20 Questions 20 Questions with Ross Shafer

Next up in the twenty questions series is an interview with Ross Shafer of Salsa Cycles fame. Enjoy!


Ross Shafer at work

Retrobike: Hi Ross, how's life?

Ross Shafer: Howdy Auggie, life is quite grand all considered, I’ve got a dream wife, an awesome home in the country, a talented son who actually took my advice (imagine that!) to follow his heart instead of other’s expectations and is just beginning his career as a tattoo artist, a bitchin’ new job, I’m playing guitar in a great band with an awesome songwriter, and after 40 years of wanting to do so I’ve finally taken the plunge and am learning to play the pedal steel guitar! Oh yeah, I’ve still got all my hair and it ain’t even gray yet! Just call me lucky!

RB: What's your favourite (music) album?

RS: Shit man, that’s a tough one…hmmm…can’t pick a single fave. Three of my all time favorites are The Lamb lies down on Broadway by Genesis, Tales to Topographic Oceans by Yes and Larks Tongue in Aspic by Kind Crimson, but then there’s anything by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Robben Ford…that said the only CD’s I’ve been listening to for the last 6 months are two pedal steel discs by Bobbe Seymour who runs Steel Guitar Nashville. Oops, that’s more than three faves isn’t it…. I’m kinda schizo when it comes to music.

RB: Why the name Salsa? Latin spirit flowing through Cali? Or spill some on your flip flops at a "Let's start a bike company, but what are we going to call it?" meeting and see the lightbulbs switch on around the (pool)* table?

*we know how you smooth laid back Californians do things, all pool tables instead of boardroom tables and beach meetings with babes and tequila.... :) (envious - ed).

RS: I was never very good at pool….or swimming for that matter. Actually, I just got tired of trying to explain the name I used before Salsa, “Red Bush” (if you can’t figure it out on your own, don’t ask!) and I was eating a bottle of Salsa everyday for lunch at the time….some of which definitely found its way into my Birkenstocks. The babes and tequila came into play after renaming my frames “Salsa”.


Ross Shafer at work

RB: Of all of them, what is your favourite Salsa bike part/ frame?

RS: Favorite Salsa bike part…damn, you ask hard questions….Probably the lycra and lace “Helmet Panties”. I like the red lace best. Yes, I know, its not technically a bike part…sue me. We sold a shitload of those suckers. Too bad helmets all have boring plastic with goony graphics covering them now.

RB: Is it hard to see the Salsa name all over the place (post company sale) or nice to think "I thought that up in the bath"?

RS: It’s hard…very, very hard….like a rock in fact!

RB: Should anodised Purple ever come back?

RS: Yes, we all need something benign to ridicule, plus it just looks so bad when it starts to fade don’t ya think?


Pink Salsa

RB: Or are you even aware it went away in the first place?

RS: Oh yes, the subject of purple anodized parts is way up near the top of my list of things to contemplate when I’m taking a dump every morning.

RB: At least it means you’re regular :-D

RB: Why Rasta?

RS: Why do you think Mon?

RB: Should Rasta go away now, or stay forever as a permanent reminder of rastability?

RS: I’m afraid Rasta is here to stay…Ites!


Back in the day

RB: Desert Island Discs scenario...one luxury...

a) Bike
b) Guitar?
c) Corkscrew?

RS: You mean I couldn’t have my wife there? WTF?! I guess I’d go with the guitar…easier to make new strings from plant fiber than it is tires…and I don’t drink wine, so a corkscrew doesn’t even get considered.

RB: Ever fancy making a Ti A La Carte? If you say "I did" and I have made a retro blunder in asking I shall perhaps delete the question...making it 19 q's ;-)

RS: Nope!


If it ain't moto...

RB: The famed Retrobike Cake-O-Meter has pegged you as a Lemon Drizzle kind of a chap, so, reveal all, what's your favourite cake?

RS: Lemon Drizzle? Sounds kind of suggestive…are you a Led Zeppelin fan? Actually, I’ve never been very passionate about cakes, but I did have an awesome chocolate cake made mostly of mayonnaise once…no foolin’.

