The tinkerer Richard Lockley

Richard Lockley and Moses Sawney own a brand called Von Drais and they make sure your number is attached properly to your bike. Last year athletes in Kona used the Von Drais system and we expect that many more events will follow suit.

It is pretty easy to gripe about something when you are unhappy, but it is quite another to actually step up and do something to address the problem, and that is how the Von Drais number bike mount concept was started.

Slowtwitch: Good to chat with you Richard.

Richard Lockley: Thanks Herbert. I’ve been a Slowtwitch reader for several years and it’s great to finally meet the person who writes a lot of the Slowtwitch articles. I’m a fan.

ST: Well, we hope your life is a bit less hectic right now than during the bike check-in at Kona.

Richard: My life has calmed down a lot from that day. The Kona bike check-in was exhilarating. The athletes are so pumped up and excited about racing at Kona. It was just a fun day.

ST: Can you explain to our readers what you were doing?

Richard: We’re a new company that offers a simple, easy to attach custom bike tags. The tags are made of a special plastic and will survive all conditions. The tags are attached to the bike with two zip ties and can be mounted on any size/type of seat tube or seat stays. Since this was a new product for Kona my biggest concern was the athlete’s first experience using this new type of bike tag system and I wanted it to be favorable.

ST: How many numbers do you think you adjusted, attached or otherwise touched that day?

Richard: It is our experience that 99% of the athletes will put the tags on correctly. About 0.7% will need a little adjustment and the remaining 0.3% will need it re-mounted because they put the tags on the front of the bike instead of the rear of the bike. At Kona, I wanted everything to be perfect and once the athletes saw how other athletes mounted their tags, they wanted to change where their tag was located on the bike. So, most of the adjustments I made was to reposition their tag. So, out of the 2000 athletes, I probably adjusted about 50 tags. For those that didn’t have scissors, I clipped their zip ties.

ST: Did you get any feedback from the athletes or were they too focused on the task at hand?

Richard: The best part of the day was hearing feedback from the athletes. The majority of responses I received were: “This is so much better than putting a race number over my top tube”; “The instructions were easy”; and “ Why don’t more races use your tag system”. Overall, it was a good day but we’re not resting. A couple of the athletes who rode bikes under 50cm had difficulty finding room to put the tag because the seat post was covered by a bike bag. So, we’re currently working on a solution for that situation.

ST: Once your duty was done, did you have a chance to watch the race and just relax, or were you occupied on race morning too?

Richard: The next day I was busy taking pictures. I was there for the swim start and then headed out to various sections of the bike course. I didn’t see the winners finish but I saw a lot of the age-groupers finish. I’ve raced 3 Ironman events including Kona so I knew what the athletes were going through. However, one thing I realized while racing the run course at Ironman NY last year was I need to train more to get better times. Right now I just don’t have the time, so this year I’m sticking to 70.3 and below.

ST: Do you even have time to train between your day job and the Von Drais project??

Richard: I try to workout 3-5 times a week but the length of my workouts varies depending on how much time I have that day. Weekends are for long workouts if I can squeeze it in. I love a long bike ride.

ST: In 2012 how many bigger events did you attend that featured your number holders?

Richard: We’re a new company with a new product and we realize it takes time to break into a crowded marketplace. So, when the race director for the Ironman World Championship took a chance on our little company, we were ecstatic. Our other big break was with the Garrett County Gran Fondo in Maryland and Savageman Triathlon. We’ve done lots of tags for triathlon clubs and corporate advertising.

ST: How do you think the folks at Ironman found out about you?

Richard: Starting a new business in the triathlon field where you do not know anyone in the triathlon business community is daunting. What we found out quickly is that you need to know the players in the industry. They can help you with introductions and give very sound advice. So, we attended the Triathlon Business International (formerly Triathlon America) conference. There we met Bob Babbitt, a pioneer in triathlon, who introduced us to several key individuals who gave us tremendous feedback and more introductions. With all this feedback we improved our product and sent a custom sample to Kona’s race director. She liked it and introduced us to Shimano who bought the tags for Kona.

ST: Sounds like Shimano was very clever about this. Their name adorned every bike out there no matter the group, plus I would think most racers held on to them as souvenirs.

Richard: A big advantage to our tags is that it gives sponsors a triple opportunity for exposure. First, they'll get exposure at the event to be seen by thousands of spectators. Second, they'll get photograph exposure from pictures taken at the event and show up in magazines, websites, and newspapers. Third, they'll get exposure by the athletes keeping the tags as a memento, which is a visual reminder to think of the sponsor. Also, lots of athletes keep their tag on their bike for weeks after the event. In other words, Shimano was very pleased sponsoring the tags at Kona.

ST: Does your 2013 schedule look busier?

Richard: 2013 looks great. We are currently negotiating events for this summer and fall.

ST: What is your background?

Richard: My day job is as an economist. I like solving problems. I’ve always been an amateur athlete blessed with just enough talent not to be called slow. If I can keep up my training, I’ll finally win my age group when I reach age 70.

ST: How did the Von Drais concept actually come up in the first place?

Richard: When I competed, and I use that word loosely, at Kona in 2005. They gave me a big flat plastic race number to put on my bike. The tag had no mechanism to easily mount it on a bike. I thought to myself that there has to be a better way to mount this tag. So, a couple of years ago I was on a bike ride reminiscing about that day and thought I should design a better mechanism. I contacted my friend and now business partner, Moses Sawney, and we designed and tested several prototypes before eventually landing on our current product.

ST: Does it easily fit aero posts or round posts?

Richard: We designed it to easily fit any size or shape posts. All you need are longer zip ties for oversized posts and we provide those if you want them.

ST: And why the name Von Drais?

Richard: The name Von Drais came from Baron Karl von Drais. He was a German inventor who is credited with inventing one of the first bicycles, a Laufmaschine, in 1817.

ST: I am aware of the Von Drais Laufmachine, but does that mean you have other bike related products in mind, or did you both just really like that name and connection to invention? Plus of course you both are American so one might assume you would lean on an American inventor.

Richard: We have definitely gotten the build a business bug. It’s frustrating, rewarding, exciting, unpredictable, and challenging all at the same time. We have several ideas in the research/development phase but before we move forward on those ideas we decided to keep the bike tags our main focus for 2013/2014 by improving our processes and expanding our network. Hopefully, I’ll have some new product news for mid-2014.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Richard: I did my first triathlon 25 years ago. So, I’ve been doing this a long time and I want to bring attention to two triathlon clubs that are helping to expand our sport. The first club is called Tri Unify. Tri Unify was set up to introduce the sport of triathlon to people of color (minorities) and it’s doing a tremendous job. The second club Tri Masters is geared toward exposing inner-city youth to the benefits of health living through the sport of triathlon. If you know anyone of color who might be interested in completing in a triathlon please steer them to one of the above websites and tell them there are people like you who compete in triathlons. It might give them a little more confidence.

The website for Von Drais is