April 11, 2011
Singletrack catch up with Mark Pearce, head honcho for Evolution Imports, UK importers of a wide range of US exotica. We talk about the origins of the company as well as new Yeti products and the Chris King/Jay Sycip designed Cielo 29er. In an insightful interview, he reminisces about their relationships past and present with Cook Bros, Fat Chance, Yeti and Chris King amongst others.
Singletrack: Can you tell us how you started up Evolution Imports?
Mark: In the early days we got the US mags, saw all these nice parts but couldn’t buy them in the UK, so we phoned a few of them and started bringing in their stuff, Bullseye, Cook Bros, Syncros, to start with. Pretty soon, dealers started asking where we got the stuff and Evolution Imports was born.
Singletrack: Was it deliberate to target boutique US brands?
Mark: Not really, but most of the stuff people wanted was US based so we didn’t really need to go anywhere else. The Far East wasn’t supplying anything in those days that caught the imagination.
Singletrack: What goes into setting up an importing relationship with a bike or component manufacturer?
Mark: I suppose we were in the right place at the right time really. All the small producers that were getting the press coverage and innovating were tied up making stuff, and hadn’t really thought about selling outside of the US, so they were glad at that stage in their development to sell product abroad, and we spoke the same language (nearly). Once we had started, the word spread and we took on more as the opportunities arose.
Singletrack: Was it luck or good judgement that led you to import products like Chris King and Yeti?
Mark: Probably a bit of both. We saw that no one was supplying these products and went to the US trade shows and talked to the people before others did. Yeti was one of the first, King followed a tip off quite a bit later. Yeti and King are the only two to survive all the corporate buying and turmoil of the 90s that saw so many get swallowed up by big companies. The demise of so many was a real shame, because back in the day it was real cool to do business with them – drink a few beers and smoke a lot of what you shouldn’t.
I remember when we sponsored a Fat Chance team here (Dave Hemming and Clive Gosling). We took them to the Kamikaze downhill at Mammoth on XC bikes and Parker and Jeff from Ringle were out of their heads, sitting in deckchairs shouting at everyone for fun in a nice way. It was hilarious, you couldn’t get a sane word out of either of them all weekend. As I said, they were good times.
Singletrack: Do you still have any original early Yeti and Fat Chance frames? And what do you make of the retro movement?
Mark: Yep, I have the first Ti Fat Chance that we brought into the UK that was reviewed in MBUK and I have a Yeti Road frame and a Ti ARC, both with original components from the year.
The retro boys breathing new life into all these classics is great. After all, that’s where it all started. These bikes and components helped define the journey that led to so many future products and markets.
Singletrack: Do you keep in contact with Chris Chance and John Parker?
Mark: Sadly, no. But I’ve recently phoned Jack from Cook Bros, who’s selling off all his rights and machines. Over the years, I get the odd message from Parker from Yeti, but I really have lost touch with Chris Chance since they went out of business and Independent Fabrications was born. It’s a shame, as they were in the UK a lot at our place. It’s so easy to lose contact.
Singletrack: Did you envisage that 20 years on, people would still desire Chris King headsets as much?
Mark: Not in a million years! But as time went on and the headsets didn’t wear out, you thought that this was a unique product. And the hubs were real innovative in design for the time, so I shouldn’t be surprised really. When I look at how many headsets we’ve sold, we must have sold one for most bikes by now it seems.
Singletrack: With the growing interest in 29ers, do you think the Yeti Big Top is going to be a seller in the UK?
Mark: Yes, it’s already selling through at the moment. We only predicted small sales, and they’re selling well in the US as well, so we’re struggling to extract enough stock.
Singletrack: Can you tell us about your current set up at Evolution Imports and Bromley Bike?
Mark: We’re moving towards a bigger distinction between the two companies. We share the same building and that’s the only real connection at the moment.
Personnel wise, we stand at three in Evolution; Stu who’s on the road all the time and me and Eric back here in the office. Then there’s four in the shop, plus the missus. It’s tight, but it keeps everyone busy.
Singletrack: Any new developments from the brands that you import that you can share?
Mark: Yep, quite a bit with Yeti. We’re off to Sea 0tter to see a hush-hush frame that’s “revolutionary”. You have to hand it to the Yeti Boys, they are not afraid to try new stuff. For such a small company I think that’s really courageous, especially in these times.
King is moving with the whole new headset range, that’s got everyone here confused as it was pretty much sorted previously inventory wise. Now we have 8 new variations of headset in 8 colours, new warehouse here we come!
Singletrack: We’ve seen recent pics (and a forthcoming Grinder review in Singletrack Issue 66) of the Chris King and Jay Sycip collaboration Cielo frame– how’s the interest developing?
Mark: The frames are pricey but they are truly beautiful, and those we’ve shown them to really like them. We are selling a few.
Lead times are about two months at the moment as they’re all custom finished. Sadly, as society gets even more immediate, with the ‘I want it now’ mentality, I’m a little unsure how many people out there are left who appreciate that you can’t rush good stuff.
We’re in two minds on this one. We have frames in stock, but if we put on a dealer margin to our margin then they get real expensive. So, I think we are going to launch Cielo with us (Evolution) doing the selling direct. Watch this space.
Singletrack: How much time do you get to ride?
Mark: I ride to work every day. But, it’s only a mile and a half admittedly, and in traffic. It’s on a hybrid with King disc wheels, life sucks sometimes!
Interview by Tim Spickernell and Marcus Farley