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ON THE DROPS WITH OLLIE (THE WIZARD) GRAY

What do you get when you combine an obsession with #aerogains; a love for power meters; the ability to talk all day about Mario Cipollini; and the in-house Hunt rouleur? Yep, this week’s On the Drops is with the On Road/CX Brand Manager Ollie Gray. Hailing from Essex, Ollie spends more time deciding what to wear on his bike than riding it. His in-depth knowledge about all things road related, sees him bringing you the details about what is happening with our wheels designed for speed. If you can’t find him in Hunt HQ deep into a 4hour long BoilerRoom mix or smashing the lanes of Sussex, you’ll find him in the pub carbo loading.

We have especially left this one to be a little late and fall in-between Ollie’s favourite races on the calendar (although, who doesn’t like Flanders and Roubaix?). Here is the dreaded On the Drops with Ollie Gray.

DISCLAIMER: Views and actions expressed by Ollie are his own and not a reflection of wider Hunt Bike Wheels / The Rider Firm values. Take anything here with a grain of salt and not seriously: after all, On the Drops is all in the name of light-hearted fun. 

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Name: Ollie Gray

Age: 25

Born and Bred: Essex

Ice breaker – describe yourself in three words.

Motivated, misunderstood, magic.

First Bike and Favourite bike?

First bike ever was a Raleigh Pirate. I remember razzing around the estate where my parents lived when I was a kid. On the pavements, on the roads, creating race tracks in my mind.

First ‘proper’ bike was a Saeco Cannondale CAAD7 I got for my 21st birthday. It all went mental from there…

Favourite bike was my Colnago C50. Balanced, poised, beautiful. It climbed wonderfully, and turned heads wherever I went. Might’ve been the pink. Like most bikes I’ve owned, I cracked the frame (twice). It’s hanging above my desk on the office wall.

The Beloved 'Colpinko' in all its glory.

Finish this sentence: Climbing on my bike is…

…something I’m awful at but wholly enjoy nonetheless.

As Hunt’s Road & CX Brand Manager, give us the low down on what you do?

As I’m sure many readers will be aware, job titles in start-ups (particularly fast-growing ones) can be almost arbitrary at times. This was certainly the case for our first couple of years… being the longest-serving full-time employee has seen me do just about every job you could think of throughout my journey here. I’ve fit tyres, ordered office supplies, carried my boss down a hill after breaking his leg, answered emails, been filmed from a helicopter riding my bike into a bush, been to shows, dropped wheels to customers’ houses, decorated the office, and I’m always happy to do a round of teas and coffees to keep everyone caffeinated! The journey has completely changed my life for the better.

The main elements of the ‘Brand Manager’ role primarily revolve around the outward perception of HUNT, and so encompasses everything from marketing, to product communications, sponsorship, maintaining relationships with journalists/media outlets, and of course other individuals/companies in the industry. Lots of emails!

One of the main projects I look after is the Canyon Eisberg team, which has been a great ride. All the riders are a great bunch to deal with, all totally down-to-earth, and they have a seriously wonderful team of support staff around them. From Hugh & Rob on media, to Lee & Mark making sure their gear is always working – everyone under Tim Elverson should be proud of what they’ve achieved together. I’m honoured to work with them and support them in their development and progress.

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Ollie helps these guys go fast...

You started out at Hunt when a shipment of 30 wheels caused havoc, what is it like now and how have things changed?

It actually feels about the same in terms of how busy we are, but I’d say the main change is the increasing specificity of everyone’s roles. Back when it was just me and Josh (Ibbett), we had to consider a wider range of responsibilities, albeit in much lower volume. Now, everyone is just as busy, but with a much more defined scope of considerations. It has taught me the value of being able to rely on others, and hopefully others being able to rely on me, because as we keep growing it’s just no longer possible to have any one of us have the capacity or time to be able to look after everything.

As the team has grown, so has our ability to work with and depend on one another. Generally, when we take people on, regardless of their existing qualifications and/or experience it is fairly normal for them to do some time on the customer service & dispatch side of things. This is primarily so that everyone who works at Hunt really understands the nuts & bolts of the company, and it gives everyone an idea of what it’s fair to expect in terms of asking for others for their time/help. It’s a really organic way to grow, because I think in too many companies you can end up with these totally disparate departments, who can really fail to understand how one another work.

I’ve said it to them enough times, and sometimes worry if I say it too often then it will lose its meaning, but I’m really proud and honoured to work with the team I do. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

What was it like to take the trip out to Germany and see the wind tunnel tests in action – was it as expected or completely different?

