Someday. a product is going to land on Earth proudly labelled ‘Made on Mars’. Ignoring its little green man icon for a moment (you know it’ll have one of those - humans don’t change, even between planets), the idea of something arriving on Earth made on a faraway planet will no doubt have us Earthlings in a mini-uproar. But we’ll still buy it.
If Earth is the established bike communities of North America, Asia and Europe, Russia is Mars. Not that there isn’t a fertile cycling scene in the largest country in the world. It’s just that if you tried to cram the bike brands that call Russia home into a Lada Riva, you’d almost certainly have space left over for a Babushka or two. But, as the Russian proverb goes, “Every vegetable has its time”, and thanks to a new wave of youthful, internationally-minded businesses, things could be about to change.
The Pedaler recently had the opportunity to hook up with Vova and Sasha from Saint Petersburg-based bike component brand Raketa, and, over a cherry pirozhki or two, discovered more about Made in Russia, bikes and building a business.
When did you guys get started?
Vova - Sasha and I were both studying mechanical engineering at St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University. In 2011-2012 I was experimenting with designing bike parts. I had machined some parts, but faced some difficulties and shut down my work.
Then, in 2013, when the fixed gear bikes were extremely popular, I opened my own fixed gear workshop. We had demands for high-quality parts, but existing brands were too expensive. Jump forward to 2016, and with our background in mechanical engineering, we decided to start our own brand.
Sasha - For me, it was something like a new challenge. I’d known Vova for a few years before starting Raketa because we were studying at the same university, but we’d never even really had a real conversation. And then I found out about those amazing, beautiful fixed gear bikes. Of course, I was quickly hooked. Digging the internet, it turned out that there was this dude taking the same class as me, who was bringing all this track bikes culture to our city and country. He helped me a lot with learning which parts were good, what was bad, and so on. As a result, my first bike was completed on a very high level. And it was like “Oh, ok, job done. What’s next?” During that time, I’d been working as a CNC programmer for quite some time, so making our own parts seemed like a next logical step. The idea of starting from the scratch, making first sketches, machining the part and making your own product, knowing and controlling every single line of it, and making it exactly the way you want, was very inspiring to me.
And you make all of your products in Russia - is that done locally?
Vova - All our products are 100% engineered and manufactured in Russia. Our key point is that we source the best materials and equipment from all around the world. We don’t follow the self-sustainment policy, as it was in the Soviet Union. We aim to deliver the best product to our customers.
For example, our 7076-T6 aluminium bar stocks are made in Germany; bearings come from Japan; tools are either from Sweden or Israel and so on. But in the end, everything comes together to form a beautiful product. And we are proud that it is made in Russia.
With products covering velodrome, racing and street styles, it looks like you’re all track riders at heart?
Vova - I love track racing. Track racing is a place of pure performance. Track racing has no purpose other than speed. The track bike is an ultimate weapon; it reflects in my soul.
But I also love the concept of track bike on the street. As for me, the fixed gear bike is a form of self-expression and also a kind of protest. Fixed gear bikes became a guide to the world of cycling to us and many of our friends.
Was the Japanese Keirin scene an inspiration? Or closer to home, Russian track riders like Sergey Polynskiy?
Vova - It’s cool that you know that name! I thought before the interview that you would more likely ask about Denis Dmitriev.
I’d say that we get inspired by different fields. We are not fixated on the cycling industry only. There are lots of high quality and stylish products, and it doesn’t even matter what areas they are used in.
Sasha - Exactly. I’d even say that I rarely look for inspiration in other cycling products. Otherwise, there’s no point of making a copy of someone else’s design. Of course, a hub is a hub; a cog is a cog. Some parts always have their similarities and restrictions, but we are trying to bring something of our own even if it’s just a small part such as a track lockring.
We’ve never really been fans of a modern trend of engraving all technical specs on a product, and, to be honest, we don’t really understand it. We like to keep it simple so that every line has a meaning. The key is to make something that is beautiful on its own, not something that you quickly want to install and never look at again.
It’s refreshing to see a cycling brand coming out of somewhere other than the US and UK. But are there any challenges to growing outside of Russia? We’re guessing word of mouth is how you reach new riders with your products?
Vova - The only way for us to grow is to share an international market. At the moment, 60% of our sales come from Japan and Korea, 30% to the USA, and 10% to Europe. The Russian market for high-end parts is nearly non-existent.
At first, we thought that the country of origin was not important if you wanted to promote a globally-targeted product. On the contrary, we thought that it would bring a unique charm to our product.
But during our development as a company, we stumbled across lots of problems caused by our location. For example, for some reason, people are simply afraid of buying products that are made in Russia.
That’s why we are working with riders all over the world to help us promote and dispel doubts about our products. But we are not hiring anyone to become our ambassador. We prefer to establish friendly connections with people who truly love our products and share our vision.
And those beautifully-shot, lustrous product photos must really help on mediums such as Instagram?
Vova - That’s exactly the way we find our customers. Our customers are young and use all modern social media platforms. We always improve our manner of communicating with customers and try to deliver exciting content. For example, we’ve recently updated our hub’s web page describing every little detail of them. Please, check it out, it’s very beautiful! (http://russianraketa.com/standard_hubs/ )
What’s the process for deciding on making a new hub, or chainring?
Vova - We are only at the very beginning, so we generate more ideas than we can realise.
Sasha - Yeah, we’ve got lots of ideas. First of all, we’d like to enter new markets besides a track one. But we’ve never been interested in being everywhere at all costs. We need to make something worthwhile first.
Do you plan to enter into any new categories, like headsets or handlebars, for example? We’re sure your photographer could make them look pretty good…
Vova - The key task is to establish ourselves in the current market and only then we’ll allow ourselves to look at the different directions. We’ll concentrate on hubs and drivetrain parts for now.
Are there other brands in the Russian bike scene that you respect and admire?
Vova - There are a lot of talented and well-educated people who have tried to start manufacturing bike components. There are a few pretty good frame builders. There are even guys who are making carbon wheels, but, unfortunately, there are some aspects which do not allow them to grow outside of the Russian market. Mostly, the problems are simply connected with the lack of quality materials, tools and equipment. It takes a lot of effort and time to bring everything here.
It’s also worth mentioning “Triton”, though. It’s probably the only Russian bike company which is respected worldwide. They’d won a well-deserved “Best Cyclocross Bike” award at NAHBS this year, and we were all very proud of them.
Where can riders shop your products?
Vova - Our products were designed with lots of customization options so that our customers could get every little detail right. So if that’s your case, then the best way is to order directly from us. We have our own webshop up and running (http://www.shop.russianraketa.com/). Every order is finished and assembled according to the rider's preferences. I think that we are probably the only company that provides such service regarding components.
For those clients, who prefer a quick and ready solution, or like to purchase directly from the stock, we’ve got dealers and distributors all around the world. Right now, it’s mostly Asian market (South Korea, Japan), but we are in discusses with several American and European dealers at the moment. You can check out our dealers section for more information.
Vova and Sasha are kindly offering a 10% discount to Quoc customers. Visit their web store and enter the code 'QUOCBLOG' during checkout activate the saving.