“We’re a relatively small company but that makes us very personable. Every customer and every bike we build is so important to us.”
Speaking over a video call from his office in Taiwan, Jeff Webb has an easy manner that suggests he’s just as comfortable solving problems in the workshop as he is sitting around a boardroom table in his role as CEO of Fara Cycling.
Canadian-born, when he was 19 years old he travelled to Europe to pursue a dream of racing his bike professionally before subsequently settling in Norway. Following a successful career as a sports photographer and years working in the sporting goods industry, Jeff founded Fara Cycling in 2015 with a vision of building a bike brand for a new breed of cyclists. One that’s inspired by adventure, emotions and nature.
“When I first started Fara Cycling, it was typical me—bullheaded in the face of a lot of naivety but just going at it and not feeling that I was prepared to back out. And right from the off, I wanted to make people feel comfortable and do away with any sense of intimidation, elitism and snobbery. You go to a trade show and it’s awash with all these images depicting gritted teeth and hollow-eyed faces. And I’m really not sure who these brands are talking to because at Fara we’re so far away from that. We never mention lactic acid or FTP—that’s not our world. What we do focus on is how the bike allows you to enjoy all these amazing places and experiences.”
Although Fara Cycling is based in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, Jeff has spent the past six months in Taiwan overseeing the final pre-launch phase of the company’s new bike model: the F/GR.
“Because of the various travel restrictions and the need to hotel quarantine on arrival, it makes sense to remain for a longer period rather than travelling back and forth. And Taiwan’s a nice place to be—the climate is warm and there’s so much great riding to choose from.”
With Fara wanting to own as much of the value chain as possible, their Taiwanese facility allows easy access to component suppliers – SRAM are located just down the road – and the convenience of overseeing vital finishing touches such as paint.
“We decided to keep final assembly in-house which is a little unusual in the bike industry. Even the paint we use is purchased by ourselves from the supplier who’s also just round the corner. So all this gives us a pretty unique level of control over the various stages of manufacturing.”
Now that it’s a little over five years since the dream of creating his own brand became a reality, Jeff recognises how the time he spent travelling the globe as a photographer provided the inspiration that eventually led to Fara Cycling.
“I did a lot of work with small skiing and snowboarding brands—allowing me to see from the ground up how they created their own market. So I took all these insights and started Fara in Norway – this fascinating location – because I’ve lived there for the past 25 years, I speak the language and feel socially immersed in every way you can imagine.”
“In Old Norse,” Jeff continues, “At Fara means to journey or venture. So we have this cultural thread that ties together the whole brand and I truly believe that recognising this identity was a key moment in our growth. Something that really drove us and continues to do so.”
With this initial inspiration provided by the winter sports brands he was photographing, it was the years Jeff spent heading up sales management for a large sporting goods corporation that proved equally as motivational when it came to launching his own company.
“The more I worked in this corporate world, the greater the belief in me grew that we could do things better. That we could grow a brand that spoke more directly to the customer base.”
Determined to start his own company according to these firmly held principles, Jeff contacted his friend Kenneth Pedersen—the owner of highly respected brand design agency ANTI and also a keen cyclist.
“If you peek behind the curtain,” suggests Jeff with a smile, “you might be surprised at what we’ve managed to achieve with a relatively small team. We’ve recently expanded in response to the demand for bikes during the pandemic but it wasn’t that long ago – a little over two years – that I was the only full-time employee. I was building bikes during the day and answering emails at night.”
With teams now based in Oslo and Taiwan together with a handful of employees working remotely, not only has the Fara workforce increased in numbers but the model range has grown to encompass riding styles that range from road to gravel adventure.
“We’re heavily influenced by our immediate surroundings,” Jeff explains. “So we design bikes that work in the landscapes where we ourselves ride. Which is why we had a gravel bike from day one—before gravel was even a thing. And the idea for our all-road bike, the F/AR, came about when we wanted a bike that could go anywhere. A bike that’s fast and fun that you can ride really, really far. That really resonates with me and influences the way I myself ride. We weren’t looking to dumb down the ride experience—slow and sluggish was never an option.”
