Mike Herlinger of Club Ride Wants You to Ride in Style
Getting to Know Mike and How Club Ride Came To Be
In the spring of 2008, a young Mike Herlinger sat still in the afternoon sun, basking in the post-ride afterglow that comes from just finishing another one of those great Sun Valley, Idaho mountain bike rides. Before long though, he realized he was running late and needed to get back to town to meet some friends at the local watering hole for a burger and some cold beers.
Moment of decision: take the extra time to run home and change into normal street clothes or just swallow his fashion pride and turn some heads at the bar in his full-color Lycra kit. Opting for the wardrobe change, he arrived at home to ditch the Lycra and don more suitable attire. When he grabbed one of his well-loved, vintage Western shirts, he had an idea…
“How cool would it be if I could just ride in this shirt?”
From that simple original question, Mike was inspired to change how cycling clothing looks and works. Since then, Club Ride and has continued to build on the conviction that cycling apparel can be both technical and stylish.
Throughout that first summer, designs were drawn, friends were consulted, and fabric was cut, sewn and sewn again. Prototypes were made and tested both on Idaho’s rugged mountain trails and on Mike’s evening commutes. Eventually the Club Ride idea took form and became something real.
We sat down (over the phone) with Mike the other day to find out what it took to get Club Ride off the ground and what’s coming up next from them. Here’s what we found out:
B&R: Idaho’s isn’t usually known to people as a fashion design center, how did Club Ride’s origin end up coming from a small mountain town in the middle of Idaho?
Mike: Well first, Idaho is my home. I moved here 16 years ago because of Sun Valley & Hailey’s good mix of wilderness access and city lifestyle. Second, Sun Valley, Hailey and Ketchum are kind of a unique mix of western mountain town. Sun Valley’s a legendary ski area and that long running mystique attracts a pretty diverse set of people. For example, we’ve got a lot of California “ex-pats” who bring a lot of big city experience and knowledge to our small little town. Honestly, I don’t think Club Ride could have come from anywhere else quite like it did. Idaho was perfect for me.
B&R: So beyond that first inspirational ride, what’s the rest of the CR origin story?
I had spent a lot of time working outdoor sports retail in my early days in the valley and I soon became a gear junky – in fact I fell in love with textiles and techie garments. After going through that whole episode with the lycra kit goofiness post MTB ride, I scoured the industry for any non-NASCAR style rider-wear and realized that there just wasn’t much out there. After that, I felt like I was really onto something so I consulted with an outdoor industry insider and he said that I should go for it. After talking to him, I kind of felt that connection to the American entrepreneurial spirit, I was scary to think that it was going to be me. So, I searched Hailey for people to collaborate with and found a seamstress who had experience building clothes. I bought some fabric and we built the first prototypes together. I showed it to a fellow rider and he was really stoked about it. In fact, everywhere I showed it, it was received very well. So I went to O.R. (The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City) and got serious about the idea.
B&R: What was that like? That’s the big leagues right?
Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing really. I just knew that I needed to find someone who sold the kind of fabric I was looking for. But honestly, it went pretty well. I found what I needed and went back home to make the first round of shirts. All of the first 300 were made by hand in ID. That was back in 2008.
B&R: Was it tough getting off the ground at first?
Oh god yeah. Back then I was just a regular mountain town guy, I was married and I had two kids and now I was trying to go from part time bartender, part time outdoor retail clerk, etc. to a business owner. Pretty quickly, I realized that I needed a lot more cash so I sold all but one of the 8 or 9 bikes I had at the time. I took that cash and my business plan and got a loan from a friend. I found a product development person and a manufacturing factory in Oakland, CA to help me continue to grow the business and meet the demand.
I was running the company 99% by myself – driving around with the inventory in my van following the bicycle racing circuit. It was intense and really hard but rewarding too. It took its toll though and it was really hard to balance my time on the road with my time with my family. I got all of my first 200 dealers by myself – it was just crazy. I was traveling like 180 days a year and I was missing whole chunks of my kids’ life. At one point I was very close to being on food stamps and I was very, very worried about keeping it together. I was maxed out, scared and frightened of the future, but my vision of what I wanted Club Ride to be kept me going.
B&R: That’s a pretty harrowing story. How is Club Ride doing now?
I’ve got 750 dealers worldwide in 10 countries now. We sell about 75,000 units overall per year. 2 1/2 years ago I hired my first employee who is now my partner. In fact, our 5th anniversary is coming up in 3 days.
B&R: Congratulations! What’s next for Club Ride?
We’re continuing to grow the business. We’re adding like 5-7 dealers per week in the US. There’s a lot of opportunity for our growth in the Fall & Winter line, especially now that Fat Biking is getting to be so popular. That and we think there’s a lot of possibility in expanding our women’s clothing line.
B&R: So how would you describe Club Ride to someone you’ve just met?
I like to think of Club Ride as the Patagonia of the cycling culture. Our philosophy is to be mindful, selective and intentional while remaining true to the roots as a bike brand. We strive for functionality on & off the bike combined with a lot of personality.