May 18, 2020
Usually this time of year, we’re posting about shows, travel, meetups, and our recently completed Mosko team ride.
This year is different because of COVID. We’re holed up at home, abiding by stay-at-home orders in Washington and Oregon, and keeping busy with work, home improvements, and bike projects, while hatching plans for all the things we’ll do when the restrictions finally lift. We see each other in person occasionally, when we overlap in the office or meet up for a ride, but most of our communication is happening over video chat.
Back in March and April there was a rush of collective anxiety caused by shocking headlines, exponentially rising infections and deaths, a crashing stock market, disappearing toilet paper, and an awkward lurch into isolation and distancing. Now, two months later, the initial shock and awe has been replaced by a much-less-exciting sense of bland acceptance. Things like working from home and avoiding crowds seem normal, whereas when people hug and shake hands in movies or on TV, THAT looks weird.
Business-wise, things are picking up. People are still riding, or planning to ride. Where we live, the percentage of motorcycles on the road has never been higher. People from Portland – which is about an hour west – must be taking day-rides from the city. A few days ago our local gas station was mobbed by a huge crew of sport bikes, they were all just hanging out in the parking lot and talking, responsibly staying 6′ apart. We’ve seen lots of cruiser groups coming through as well, and the usual smattering of smaller ADV groups and/or individual dualsporters here and there. Plus lots and lots of dirt bikes in/on trucks and trailers.
Despite the chaos surrounding the government stimulus efforts, those efforts do seem to be having an effect. People don’t necessarily tell us that they’re spending their stimulus checks, but we saw a distinct uptick in sales when those started hitting bank accounts a few weeks ago. Mosko applied for and received a PPP loan – which enabled us to bring everyone on the team back to full employment. If that’s indicative of what other companies are experiencing right now, that’s got to be a positive sign.
Nevertheless, for business planning purposes, we don’t expect things to rebound anytime soon. We expect to be in this for a while, both in terms of the public health challenges and also the resulting economic challenges. If we’re wrong about that, we can always change direction later, but for now it’s safer to be conservative.
Nomad > Ranger > Nomax
Back in March, we got a cease and desist letter from a company in the Netherlands called ‘Nomad,’ saying we had infringed on their trademark with our Nomad tank bag. It’s a bit of stretch, since ‘Nomad’ is a name used on everything from travel gear to insurance, and we sell motorcycle bags whereas this other company sells backpacking bags. I can only imagine what a pain in the ass it is to run around the world enforcing a trademark on such a commonly used English word.
Nevertheless, their trademark looks valid, and while it’s tempting to stand our ground and escalate the argument, we decided not to (after consulting with our attorney). We like the name Nomad but we’re not all that attached to it, partly because it’s so common.
After briefly considering the name ‘Ranger’ – another common word – we found out USWE already has a pack called the Ranger, so that killed that idea, but not before we tried it out on this prototype.
Of all the naming ideas that came up, this was my personal favorite (Andrew’s idea). The only problem was how to say it in videos or write it in product descriptions.
In the end, we decided the cease and desist letter is now part of the story, and we want that story to continue rather than reset with an entirely new name. We started adding letters to Nomad – like ‘Nomad-X’ – which then got shortened to ‘Nomax,’ which is derived from Nomad, but different enough to avoid confusion with our new penpals in the Netherlands. If you’re already used to saying ‘Nomad,’ ‘Nomax’ rolls off the tongue pretty easily.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about naming: 1) good names always sound weird at first (Google – Amazon – Starbucks – Safeway), 2) the best names have a unique story and reason for being, 3) choosing names by committee results in a boring/generic/sterile outcome – too many cooks spoils the broth, and 4) in the end, names don’t actually matter very much.
In addition to a new name, the bag-formerly-known-as-Nomad is getting a few design revisions as well. This is more of a face lift than a full redesign. First, we replaced the webbing MOLLE panel with die cut hypalon, which is something we’re doing on all our bags across the board.
We switched the interior of the beavertail from liner material to PU.
There’s a new gated clip.
The fleece lined glasses is bigger, to accommodate larger glasses.
There’s a SIM card removal tool and holder in this zipper pull.
The change pocket takes over the real estate previously occupied by the hydration pocket opening.
The reservoir now slides in from the top, making it a lot easier to load when full.
Since we introduced the Nomax a few years ago, we’ve received many requests for a smaller version for dualsports and dirt bikes. The original Nomax was based on a hydration backpack, like the ones we use for mountain biking. For inspiration on a smaller version, we’re looking at cycling hip sacks rather than backpacks. The orientation on the tank would be horizontal – perpendicular to the bike – not vertical and parallel like the Nomax.
