We got down with Rich Vandem boss and talk nerdy about trucks, skateboard wheels, gingers, the UK community and peanut butter
Hey Rich, how are you doing?
All good dude… it’s nearly 6pm and I’m just eating lunch! Hectic today!
What’s kept you busy?
A lot going on today. Spent a good deal of time talking to Supersports in Australia, Link distribution in Germany… a few hours looking at a spreadsheet, a bit of time checking details on the Forged Hanger Prototypes… did some tidying up on the new Lush site (www.lushlongboards.com!), drank some coffee… onwards!
What’s a Sabre truck?
Sabre is our truck project. We’ve been casting and forging trucks for six years I think? We have a few models done now and we’re just about to put our Precision into production, after nearly three years of dev work.
What got you into truck making?
At the time we started looking at it the only cast trucks readily available were Randal and Holey trucks. We needed trucks for our Lush completes, and we saw that there was very little choice out there, especially with geometry. We wanted to make something a little different… so we went to a 45 degree 190mm truck, very different to the 50 degree 180mm trucks that everyone was riding. Why settle for offering the same as everyone else?
I would say that out of all the things I am lucky enough to have a hand in, trucks are possibly the thing that interests me the most… it is an opportunity to explore some more technical ideas, and understand production methods… there’s a lot to learn, and actually, I believe that we can bring some unique ideas to the table. The Forged Precision project is super interesting, we are the first to use this technique on a whole truck rather than just the baseplate. Forging produces a much stronger part than casting or machining, so you can make it super light.
What was the most fun thing about designing the Sabre precision?
Having an idea that no one else has done before and making it happen is intensely rewarding. As far as we know, no one in the history of skateboarding has managed to produce a fully forged longboard truck and bring it to market… it’s been a bit of an epic getting it done but to have it on our hands after all this time is amazing. Everyone who is skating the prototypes is stoked.
Why hadn’t anyone managed till now?
To be honest I’m amazed that no-one has stepped up and did it already! It makes so much sense on so many levels. It produces a way stronger part and therefore the part can be designed much lighter than CNC or casting. If you look at 99% of bicycle components, many of which are very similar to skateboard trucks in terms of the forces being put through them and the level of design complexity, they are almost all forged. Some are CNC’d after forging, and a very few parts are cast… but forging is accepted by that industry as the best way to make a metal part. I think the main reason no-one has done it is the high startup cost to set up forging dies.
How is a Forged Precision truck different from the precision trucks on the market now?
The clue is in the name, it’s Forged rather than CNC’d. So with CNC/Machining, you take a billet of aluminium and cut chunks off it, essentially, until you have the shape you want. This is great because there is no mold cost, so you can change the design very easily, speeding up development time. It also allows very fine tolerances, especially important for the pivot on the hanger and kingpin fitment on the baseplate. Much better than casting a truck, but also much more expensive. We actually CNC skateable prototypes before going to production with casting or forging, if you’ve seen myself or other close team riders at an event over the last few years you’ll have seen some of our CNC stuff.
With forging, you take that same piece of billet, heat it up a little bit, then smash it into shape with a huge hydraulic hammer. If you think about a spanner, or a piston head, or an axe, they are made in the same way…. generally if you need to manufacture something as strong, tough and hard as possible out of metal, you forge it. Beating the metal into shape rather than cutting bits off it adds a lot of strength, as the metal grains align to the shape of the object. This is not a new idea, it’s one of the oldest methods of working metal out there (think of a Samurai sword) the thing that’s new is our application.
So with the forged truck, we have forged the hanger and the baseplate from AL6061 (which is actually the same material as a lot of CNC trucks are machined from), then we CNC some areas to give is the same level of precision as a “regular” CNC truck. The hanger pivot, axle studs, baseplate kingpin and pivot cup drilling all CNC’d to tolerances comparable to precision trucks out there at the moment. Essentially, we have created a much lighter, stronger way of making a precision skateboard truck… the only downside is that it’s cost us a fortune to make the steel forging dies.
