Following his deal with Panaracer to produce a signature line of tyres, cycling star Cedric Gracia tells Jonathon Harker what went into the range, and also about his first-hand experience of running his own bike shop...
When tyre brand Panaracer first announced it was teaming up with former mountain bike World Champion Cedric Gracia at the end of 2008, the resulting line of tyres could have been produced with the minimal involvement from the French mountain biker.
But if anything, the partnership has seen Gracia do the opposite and work incredibly closely with the Japanese-made brand. Two years after the relationship was formed the firm launched its first tyres and this year the team up will produce another three SKUs to the signature tyre range including the Soft Condition and the CG 29er.
Gracia does, of course, have the kind of unique first-hand experience of cycling in all kinds of conditions across the world that is invaluable in the development of the tyres. But, it turns out, Gracia also has first-hand knowledge of being at the sharp end of bike retail.
“The shop I own is in Andorra, but I’m going to shut it down,” Gracia confesses. “It’s just so much work and I’m never home. I carried the brands that sponsored me in the shop, but it’s too bad that I have to close it. It was a coffee place as well – you could drink beers and just hang out as well. Coffee and biking go really well together.”
But this might not be the end of Gracia’s bike shop running days, he reveals to BikeBiz.
“If I wasn’t racing then I would definitely do it because it is a lot of fun. I used to make €50k in four months. It was crazy. I sold everything I had. I sold Santa Cruz bikes and had crazy rentals. I had 12 bikes to rent and every bike was gone every day. And it was €100 for a full day – I think that’s ridiculous, but people would pay it. I felt bad, but the price was fixed and we had to do that.”
But future bike retailing aside, we’re here to talk to the shy and retiring cycle star about his partnership with Panaracer.
He takes us through some of the tyre features: “The soft condition is a perfect tyre for here [the UK]. It’s muddy all the time, but it is really good rolling though. Typical mud tyres have knobs that are way too high and you lose so much energy pedalling and they will actually make you slide. A lot of people have problems with them.
“Then we came up with this idea to make the perfect tyre for wet conditions, but not 100 per cent wet condition – just soft condition when it has just been raining and tacky.”
The composition of the tyres has also been an area of focus on the CG range: “All these tyres come with the dual compound – but a progressive layer rather than the old way of doing dual compound, where’s it’s just two compounds side-by-side.
“We can progressively change the consistency of the material in the knob, starting right at the root. It allows for grippyness and flex, giving people control when they need it.
“Tyres are not just about the softness of the rubber – sidewalls are important. If you have shitty side walls you need huge amounts of air and it doesn’t matter how good the design of the tyre is.
“We have to make a good balance. We don’t want to piss people off. People want everything. They don’t realise there’s a compromise.”
The tyres are growing in distribution and reputation, Gracia says: “We’re in places as varied as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Russia. I think we’re getting known now. The name [Panaracer] has been known for a long time now but I think with younger people maybe not as much.
“Now with the aggressive marketing we’re doing, with an aggressive design we’re basically answering all those questions from people; ‘What about if it’s muddy?’ ‘we have the tyre for that’, or ‘what about if it’s between two conditions?’ ‘we have it’… we have it all.”
The pairing won’t stop here, Panaracer’s international go-to-guy Jeff Zell tells BikeBiz: “We envisage having 20 different tyres over the course of the next five years. And that’s not including the different SKUs we have within each tyre type – like 29 is getting popular. But if people want to take it bigger – we can already answer to those guys. If it’s going that way. We worked a lot to get these tyres right."
Now an Andorra resident, Gracia has ridden for the likes of Cannondale and Commencal, and spent time as a professional skier. His first love was BMX: “I knew nothing about mountain biking. I had no MTB culture. I had BMX culture. After that I kind of liked it and especially after I started to hang around with a couple of American guys.”
Gracia also now finds time to run a marketing agency to promote cyclists: “It’s always hard to talk about yourself and sell yourself to a new sponsor and I started to do it and it was so much work for so little money... we started to do some events too.”
“I work with many companies, but I spend most of my time with Panaracer.
“I think we are arrogant. We want to do great stuff and we don’t care who is against us. We just want to do it and show everyone. Some of the people in mountain biking are so arrogant and I just want to kick their ass.
“I think [the relationship] works pretty good and after just two years, look at all the range we have. We are going somewhere. It is important. It’s exciting to me.”