We’re wondering whether to make it hydration capable or not. We love having water on the tank, but a 1L hydration reservoir implies a certain size, which may be too big for the intended mission of this bag. There are also some issues with water flow, when the reservoir is sideways on the tank. Still, we were impressed with how this evoc hip sack fits when we draped it over the tank.
Could be a cool tail bag too?
Another idea Andrew has been playing with, is a very small/simple tank-mounted MOLLE panel with no bag underneath. It can hold different MOLLE accessories, or the Navigator cell phone case.
Backcountry 35 Speed Pin
We got the first production samples of the new speed pin latch from our molding factory. They look fantastic. We have several hundred sewn pannier sets sitting in Vietnam right now, waiting for these to arrive after COVID-related delays. The injection molding happens in China, so once these are done and assembled, we’ll ship them to Vietnam, where they’ll be combined with the sewn bags, assembled into a finished product, and shipped to our warehouses in Portland and Amsterdam.
Scott is working on some new jersey designs. One challenge we face with jerseys, is that the minimum order quantity with our jersey factory is nearly double what it is for more expensive items like jackets and pants. We have to order at least 1,200 at a time, which is a lot. We want to change the graphics frequently to keep the designs interesting, but that’s hard to do when we’re only selling maybe 500-600 per year.
Scott found a US sewing factory that makes small production runs of fully sublimated jerseys for sports teams. Sublimation is a process for transferring dye from a printer, to paper, and then to fabric. With sublimation you can create a seam-to-seam design that doesn’t change the way the fabric feels or wears. The dye is directly infused into the fabric, not printed on top. With sublimation, we can create relatively complex ‘all-over’ digital designs, and have them transferred directly to the jerseys, with no minimum quantity per print. If we ordered 500 jerseys, we could theoretically have them in 500 different designs.
The jerseys themselves aren’t anything fancy with respect to fabrics or technical features. They’re simple. comfortable, and functional, they look cool, and they have our brand. We just got these samples and we like them. There are a few fit issues, and we already got feedback via Facebook that the bird design is uncomfortably close to some World War 2 iconography, so that is currently being reworked.
The same company that makes the jerseys is also making some simple, single-layer, sublimated facemasks. Maybe we’ll get some of these made too, just for fun.
Sarah, our Sales Manager, used to work at the outdoor company Marmot. Marmot wants to develop a moto-specific camping tent for ADV, and we would love to see them do that. We had a kick-off meeting on Zoom with Emilee at Marmot a few weeks ago.
For this tent, we want to go minimalist and light, but not quite to the level of bikepacking or ultralight backpacking minimalist. We’re picturing a 1.5 person size, with two doors, two large vestibules, and a freestanding pole structure, that’s designed to pack small in multiple compression sacks, with a separate tent pole bag and extra sturdy ground stakes.
If anyone wants to chime in with ideas on their version of the ultimate ADV/EDV tent, please do (on our advrider.com thread). We and Marmot will both be listening!
Thanks for including us in the process, Emilee!
It’s been about two months since we closed the Mosko shop. Since then, we rarely go to the office. The one exception is our support team – Jenn, Paulina, and Sarah – who take turns in the office, sometimes together and sometimes not. Also Andrew, who sometimes works downstairs when he needs the extra space. Everyone else is working from home. It’s hard to say how long that will continue. Probably a while.
When we do have meetings in the conference room, they look something like this, oriented around our speakerphone and laptops.
Pre-COVID, we had a staff meeting on Wednesdays every week, with a relaxed and flexible format, where each person takes a few minutes to describe what they’re working on and answer questions. During COVID, we’ve replicated that format on Zoom, except that now there’s much less banter on Zoom, because it gets too chaotic over video chat and the meeting stretches on forever. Because of that, we added a second recurring meeting on Thursdays, which is a lot more casual and conversational.
Our staff meetings during COVID, look a bit like the Brady Bunch.
Occasionally we get cameos from other family members, like Ros (Scottie’s daughter, below) and Luca (Andrew’s son, upper left above).
A few weeks ago, Roel did in the entire hour+ staff meeting on his bike in the Netherlands, from a cell phone mounted on the handlebars. Which actually worked out great
Our physical office is an open format – with no walls or private offices – so we’re all used to a certain amount of casual chat throughout the day. We miss that.