Aside from the way we make it, there are a few other interesting things about this truck. it’s a DropUp baseplate, which means that you can topmount it on a drop-through deck and it’s recessed into the deck. Each truck comes with custom-fit risers so you can topmount it on a regular deck too. The other thing we have done which is quite different is there are two Rake Options – the 180mm hanger has 3mm rake, and the 190mm hanger has 0mm rake. Rake affects how “lively” the truck feels, so we have a 180mm “freeride” orientated hanger, and a 190mm “race” orientated hanger.
“…with the Forged Precision process, we will bring skaters a choice which is lighter and at least as strong as existing trucks, manufactured to a very high standard.”
I don’t think it’s possible to make a truck (or any product) that is better for everyone, these things are very subjective, but with the Forged Precision process we will bring skaters a choice which is lighter and at least as strong as existing trucks, manufactured to a very high standard. The trucks are very much a team effort. A lot of people have had a hand in them, they are truly the result of many miles of downhill, a lot of CAD time, and many late night conversations in the back of a camper. We do get people passing over the 38 degree baseplate as they have preconceptions about low angle trucks and I’m not suggesting that a low angle is for everyone, but every single person I have spoken to who has tried them, loves it. More lean!
What difference does the low angle make?
The lower angle changes the lean to turn ratio. It doesn’t mean the truck turns less. It just means you have to lean more to make it turn the same. There is a difference if you think about it! Basically it’s a lot more confident at speed, a lot more “surfy” through fast turns, and also it gives you a little more grip with your feet when sliding. As the deck is tilted over more a higher angle, your feet are pressing into the deck more than across it, if you see what I mean.
“if you need to ask why you need precision trucks, then you probably don’t need them.”
Aside from the lightness, how will this truck make you faster?
We’re not saying that they will make you faster. It’s more about the turn and solid feeling at speed. 100% straight axles and a perfectly round pivot definitely help the feel of the truck. The Forging Process makes them feel quite a lot more “rigid” underfoot too. Although I still think that it’s true to say that if you need to ask why you need precision trucks, then you probably don’t need them, as the benefit is only really felt at much higher speeds and under high loads. More advanced riders will appreciate the difference for sure.
Will you have a race team?
At the moment we are lucky to have a very cool collection of people we flow trucks to. Some of them race, but we don’t see the team as a “race” team. Racing is a very important place to develop trucks (as with anything!), it’s the very limit of performance, it’s where the boundaries of grip and speed and pushed the hardest… but it’s not everything. Because trucks are such a subjective choice, we rely on team feedback a lot when developing new stuff. So it’s important that the team are close to us personally.
Now that we finally have a Precision truck, we are looking to expand the Sabre team for 2014.
When can people get their hands on one?
Production Forging has begun as I write this, so we’re probably looking at March/April 2014. The production process is pretty lengthy.
Will it be in the same price range as the current popular precision trucks?
That price range currently varies from £140 to £550 – so yes! We’ll have exact pricing out there in the next couple of months.
“I am pretty sure that right now, we are one of only two brands worldwide using the gravity casting method in steel moulds… any other truck manufacturers are welcome to shoot me down on that one! Or just send us some trucks to snap. Then we’ll find out for sure.”
What other trucks do you have in the roster?
We have our Gravity Cast 180 and 190mm. With a new 48 degree baseplate for 2014. We also have our TKP (“Street”) trucks in 127, 139, 153, 170 and 180mm widths.
A detail that does set us out from the rest is that we Gravity Cast a lot of components. Almost all other brands use Sand casting, or Pressure/“Die” casting, then use a secondary treatment to make it look Gravity Cast. If you know what to look for you can spot the differences easily enough. Gravity Casting is a LOT stronger than Pressure casting, but unfortunately also a lot more expensive. Sand Casting can be as strong as Gravity casting (as they are essentially the same process), but the surface finish is nowhere near as good, not so great for things like bushing seats or pivots.
I am pretty sure that right now,we are one of only two brands worldwide using the gravity casting method in steel moulds… any other truck manufacturers are welcome to shoot me down on that one! Or just send us some trucks to snap. Then we’ll find out for sure.
