Race Ride Seek: Inside Melbourne’s Curve Cycling
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We stopped into Curve Cycling’s Melbourne HQ and chatted with the team to learn more about the brand and their range of adventure-focused titanium all-road and off-road bikes. Read on for our full conversation with Curve’s small family of passionate riders…
Since its launch in 2012, Melbourne-based Curve Cycling has built quite a reputation for their beautiful and badass titanium rigs. But despite being celebrated by hardcore bikepackers and ultra-distance racers, they remain a small company that you might not have heard much about.
I got to know the Curve crew and their bikes while I was living in Australia last winter (err… second summer), where I borrowed Jesse Carlsson’s personal GMX – one of their flagship models – for two months. Though I surely never pushed the GMX anywhere near its limits, I can attest to its prowess on rough and tumble singletrack rides, dirt road meanders, missions to search for ever-elusive koalas, and everything in between.
I caught up with the team at Curve and asked some questions to help readers get a better sense of the brand and the people behind it. Get a peek inside Curve HQ, meet the personalities who make up the company, and learn what motivates them to build the bikes they do in my full interview below.
To begin, can you each share a bit about yourself and your role at Curve?
Adam Lana (@admammo): Steve once called me the “Father of the Curve crew.” I think he’s either trying to tell me I’m old or that I try to look after everyone in the team. Maybe both are true. I’ve ridden forever and my first MTB race was at the age of 14. This gave way to downhill racing, trail riding, then XC racing, then road racing, then gravel and adventure Riding and CX racing. My longest ride thus far was a 3,000 km attempt at the 2018 Race to the Rock. I met Jesse through mountain biking, but became enthralled by his feats endurance racing. Next thing you know I own one of the first pairs of Curve carbon wheels, and then I find myself in the business helping build the brand.
Jesse Carlsson (@jessecarlsson): I’m Jesse Carlsson. I’ve been doing my own long-distance bikepacking rides, racing solo unsupported ultra-endurance events, instigating bikepacking races, coaching aspiring bikepackers, and running flashpacking events for about eight years. I’m a theoretical physicist by trade but have worked as a management consultant, private equity advisor, and company director. I’m a co-owner of Curve with three other mates. I help the business with product strategy, events, and most importantly, real world product testing. I currently live on my bike with my partner. We’ve been on the road exploring outback Australia for four months now, working remotely to fund our adventures.
Kate Fowler (@katethefowler): I’m Kate Fowler, aka Cake, and I started cycling as a singlespeed & fixed gear commuter. I bought a geared bike because I had dreams of becoming a travelling hobo, but then got distracted by cyclocross and gravel. Now I love everything from ultra-distance to singletrack. I’m a sales and marketing coordinator at Curve, I handle our direct sales and social media, and also support the guys with everything from events and product development to systems and project management.
Ryan Flinn (@flinnryan): People call me Rhino. I was born in South Africa but have lived all over the world. My parents instilled adventure into me from an early age, spending my early childhood in Swaziland, around South Africa, and stints in Mozambique, Botswana, and Lesotho. Over the years I’ve continued to add to that list, having worked in Moscow, Dubai, London, the Northern Pacific Islands, and many countries across Europe. As I say, adventure is in the blood but cycling has been part of my life since as long as I can remember. I have been a trials rider, an XC mountain biker, a triathlete, a fixed gear crit racer, an indoor track rider, road racer, and general hooligan since my feet were able to touch a pedal! I love it just as much as I did back then, but now I get to share this love with others.
My title at Curve is “Grand Ambassador.” Lofty, I know! I’m a bit of a talker and I spread the gospel of Curve far and wide, chasing the sun and bringing Curve to the people. I surf as many couches as I can in this glorious crusade and have a bit of a nomadic lifestyle as a result. It’s not for everyone, but the rest of the crew are a bit older (wiser) and have families.
Sarah Hammond (@sarah___hammond): My name is Sarah Hammond but everyone calls me Teef. I’ve been involved in unsupported bikepacking racing for almost four years now, and a bike rider for almost my entire life. Most recently, my life has taken a new direction. My partner Jesse and I are permanently living on our bikes for as long as we enjoy it. Currently, this is taking us across the remote deserts in Australia.
Since I began racing on a Belgie Classic back in 2016, Curve have become an extended family of mine. Over the years I’ve been involved with helping test new bikes, racing them as often as possible, planning social events, and most recently running a series of Flashpacking weekends, alongside Jesse. Once a roadie, the transition that followed was that I was happiest off road getting as dirty as possible.
Steve Varga: I’m Steve “Phteve” Varga. I founded Curve Cycling in 2012. I currently oversee several aspects of Curve, including product development and fulfillment. I participate in as many longer rides as I can obtain a leave pass for from my wife and two young kids. I’ve been riding single speed bikes for over 25 years (yes, BMX counts) and love the simplicity, rhythm, and flow associated with these basic machines. I prefer off-road riding, love my family, beer is important to me, and I listen to everything from heavy-metal to hip-hop.