On the topic of video meetings: my family is also doing weekly Zoom meetings on Sunday mornings, as I know many other families are too. Here’s my dad, quarantined in Philadelphia, showing off his new exercise bike.
The Never Leaving Home Tour (moskomo.to/live)
When we first started quarantine, and all our in-person events and shows were canceled, Ash had the idea for a livestream tour. The idea was to have an hour-long interview/chat on Zoom with someone from Mosko, or someone we’ve met through Mosko, who we thought other people might want to hear from too.
We’ve been doing the livestreams twice a week since April, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm Pacific. We’re having a lot of fun with it, so some version of this will probably continue post-COVID.
The livestreams themselves are a blast. However they’re also stressful, because they’re live, so technological issues are always stalking ready to pounce. We had several problem-free episodes, but then last week we had two challenging ones in a row. First with our new friends Sam & Kate (moto travelers, who were turned around by COVID), we had to end the meeting, change to a different format, and restart midstream. Then on Thursday we had Quinn Cody – 4x Baja 1000 champion, now in charge of KTM North America’s ADV R&D – and right when we went live with the stream, a Zoom glitch froze up our computer and killed Zoom, and we had to cancel the stream and reschedule.
Quinn & everyone: we are SO SORRY about that!! We are rescheduling for this coming Thursday May 21.
It’s a bummer when those things happen. We feel really bad about it. We try to remind ourselves that it’s all just part of the learning process, trying new things, and being live. Even knowing that though, it’s still embarrassing. Neither of us is all that technically savvy with this kind of stuff, plus we’re doing the stream from our home computer with a rural internet connection, which creates some special challenges.
We have two more livestreams coming up. Join us at moskomo.to/live! These are both at 7pm pacific.
After that we’ll take a short break and figure out how the livestreams fit into the big picture going forward. We’ll probably do them once a month rather than twice a week, and the times/dates will change around based on our travel schedule. It’s hard to do livestreams from the road, due to the need for reliable internet.
The streams we’ve done so far are posted on our YouTube channel. Here’s a list with links (in reverse chronological order):
New House, Tent Campers Welcome
Back in March, Ash and I moved into a new house a few miles outside of White Salmon. This happened a week before the Oregon/Washington stay-at-home orders were implemented. On the one hand our timing was terrible, because the economy has subsequently crashed at the same time as our personal housing expenses have doubled. On the other hand the timing was perfect, because it’s a great place to be stuck at home, and we have tons of projects to keep us busy.
One of the main reasons we moved was to have space for moto-campers. 20 years ago there were lots of free car/tent camping pull-offs in the Gorge, but things are different now. Camping is limited. There’s an RV park by the Bingen bridge, which offers tent space, but you’re sleeping right next to the train tracks. On the Oregon side there are some nice state/county campgrounds, but they’re full to capacity all summer. Aside from that, you’ll end up on a dirt road pull-off 45+ minutes from town, or maybe you’ll end up at our house
Eventually we’ll have a shade/shelter with couches, music, a BBQ, a fire pit, showers, and stuff like that. We have to save up some $$ before that happens. In the meantime, we’ll soon (this week) have some leveled space for tents, a hose for water, and a rented porta-potty. If you’re coming through the gorge this summer and you need somewhere to setup camp, please let us know (by contacting the main Mosko email/phone).
Back in March, when we first moved in, JC rented an excavator and expanded the driveway, built a trailer turnaround loop, and spread a bunch of gravel around to cover up our mudpit of a parking area, all of which made the property – which is located on a steep hill – much more accessible.
While quarantined, Ash and I have been building bike/moto singletrack around the property to keep ourselves busy when the local trails were closed. Five acres is not a ton of land, but our little loop is a little over a quarter mile so far, with more to come. It’s been a great way to get some quick exercise for us and the dogs during quarantine. The process of making the trails has been fun too.
There is a detached shop on the property, which we recently insulated and finished. There’s a motorcycle lift in there, and also a TV and wifi, which travelers are welcome to use when they come through town.
As part of the move, we closed out the original Mosko shop on Wyers street, which we’ve been renting since 2014. Here’s the blog post from when we first moved in. It seemed like a lot of space at the time! When Mosko needed more space a few years ago, Ash and I took over renting the old shop personally, to use as a garage and workspace. We have many good memories from there, and we’ve become friends with many of the neighbors. We were feeling sentimental as we did the final cleaning and said goodbye. Now it’s rented to a new tenant, and is being used for hot tub repairs.
To Ride or Not To Ride?