What’s the most fun you’ve had with El Destructo?
Not sure I want to go too much into it here… I think I will just say that it’s very fun to find out how strong things really are, and that the results are sometimes very surprising! Things aren’t always as advertised.
“The best thing you can do as a manufacturer is to keep innovating, and be driven by actually going skateboarding.”
Do you ever get people copying your work?
Yes, it has happened in the past. And I am sure that there are companies out there who believe we have copied them. The whole “copying” thing makes me chuckle sometimes. The best thing you can do as a manufacturer is to keep innovating, and be driven by actually going skateboarding. One thing that is much harder to copy is execution, it is one thing to steal a design, but quite another to manufacture it to the same standard. You sometimes see an idea that comes out from companies at the same time, on different sides of the world… that’s because those ideas have come from the needs of skaters, and they work. Kind of hard to argue with that!
There is an awful lot of smoke and mirrors out there regarding the “copying” issue. A lot of accusations of “copying” are levelled at the wrong people, often it is simply a brand using an “open” wheel or truck mould, avoiding the expense of investing in their own tooling. I have seen the whole “China have copied that truck/wheel/whatever” – the reality is more likely that someone from a competing company took someone else’s idea to a factory in China, and asked them to copy it. China gets a lot of bad press for that, when actually it’s more often the case that the true copycats are much closer to home than you might think. It’s pretty obvious to someone who really skates who the innovators are. These days we try to see being copied as a flattery.
How did skateboarding find you?
Did it find me or did I find it? I’m not even sure of that!
You met in a bar on a warm summer day?
Something like that… it was definitely summer anyway.
Who did you skate with in the beginning?
Options were somewhat limited, haha. There were very few people longboarding back then (we’re talking 2001 or so). I skated a lot with my buddy Ross, who got me into it, and also some of that generation of UK euro travellers, who were going to Europe and seeing some of the early races that were going on… Luke Wetherall and Jason Muscat. Luke came to the Vandem freeride last year and this year and I skated with him again… such a treat!
What was the UKDH scene like then?
Small. Awesome (although that’s still true!). A very different thing, everyone was a bit older. Now a lot of the “scene” is under 18, back then it was an older skater’s game. Also as there was no Facebook, no forums (this is pre-Silverfish!), very little in the way of online video, it was a very different world. Inspiration came much more from my immediate surrounds and sessions rather than today…. you can watch an edit online and learn that something is possible just by seeing it. As opposed to spending days wondering about how to do something… and then just sending it to see how it works out! I miss those days a bit, but now there are a ton of people to skate with, kids absolutely ripping, inspiration everywhere. I feel very lucky to have been involved in this scene for this long and to have watched it grow and evolve.
What’s the biggest change between then and now?
Probably just the amount of people skating. There were literally ten or twelve of us in those days… now there’s probably a few hundred kids in the UK who are really into it.
From my perspective a big change is that we have proper Freeride event here now! Which was a dream of mine (and several others) for a long time.
How did you guys contact each other pre Silverfish?
We had the Lushlongboards forum from about mid 2002? I think that’s how I met Luke actually. But before that it was just phone and go skate!
Did the arrival of the forum have an impact on the community?
Well yes, but it’s hard to say if it is the reason things are bigger. I think it just changed the nature of it. We can all communicate about anything, all the time now… news spreads very quickly, so things can evolve faster, but once all of the day-to-day hype and gossip is filtered out, I wonder what difference the internet really makes. The arrival of Thrill Magazine however, is a huge step forward for the UK scene.
What is Thrill Magazine?
Aside from the catalogue/zines we did 2006-2008, it’s the UK’s first ever printed Longboard magazine. It was started by the guys who do Scoot Mag, so they know how the print game works. I’m very stoked it exists. The UK scene has needed printed reporting for a long, long time. They have longboarders involved in the heart of the editorial and it shows.
Why are magazines important to the community?
