The Pinkbike Podcast: Rob Roskopp on Skateboarding, the Syndicate, & Leaving Santa Cruz

Jan 11, 2023 at 15:01
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich


Rob Roskopp and Rich Novak co-founded Santa Cruz Bicycles in 1993, with the three-inch-travel Tazmon full-suspension bike being their first model in a time when the hardtail was still most riders' go-to choice. Since then there have been countless new bikes, a wildly successful and consistent World Cup team, a growing company, and even a few mistakes. We sat down with Rob to talk about all that and more, including how Pon Holdings came into the picture and his very recent departure from Santa Cruz.





THE PINKBIKE PODCAST // EPISODE 160 - ROB ROSKOPP ON SKATEBOARDING, THE SYNDICATE, & LEAVING SANTA CRUZ
Jan 12th, 2022




Featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.

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100 Comments

  • 28 1
 Just FYI there’s zero evidence of his claim about Tesla investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology. Not sure where he got that from.
  • 8 13
flag onemanarmy (Jan 12, 2023 at 12:56) (Below Threshold)
 I'm sure his insight is dramatically different than yours or mine. Musk has been VERY vocal against Hydrogen. But for him that makes perfect sense. His money is in battery storage not hydrogen storage. But saying that... if Musk can figure out how to do it and make it simple and functional... he'll do it. Any fool can see that these batteries have a limited shelf life. There's no way Musk is not evaluating it's potential or other similar ideas.
  • 9 0
 That was so left field. Huge respect for this guy, but yeah. Where did that come from.
  • 6 2
 @onemanarmy: Batteries in some electric cars now have a warranty of up to 500,000 KM.Some are expected to last 3000 charge cycles or about 1.2 million KM.
  • 22 5
 @guylovesbike: For any owner, or just the first one? You may not see it living in a wealthy country, but electric cars based on baterries will never happen globally. Toyota knows that only hydrogen has the potential to be a new global fuel. Batteries are just for rich californians, they are useless outside a city.
  • 19 4
 Really like Santa Cruz bikes and what Rob has done. But with that comment he's clearly clueless! He's a good businessman but doesn't know physics and engineering. Carbon bikes are basically glorified papier-mache, and SC bikes are made in Asia. Have no idea where he's getting his decades old ideas regarding EVs.The engineering talent he's been around is no where near the class as Tesla or other companies hiring from all the top universities. SC just buys their e-bike parts, so no inside engineering knowledge there. Have zero hope for whatever e-bike project he's working on and PON probably saw that too.
  • 7 11
flag bulletbassman (Jan 12, 2023 at 14:45) (Below Threshold)
 @erikulator: man you must be a lot of fun at parties
  • 1 0
 @guylovesbike: what cars please?
  • 10 1
 Hydrogen for transportation is a dead end. The only way to make it economically is by reformulating natural gas so it is terrible for the environment. It has to be compressed to extremely high pressures for storage. Hydrogen fuel is much, much less efficient than battery electric. Just because you know a lot about one thing (bikes) does not mean you know anything about other things. As Musk is proving, just because you are successful at electric cars and rockets doesn't mean you can't make a colossal mistake like buying Twitter.
  • 2 0
 @racerben: BYDs sold in Asia, Europe and South America
  • 15 3
 @onemanarmy: Let’s not pretend that Musk is “figuring out” solutions for any of the companies he’s responsible for other than which VC to call for funding. He’s not an engineer and has never played that role.

