UK-based adventure and trail riding supply company Adventure Spec recently started advertising in Sideburn, after reading the magazine for years and attending some of our past events. We interviewed the company's marketing and communications man, Greg Villalobos to find out more about them, what they do, where they're from and where they are going.
Sideburn: Where and when was AS launched, and by who? Where are you based and what is the size of the company.
Adventure Spec: Adventure Spec came to be after a chance meeting in 2007 between Chris Colling and Dave Lomax on a remote green lane in the middle of North Yorkshire. Both Chris and Dave had spent time exploring and home and further afield on modified dirt bikes, Chris on his Yamaha TT600 and Dave on a Suzuki DRZ400e.
Back then, in the UK, there really was no proper provision of gear for people doing what Chris and Dave were doing, greenlaning or trail riding. Most people were adapting road gear to suit their needs, or using walking gear that was not ideal on a motorcycle.
Chris and Dave saw an opportunity and created Adventure Spec. In those early days the business was largely based on sourcing gear to serve the UK trail riding community and importing/ distributing it. Their ethos was, import it if it exists. If it doesn’t then we make it ourselves.
Importing a little known (at the time) US brand Klim into the UK and Europe was a big step forward in the company story.
I started working with Adventure Spec in 2016, and right now we are still a small core team of five, supported by a larger team of manufacturers and logistics services. Our roots are in West Yorkshire, UK, and Chris and Dave are still based there. I am up in Northumberland UK, and Dave and Maria who run our customer services are based in Italy. We work with factories in Portugal and Bulgaria to produce the majority of our gear. We have distribution warehouses in the UK, Belgium and USA.
Sum up the brand/company in a line or two.
Imagine you’ve walked into an outdoor / mountain clothing store and you look around at all the racks of lightweight gear to help you survive and thrive in the wild. We do that, but for motorcyclists, with the added protection and features you require living off your bike.
Exploring the world on lightweight adventure motorcycles has enriched our own lives. It’s helped us create lasting memories and friendships, and has at times been much needed head medicine.
Did AS launch as a retailer or has it always been a manufacturer and retailer?
As touched up above, back in the early days we were importing other brands and distributing them to retailers around the UK and Europe, as well as selling direct through our own website. One of our first products was the Magadan Panniers in 2014, our answer to the big metal boxes most people were using at the time.
Our early years also saw us making bike specific hard parts including bashplates and crashbars for bikes like the KTM 690,KTM EXCs, Triumph Tiger etc. Our big shift, and the birth of the Adventure Spec brand as many now it today was our move into manufacturing our own clothing, starting with The Linesman Jacket in 2017. Pretty much every product we have decided to make has been a result of being out there riding lightweight dirt / adventure bikes and not being able to find the solution we needed. When that happens, we make it. Over the years we have learned a lot and developed good relationships with factories and suppliers that get what we are trying to do and are able to match our vision with quality manufacturing.
Adventure Spec Magadan panniers on a Honda CRF 300 Rally
What is the ethos of the company, and has that changed over time?
I think the ethos has been pretty consistent, although the way we meet our aims has developed over time. At the core is the experience that all our team have using lightweight adventure motorcycles to travel, explore and create shared experiences with friends.
Recently a lot of what we do has been brought into focus by the slogan ‘Light Is Right’. The obvious interpretation of this is that lighter bikes are better than heavier bikes. And that’s kind of true to a point, the further you go off the beaten track, the more you appreciate having a bike that is lighter to manoeuvre, pickup, and more often easier to work on and fix. If you want to go solo this becomes even more relevant.
But, there’s more depth to ‘Light Is Right’.
For a long time adventure motorcyclists have been told that an ‘all in one’ jacket/pant combo is what you need. This big heavy textile suit will keep you dry in the rain, cool in the sunshine, and comfortable when you are walking around town or the village, and it needs to be big and bulky to keep you safe. It’s just not true anymore.
If you want to be comfortable (and less fatigued and safer) you need to adapt to the conditions you are riding through. If it’s hot, wear less stuff, if it’s cold put warm stuff on, if it’s raining put a waterproof jacket on, if it stops raining take it off and don’t boil yourself in a bag. Technology exists to put your protection layer next to your skin and then you have much more freedom about how to wear your gear over the top. And all this comes under this umbrella of lightweight clothing more aligned to how outdoor mountain folk have been dressing for decades.
