‘We don’t necessarily do things in the most conventional way’
If ever there were a tagline to sum up State Bicycle Company, this would probably be it.
Founded in Arizona in 2009 by brothers Mehdi & Reza Farsi and Eric Ferguson, State Bicycle exists to break the mould in the cycling industry. ‘The bike industry is pretty archaic,’ Mehdi tells me on Monday evening. ‘Their customers are not the end user – their customers are bike shops.’
Tired of an industry that isolated the cycling sport from everyone except ‘more affluent, mostly white men, maybe 45 and up,’ State Bicycle sought to challenge the status quo, rejecting the traditions – and price tags – that the bike industry is founded upon, and instead going direct to the source: their audience. If it seems like they’re doing things more with the consumer in mind, it’s probably due to the fact that they’ve built the company around them.
‘I grew up around cycling,’ Mehdi explains, ‘I was a huge fan – but not a participant, because I didn’t think it was accessible to me. All the people I knew who were riding were friends of my father.’ Mehdi discovered fixed gear cycling – bikes with one gear and no freewheel – and found that more like-minded people existed within the subculture. ‘There were a lot of creative people who were into the same music as me, who would get on a bike with jeans on and ride to the bar.’ But fixed gear cycling then was an investment of both time and money; with an underdeveloped market, fixed gear riders had to source individual parts and put it together themselves.
And so, State Bicycle set about tapping into that market.
‘We started trying to think about well-curated, well-designed bikes that we would want to ride ourselves – that didn’t cost a fortune.’ This formed the crux of the State Bicycle ethos – attractive, user-friendly bikes that hit a hitherto underserved lower price band. Mehdi explains that for many, fixed gear offers an easy way into cycling as a culture and a sport – but as many young particular are priced out of the market, State Bicycle has begun to plug the benefits of fixed gear to more receptive ears. ‘What was initially appealing about fixed gear was the simplicity of the bikes. You don’t have to be a certified mechanic to work on the bike – you can learn everything there is to know about it very quickly, and everyone’s bike is an evolving project. The bike takes on your personality and becomes an expression of yourself.’
Importantly, fixed gear places weight on enjoyment. ‘You don’t necessarily have to have a kit, a jersey, or be riding with a Garmin and paying attention to mileage – you’re going out and enjoying it, for a rush.’ It’s a welcome social culture for young people – and it’s on this that State Bicycle laid the foundations of their company. ‘We started, on a very local basis, hosting races and throwing rides every Wednesday – really uniting the riders that were our age locally.’ By engaging with their local community – effectively, their peers – they actively sought to create a community that shared the lifestyle that cycling had to offer with as many people as they could reach.
‘Our rides weren’t like traditional rides. When you show up there, everyone’s staring each other down – it’s a really competitive atmosphere. When we would do things, it was fun! We’d go out at like 8pm, we’d ride to go get beers and pizza – just providing a good time.’ The grassroots engagement that the company employed during their inception – and continue to provide years later – served them well, and word of mouth meant they quickly developed a reputation within their local community.
It’s one that they’ve also maintained, thanks to their ability to engage and empathise with their market. One such example is the ‘stolen bike policy’ that State Bicycle honours, where they offer anyone who’s had their bike taken $100 off a new product. ‘A lot of our customers are students. They might have $600 to their name, and they’re choosing to spend $500 of that with us… our customers rely on their bike to get to work, to school, around in general.’ State Bicycle knows their market, they know how to inspire loyalty in their demographic – but importantly, this is all served by the fact that they know what it’s like to be the customer, in a way that big brands and bike shops perhaps don’t.
‘Honesty is weaved into the fabric of the company, as much by its founders’ characters as it is by an understanding of who their business is talking to. ‘We’ve built something that millennials and Gen Z customers can relate to and want to be a part of because it’s authentic. If it’s not authentic, it’s very difficult to replicate. Young people are extremely savvy, they can sniff out bullshit pretty quickly – and they will act accordingly with their dollars. If something’s authentic, it will be successful.’
This trickles down to their basic business strategies, as well; social media engagement, marketing. State Bicycle is a company built on bringing people together through cycling, something that’s not hindered – but instead, helped – by their majority online presence. ‘You can take a picture of a really cool ride you did, put it online, and then our company shares it and engages in that way. We’re seeing people all over the world having the same experiences we’ve had independently, on our bikes, which is cool – it’s a shared experience, even though you’re not in the same place.’ They take the grassroots foundations of their local bike rides and extrapolate that for a global audience. It’s the feel of a ride to a bar with friends – on the internet.
They’re also hyper-aware of the work that needs to be done in the cycling industry to make it more inclusive as a whole. ‘We want a more diverse market – but not because we are necessarily trying to, but because that’s just how the world looks right now. That’s how our peers are – if we go out, it’s not going to be one standardised person. It’s lots of individuals, lots of diversity.’ So the team include riders from all walks of life on their online platforms. ‘If you look at a traditional bike manufacturer, it’s gonna be a guy, probably in an expensive jersey. It’s not something that I personally relate to very well, and definitely not something that our customers necessarily relate to.’
But though State Bicycle began as an exciting entrance for underserved beginner riders, they’re aware that their base customer might not stay a cycling novice forever – and the company is determined to grow with them. They’ve developed an online webseries, Riding Fixed, Up Mountains, with Pros – think Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee set on the side of a hill – which brings a familiar State Bicycle face together with a professional cyclist ‘to bridge the two worlds’ and provide customers with an accessible insight into cycling as a sport. ‘A lot of [customers] get in the door with cycling at the $299 price tag… but we see people evolve and go deeper into different aspects of cycling. We’re alongside them the entire time, through their whole journey.’
They’re also taking this progression through to their product lines, developing bikes for a variety of cycling disciplines in a way that’s both engaging new customers and holding the interest of existing ones. ‘We’re able to evolve as a company, and it’s going to mean different styles of bikes, different types of riding, because tastes evolve and we don’t want to be stagnant. We like to think that whatever’s happening in cycling, whatever gets us excited, we want to take that, distill it to its core, and make that as affordable as possible so young people can enjoy that too.
Ultimately, it’s this that sets State Bicycle Company apart from their big brand contemporaries. They drive themselves forward on a very clear goal: ‘Getting as many people on bikes as possible.’ With emphasis on the adventure and experience of cycling as a lifestyle, they’re challenging both the cycling industry and modern youth culture with the allure of one simple promise – happiness.
‘If you’re able to sell someone on the idea of ‘I’m going to be happier because I’m not sitting in front of a screen watching TV, or on my phone scrolling through an Instagram feed’… I think those are the things that we really try to highlight.’
This article was originally written for our Volume #26.
Words by Jess Ennis