’s the cycling industry doing right now?
Globally the demand for bikes is back up but what I’ve read is that it also happened in the 70’s around the oil crisis. I don’t know if this is gonna stay this way, and from the work I do – we work with marketing managers, people from brands, those people are still quite uncertain on how to proceed.
Many brands are cautious about what can we say, you know, right in the middle of the Corona stuff was/is the Black Lives Matter protests, and brands are also like “wait a second all the people in our campaigns are white”, and that’s a problem in the cycling industry also: a bunch of white dudes wearing stretchy clothes, we gotta fix this.
Furthermore we can’t even do a group ride right now, can we? And the trade shows are closed. Nothing that can’t be overcome or fixed but certainly some real challenges.
We had to slow down; we technically lost two clients – one might come back. We’re lucky enough – because there is sustained consumer demand, that we kept most of our clients. We’re gonna be fine and ultimately there will be plenty of opportunity, as brands will continue to need help navigating and growing in new markets and niches.
We recently interviewed five of our clients and we asked what are the three things that you had to do/change in the time, and we got an amazing overview of the ways they changed launch schedules, how they kept employees engaged, the way they changed their marketing calls to action, and much more..
Ultimately it’s gonna be great for bikes, I don’t know if it’s gonna stay that way, but I’m optimistic about it.
Where do you see it going?
More and more people will ride in cities. We’ll see more and more bike infrastructure; e-bikes are gonna be part of this, people can ride further, they don’t need to be as fit, or be sweaty, to ride in hotter climates nor tackle climbs, hills etc. E-bikes are making a huge difference out there; they are not super equitable, not everybody can buy; there will be more bike share options too.
If I’d work on the car industry right now, I’d be more nervous… we don’t need more traffic jams of electric cars, or freaking self-driving cars, forget about it. It’s gonna be more bikes than anything.
I see cycling becoming more mainstream and positive for everybody. People that never considered bikes before they gonna be “damn, I think I’m gonna ride!”.
You have cycled through remote and distant places, last trip was 1150km through the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, how’s decision making on those hard, lonely places?
You see it kind of here now during this interview, I got people coming in now for Ampler test rides, I’m getting text messages that I want to ignore, but I can’t like completely tune out; I have an important meeting, and like I have to figure out dinner for the kids later; my daughter’s birthday party is this weekend, and I love all the hustle. I love when I finally get to bed and I got so much done, it’s super gratifying and everything, but when I’m out there, there is no internet, there is no Instagram, there is no e-mails, there is nothing. Technically everything I could need, I would need, it’s on my bike; any kind of technical issue I could solved it on my bike; I have my all food, my water and decision making is simple
All I have to do is follow the path on my little wahoo, navigation computer, I just follow this dotted line and cover as much ground as I can that day, and after decide: do you wanna get food there or not, do you wanna sleep next to this rock or not.
You know, you spend every week of every month doing your thing, going to work, drinking around a bunch of beers; like you coulda rode across the country, you know what I mean? You could. And that is a reminder to me of what you’re capable of, and how simple it is out there.
I often find when I come back and into this daily whatever, I wistfully think kind of, man, those specific moments where I was out there and there was nothing, like days, and it seems like you miss it a little bit, and certainly, I wouldn’t live in Kyrgyzstan, I like the city life, but I think it’s good to have that perspective.
When you are out there you’ve way less doubt, fewer implications; you don’t have to get an approval, or you’re not gonna be late to anything; like I’m mega tired, I’ve been riding for twenty hours, I’m gonna sleep for four hours, then I’m gonna get back up, I’m gonna keep riding; and you just do it, and you just keep going, you’re just following this line, and your goal is to get to the end of 1150 km. It’s just super clear.
When in doubt lead it out, just go for it, man; you don’t have to second guess it, don’t even hesitate.
If you would give advice to someone that is about to make a life-changing decision, what would it be?
Look before you leap.
Listening. For life-changing decisions, I think ultimately there is always a way to come around. Have consideration. Empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Take a moment: who is this gonna affect, what does it actually mean to them, why does it mean that? Take a look at what’s going on, and really consider the big picture. Weigh the options.
Any tips for the cycling kooks?
Take the time to be able to handle your shit: can you change your flat tire? There are a million YouTube tutorials [and we found one for you], have what you need to do it. You can go further than you think, but make sure that you have the tools to get yourself out of the pinch. Don’t get stranded.
Big thanks the Jon. You can check out Twotone PR agency here.
As always, all the best from Potsdam. Until next time,
The Team at ODE ❤️