“The internet is temporary, but print is forever!” They bring a permanence to present and past events that is sorely needed, especially in this digital age we live in. A killer photo which lasted three days on a Facebook newsfeed gets a special kind of immortality once it’s in print on the newsstand. The world is becoming more temporary ever day, so it’s real nice to see something created by our own scene you can actually hold in your hands.
“…our goal with the event was to bring something of the “freeride spirit” to this island and show the kids that there is another way to skate a closed road without racing…”
What have you been most stoked about concerning the UK scene in recent years?
Personally, the Vandem Freeride is a dream come true! I have had the “we need to organise a Freeride in the UK” conversation so many times over the last decade, it has been hugely satisfying to bring together the people needed to make that dream come alive. I am very lucky to find myself in a position to make something like this happen, there are some solid people on the team and the location and road are perfect – at least perfect by UK standards! We’ll never make it an event to compete with KNK, Gioasteka, Bukolik, simply because we don’t have the geography here. But our goal with the event was to bring something of the “freeride spirit” to this island and show the kids that there is another way to skate a closed road without racing and I think we have done pretty well with that so far. Seeing all the happy faces at the last two year’s events is immensely rewarding, and I hope we can keep doing it year on year!
What’s the track like?
You need to come and skate it for yourself! It’s about a mile and a half long, starting out quite mellow and straightish, then into a series of sweepers as the gradient comes on for a steeper last straight. We had a speed trap there last year and I think the fastest speed clocked was around 45mph? It’s easy enough for beginners but there are some nice lines for the fast guys, something for everyone.
Why did it take so long to get that Freeride on the Calendar?
It took a long time to find a suitable location. Then I think I was a little shy of it for a year or two. I’ve been to enough freerides and races to know that organising one can be a thankless task. In the end it just reached a critical mass and had to happen, so we bit the bullet and did it. This year’s event was a lot less stressful than the first year, even though both went 100% according to plan, I’ve learned to delegate a lot more and rely on teamwork to get things done. In hindsight all of those fears and worries were completely misplaced, and I am amazed at how much fun it is to organise! Thanks to everyone who kicked my ass enough to get the job done!
Do you get to skate or are you Megaphoned up all weekend?
I skated quite a lot this year actually, just ride with a radio on the belt and don’t land on it, all good! When the road is closed to cars, a skateboard is the best way to get water and food to the marshals.
Have you ever skated outside Blighty?
Yes… just a few times! I first went to Europe for a freeride in 2005, since then I driven or flown over at least twice a year, every year. I bought my VW van in 2007 and it’s done 11 trips across on the ferry up to now. I have been to a few races over the years, but these days I just hit a freeride then some open roads. I usually try to mix it up a bit and bring some new faces along, to try and get the kids out of the UK and to some better roads. Being on the road has been a huge part of my skateboarding experience, I love it and I can’t imagine what longboarding would be like without it! I hope you can see this feeling in what we are doing with the Lush brand at the moment.
Where’s your favourite place to skate?
We have some good spots around us near enough to Bristol, with two hours drive we can be in South Wales, Devon or Wiltshire. Good hills in the UK tend to be shorter and steeper, so we slide a lot. I have to say that I much prefer to skate in other countries… with mountains!
How was 2013?
For myself, it was very fun. I managed a couple of trips to Europe and came back with a smile on my face, some more good memories, and very little road rash. Vandem and the Bristol Board Meeting were both great successes too. Then there were a lot of low profile missions to places around Bristol too, I am lucky to have some good friends to skate with closer to home. We found some fun new spots and hit them hard… stoked on that.
What’s the community in Bristol like?
It’s really really good actually. Although we sometimes go through periods of not skating very much (ie. right now… the weather is horrible!). There is a small core of locals and we get a lot of visitors too. Plenty of fun to be had. I think that the Bristol scene is perceived as being quite closed… which I guess is true, we don’t like to share spots for fear of blowing them out. Sometimes things get a bit serious with radio discipline and spotting too, and there have been several situations this year where I have put my life very firmly in someone else’s’ hands! I don’t want to be riding with people I don’t know too well in that situation! But we’re always welcoming to those who know how to play the game.
When did you guys start celebrating Chicken’s birthday?