RB: Do you think mountain bikes succumbed to the trend of obesity beset the world and got 'just too big dude', or is all this oversizing a good thing?

RS: As an engineer at Trek once said to me “bigger isn’t always better…but it is always bigger” . The large stickers that these big fuckin’ tubes allow are easier to read with my geezerly eyesight…is that good?


A brand new dance...

RB: Progress is inevitable and often a good thing, but they just don't make bikes as pretty as they used to do they?

RS: Oh, c’mon there are some pretty nice lookin’ bikes being built these days…of course the nice ones all look like the bikes that were built in the days of yore…I don’t consider change and progress the same thing.

RB: Did it ever get better looking than Black anno rims and amber wall tyres?

RS: Guess I’ve always been more of a silver rim guy to tell ya the truth…but natural/amber sidewalls should’ve never gone away. That’s the way my god meant tires to look…goddamnit!

RB: Is your garage a retro Aladdin’s cave or a ruthlessly efficient
lesson in modernity and the art of not hoarding old crap?

RS: Well, I’ve sold most of my old bike crap…so I could buy more old guitar crap.

RB: What is the thing of which you are most proud of having been involved with so far in the world of cycling?

RS: Easy, being part of the original Salsa crew…we had a pretty fun family thing going.

RB: What are you up to at the moment? Any bike build plans going on?

RS: I assume you mean workwise…If I told you, I’d have to kill you…sorry top secret. No custom bike build plans currently, although I did build the finest frame of my career just last year. A sweet little thing with lugs I made from scratch. You can see some pics of it at the Six-Nine Design website. I built it for a close friend’s wife…and didn’t want to let it go when she came to pick it up. It hung around the shop for month after it was complete and I was compelled to go out and fondle it every day until she took it away. Cori, don’t even think of ever selling that little cutie without giving me the first shot at it!

RB: If all of the 20 question interviewees were asked to reproduce a classic bike part for a super special unique Retrobike one off replica...what Salsa part would you make us then? And would you bear the cost of the tooling and manufacturing process for us too as we're only a little (tin pot) operation...;-) ?

RS: A bitchin’ fork crown. No need for tooling, I still have a couple of the originals laying around.

RB: What are you up to tomorrow? (Apart from spending 4hrs trawling through the reader's bikes section of Retrobike...:) )

RS: Sweating and working on my tan here in the tropics.


RS: Stay happy Y’all!


Ti salsa:


Ross came down to my studio a few months ago and jammed with me and a few other guys. The guitar he was playing was one he made himself. The bass player that night, a machinist named Dave Garoutte also made his own instrument.
Ross Shafer is one of the nicest, smartest and most creative people that I've had the pleasure to know in my 39 years in the bicycle industry. The fact that he presently earns his living outside the bike world is a sad testimony to the "change IS progress" point of view that pervades our industry these days.
Ross and Mary threw the best company and Haloween parties ever. Best days of my life !
Jeez, Jamie and Paul, I'm not worthy...you're making me blush...thanks for the compliments.

Regarding Ti Salsa's...the question was whether I ever considered doing a Ti Alacarte...the Alacarte was a production frame and doing a production Ti frame was never considered. I was approached by Merlin to be the Custom Ti mtn. bike guy in much the same way they sent custom road customers to Tom Kellog back then. I jumped on it, they built around 6 frames for me until their GM...Ashely Korenblatt called me and told me their head builder didn't want to work with my anymore because I was too picky. Yes, I did get into some uncomfortable discussions with their head builder over things like, a top tube that was 1 cm too long, a frame built for a 1.125 steerer instead of the 1.25 steerer that was ordered and some rear wheel alignment issues...Yeah I was picky...my wholesale price on these was well over the retail price of my custom steel frames and when I'm going to spend that much money I expect the right dimensions and correct alignment....as would my customers who ordered them...go figure.
great interview. i saw that ti salsa in chucks shop before it was sold. awesome bike.

whats the link for the six-nine website?