Just awesome. Having no experience of that world meant I went into it with no preconceptions. The wind tunnel we’re using was built in the Soviet era, and it really has that kind of desolate feel to it. I think, if anything, I had expected the facility to be a bit more futuristic – given that it’s one of the most famous and well-regarded wind tunnels in the cycling industry for the whole of Europe.

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Ollie (second from left) and the rest of the team at the GST Windtunnel.

The results themselves were equally amazing. To be right in the mix with some of the big guns of the industry was beyond our expectations and put us in an incredible position to achieve some of our goals for the project. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been following along and the general response to performing wind tunnel testing so transparently has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re going back for more this week, so we’ll be taking the public inside with more live videos and coverage as we go.

There is no denying that you are a #aerogains fanboy, enjoy racing and the generally more performance side of things. How do you see Hunt’s 4Season range helping you and your riding?

I think the 4Season stuff is something that really set us apart when we first came onto the scene. Most wheel brands tend to design a really fast race wheel, and then delete/downgrade specifications down to certain price points until you got to the £100 ‘winter wheel’. I used to think this made sense as a rider, just use the cheapest thing possible because you’re going to trash it anyway, right? Well no, not really. You’re only going to trash them because they’re not the right tool for the job! If you invest in a wheelset with well spec’d hubs (i.e. hub-shells shaped in such a way to deliberately minimise water ingress), with well-sealed bearings and similar decisions that really consider the purpose of that wheelset, then you’re investing in equipment that is properly fit for the task at hand. As a bigger rider, I love the stiffness the 4Season Aero gives me with the higher spoke counts anyway! I think they’re the most impressive alloy rim-brake wheels I’ve ever ridden – one of those Hunt wheelsets where we came out with the end product and thought “yeah, we really nailed that”.

What’s the best thing about beating Stan (Hunt’s Website Co-ordinator and all-round hitter!) at a Cyclocross race?

His excuses at the pub afterwards! In fairness, my gloating only ever lasts a week, maximum, as I’ve never managed the impossible twice in a row. He tells me he’s really gearing himself up for the 18/19 CX season and I can’t see any reason why he can’t crack the top 10 overall… except for the fact he has a hard time staying upright over the hurdles!

Ollie likes to give CX a nudge.

You are a member of local cycling collective, Generation Press Cycling Club (GPCC). What are you guys all about?

Mostly beer. Well, it’s definitely not about winning races for most of us. We’re a grassroots cycling club (or a team, I’m never sure) who are just about supporting one another and offering a platform for riders to get involved with racing, regardless of their ability. It started as a core group of about 5-6 of us who used to ride, drink, and adventure together. Generation Press itself is a local print business owned by Scrub, the gaffer. It’s because of him that we have this platform, and I’d like to think it’s a fairly inclusive affair.

I think a lot of us got disenfranchised by the rules and traditions that seem to dominate ‘old school’ cycling clubs, particularly in the local area. We just want to ride/race how we want without fearing that our behaviour will be frowned upon by some snooty senior member of the club we barely know. After the Tour of the Marshes support race on Easter Saturday, we were the only cyclists to be found in the starting village’s local boozer, putting the world (and the race itself) to rights. Big up Stan for placing 10th in a tough day out.

Having a soft spot for all things mid 90s / early 00s road bikes, what is it about this era you like?

The flavour. It was as much about the riders as it was the bikes themselves. Anyone who knows me even vaguely, will know about my obsession for Mario Cipollini. He epitomised what I love about the most enigmatic bike racers… those guys so sure of their ability to win it permeated everything they did. Sagan has that similar special something, but Cipo just obliterated people for the fun of it.

It was the first racing I watched on TV, and whilst Lance’s US Postal dominated the pointy end of the Tour, they had to do it using their brains (and enhanced brawn). They didn’t simply have their required power output calculated for them and sent down the race radio. Bike racing still has that unpredictability in the Classics, but Grand Tours are generally ridden by riders who work out how not to lose, rather than how to win. I find it all a bit cold nowadays (doesn’t stop me watching every single bike race I possibly can!).

Early 00's inspo - the CAAD7 in 'winter' mode with 4Season Aero wheels

What would you rather... 50mm of spacers under your stem or MTB pedals on your road bike?

What a horrid dilemma. I’d have to go with MTB pedals on my road bike, at least they’d be hidden whilst riding.

As a man of many opinions, what is your take on gravel bikes?

