Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Newest Flying Finn

By now, you know I'm a homer for the Great Lake State. And I'm the Upper Peninsula's biggest fan.
So here's my latest Yooper discovery: a frame builder in Marquette of all places.
Matt "Palo" Palomaki studied Mechanical Eng. at
Michigan State working with MSU's Composite Research
Lab. He worked at the GM Tech Center in the exciting world of
Powertrain Design, Marketing and Calibration. After graduating 3rd in his class
he moved on to a cake job Nissan's Technical Center as a Powertrain Calibration
Engineer. And now he's building frames in the U.P. That's quite a jump.
I had some questions for him:

1. Did your family think you were nuts for leaving a job with Nissan to start a bike company?
Matt - Yes, everyone including me. My career at Nissan was moving along quite nicely. The company was great to work for and I really enjoyed my job. The pay was great and the job was very challenging. I even lived in Japan for 3 months (while I was engaged to Angela, now my wife) to be trained on emissions controls. Then about 2 months before my last day I received a promotion ahead of schedule. My last day at Nissan, I was shaking I had so much anxiety. I said to myself about a million times . . ."What the @#$% am I doing???"

2. What makes your bikes special aside from being born in the U.P.?
Matt - If you have been up to Marquette then you know there is something special about the area. When customers come up to take delivery of a bike we usually go out on the trails that I use to help design and test my frames. The south trails in Marquette are some of the best in the country. The biking guys up here that developed the trail system really deserve all the credit. I just feel fortunate to have such a great place to use for r&d. The other part of what goes into my bikes is SISU. This is a Finnish word that doesn't have an exact translation to English but can be summed up by combining English words such as determination, spirit, resolve, courage, persistence, guts, tenacity, mettle, stubbornness, steadfastness, and perseverance. Growing up, my best friend's grandmother referred to sisu as "more guts than brains" a good way of course. At times having sisu in your blood can get you into trouble but when applying it to a positive outlet like framebuilding you can get some of the most beautiful bikes that are easy on the eyes. My whole life I have been applying the principles of sisu to different situations in my life. . .as a youngster I started racing BMX at age 10. I trained my but off . . . .I remember my parents driving me 30 minutes 5 times a week to train on the closest BMX track. The training/practice paid off and I became a state champ at age 12. Then in my junior year of high school I took X-country skiing more seriously and applied the principles of sisu to my training. It paid off as I skied to a MI High School State Championship. At Michigan State I studied my but off to graduate 3rd in my class. Which, I felt was a huge accomplishment due to the fact that 90% of my time and energy when into Formula SAE. My senior year at State our Formula Team finished 3rd at the World Championships and we won the Road and Track Competition. Then at Nissan I again used sisu as a model for my career. Now, I figure what better way to acknowledge my Finnish heritage than to place it on the downtube of every frame I make. Each and every frame that I craft has heart, sweat, blood (sometimes), tears (usually), and SISU ingrained into the cuts, bends, braze and welds . . .that is what makes my frames special.

3. What has been the single coolest moment/event/reaction since you've been making frames?
Matt - The moments that stand out in my mind are when I unwrap a prototype frame from the paint shop and complete the build. Hours, days, weeks and sometimes years go into developing new frames. Sometimes, an idea is spawned and I immediately bring it to production, but usually new ideas mean new designs, new tooling, test, design, test, design, test, etc. So, when I deliver the first new design to a customer and he or she sees it for the first time, their reaction is always burned into my memory. I love riding with customers when they are on the bike for the first time when they come to grips with the performance (which I pride myself on) of the bike. It is a true feeling of accomplishment....there is nothing like it.

4. Why name them after Marquette county roads?
Matt - The local roads in Marquette offer a lot to the bike culture here. You are either road biking on the roads or the trails are located off of some of the roads. It is a special feeling when you are rocking out a ride with a SISU 550 on the trails that the bike was named after. Recently I have expanded the names of my frames to include other landmarks near Marquette such as Hogsback, Huron, etc.

4a. When will the 553 be coming out? I used to live on that road.
You need to make a 'cross bike and name it "the Crossroads". (<--- yes, that's me telling the locals what to do. Nice. Anyway, the Crossroads is literally just an intersection that everybody knows.)
Matt - The 553 is in the works. Its a 26" MTB full suspension with Reynolds 953 Stainless tubing. Yes the "Xroads" is definitely in the running for a cross frame. I'm diligently working to release a few cross frames this summer before the season starts.

