How to Break Into the Cycling Industry – Yuba Cycles Founder Ben Sarrazin

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

Having just received our own Yuba Boda Boda in for review, I realized it’d been a while since I hauled a “Break In” interview out of the drafts and onto the homepage. So, while our pretty new green bike transports kids, groceries and other stuff around town with me, I hope this interview with founder Ben Sarrazin transports your thoughts to finding your own way into the wonderful cycling industry…

BIKERUMOR: Who are you and what are you doing here?

BEN: I’m the founder of Yuba Bicycles, based in Petaluma, California. Yuba was the first company to launch a fully built cargo bike for the North American market, and we have customers around the country and world who use our cargo bikes for work, errands, bringing kids to school. Basically we want to empower people to use pedal power to get work done that would have required a car in the past. I designed the original Mundo cargo bike and I run the company.

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

Yuba Mundo bikes, their original heavy duty model, at the office.

BIKERUMOR: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?

BEN: I was born in France, and back in 1984 my father started selling the first mountain bikes in France. This was long before mountain bikes had become a huge global presence. But he saw an opportunity and knew that mountain bikes would blow up in popularity, and he was right. That gave me my first glimpse into the bike industry, dealer visits, trade shows. Then I started doing European sales and work in the German market. In my 20s I traveled the world as a kayaker, and in many parts of the developing world I saw people using bikes to transport goods to market and to carry huge objects because they can’t afford cars. I thought, there should be a strong but nimble bike that would help people carry large objects and empower entrepreneurs. That’s when I had the “eureka” moment about building and selling cargo bikes. Hopefully, just like my father and his vision for mountain bikes, I am helping to launch a new era of cargo biking.

BIKERUMOR: What’s your educational background?

BEN: I studied science and environmental science. I had a very active sporting outdoor life as a youngster, skiing and cycling and hiking, and I’ve always been fascinated by nature. That interest in the natural world and its health is a big part of the mission at Yuba. Climate change from the burning of fossil fuels is changing the planet as we know it. If I can help people get out of their cars and use pedal power instead, to help people lead lives that are more sustainable, then I can feel proud that I am doing the right thing.

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

The introduction of the Boda Boda, a smaller cargo bike.

BIKERUMOR: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?

BEN: I saw an opening for cargo bikes and bikes for transportation in North America. In Europe people have been riding bikes for transportation forever. In North America, however, practical transportation bikes still take a back seat to fitness and recreation bikes – road bikes and mountain bikes. I saw that with the growing environmental awareness and the pursuit of greener lifestyles in North America that there was a market for cargo bikes. It is still a small market but it is growing and our sales have doubled every year. Many people have never heard of cargo bikes, so part of our goal at Yuba is to educate cyclists and consumers that there are bikes made for getting work done, carrying the kids to school, etc.

BIKERUMOR: What’s a normal day for you?

BEN: I ride my Boda Boda from my house in Petaluma to the Yuba office downtown, where I have a small team of employees whom I consider teammates. I am involved in every aspect of running Yuba: sales, management, production, marketing, design. At the end of the day I ride home to my wife and daughter. Sometimes I can even sneak in a paddle board ride on the waterfront that is just two blocks from my office. People in Petaluma are accustomed to seeing me riding my Mundo or Boda Boda through town carrying my standup paddleboard on the racks.

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

Ben hauling his Christmas tree home.

BIKERUMOR: What are the highlights of your job?

BEN: I love meeting and hearing the stories of our customers who are using our bikes for all sorts of creative activities. We have small businesses such as Portland Pedal Power that do deliveries on our Mundos. There is a nature photographer who uses his Mundo to carry all his camera and video equipment. We have customers who have started food cart businesses, selling food and hauling all of their cooking equipment by cargo bike. Boise State in Idaho just purchased three Mundos so that staff can transport large objects across campus without using a vehicle. Hearing their stories and their enthusiasm for our bikes feels really good to me. Check out www.yubabikes.com to see some of the stories and videos of our customers using Mundos and Boda Bodas in inspiring ways.

BIKERUMOR: What could you do without?

BEN: Claims and delays in the deliveries of all the components we need to build our bikes. This is something that all small companies deal with.

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

...and using the SUP/Surfboard attachment (also known as bungie cords).

BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give someone looking to follow your path today?

BEN: My father was an entrepreneur and I feel strongly about the power of entrepreneurship and innovation, but it is also extremely challenging and takes your full commitment. To succeed you must have a product that is innovative or different or helps consumers use bikes in ways they may not have imagined in the past. My advice would be to look at what unique elements or experiences you can bring to the table and to follow your passion. If you are young, get a job in a bike shop so you can learn the wrenching skills that will help you no matter where you end up in the bike industry. Bikes are one of the greatest machines ever invented, and they can help end many of the problems we have on the planet. You may not get rich working in the bike industry, but you will have fun and hopefully will have the opportunity to ride your bikes all the time. For me, bikes are life.

Yuba Bicycles founder Ben Sarrazin interview

...and the BBQ grill attachment (also AKA lots of bungie cords plus a little imagination).

Comments

Jean-Claude - 04/10/13 - 2:36pm

Hey Ben,

Nice to see you in a great shape doing your job with pride. Congratulations.
Long life to Yuba!

JC (former Alternative Bicycles owner)

Dale - 04/10/13 - 3:39pm

These are awesome! I use a Schwinn American and an old Raleigh with big baskets as my utility bikes. It’s so fun to just get on with a beer and sandwich in the basket and ride down to the beach. Or to go get groceries.

Love the story and seeing this type of entrepeneurship. More of what America needs! It took my ass kicking immigrant wife to make me dump my 9-5 and start a business and I couldn’t be happier.

GO GO GO!

joe - 04/10/13 - 7:12pm

A good concept, but the build quality of their frames is poor. Terrible welds and terrible paint. Give the american market something to be proud of. The Build quality of the taiwanese surlys is much higher

Cassidy Castleman - 04/10/13 - 7:37pm

As someone who sells both Surly and Yuba, I respectfully disagree with joe. The American market IS proud of Yuba bikes! The welds and paint on the Yubas are just fine, and most people (especially families) find the Yuba to be a much better value. Keep up the good work Ben- you’ve helped change a lot of lives for the better, and you’re one hell of a guy in my book!!!

Daniel Arbuckle - 04/12/13 - 3:31pm

My family and I just got a Mundo for hauling kayaks and kids. It has been a great way to be introduced the the Cargo bike culture. I see Ben is sporting a Claveys Paddle Sports hat. My kind of guy.

benjamin - 04/26/13 - 3:59pm

Thanks Cassidy! We love working with dealers like Practical Cycles. We are trying our best in building the best bikes we can. However it is not always easy considering our size. Surly makes great bikes but also plays in a much bigger league since they are owned by QBP.

Cameron - 11/23/13 - 3:58pm

Thanks for posting! My dad and I are getting ready to launch our product Spruzza. This was a great read and inspiring us on how to break into the market! Best of luck and continued success!

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