Folks allowed him to sell this myth that he’s the love child of Tony Stark and Howard Hughes. He’s just a fella whose dad owned an emerald mine, which gave him the resources to enable some good decisions about what fields to invest in.
  • 3 2
 China will soon control most battery precursor materials globally and the rest of the world is looking for a way not to be beholden to their rare earth monopoly.I wouldn't be surprised if Musque has ordered his engineers to look for the next power grid (while he continues to milk suckers for the foreseeable future). Batteries in their current (Pon intended) format are a wasteful mess in the long run and Teslas suck.
  • 5 2
 @jonemyers: batteries on the other hand require extensive mining ... Love the idea of creating eco-friendly cars by mining the sh*t ouf of the land, typically in China, so you can't see it. I wish someone discovers lithium nearby your house and create a "little" mine there.
  • 5 2
 @lkubica: On the other hand, we all know that oil extraction and refinement has no environmental impact on air quality, water equality, or the climate. Zero. Absolutely none.
  • 5 1
 @sfarnum: I am not talking about oil, I am talking about hydrogen. Fossil fuels are not sustainable and it's a common knowledge.
  • 1 3
 Really wish there was a bit more real-time integrity when doing interviews like this. I get that it’s hard to do, but when people make bogus claims like this ask them to back it up in the moment.
  • 1 0
 @sfarnum: Have you looked into the emerald mine story at all? Apparently the entire mine was gifted to him from the locals running it. That is the official story lol. Sounds legit.
  • 15 0
 @Cantle406: I’m talking to him about bikes, not hydrogen-powered cars that I know nothing about. I’m not going to call him out on that, sorry, nothing to do with “real-time integrity”
  • 3 0
 @nskerb: Lol that’s pretty much the cover story for all of colonialism.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: point taken, thanks for clarifying.
  • 2 1
 @mikelevy: Understood, and point taken. It just was an awkward moment to hear some claim like that, but then move along. Maybe it's my general curiosity where the claim comes from.
  • 3 0
 @Cantle406: For sure, I'm definitely doing some reading later today haha
  • 19 0
 Looking forward to listening to this. As a young whipper snapper from the 80s one of my first real skateboards was a Rob Roskopp Face deck. Started my journey of a life filled with skateboards, blades, snowboards and now bikes. Thanks Rob for kicking it all off!
  • 8 2
 I still have the OG Roskopp 1 with the arm, complete with Kyrptonics wheels and motobilt trucks. Worth a pretty penny.
  • 1 0
 @counterpoint: Damn - I had forgotten about Motobilts!
  • 16 1
 NOW THIS IS JOURNALISM, popcorn in!
  • 5 0
 Really disappointed no one asked about the dog attack mentioned in the comments on the IG post. Those SC trailbuilders are a greasy bunch so maybe he was just mistaken for a delicious snack.
  • 8 0
 That was a good one @mikelevy
Now that you talked to the founder , why not trying to reach out to the ex engineering manager Nick Anderson who also seems to have recently left SCB ? I believe he’s one of the reason these bikes are so good and pure engineering masterpiece, from mechanical design up to carbon fiber construction. It must be a tough decision to move on from a position like that; I am curious to know what was the motivation behind.
  • 4 0
 Looks like Nick is now at Rivian.
  • 7 0
 Shout out to Tom Morris who actually designed the Tazmon. SC loves to sweep him under the rug, both Rob and Rich have referred to him as a "welder" in previous articles. Luckily the internet exists:

www.mtbr.com/threads/santa-cruz-tazmon-a-local-historical-gem.1046082
  • 8 1
 I'm imagining Rob running around Santa Cruz offices trying to sell some hybrid battery concept to everyone. And everyone being confused on what to do. Focus on the bottom line or follow the rich guy off a cliff into lala land. Microdosing isn't always good.
  • 8 2
 Good interview… but a missed opportunity. Rob clearly loves riding e-bikes…. but that the same man that said Santacruz will never make a e-bike! Should of made him eat his hat! But respect to the guy for building a brand and developed some great bikes. All the best to him in his new projects.
  • 26 5
 People are allowed to change their minds, even about e-bikes haha
  • 31 1
 @mikelevy: Levy, are you softening up public opinion for when you eventually turn? #egravel
  • 21 1
 @henryquinney: I said people are allowed to change their minds, not that they'd be right Wink
  • 13 0
 @mikelevy: yes you are right.

"I'd rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever." - Adam Horovitz
  • 7 0
 @mikelevy: I like that Henry still isn't a mod because he'd block everyone so he could have the comment section all to himself, just like how he wants his rides to be!
  • 2 0
 @henryquinney: #downcountr-E
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: Death Before Voltage. I'm pretty old, though so it shouldn't be that hard to hold out....
  • 9 1
 Dang - You Guys are fast on this one - Hitting Play Now! and yes, the popcorn is popping!
  • 3 0
 ..that was a great interview. Been a fan of Rob and SC Bikes for years and will continue riding there bikes in the future. Wish you all the best Rob in your new adventure...
What always get my teeth grinding in these comment sections is that "changing partnership or ownership" of companies always tend to bring out the worst in people buying bikes or being loyal to a brand. How many of our are "really"affected by SC being owned by PON? Prices went up anyway due to COVID and supply chain issues... If they continue producing great bikes in the same great quality - they have my money. The decisions almost read as if the people have a personal relationship to Rob, in which they don't - so don't forget what you bought a SC bike in the first place, or ride bikes in general. For the fun of it, right?
  • 4 0
 @mikelevy what has Rob's role been at Santa Cruz since the Pon purchase? Joe Graney has been CEO for a number of years, if I'm not mistaken.
  • 7 1
 Wow grabbing popcorn...
  • 6 1
 Popcorn for breakfast it is...
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy five days since I asked for a Rob Roskopp podcast and PB delivered.

Excellent. Great to hear from someone who has done so much to shape the last three decades of our sport. And I love that he uses “in my opinion”. I enjoyed that.

How about Chris Cocalis, Jeff Steber and Transition’s Kyle and Kevin next?
  • 2 0
 Oh, @mikelevy: also Mark Weir and Joe Graney would be good pods
  • 3 0
 Can someone do a cliff notes version after listening pretty please? Thanks in advance.
  • 15 0
 Transcribed version incoming Smile
  • 4 1
 Rob is working on secret game changing stuff.
  • 4 0
 He didn't like the direction the brand was going, so he left. He has secret plans that involve patents.
  • 12 7
 @TimnberG: Nothing is going to be game-changing. None of these people or brands understand what engineering is.
  • 14 1
 Man sells company to corporate entity for all of the money of money........gets annoyed that it's not his company anymore. Won't suprise me if PONS announce change in distribution model, move away from US based assembly and change in the Syndicate.
  • 9 1
 @watchmen: 100% agree on the first part, but I think you're way off on the second.

