If you were at Over the Hump race #1 this year, perhaps you noticed the free shirts from the featured shop, Rock N’ Road. Tucked away in the logo was a ’25 Years’ emblem, noting the 25 years since Matt Ford started Rock N’ Road in 1991. I gave him a call and catch up on in the last few years and ask him about his involvement with Over the Hump.
Below is a paraphrase of our 40 minute phone conversation and interview.
Eric Williams – Hey man, share a little bit about where you’re from, high school, college, family etc…
Matt Ford – I grew up in Mission Viejo and I moved out of the area when my parents divorced in the 8th grade to the West Covina/Glendora area. I started high school at Damien High School and finished at Glendora High. After my senior year, I went to Cal State Fullerton.
EW – Do you ever miss that Glendora area up against the mountains?
MF – They each have their benefits. You know what, I don’t miss the smog. During the summer, the smog up there, you go for a 40-50 mile bike ride and you come back and I would cough for hours. We just don’t have that problem along the coast. I definitely miss Glendora Mountain Road, I used to ride that 4-5 times a week. Road and off-road.
Through high school, I managed Glendora Mountain Schwinn. I started at 16, it was my first job. I was managing the bike shop by the time I was 18. I got married early, 22, and opened up Rock N’ Road 6 months later and here we are 25 years later.
EW – 25 years, wow!!! A lot of shops don’t make it 25 months.
MF – Yeah, and we have grown and grown and grown. Our first expansion was in 1997 in our Mission Viejo store. In 2001 we opened our second store in Laguna Niguel, we opened Anaheim Hills, as our third store around 2005/2006. Then within a year, we opened Anaheim, so we opened two stores within two years.
EW – How did you get into cycling?
MF – I started commuting back and forth to school on my bike, from Covina to West Covina every day. Then I started watching the Tour de France and Race Across America (RAAM) and got inspired and thought it was something I wanted to be a part of.
When I was 15 I would go into the bike shop every day and look at this Raleigh Grand Prix, it was the bike I wanted to buy. I finally put it on lay-away and they offered me a job because I was in there so much. So I bought the bike, got into crit (Criterium) racing my junior year high school. I used to drive to the races in my ’73 VW Super Beetle all throughout high school and college.
Once I opened my own store, some of my customers were into the long distance events and I got into double and triple centuries. Which led to longer races like Furnace Creek 508 and Bicycle Across Missouri (576 miles nonstop in 35 hours) with the hope of doing RAAM.
After Bicycle Across Missouri, I ended up getting hurt and having back surgery. I refocused on the business, got remarried, and started a family (2 sons – Jake and Brady).
EW – What is your current view of the bicycling industry?
MF – Our core, the majority of the product we sell is definitely mountain. I think the industry as a whole is suffering, since the whole Lance debacle. Road bike sales have died off. Safety is a part of that, there is lots of apprehension on the road. Being able to offer customers a solution on the dirt at a cheaper entry point has been key. Also the learning curve on a mountain bike is easier.
One of the great things about Over the Hump is it takes down a lot of barriers that prevent people from getting into the sport.
EW – What does Rock N’ Road offer towards Over the Hump racers?
MF – On any given night, we are trying to be a contact point for people that are familiar with our business… to come up and get a quick bike service or ask a question or put a face with a name in a different, casual environment than in a business-shop environment. Initially we thought of OTH as a business opportunity—“This is going to be great, we are going to get lots of customers!”—but we have learned over the past few years that this is more of a social gathering in which we are simply representing our business not necessarily trying to create new business.
At Over the Hump… we are here to help if you need it!
But we want you to have fun and we want to have fun as well!
At the end of the day, we try and encourage our customers to build a relationship with your local bike shop. There is enough population density where we live to support the business, and for us our goal is to retain the customers we get.
EW – I have three more questions for you…well actually I have three written down, but thirty swimming in my head from this conversation. Everyone knows Matt Ford the great Strava champion. I was looking at your Strava page while we were talking and you see how many KOMs/CRs you have. There are 20 KOM segments per page and you have 50 pages!! Do you have over 1000 KOMs or is this a glitch in the system???
MF – Its true!! And I have worked hard for everyone of them.
EW – That is what I want to hear, take pride Matt Ford, take pride!!
MF – I have busted my balls for every single one of them! Today I went out with the intention of a KOM and it was 43 min of full on suffering. The beauty of Strava, for me anyways, is it still sparks the competitive fire that I still have. You can compete any day of the week, any time of the day, in any place. With my busy schedule, this keeps the fire hot.
I have been a little addicted to it, but I have backed off a bit…as fast as I was getting them, I was losing them. A lot of the dirt ones I have, are being taken away from me by high school kids that are getting super fast. I’m having fun with it as long as I can. Every one of those thousand KOMs was hard earned.
EW – Switching subjects, you primarily deal with Specialized. Sometimes people have a perception that Specialized can be a bully…what do you think is more the reality?
MF – People would say the same thing about Apple or a lot of different things. In the cycling community people try and identify themselves with a brand such as Santa Cruz because it is a ‘niche brand’ or because it is the ‘cool vibe’ or what not.
At the beginning we were a Trek and Specialized dealer and we decided to go with Specialized because they offered the most complete line of bikes. We felt that they offered cutting edge, innovated kind of stuff that the consumer wanted. For us, it made good business sense that they made a excellent product, they are always innovating coming out with quality stuff. They are the only company in the industry to have their own wind tunnel. They have culture up at Specialized, they are all avid cyclists they love what they do.
EW – What bikes are you currently riding?
MF – Stumpjumper Hardtail S-Works – Intense Carbine 29 – Specialized Roubaix Road bike – A Specialized Levo Electric bike
EW – Are you going to get out there at OTH and put in a couple races this year?
MF – Yeah, I think I will. Baseball for the boys is busy, so hopefully I will be able to make it out there. I also might do Leadville, so that is out there, but it bumps up right up next to school.