Bicycle Industry Insider Profile: Dave Gray

Aside from bicycles, of course, the main reason I choose to continue my futile search for fortune in the bicycle industry is because of the people I know and meet. There’s no shortage of extremely smart and passionate people who are insanely interesting, individualistic personalities. Sure it’s cool to be around famous athletes from time to time, but I much more deeply value the less publicly visible people that make the bicycle world go ’round. As such, I’ve decided to revive a special online series where we do a very brief standardized interview with some of these individuals: The Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series. I want to share the stories of these people with the rest of the world through the Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times web sites. This week we have…

Name: Dave Gray

Hometown: Waconia, MN…35 miles west of Minneapolis

Current location: Minneapolis, MN

What do you do for/with/to bicycles? For employment, I design bicycle frames and components for Surly. For enjoyment, I ride what I design.

What’s the best thing about your job? Foremost, I get paid to geek out on bike stuff – frames and components – that I like using. I’m selfishly-motivated to do my job.  But there are other aspects that make it enjoyable…Surly is owned by – and operates within – Quality Bicycle Products, a premier distributor of bicycles and bicycle components that employs lots of cycling enthusiasts.  So I get to hang out with scores of like-minded bike nerds every workday.  The QBP office/warehouse was built with multiple locker/shower rooms and ample indoor bike parking, so it caters to bicycle commuters.  And having easy access to 30,000+ cycling/outdoor products is pretty sweet.

What’s the toughest part of your job? Working within the walls of a distributor can be restrictive…and frustrating…at times. What works well for QBP doesn’t always work well for Surly, and compromises have to be made.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles? Wisely using my student loan money, I bought a good mountain bike, a Fisher-made Cinelli Ottomila with Columbus SL tubing and Suntour XC Pro components, in 1991.  And I instantly caught the cycling bug.  I put on lots of year ’round miles and eventually decided that I’d somehow turn my cycling passion into a career. So, in ’94, I got a job wrenching in a little shop north of Minneapolis and stayed there for 4 years. Working weekends eventually got to me, so I started looking for something else. QBP, located 15 miles south of Minneapolis, hired me to pick and pack bike parts. After a few months, I moved into the customer service side of things and eventually into a product design role as Surly was getting started.  I’ve been with Surly for more than 10 years.

What was your first bicycle? My first bike was a Vista Speedy 20″-wheeled cruiser with a removable toptube…presumably purchased so my younger sisters could use it after I outgrew it.  Eventually, the welds broke at the seatube/BB and downtube/BB junctions…possibly caused by too many flat landings off the cinder block and plywood jump in the driveway.  But good ol’ Marvin Storms stuck it back together with his trusty Lincoln buzz-box stick welder, and it lived on to roll another day.  I still have that bike somewhere in the loft of my garage. My second bike was a horribly-heavy Sears Free Spirit 10-speed.  It got me back and forth, to and from the convenience store  in town, to buy candy…but, damn, that bike was a piece of crap. Then I moved onto a Raleigh Record 12-speed that wasn’t much lighter than the Free Spirit.  I totally missed out on the whole BMX experience as a child.  It’s possible that my early obsession with mountain biking may have been a subconscious attempt to make up for lost time riding dirt as a kid.

What bike do you currently ride the most? I probably put the most miles on my Big Dummy cargo bike.  I don’t rely on a car, so the Dummy regularly gets put into service for hauling and daily commuting.  That said, I ride and enjoy a lot of different bikes (and unicycles)… cruisers, road, mountain, ‘cross, touring, BMX, electric-assist, folding, sand/snow/adventure, cargo…12″ – 36″ wheels…single-speed and geared…fixed and freewheel…classic and modern.  Variety is the spice of life…right?  But, if I had to pick one, it would be my Pugsley. It travels over and through the widest range of terrain.

Where is your favorite place to ride? I don’t really have a favorite riding spot. There are great places to ride everywhere.  I’ve experienced some of the best/most memorable rides while following foot paths and critter trails along lakes, streams, and rivers and exploring old logging and quarry roads.  I enjoy bombing alleys in the urban jungle and ripping local singletrack.  I’m less inclined, these days, to throw my bike on or in a car to drive to a trail system, because there is plenty of adventure waiting for me as soon as I pedal out of my driveway.

What music goes through your head (literally)? Lately…  Fatboy Slim, Clutch, Fu Manchu, Chemical Brothers, Black Sabbath, Ministry, Tool, Lords of Acid, Motorhead, Electric Wizard…and the list goes on.  I usually hit “shuffle” and roll with it.

What are your interests aside from bicycles? Camping…researching gear and techniques, building/sewing gear, and finding stealth spots to camp close to home.  Primitive technology…making tools, fire, and shelter from natural resources.  Green building and living. Metalworking…brazing, machining, and benchwork.  Longboarding (skating, not surfing).  Drawing and airbrushing.  Human taxidermy.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing? I’d probably be designing outdoor gear of some kind:  tents, stoves, packs, clothing, etc. Product-testing would have to be a part of the job.  Designing and building furniture would be rewarding, too.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while working in the bicycle industry: One word:  Cheever.  It’s hard to explain.  It must be experienced.

Who would you choose for us to profile next? Jeff Jones

Why? I appreciate the practical nature, as well as the aesthetics and overall craftsmanship, of Jeff’s products.  And I respect the fact that Jeff rides – and rides well – what he designs and builds. Jeff’s ability to think outside the box sets him and his products apart from the vast sea of commodity-based cycling goods on the market.  I’m curious to find out what makes him tick.