Presenting the interview with Aaron Barcheck, Founder of Mosaic Cycles, Winner of the Best Cyclocross Bike at NAHBS 2013. A little back story: Aaron and I grew up together in St. Louis and started riding at the age of 14. On long rides we would often talk of our dreams of opening a bike/doughnut shop, where the wheels on the sign out front were doughnuts. Well, I never did make that many doughnuts, but Aaron sure is doing what he said. I currently ride a custom Titanium 29er MTB from Mosaic, and in the past have ridden custom CX, TT and Track bikes built by Aaron.
Derek: Tell me about how you started Mosaic.
Aaron: Well, I worked at Dean Titanium Bicycles for about 6 years (that was my cool college job) which was really hands on, and I learned about the whole spectrum of bike building there. I took a class and learned to weld at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon. I was also going to CU Boulder and studied engineering for a while before I switched to Physiology with a minor in Italian. By the time I graduated, I found that I had all the skills to start Mosaic.
Derek: On the business side, what does it take to start a bicycle company?
Aaron: Well, Mosaic started really small. When I think back to that first shop space, it was just a small little machine shop. I bootstrap funded the whole thing, it was probably less than $10K. It was a really grass roots project – we had basic welding equipment, a nice fixture, a lathe, and the stuff you need in a machine shop. Now we are in our third shop space, which is much bigger and nicer. As we have grown, things have gotten more professional and more efficient. This year I was able to leave my part time job behind and focus solely on Mosaic.
Derek: How have the bicycles themselves evolved?
Aaron: Well if you look at the bikes we took to NAHBS for example, they look so much different than just two years ago. Our show bikes are all real bikes that people ride and race, we just clean them up and bring them to the show. Riding your bike a lot is a prerequisite for making custom bicycles, and I have used my own and other riders’ input a lot. If you look at the CX bike that won at NAHBS, the details such as internal cable routing, disc brakes, electronic shifting, are all performance related, and really make for such a nice clean look – it looks like nothing is there. This year is a big turning point with the launch of models. A customer can start with a model and then pick their tubeset and style; it just makes the whole process easier for the customer.
Derek: Why build with titanium in an era with so much carbon technology?
Aaron: I was really drawn to the versatility of titanium. In my opinion, it is the best all around material for building bikes. For example, we made a super awesome dirt jumper that we brought to the show. Titanium doesn’t rust, has great ride feel, is lightweight, and is great for touring bikes all the way to CX bikes.
Derek: Who are your customers and how do you interact with them?
Aaron: We work with people from all walks of life. Some are racers, like our riders on Team Small Batch, and lots of enthusiasts. Customers can contact us directly through our website, and we will have a discussion with them about what their bike will turn out to be. We also have a dealer base around the country that we really value. It is great early on to have these shops vouch for your product. Shops are there to help fit you and maintain bicycles, while we are experts at building the frames, so we end up with this great synergy that lets both businesses do what we do best.
Derek: Can you describe the trajectory of Mosaic?
Aaron: I don’t even really think about those first two years. In the first year it was mostly building bikes for friends and family (Derek’s Note: I debuted the first Mosaic CX bike at the UCI race in Cross Vegas in 2009). We have pretty consistently doubled our production every year from 15-20 that first year to about 100 frames this year. Going into year five, Mosaic is no longer just a one man show. This year, Kevin Bachelor joined Mosaic and we have lots of conversations about just keeping steady growth. We are still below capacity and don’t really want to “blow up” and have things get unmanageable. This year, we will be growing our dealer base, adding differentiating factors, and continuing to build relationships. Winning best Ti bike at NAHBS is one of our next goals.
Derek: Thanks, and good luck!