Finally, Light is Right is also about the mark we leave as travelers, and making conscious decisions around the footprint we want to leave behind as we travel. It’s about how we leave our campsite in the morning and it’s about our attitudes to the communities that we encounter. Here in Europe, access to the wilderness by motorcycle is under more scrutiny than ever before. The marketing images of big bikes ripping it up in the desert might help raise heartbeats and sell gear, but they just don’t fit with the reality of adventure motorcycling in Europe.
Look, I don’t want to say that we have to promote boring moto travel, that’s not what it’s about at all, we’re all choosing to ride motorbikes after all. But all of us have to take some responsibility about the future of moto access to wild spaces, wherever we are.
What was the company's first product?
One of our first Adventure Spec badged bits of kit was our Magadan Panniers. If you only swung your leg over an ADV bike in the last five years you probably think that it’s normal for people to ride soft luggage. It’s not.
There was a time when riding around the world involved big metal boxes bolted onto the side of your bike. Good for keeping your gear safe. Terrible for breaking your leg.
In about 2010 we were approached by Walter Colebatch, who was on his now infamous crossing of Siberia.
There is no motorcyclist alive who has spent more time mapping GPXs of the most remote parts of Russia by motorcycle (I think!). As Walter racked up hard miles, he learned hard lessons, which made their way into a design brief for soft luggage. This luggage needed to be tough enough to withstand multiple drops at speed (and not break your leg). Versatile enough to mount onto any bike with a rack without using special tools. Simple enough to be maintained and repaired by anyone with a needle and thread anywhere in the world.
We built Walter a set, and then made more. To date we have sold thousands to riders who have the same approach to ADV luggage.
AS-kitted Yamaha Tenere 700
I can't think of another company, outside big OEMs like Honda and KTM, that makes both clothing and hard parts. Are there some I'm not aware of? Why did you go down that route?
That’s an interesting question and it’s made me take another look at why we do this because honestly, it’s so ingrained in the business that we don’t really think about it much.
I think it comes down to Chris and Dave’s original goal when starting Adventure Spec: we know what our moto tribe needs, and if we can’t find it we will make it.
So, back in the early days, the hard parts came about because we were making the bikes we were using more fit for our purpose of riding off road. Bashplates and crashbars that actually did what they were supposed to do. Luggage racks that were suitable for soft luggage and not big aluminium boxes. We learned a lot in the process and we’ve built a reputation for manufacturing real world hard parts solutions. Why would we stop?
In many ways, the approach of ‘if we can’t find it we will make it’ was simply applied again when we started to look at the clothing that was available to our community. It didn’t really feel like we had to stop making hard parts in order to make clothing, we just kept going.
Riders on the TET
Your website says you support the TET, Trans European Trail, how and why?
The story of the TET is an interesting one. I’m going to try and keep it brief. About eight years ago now we were approached by John Ross, a doctor in North Yorkshire, UK, who had traveled a lot around Europe on his bike and created a wonderful network of like minded people in many European countries. He had this idea to try and create a network of GPS trails, much like Sam Correro had done with the Trans America Trail.
Originally John’s request was modest, some support with early ideas at merchandising. But between John and Dave Lomax, the conversation flourished to the point where Adventure Spec agreed to throw some considerable resource at trying to take this small but also big idea and turn it into ‘the holy grail’ that trail riders had been waiting for.
We worked with John to turn this idea into a brand, and then a website, and then a digital community. I remember when we had 1 member of the TET Facebook Group. Today there are 92,600 members!
For Adventure Spec the ‘How’ was largely around creating a strong brand and creating a digital resource that distributed the GPX files, and importantly keeping this simple and robust.
John’s story will include a lot of incredible work growing his connection of ‘Linesmen’ all over Europe and working with them to keep the trails legal and updated, responding to any issues and ensuring that the project stays on track.