A few weeks ago, our friends Josh and Alex from MotoDiscovery were passing through town, and we took them for a quick loop around the Gorge. About 20 miles from White Salmon, on a road he’s ridden dozens of times before, Lee lost traction and went into the ditch. His foot snagged on the embankment and twisted, breaking his tibia and fibula in multiple spots. He spent three nights in the hospital in The Dalles, had surgery to add a bunch of hardware, and now he’s recovering at home.
We’re super bummed to have Lee grounded, but we’re glad it wasn’t worse. Sometimes these things happen at the times and places where we least expect. We were lucky to be close to home, and lucky that we live in an area where COVID hasn’t stretched the hospitals and first responders to capacity. Huge thanks to everyone who helped get Lee to the hospital, and also to the doctors, surgeons, nurses, and emergency response team that got him all fixed up. He will ride again soon.
This was just a normal ride on a normal road at normal speeds, showing some friends around the Gorge. We weren’t doing anything crazy. A crash like that could’ve happened to any of us. Since the accident, we’ve had plenty of introspection about whether we should be riding, with everything else going on in the world. I’m not sure we reached any definitive conclusions on that, but we’re still riding – both mountain bikes and motos – just with an extra dose of caution. It’s an awkward time to go to the hospital.
We recently started offering free product repairs. We quietly launched our new repair program a few weeks ago without really publicizing it although it’s something we (Ames especially) have been working on for a while.
It’s such a bummer when you buy something nice and then immediately screw it up. I’m not talking about warranty – warranty issues are addressed immediately at our cost – I’m talking about bad luck and operator error. Like when you purchase a new pair of sunglasses and then immediately break or lose them. You know it’s your fault, but it still sucks. You might think twice before buying nice sunglasses next time.
Our new repair program is designed to take the sting out of situations like that. If something unfortunate happens in the first two years – regardless of the cause – we’ll fix it at our cost. If we can’t fix it for less than the value of the item, then you can instead opt to replace the item at 50% of the original price.
This is an experiment. We’re doing a quiet launch while we work out the logistics and cost of repairs. Assuming it all works out, then we’ll promote this program more down the road. In the meantime, please feel free to spread the word. We don’t need a police report or insurance claim to substantiate the damage, all we need is a broken product that was recently purchased, and a customer who needs some good news.
Check out the official policy here, read the FAQ, and feel free to reach out with any questions.
There’s a new checkout option on the Mosko site. We’re offering financing through a service called Affirm. With Affirm, you can split up your payment over as many months as you want. We (the vendor) pay 5% of the purchase price to Affirm, and you (the purchaser) pay Affirm .8% to 2.5% monthly, depending on your credit. The cost of financing should be on par with what you would pay for other unsecured short term loans like credit cards, which should be manageable if you’re only borrowing for a few months.
If you need gear for a trip but you want to spread out the payments, this can help. Obviously, please borrow responsibly. We’re trying to solve problems here, not create new ones. The main reason we chose Affirm vs the competition, even though the cost to us is higher, was this answer they gave via email when we asked them to match a competitor’s rate:
“Unfortunately, we can’t offer lower pricing to match. We are always undercut by [other company name] in pricing because of their reliance on revenue from $35 customer late fees (25% of their reported revenue actually) while Affirm stands by our mission that we’ll never charge late fees or be involved in growing debt practices of any kind.”
More info is available on the Affirm website here: How It Works.
In Other News
Ames and Ashley (his wife) used their extra time in quarantine to build this killer pump track in their backyard. We tried it out last week. What a workout. The idea is to ride the entire loop repeatedly without pedaling, by pumping your legs on the downslopes to build momentum, and absorbing the inclines in the same way. It’s harder than it sounds, it takes a lot of skill and fitness to do it right.
Stay-at-home orders are still active in Washington and Oregon. We’re not supposed to travel more than 50 miles for recreational activities. This is the longest Ash and I have ever been in one place. Several times in the last two months, we were tempted to take a multi-day trip, either on bikes or with the camper. Each time, we canceled. Not because we don’t think we can travel safely, but because whenever we see people flouting the guidelines, it reminds us that we’re accountable for ourselves. Everyone is testing the boundaries in their own small ways – us included – and the boundaries themselves are ambiguous, with nearly zero enforcement. We’re doing what we’ve been asked to do, and waiting this thing out. When the restrictions lift, we’ll travel again.
Until then: Spring is here, the trails are tacky, and in some places riding is allowed. Those are the places we’re going. Maybe we’ll see you there!