“Riding gravel – or whatever you choose to call it – is very much a social scene too. I regularly see groups of riders heading out of Oslo on a loop before stopping off to chat over a coffee or beer. A very different way of riding compared to ten or 15 years ago. And we saw this as an opportunity to design the whole brand – the concept and messaging – around this new style of riding.”
Another recent trend in the cycling industry is the enormous growth in online sales with Fara opting for a direct-to-customer sales strategy. A working model that sees Jeff taking a turn on customer services and replying to messages on his Instagram account.
“A couple of years ago we were contacted by a customer who had a bike that was making the most terrible noise. He’d taken it to his local bike shop but they couldn’t help so I loaded up my car with tools and spare parts and drove three and a half hours to this guy’s house. It only took 15 minutes to diagnose and fix the problem – the rear axle needed re-greasing – but taking care of this customer’s problem was well worth the time and effort.”
“We’re a bit of a ragtag bunch at Fara and I believe that one of my skills is to recognise the potential in people. So if I come across someone I feel might prove a good fit in our journey, I don’t hesitate in talking to them. I very much appreciate how everyone in the Fara team is so passionate about cycling and also the brand. And with that comes our uncompromising approach to the highest level of customer service—making sure that everyone is treated well and has the best possible consumer journey. After all, your customers are your most important ambassadors.”
Not only is Jeff concerned with implementing a robust system of customer support, his vision of building bikes that are fun to ride but also supremely capable has led his design team to explore issues of rider comfort and convenience—the recently developed integrated luggage system offering a clever method of fixing bike bags using a series of magnets embedded in the frame.
“It may appear deceptively simple,” comments Jeff, “but it’s a response to a set of circumstances familiar to many of our customers. You’re on a multi-day trip, pulling up at your overnight stop with frozen hands and you’re struggling to remove the straps of your bags. There had to be a better way.”
“So in the design phase of the F/AR – because we knew it would be used for this kind of adventure riding – it just felt like a wasted opportunity if we couldn’t find a way of integrating the luggage system. Yes, we wanted the bike to look great with or without the bags, and now that we’ve designed our first version of the system, we just need people to use it and enjoy it and then we’ll see where we can take it from here.”
For customers able to visit Oslo, the various aspects of the customer journey have been distilled into the Fara Cycling Experience Centre—the online process of picking a model to fit a particular riding style before selecting components that work with a customer’s budget complemented by in-person advice and the opportunity to see before you buy.
“Our Experience Centre offers a warm welcome and advice to everyone. We don’t care how long your socks are, if you shave your legs or whether you want to ride thirty kilometres or three hundred. All of that stuff doesn’t concern us—we’re all about the joy of cycling and that everyone should feel welcome. So the first thing you’ll hear as you walk inside is ‘hi’ followed by ‘do you want a cup of coffee’?”
Although it’s clear that Jeff still relishes every available opportunity to engage with his customer base, a typical working day as CEO can depend on a number of disparate factors with his current Taiwanese timezone proving a prime example.
“The mornings are generally quiet over here so I can go for a ride before things get a little crazy after lunch when Oslo wakes up. Then I’ll work into the evening – usually until midnight – but I don’t consider myself a typical executive. I’m just a bike guy and feel very fortunate to have lots of really talented and inspiring colleagues along for the journey. As the founder of the company, it’s really touching when other people buy into your vision.”
“Everybody in the Fara Cycling team works so hard which makes my job so much easier,” Jeff concludes. “And in return, I want to give them a great place to work and the feeling that they’re part of something that’s really cool. Money is money but a sense of collective achievement is priceless.”
Photo credits: Fara Cycling / Emil Nyeng / Steff Gutovska / Pål Laukli / Sebastian Mamaj