The ‘Why’ really comes down to memories I think. Some of the most vivid memories that I have made on my bike, the ones that I want to hold onto the longest, have been made while riding the TET with mates. Honestly, they are some of the best times I’ve ever had on two wheels. The TET has made this possible and it’s made it so easy (to download a route). We try to strike a fine line between keeping the TET independent and not commercialised, but if Adventure Spec has 1% of a connection to the memories that people are making while riding the TET then it’s worth everything we have put into the project. It’s a precious thing.
Out on the roads we see a lot of big capacity ADVs (we guess the light is right folk are on the trails), but do you think being so vocal about light bikes turns riders of big ADVs off the brand? Or aren't they that sensitive?
Ha! Thank you for addressing this so directly! It’s something I do occasionally ask myself. Did this slogan we adopted actually shoot us in the foot?
I personally think a lighter bike is more enjoyable. But of course it’s not for everyone. Also everything is relative. A T700 is a lighter bike to a GS1250 rider, but heavier to an EXC rider. Where do you sit on that scale?
As I mentioned earlier, there’s more to Light Is Right than the weight of your bike, it’s more of a set of guiding values about your approach to adventure riding. You may be riding around on a big shiny GS wearing a Light Is Right jersey (I have seen this with my own eyes) and that says something. Either you are being ironic, or you get it.
I want Adventure Spec to appeal to loads of motorcyclists, but I also know we can’t be all things to all people. We have a point of view and we stick by it. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you then our tribe are here for you when you are ready.
You've set up distribution centres in Europe and the USA, is AS set for a big expansion?
Our ‘big expansion’ was somewhat forced upon us by the introduction of Brexit. We could see that the trading landscape was going to see a seismic shift for UK businesses like ours so we did what we could to get ahead of the game and move some of our operations into Europe. At the same time we opened our warehouse in Colorado USA. We’ve been shipping all over the world for many years now, but this was an opportunity to make a step away from packing boxes in our own warehouse and work with logistics providers who could get Adventure Spec gear to our community faster and with less extra costs such as duty etc. I won’t kid you, the transition was painful, but we are through it and in a really strong position to start to help more people find out about Adventure Spec and hopefully let them know that we get what they do, and have gear that has been designed for their approach to adventure, trail, dualsport riding.
AS Supershirt being tested
What are the three AS products every Sideburn reader should know about?
The first has got to be the Supershirt. This is something we have been working on for some time, and this summer we finally launched. It’s a CE AA baselayer. Now, that may not sound so special, but when you realise what it actually means for the way you gear up for motorcycling then it really does warrant the term ‘gamechanger’. Traditionally, to protect yourself from scraping your skin down the road you relied on your final outer layer, normally a jacket, to provide your abrasion protection. The Supershirt turns this on its head. It’s a lightweight, breathable baselayer that includes impact and abrasion protection. You put it on first. All of a sudden you can wear what the hell you like on top and still be protected. Our launch sold out in 24hrs, our second batch in 2 days and we are working like mad to keep up with demand.
The second is our Mini Fairing (above). For me this hard part sums up really well our experience and approach to lightweight adventure motorcycling. Bike manufacturers know that what we do is niche, so the bikes they make are generally only ever 70% right when they come out of the factory. The remaining 30% is down to the rider to customise, it’s quite a creative process. There’s a long tradition of DIY in this sector, just look at Austin Vince. We know that a lot of enduro bikes are adapted to become lightweight trail bikes, indeed I did it with my own KTM 450EXC. Part of this was figuring out how to mount GPS devices (and more recently phones) onto your handlebars, as well as occasionally bolting on bits of plastic to act as home made windshields. Depending on the riders garage skills, the results range between OEM look down to Scrapheap Challenge. Or, you throw the best part of £1k at it and get a Dakar style nav tower. Looks sweet, costs a lot, don’t want to break it. Our Mini Fairing is a neat, low cost solution to this that bolts directly onto your handlebars (or triple clamp on CRF models). I think for many people it demonstrates that we actually understand the needs of our niche community because we are out there experiencing the same problems as you, and then designing solutions that work without being over engineered.
The third is a toss up between The Magadan Panniers (because they were a big part of our story) and The Linesman Jacket. I’m going to go with The Linesman Jacket (above).
TO FIND OUT MORE, CLICK ADVENTURE SPEC