Ha! I knew this question was coming. Myself and Hamo (Brand Manager for all things MTB & Gravel) often discuss this very question and depending on how our riding is going or our previous weekend was spent, we seem to have different answers. I think gravel is an amazing sector, and my favourite thing is just how many new people are being brought into cycling by it. I can see how the relaxed approach and emphasis on fun over performance is a huge appeal, and if it gets more people on bikes then I’m all for it. For me, personally, riding has never taken that avenue. I’ve always wanted to use riding to get fitter/faster/better, and I find that road & cyclocross have been my most enjoyable avenues for that kind of development. I love racing my bike, and so I’m loving seeing the gravel sector start to introduce that competitive element – stuff like Grinduro is just awesome. I am not, however, a fan of attaching heavy luggage to an already-heavy bike! But as I said, if having disciplines like gravel with a far more relaxed approach to competing/going fast gets more human beings on bicycles, then it is inherently and fundamentally a good thing for society at large.

Are you a bit of a data geek? Do you analyse the details and compare yourself to last year’s form or are you one to take a backseat on this?

I’m still finding my happy medium. Conventionally, a lot of my riding friends know me as a guy with bad habits off the bike… when I was at uni I used to turn up to rides having not been to sleep, or drunk. I started racing a couple of years ago and gradually got more and more data-focused. Through the ‘17/18 CX season and in my winter training I took it a bit too far, and it quickly killed the fun for me. I tried following too strict a schedule, and quickly found feelings of inadequacy followed. I felt guilty every time I missed a turbo session or had a pint. So, I’ve swung right back the other way and I’ve found it has totally liberated me. I try not to judge people for how they train, as this whole process has taught me that everyone has a system that works for them. It’s a cliché but you really need to just enjoy these things otherwise there is no point. I’m a strong believer you rider how you feel, and my newfound enjoyment & getting closer to finding ‘my’ balance has me in the form of my life. I bloody love racing. Even getting spat is quite fun in its own way, cos you end up just rolling about with a few other guys who feel just as crap as you do. S’all miles in the legs, init.

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Getting Rad feat. support for his peers.

What grinds your gears?

Where do I start?

On the bike:

  • People who don’t wave back
  • Tyre pressures above 90psi
  • Noisy/creaky bikes (more broadly, bikes that aren’t kept in good nick)
  • Team Sky
  • Bad souplesse

Off the bike:

  • Celery
  • The state of politics and society’s total apathy towards it
  • Wisdom teeth
  • French automotive design
  • People who don’t embrace and nurture our outdoor/green spaces

Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix?

Paris-Roubaix without a doubt. It was whilst attending the 2016 race, sat soaking up the sun (and plenty of local beer) in the Roubaix velodrome, that it dawned on me that I wanted a career in the cycling industry. It felt like the peak of my enthusiasm for all things riding. A beautiful day, with beautiful consequences…

Jersey pockets or Saddlebag? 

Jersey pockets. If it doesn’t fit, you don’t need it. I am essentially at the opposite end of the spectrum to Josh. My idea of touring involves a fast bike and a credit card!

Dream place to ride?

Probably Japan (Fuji/Hokkaido) or California at the moment. Europe is probably home to the best (road) riding in the world, but it wouldn’t be fair to call any of it a dream place to ride, in virtue of its proximity – something I think it’s too easy for us to take for granted. I’ll try to do at least 3 trips to the continent a year to ride as it’s so easy for us in the UK, but it’s those ‘out there’ places further afield which I dream of being able to ride in.

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Fancy Winnats Pass in December? (To the non-UK rider - it's proper steep).

Thoughts on Cyclocross?

Epic. Epic epic epic. Intense racing with a culture of fun and drinking, with added bike handling. What a sport. I follow the pro season as closely as I do with the road, and hope once WvA/MvdP head into road/MTB proper then we’ll be able to witness the next generation come through. Think Pidcock will just blow the scene apart when the time comes.

We know you love a good crash story… give us the low down on your worse crash.

Crikey, I’ve got a lot of these. Two chain-related incidents (one snapped, one jammed) have resulted in both collarbones having metal plates & screws in them, with the left one being quite a complex break. This was because around 6 months after having that plate in, I went head on into a double-decker bus in central Brighton. It was Friday 13th June, and town was mobbed – so it was in front of 100+ people. Smashed myself up good and proper, went into the windscreen and the driver later said he was certain the impact would’ve caused a fatality. The fairly fresh metal work (including a rod downwards from the outermost part of the plate) got twisted and bent up into my neck, and I spent the next couple of weeks with only intermittent use of my left arm owing to nerve damage. Was pretty terrifying at the time, but I look back on these things as experiences that shaped me. Scars make for the very best of stories.

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Balling in the hospital post-collarbone break (Notice the lack of chain).

Cheers Ollie!

 


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3 comments

  • Legend

    • Elvis
  • OK… after work…

    • Biga
  • Cracking a beer open to read this…

    • Biga