How would you summarize Curve and where it fits into the larger bike market?
Adam Lana: We’re tiny in comparison to the massive, faceless bike brands, but we feel like we have contributed a great deal in helping to bring honesty, fun, and adventure to cycling. So many brands are worried about celebrity riders and bullshit innovation, but we’re more concerned about designing and producing products that are fast, fun, and reliable. Naturally, having an ultra-endurance talent like Jesse Carlsson on your team inspires you to adventure.
Kate Fowler: Our brand motto “Race, Ride, Seek’’ sums us up. We ride bikes for fun, sport, and adventure. Riding bikes makes us happy and we want to make other people happy too. Everything we do is permeated by a sense of adventure. When it comes to product design, we try to think outside the box and we’re always brainstorming and exploring possibilities. We create products that we want to use: they must be high performing, durable, and practical. Our bikes are made to be ridden, but they’re beautiful too. Whether it’s our own neighbourhoods or the other side of the world, every ride is an expedition. If you can stay curious and explore with an open mind, everything is exciting.
Steve Varga: Curve has secured its place in the cycling market as a leader in high quality, high value, adventure-focused bikes, bike parts, and accessories. Our customers often comment on the reason they buy a Curve is because we inspire them. So, I’m super proud to say Curve has become an inspirational brand that encourages everyone to get out and embark on adventures that may scare them or they wouldn’t ordinarily have the drive to do.
At our size we remain relatively agile, which offers many benefits but also some setbacks. Benefits include not manufacturing huge numbers and risking oversupply, but with the setback of not having huge sums of capital to invest in growth. This keeps us and our brand super honest and real.
Ryan Flinn: We try to support small, independent businesses that love their community and care about the stuff they ride. Curve is a little different in how it operates, trying to support and reinvigorate the dying culture of “support local, support handmade, support real-world skills.” The rise of super online bike brands has really hurt the industry, sadly. Many highly technical skills have been lost, good wheel builders are hard to find, and a truly great mechanic is even rarer. Good bikes shops are closing and the expertise is disappearing. Buying online has removed a lot of these skills and with it the community. Since we’ve gotten going, we’ve noticed that people are slowly realizing this. Curve will continue to strive to lead and be a small part of that. We are probably idealistic and far too romantic for some, but for others, it really resonates. The amazing team we have creating the thoughtful, super tough, and reliable products of today is a direct result of what’s happened to the industry, so it’s not all bad.
I was amazed by the uniquely passionate community of Curve riders was when I was living in Melbourne. What have you done to grow a community around the company and why is that important to you?
When it comes down to it, we love riding. If we can’t head out on a big adventure somewhere, we’ll do something in our backyard. We put on rides in suburban Melbourne, like the weekly Belgie ride that takes riders to weird and wonderful places right under their noses. Our spring classics rides around the city are a fun way of finding different places to ride close to home. We always love to finish with a bit of a celebration, whether it’s coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening. It’s a time to have a few laughs and share some war stories from the rides.
On the more adventurous side, we’ve run multi-day flashpacking rides where we take a group of 20 or so riders out to experience a full weekend of riding in the countryside. We’ll stay at a caravan park or motel so riders don’t need to invest in sleeping gear. We also make sure there’s a good dinner, maybe some beers, and a few laughs at the end of each day. We don’t care what brand of bike you have; we just love to help people get into a more adventurous side of riding. As it turns out, many of the flashpackers have turned into Curve customers and made the jump to racing bikepacking events, running their own flashpacking trips with their mates, or heading out on bike tours armed with a bit more confidence.
All this helps build an active, adventurous community. It wasn’t strategic for us, it happened because we love to help people experience the stuff we’ve loved so much over the years.
Do you have a personal favorite Curve model? Which one gets the most use in your stable?
Adam Lana: My GXR (Kevin of Ti) is my everything bike and bike I had a lot of time prototyping and refining it with the team. Because I do everything from cyclocross to MTB marathons to road races to gravel adventures, I just can’t get enough of it.
Jesse Carlsson: The GMX is my only bike. It’s my transport and my home. We designed this model with tough bikepacking races in the Australian outback in mind. If the original overlanders, who rode huge distances across Australia starting in the 1890s, could build their dream bike, this would be it. Well, that’s what we tried to do!
Kate Fowler: I’m lucky to have been the owner of three Curve bikes now (the CXR, the GXR and Uprock) and couldn’t fault any of them. So, the question for me is more about which style of riding I enjoy most, really. My GXR, aka Ms. Kevin, is my current favourite. I adore taking it on gravel rides, but have been pleasantly surprised by how well it performs on both singletrack and as an endurance roadie (I test rode it for 2,500km across Ireland). I’m about to build a Belgie Disc with Force AXS, which I’m super excited about too! I guess the gravel:road Strava ratio this summer will be the decider.