PON bought Santa Cruz almost 8 years ago, why the heck would they change things now? Santa Cruz has been doing great for them in that period...PON might be a lot of things, but I don't think dumb is one of them.

Also, judging by the Syndicate mechanics and riders I saw in town in December, I don't think they're going anywhere. (P.S. Laurie and Jackson are so tiny!)
  • 2 3
 @rockandride6: Probably the first time in 8 years they've seen a downturn in growth, and for reasons I've never fathomed, in business if you're not growing then you are failing. The quickest way to massage the books is to slash the overheads.They are not dumb.
He talked a lot about the Syndicate......for some reason.
  • 5 0
 @watchmen: Probably because that looked to be his main tie-in to Santa Cruz since he sold off the company: free travel with the Syndicate. He was at more WC races than he was at the office from what I've heard at the trailhead...
  • 4 0
 Rob’s contract was not renewed by pon. His old contract likely had royalties very similar to what you seen in the skate world. Pon also seemed to not be interested in what he had to say or offer while he still had a contract.

He is working on Emtb project designed to lower the weight of a full power Emtb to 40ish lbs. possibly collaborating with Unno on it. He was very quiet about any real details.

His Unno post was not really meant to be controversial. Simply pon and Santa Cruz never made a statement about his departure and he likes what Cesar is doing.
  • 1 0
 @bulletbassman: Expecting royalties like his old endorsement skate deal is a bit unrealistic. Unless he was the inventor of some IP no company would extend royalties for continued management services. But yeah, if he's not feeling heard then time to move on.
  • 1 2
 @tcmtnbikr: lots of companies pay royalties to remain associated with people fans of the brand associate with the brand. I’ve lost interest in Santa Cruz in the last few years due to boring bikes and boring syndicate releases and rob is anything but boring.

Beyond that pon is owned by a super wealthy family whose wealth comes from colonizing the world. They can afford it.
  • 5 0
 @bulletbassman: have a few friends who worked for Pon Cat and Pon VW all of them said working for PON was the best. Mr. PON is super active in the businesses, in the workshops, invests heavily, big into training and internal promotion and education. All had met him a bunch of times.

Indeed some ole timey Dutch money, but sounds like they’re not post capitalist hellscape bezos-like.
  • 1 1
 Rob builds hugely successful company sells SC 8 years ago for good money and stays on as manager. I assume good salary and bonuses based on SC division performance. SC makes huge profits in Covid years thus Rob's bonuses huge also. Rob wants SC to build an ebike, PON says no , SC will be our "cool" brand, will build ebikes in other division. Post Covid recession and bike glut plus no future ebike at SC means no bonuses for foreseeable future ans time for Rob to move on.
  • 1 0
 @HughBonero: But SC has an ebike, the Bullit. Summary is his contract ran out, they didn't want to renew, he has some ideas with newer versions of ebikes and their batteries/motors, but sounds like Pon wasn't intereseted.
  • 1 0
 @bman33: forgot about the bullet you're right. Guessing rob didn't want to renew either
  • 1 0
 @HughBonero: And the Heckler.
  • 4 2
 I think when departures coincide with the company ignoring the vision of the founder...it's pretty dam justified! Their loss. Man Santa Cruz is taking a wolloping this year.
  • 4 0
 Big loss for SC.
  • 5 0
 I like Roskopp.
  • 2 0
 I enjoyed it for the sole reason to hear his pronunciation of ‘Tazmon’. It’s been ‘Taz…Mon’ in my head since I first saw it back in the day.
  • 2 1
 I guess he doesn't own any shares in PON anymore - or never did. Otherwise, why would you burn a company you're a part-owner of...?
Anyway, good for him and good for us - exits of this sort are usually quiet. This was fun.
  • 4 0
 There are no shares to own.PON are a family owned ,private company. I assume he was a director and he was let go.
  • 3 1
 @watchmen: which makes it a bit of a surprise as to why he stayed that long... they must've been paying him a metric f ton.
  • 2 0
 @shredddr: He had a contract, says it pretty much up front and they didn't renew it.
  • 2 0
 I like Rob , he's gotta be happy with his life achievements so far, looking forward to what comes next.
  • 2 0
 Shoot, I forgot that Santa Cruz bought Swobo. I miss that brand.
  • 1 0
 Oh wow, this is journalism. Are you in touch with Spesh as well?
Thanks for this one and all the best to Rob!
  • 1 0
 Nice episode ya'll. I like these kind of interviews, would love to hear more like it with old heads from the industry.
  • 5 5
 I was hoping for more commentary on the circumference of his cranial lobe...
  • 3 0
 Maybe he's relocating to Metrocity.
  • 4 0
 @watchmen: pronounced "Meh-trah-city"
  • 3 1
 He had a great sad plant
  • 1 0
 So when is Unno bringing out their hydrogen powered bike?
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