5. What's your top speed coming down the hill by Marquette Mountain? (a mile long descent that appears out of nowhere inspiring the remark "I didn't know Michigan had hills that big."
Matt - I don't descend very well on a road bike. Right now I am 145lbs ringing wet. Going up the hill is much more enjoyable for me; although, I wanted to test the torsional rigidity of 2010 FF1 (Flying Finn) carbon road frame and the Marquette Mountain hill is the best place to do it when there is a strong swirling wind. I think I hit around 50mph by sprinting all out off the top and then going into a tuck. Turns out the bike is crazy stiff . . . 30% stiffer torsionally than last years FF1 and 25% stiffer in the bottom bracket.

6. Is there a name for that hill? (I've always called is Marquette Mt. There used to be graffiti on a rock at the top that read "Are you saved?" warning all those who descend too fast, I guess.)
Matt - The ski hill. This is where I do most of my hill workouts. I either do repeats on the road or up the service road on my mountain bike. Either is pretty tough. . .I would say the road is tougher in the spring because you can't bike on the shoulder due to the sand. This year a some dude in a truck ran me off the road, into the sand and almost hit me. I learned something really quick. . . for some reason 23c tires don't track well through 3" deep sand.

7. Where can people find you?
Matt -

8. Give me your best Pasty recipe. What's it got in it?
Matt - I'm not much of a cook. I have 2 favorite pasty places in town. Lawrys and Jean Kays. If your in Marquette and want a pasty go to one of these places. WARNING: Eat pasties after the race and not before.

So here's a guy who saw a different life. Grabbed it. Left the corporate world behind. Moved to the ocean shore (Lake Superior). Now he's setting his own hours and doing what he wants to do. And he's making cyclists happy.
That's pretty freakin' cool.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tour de Libraries

Last weekend, the Michigan Notable Book program sent me to far off foreign lands to speak at libraries about Roadie - The Misunderstood yadee yada yada. As you can imagine, it's a bit of a dream assignment: stand in front of people and talk about bike racing.
The far off foreign lands weren't that foreign, to me anyway. Grayling, Escanaba, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. You'll have to look them up on Google maps. They aren't the most popular cities in America, but I'd rather live in any of them than, say, Atlanta, San Diego, Seattle, Austin, or any of the hot spots. Three well-kept secrets kept out of the public eye because they're too far north and too cold for most.
Grayling has quite an outdoor sports scene going on. The Soo is so cool that one country couldn't hold it; it covers both sides of the border (that's a hint to you as to where it is). Escanaba is the least popular cool town on Lake Michigan.
Each library in each town rolled out the red carpet with spreads of food, displays of cycling stuff, and attentive audiences who asked a million questions about this quirky sport of ours.
My observations:
- there are a lot more knowledgeable cycling fans out there than we know.
- cycling attracts many different types of people - gear heads, speed freaks, pain mongers, etc.
- the Soo has an enthusiastic little cycling scene that is all heart. On Saturday morning, they held a short 12.7mile time trial to match the prologue of the Giro d'Italia. Had I not bent my chainring the day before, I would have ridden it and gotten my but kicked.
- there are cyclists in Escanaba cut off from civilization who were starved for stories from the outside world.
- the U.P. would be a great place for a short stage race.
I was particularly pleased to hear one library volunteer along the way say that she came expecting the topic to be boring. She's seen a lot of lectures on a million topics, and she thought cycling would be dry and boring. It can be (if you talk about mountain biking), but this is road cycling. And it's anything but boring.
A mighty big thanks to the three libraries and communities for coming out to support the Michigan Notable Tour. I hope they enjoyed their events!
My next trip to the U.P. is for the Superior Bikefest in Marquette in late-June. If you're within a day's drive, get there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sault Ste Marie Tour Stop

Just a quick shot or two of the marquee in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. I'm here as part of the Michigan Notable Book tour, and this is what greeted me as I rolled into a town that most people can't find on a map:

A sure sign that cycling has gone mainstream.
More stories to come of the entire Michigan Notable Book tour.
Right now, I'm off to explore the U.P.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Here's What We Did

In an effort to help you sort through your identity crisis, I've teamed up with the folks in the marketing department at VeloPress to develop a personality test available on FaceBook.
Just click on the link at the end of this post.
This will solve a lot of mysteries that have no doubt swirled about your head for years. I'm just glad I could help you find out who you really are.
What you do with the information is, of course, up to you. I suggest you take the results to your nearest LBS (Local Bike Shop) and do what comes naturally: buy the corresponding bike.
I also suggest you share it with all of your non-cycling friends in order to help THEM get the answers they seek.
It's really easy to take the test - especially if you're already on FaceBook.
If you're NOT a member of the FaceBook world, how on Earth do you answer these compelling and insightful questions:
Which Designer Handbag are you?
Which Brady Bunch family member are you?
What are your top five favorite fast food restaurants?
Which molecule are you?
What five towns have you lived in?
See? Your life is in total disarray, and the road to clarity starts with finding out which cycling personality you are.
Now go! You have discoveries to make!
Click here!