OTM Interrogates Employees for Popular WA Bike Co.
By Ben Tobin
Sometimes gaining a real connection with a sport is simply finding the right tool that fits your personality. For me, it was walking into a bike shop in Portland, Oregon, in 1989 and seeing a bike that stood-out like a sore thumb. The first thing that came to mind was, “I want one of those.” Why? Because it looked like it had a mind of its own. The bike just happened to be a Kona mountain bike. This isn’t a sales pitch; this event was an experience, a feeling that grounded myself to the sport of mountain biking. With Kona’s presence still being felt nationwide-there must be a reason why Kona is still thriving after 16 years. Out There Monthly was able to get hold of Mark Peterson, Kona’s Team Sponsorship/Athlete coordinator, Advocacy Director, and Robin Sansom, in Product Development, to find out about the growing company that is still selling bikes out of their original store in Ferndale, WA.
What is Kona’s main objective?
Robin: Build what we ride, and ride what we build.
Mark: Improving on our proven designs and continuing to make bikes that are a good balance between durable and lightweight.
What makes Kona stand out?
Robin: We are a rider-driven company, meaning we are a company whose entire design team, sales people and often the warehouse, office and credit staff, have been hired because of their passion for cycling. I have a degree in ecology and worked as a biologist for five years, before totally committing my ‘career’ to cycling. So the input for the bike designs come from a rider’s perspective rather than an engineering, sales or marketing angle.
Mark: We have enough of an edge that we are just outside of the mainstream. As result we can take more chances and don’t have to make our bike line or marketing efforts a muted gray in an effort to appeal to everyone. We’re definitely different in a good way. How long has Kona been in business? Mark: Since 1988.
Who started Kona and why?
Robin: Dan & Jake-but no one really knows why. I mean, I’ve heard about eight different stories and I just get a grin from Dan or Jake whenever I have tried to confirm them.
Mark: So they could retire in Hawaii some day.
Where are Kona bikes most popular?
Robin: Gosh, we seem to be popular everywhere, but mostly in harsh or unforgiving environments.
Mark: Anywhere there is good riding. Because our bikes ride great and our bikes get ridden instead of lost in a garage or permanently perched on a roof rack in front of the coffee shop.
Does Kona do anything to help preserve the environment?
Robin: We have a staffer that is completely committed to bike advocacy, and we endorse protocols for trail building, rider conduct, etc., which in turn is great for the environment. Given my academic/professional background, I believe that bicycle manufacturers are inherently doing the environment a favor, especially if their products are getting people to commute to work or otherwise not drive their vehicles.
Mark: Kona does a lot of philanthropic stuff. We have a grant program to help expand freeriding and dirt jumping opportunities and that helps cut down the bootleg trails. Our shop employee purchase program required an IMBA membership that helps drive trail access awareness. Currently we are working with Bristol Meyer Squibb to make custom bikes that will be used to deliver AIDS drugs to far out rural areas in Africa.
What keeps you working at kona?
Robin: A very flat Corporate structure . . . and foosball breaks. Why is Kona in the northwest?
Mark: Mountains, cceans, lakes, rivers, killer riding and the port of Vancouver B. C.
Robin: The bike riding is truly world class in every regard . . . what better place to test our bikes?
Do most of Kona employees consider themselves as avid riders?
Robin: I don’t have time to answer this, I have to go do some ‘testing’.
For more information on Kona Bikes visit: www.konaworld.com