Behind the Nine: Womble, Earth Roamers and Tire Geekery with Niner’s Brad Brown

Brad Brown roams the mountains.

Boxes of stuff – frames, components, tires – everything you need to build a Niner bike, are the domain of Brad Brown, Niner’s Warehouse magician. If it has the Niner name on it, Brad and his team have gone above and beyond to make sure everything is in order and that what was ordered is delivered. We sat down by the Poudre River with Brad over lunch one day. This is what we learned.

NINER: What’s your first memory of riding a bike?

BRAD: I kinda keep going back to my earliest favorite – a blue Mongoose with Tuffy mags and a glitter checkerboard pad kit. That’s when my excitement for bikes went through the roof. After that, you pretty much couldn’t get me off of them. Anything with wheels, I’ve always been a fan of. We had a pretty competitive neighborhood. Other kids on my street had Robinsons or Hutches. We used to line it up on the regular. There was also a drainage ditch and we built it up as a BMX track with jumps. We used to all ride the bike path over to the trail entrance and session our little homemade trail. It was through a creek, so we would just go back and forth through the creek. We had some berms and some little kickers back across the creek.

NINER: What was your first mountain bike and where did you ride it?

A key to Brad’s happiness? Family time.

BRAD: I got a job at Ozone Bikes in ’95 and I pieced together a bike. We had a KHS alloy frame laying around the shock and I had a rigid fork and some X-ray Gripshifts. I totally pieced it together with all the spare parts lying around the shop. On my first ride, I rode it down the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin. I was like, “I’d almost rather get in the ring with Mike Tyson.” I felt like I might take less of a beating.

Y’know, learning to mountain bike in Austin was not easy. There’s no beginner trails. People that would take me out to ride were all racers. I was on this rigid hard tail and, well, they were already racing. There were lots of crashes, but it kinda helped. Any trails I rode outside of Austin seemed easy. Then I got a suspension fork and that was pretty sweet. It was a RockShox Indy. It was below the Judy. 63mm of travel baby, but it felt amazing compared to a rigid fork.

NINER: If you could go back, right now, to one place you’ve ridden before, where would it be?

BRAD: Arkansas. The Womble. One of the oldest trails in the nation. It’s 54 miles of flow. The Ozark Mountains are the perfect topography for mountain biking. Y’know, there’s dirt and, all the climbs are not hour or two hour climbs. It’s just always changing. It’s forever flow.

NINER: What’s the worst ride you ever had?

BRAD: Is there one? Probably where I’ve broken a frame in the middle of the trail. I was working at the Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin and I had just gotten an Ellsworth ID, which was a six inch travel bike, but no one made a six inch travel fork. The longest fork I could find was a Marzocchi Freeride which was a 5-inch travel fork but it had a really tall crown on it. It made my headtube really steep but I had lots of travel, so who cares, right? So I was up in Keystone riding this trail and I hit this log jump and landed and my seat tube came apart on top of and below the front derailleur. So, I’m sitting on vacation, on a perfect day on a perfect run with a broken bike. But the guys at the Bicycle Sport Shop were awesome enough to call Ellsworth and get them to overnight me a new front triangle to Keystone. I went into the bike shop the next morning with a case of beer so I could borrow a stand and I was back on the trails by 11. I was pretty pissed. This was my first time to go ride in Colorado. I had a sick bike. And the thing broke on me. I was so mad.

Still loving the hard tail.

NINER: What is it about the bike that has captivated you for so many years?

BRAD: It’s the one thing you can always do that takes you back to making you feel like a kid, instantly. I don’t know. It’s like a certain song that you hear on the radio that transports you back in time. It’s also current and relevant. I also love that it’s one of the oldest forms of transportation. And although tech has affected it some, not completely. It’s also one of the few things in the world where you have such diversity amongst everybody who rides bikes. There’s so many different reasons people ride them. Y’know, I feel that’s pretty rare with anything.

NINER: What character do you most identify with? Movie? Cartoon? Book?

BRAD: I don’t know if I do. I often feel like a bull in a china shop, if that’s anything. I get real nervous around expensive, fragile stuff. I stay away from narrow aisles.

NINER: What’s one rule that you live by?

BRAD: Try to live the words you speak. I feel like if anything keeps you in check, it ought to be what comes out of your mouth.

NINER: What would you do if funds were not an issue and you didn’t have to work at Niner?

BRAD: EarthRoamer, right off the bat. And I would search high and low for the most amazing place to put a cabin.

NINER: In the cycling world, who would you like to meet and ride with? What would you ask them?

BRAD: Hmmm. I’ve been fortunate in the cycling world and I’ve been in it a long time and I’ve met a lot of different people through biking. I think the one thing I like is meeting strangers on bikes. I always like the unexpected run-in with people that you don’t know but you stop and have conversations with.

NINER: What piece of bike gear is your favorite? Component or gear, doesn’t matter.

BRAD: Oh man, I’m a tire geek. I love wheels and tires but I am truly a tire geek.

NINER: When was a time you remember a tire making a difference? Like, you went, “Wow! I didn’t know a tire could be that good?”

Can we get Smokey on a fat bike?

BRAD: It was when I built up that Ellsworth. The original tires I put on that were Michelin Wildgrippers and they were cotton casing. And I remember hitting all of those rocks on the greenbelt and feeling like I was riding on fluffy pillows. And then Vredestein road tires because they’re a two-ply casing. The tire is one of the most supple tires I’ve ever used.

NINER: If you couldn’t ride a bike one afternoon and you could go bowl, play disc golf or mini-golf, which would it be?

BRAD: Bowling. I have a lot of fond memories from back in the day. My parents used to play in bowling leagues. I used to hang out in the arcade or some of the other kids and I would get a lane at the end of the league.

NINER: What’s one skill on the mountain bike you’d like to improve.

BRAD: Climbing (laughter.)

NINER: Tell me a bit more about your history with the cycling world?

BRAD: When I first moved to Austin, I was going to community college. I started noticing that people around town on bikes were getting around a lot faster than I was, and they didn’t have to pay for parking and they pretty much parked at the front door of any school, business, anything. That’s when I realized I needed to make a purchase with my student loan. So, I bought an espresso machine and a bicycle – two things I needed to get me to school.

NINER: What bike did you buy?

BRAD: I bought a Kona Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Also,something cool in Austin was the BMX and cruiser scene – 24s and 26s. There was the Super Goose, Hutch made one, Kona made one. So I bought one of those. That was my re-entry into the bicycle world and I pretty much haven’t looked back.

Note: A true industry veteran, Brad’s been working in the industry since 1995 starting out with Ozone Bikes as a “volunteer” answering phones, greeting people at the door, making coffee, you name it until someone noticed and offered him a job. From there, he has nearly done it all. Sales, marketing, service, bike fitting, purchasing, store managing and now, as the Warehouse Manager for Niner Bikes.