Dirt Rag Magazine

Catching up with Jim Wannamaker

Hometown?

Born in Oceanside, Long Island, New York. Lived in Valley Stream, Elmont, Smithtown, Coram, Hauppauge and back to Smithtown – all on Long Island. Then lived in Pickerington, Ohio for the past 14 years.

Current location?

Beautiful Peachtree City, Georgia. It has over 98 miles of paved bike/golf cart/running paths in the community. Nice!

What do you do for/with/to bicycles?

I am the North America Sales and Marketing Director – Bicycle Division for Vee Rubber America.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I get to work and do things that I love – all with bicycles. I have ridden a bike in about 30 states in the USA and I have also ridden in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, The Canary Islands, Taiwan, China, and other countries.

What’s the toughest part of your job?

I like to see things get done right and quickly, the expression ‘In a New York minute’ comes to mind. But I have to have patience as I am dealing with a different culture of people and workers and not everybody is on my schedule.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles?

In 1970, I was 15 years old and the 10 speed bike (remember those?) boom was in full bloom. I was hooked as soon as I pedaled a lightweight bike 50 miles on Long Island. And back then we had the first ‘Earth Day’ and I support that theme.

Tell us about a career highlight of yours…

I began in retail in Smithtown, then into wholesale and I worked for a great company called Service Cycle Supply Company in Commack and then the Hauppauge area of Long Island. Service bought Mongoose Bicycles and I met all the greatest riders, John Tomac, Max Jones, Brian Lopes, Leigh Donovan, Eric Carter and more at Mongoose over the years. I went to many races and events and had a great time. I was at Service for 13 and a half years and enjoyed just about every minute of it. I grew and understood more about the industry during that time. Service changed owners and the mission statement of the company changed- and it was time for me to also change.

I went to Kenda USA in Ohio and was there for almost 15 years. I developed a program, designed some tires, started to grow the brand. I hired Tomac to endorse Kenda tires. I developed the Legends of the Sport Program with Tomac, Hans Rey, Eric Carter, Tinker Juarez and Brian Lopes. From there it grew and grew. Kenda was on a roll and I was proud to see it become a top mountain bike tire brand and a top player in the market. Lots of weekends at events and races and I became known as ‘the face of Kenda’ for my hard work to support the sport.

In 2010, I was recognized as the ‘Hardest Working Man in the Bike Industry’- (an name given to me by Richard Fries, an event promoter) and I received the ultimate honor of being inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall Of Fame at Interbike. The MBHOF trophy is in my office and I am proud to have my name in the hall along with the heroes and icons of the sport. Truly and great honor to be recognized by your peers and other people in the industry for your work. Thanks to all, again.

I joined Vee Rubber in Atlanta, Georgia this past March. I have designed 13 exciting patterns and hope to put Vee Rubber America on the map soon. Right now we have a long way to go but we will be there in a few years.

What was your first bicycle?

OK I had – believe it or not a Rudge 3 speed English Racer when I was 6 years old. Bike was a compact frame but it was still too big for me. Then I had a Kent Polo bike (20 inch wheels- banana seat and high rise handlebars) for a few years and then some clunkers. My first real bike was when I was 16 years old and bought a Raleigh Super Course 10 Speed and I still have it. So it is 40 years old. Yes I have many other bikes – about 35 all together.

What bike do you currently ride the most?

I have a Santa Cruz Superlight that I ride with 26 x 1.5 street tires on the paved but bumpy bike trails; I have a Pivot Mach 429 for the off road stuff, and I have my 1988 Tesch S-22 for the road rides. I split it among those 3 great bikes.

Where is your favorite place to ride?

I have told people I have a list and it is Mammoth Mountain, Ca.; Whistler, Canada; Jim Thorpe, Pa.; Moab, Utah; and the Parallel Greenbelt Trail and Bethpage Trails – both on Long Island.

What music goes through your head while you ride?

I don’t wear buds or actually listen to any music. But depending on the trail I am on and the ride I am doing, I sometimes think about different tunes. I am a dedicated Rocker: Steve Vai, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Foreigner, U2, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Def Leppard to name a few. For the mellow rides, I have other bands that I think about.

But the real music is hearing the tires go over some roots or rocks, or the spokes occasionally binging from a stick, the gears shifting or the brakes engaging- and all the other sounds from the ride including the water running off the rocks, and the wildlife making their sounds. That is the real music!

What’s your favorite post-ride refreshment/snack?

A cold Diet Coke and a Snickers bar.

Who in the industry inspires you?

Great question. To answer it, honestly, anyone that is a wrench, mechanic, team manager, racer, event promoter, event worker, vehicle driver, warehouse picker and packer, all the people inside the offices/ warehouses and in the factories, the numerous magazines staff, the company owners and investors as without them, we don’t have an ‘industry’. To pick a specific person and say that they inspire me, I know so many people it is hard to pick someone. They all inspire me and they all deserve recognition.

What are your interests aside from bicycles?

Bicycles have been my life. But I do enjoy watching car racing, or MX racing a few times. I also like HO trains and train shows.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing?

Driving a race car or owning one. Or working on a large ship. I was in the Navy and made an Atlantic crossing and it was a rough one but we made it.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry…

One year at Interbike, I was at the Out Door Demo event. I had to take the Interbike Shuttle bus back to the convention center to set up the booth in the hall. But before the bus arrived, I went into the porta-potty. As I was standing in it doing my business, the whole thing starts to tip over with me in it.

Seems a local worker forgot that the event was happening and tried to back up his pick-up truck and hit the row of porta-potties. Mine tipped but did not go over completely. It righted itself and I was scarred and also messy looking. Luckily, I had put the seat down but the splash of blue water and other material that came out covered my legs and shorts. Needless to say the bus ride back to the Sands Convention Center had a certain smell to it and that smell was coming from my legs and other parts. I sat with a Newspaper covering my wet shorts. I found a deserted men’s bathroom in the lower level of the convention center and decided to take a complete ‘bird bath’ there.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series?

Joel Smith or Chris Cocalis

Why?

Joel, he was with Answer/Manitou for many years, has the Tomac brand license, and now is with X-Fusion Suspension and I think he can take the brand upward.

Chris was at Titus and then started Pivot/BH and has a real great line of bikes and history of suspension ideas.

 

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