Ryan Flinn: My Belgie Spirit. It’s the endurance road machine I have spent a lot of time on. I’ve raced across America in the TransAm, across Australia twice in our Indian Pacific Wheel Race, and around Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in the Pan Celtic. I’ve also done a few gravel expeditions with our Curve Africa partners in South Africa and Lesotho. It’s an amazing bike and one of our top sellers.
Sarah Hammond: My titanium Kevin, or GXR, has been my favourite frame to date. Mostly for its versatility on different terrain. It handles well on gravel and rocky singletrack flawlessly. Although a larger frame geometrically, it’s the most comfortable set up I’ve ridden to date.
Steve Varga: I like them all for different reasons. If I were forced to have just one bike it would be a GMX V2 (more on that bike below).
What’s the most interesting piece of customer feedback you’ve gotten lately?
Steve Varga: A customer once told me that meeting the Curve crew saved their life. We had such an impact on this person that they’re still here and happy and have a new outlook. Additionally, I have heard several times now that owning and riding a Curve has changed our customers lives for the better. More outside time and spontaneous weekend getaways are a common theme.
Tell us about some of your Curve expeditions, such as the Trans-Lesotho.
The first of our more adventurous trips is happening in October and there are still tickets left. We’re going to ride across the mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa. It’s like stepping into another world, with mind blowing climbs and tough days of riding at altitude. The scenery is jaw-dropping and the culture shock is real. Some vistas on the climbs have been known to bring riders to tears. It’s that beautiful out there. If you’re reading this and have some other adventures in mind and would like to partner with us, please get in touch. We would love to expand this program.
What else do you want readers to know about Curve? Anything goes!
Adam Lana: It’s not easy! Thankfully the passion of riding makes it fun and exciting. The fact we genuinely love sharing the world of cycling helps a bunch too. I think our products are seriously some of the best that money can buy, though obviously I’m biased. It’s frustrating when we see, for example, carbon wheels from top name manufacturers that are poorly manufactured and they cost twice as much. There are heaps of small brands doing good things for the sport, so support them!
Jesse Carlsson: Curve is set apart from many other brands by hardcore real world testing. Before we released our carbon wheels, I rode the Tour Divide on them. Before we released a titanium frame, I raced the Trans Am Bike Race on one. We make products you can rely on for your adventures. Our bikes are often referred to as “tools, not jewels.” Sure, they look amazing, but they get ridden. And ridden in a serious way. We know how much time and effort go into big bikepacking events. There are months of training, huge amounts to spend on kit, travel to and from the race, and precious annual leave used up. We produce products that don’t let you down.
When you buy a Curve you’re getting a bike that Steve, Adam, Ryan, and I want to ride. You are buying from real people who love this stuff. We own the business and we all love and have competed in bikepacking events around the world. They have been enriching experiences, ones that we have learned a lot from, and have perhaps made us better people. We are all passionate about getting people off the couch to taste a more adventurous life.
Ryan Flinn: I’m putting on a race in Nov 2020 in Southern Africa called the Rhino Run. It’s a multi-surface 4,500km adventure to celebrate our Kevin model. It will start in Namibia and run through South Africa before crossing Lesotho and Swaziland. It’s something I’m really passionate about and has a bit of a conservation message behind it. Asking people what is truly important, what are we leaving for those who come after, and if we’re leading a life we can be proud of when looking back. It could be a massive flop, but it could also be something super special! Get in touch if you are keen to help or want more info. It will be our third Curve race – the Indian Pacific Wheel Race and the Race to the Rock are the other two awesome rides we love and support.
Lastly, any new models or other components you can tell us about?
Jesse and Sarah are both riding our GMX V2 prototypes on their current Tent is the New Rent expedition. We’re super excited about this bike; it’s one of the first real dedicated off-road bikepacking bikes out there, rather than a modified gravel or mountain bike. We’ve created a whole new platform around huge tyres, a lowered rigid fork, super wide drop bars, and the ability to carry enough water to cross deserts. The titanium frameset will be released before Christmas, with a steel version to follow early 2020.
Steve Varga: Our BDV3 (Belgie Disc Version 3) is about to drop, which offers some really nice updates on the preceding model. The GMX V2 platform overhaul (Grovel Monster X Version 2) is a big project for us and we are super excited to see its release late 2019. It’s the first time we’ll have a fully integrated platform available consisting of frame, fork, bars all specific to drop bar off-road touring. Otherwise, the T47 EBB is probably the most exciting for me. It means I can stop thinking about adjustable dropout designs…
You can learn more about Curve and their range of bikes, wheels, adventures, and more by visiting CurveCycling.com.au. They’re also on Instagram @curvecycling. And be sure to check out Joe’s Tasmania-tested review of the first-generation GMX. Stay tuned for exclusive updates on their upcoming Rocket Pooch and GMX V2 soon.