He’s a Zilla now you know… before he was a Lion he was a Chicken! Mike came to visit us last year which was excellent. I need to get my ass over to Toronto to repay the favour.
Do you have any other gingers in the fold?
Yeah, we seem to be pretty Ginger Heavy at the moment… We’re taking over!
What are you looking forward to this year?
More of the same really… another big trip to Europe would be very welcome, the last two years I have driven down to KNK via Switzerland and Germany. I’d really like to get over to France this summer, it’s been a long time since I was in the French Alps and I have some friends who are overdue a visit. On the business side, we have some cool new product coming, and we’re continuing to build a really good family of skaters to share the fun with us. We are also about to move to a new warehouse which will be cool, so we’ll have a bit more room for all our crap. Oh and I am getting married too… that should probably be top of the list!
Aside from the trucks, what other products are you into?
Anything that improves the feel that skateboarding gives. Darren does the majority of our board shaping, and I have to say he is pretty good at taking feedback from the team and combining it with our own thoughts here to create nice shapes that work… I have spent an ungodly amount of time cutting wheels in half to divine their secrets too… wheels are fascinating really, sub-millimeter changes in profile can make all the difference. They are a really cool combination of mechanics, chemistry and art! Actually with all our products, I guess what we are trying to do is create a “feeling,” something that is subjective and possibly even emotive to the individual, but with some quite technical ideas, attention to material property and manufacturing detail. I find that concept very interesting, using scientific method and engineering to perfect something that is simply a sensation and often defies conventional description. Be it a truck that turns, the feel of a gripping/sliding wheel, or a deck shape under your feet, it’s the same process and the same level of thought going into each.
What do you do when you’re not skating?
I ride my bicycles quite a lot. Photography is also a big thing for me, I do most of the skate photography for Lush and all the product photography for Sabre and Cult as well. Several of the races I have been to I have been taking pictures 100% of the time, which is surprisingly hard work but also very fun, as you see a very different perspective to most spectators. I suppose I should say that Driving my Van to go skating is also a favourite past-time of mine, I seem to spend a lot of time doing that!!
What do you shoot with?
These days – my iPhone!! Lugging around a huge bag full of flashes and lenses is something I save for the special stuff. When I have the space I use Nikon equipment, with some home-made batteries and a few other things. Usually I’m up real close with a fisheye or miles away with a tele, personally I don’t find the “middle ground” so interesting. I use flashes a lot as I like to create a lot of contrast and have maximum control over the image.
What do you enjoy about shooting skaters?
The feeling of a good photo is really sick, it takes teamwork with the skater and sometimes some luck. I try to take less but put a lot more thought into it, hence you won’t see me at an event taking pictures of everything and everyone. I’d rather have a couple of images that I’ve really put effort into, than a hard drive full of throwaways. Therefore I don’t really do event photography as much as I used to, where you are working in a more “documentary” style. I’d much rather work with one or two skaters to set something epic up. You can always tell when a photographer has gone the extra mile to get a shot. And the nice thing about digital is you can share the work immediately with the skater and they can feel the reward of our work together.
Pick 3 numbers!
38, 48, 9
38 – What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
Peanut butter. Seriously, this is my one vice I could never give up.
48 – Do you have a party trick?
Errrm…. not really. I just find some schnapps and hope everything works out… Varying success rate on that one.
9 – Why did the chicken cross the road?
I just googled the answer to this and discovered that the first time this joke was printed was in 1847 in New York. I’ve never seen a joke with it’s own Wikipedia entry. Sign of the times.
It’s been fun getting all this down! Thanks a lot for your time. See you soon!
Oh yes! Come to Vandem, third time lucky!
Any last words?
I would very much like to say thank you to a lot of people, especially everyone who has supported and continues to facilitate what we do here at Vandem. Every time someone buys something from us, be it a pack of bolts or a pallet full of completes, it goes towards helping keep this dream alive, allowing us to keep on doing what we are doing. Our Team Riders are all amazing in their own ways, as people and skaters, it is a cliche to describe what we have as a family, but there you are, it’s also very true. There are many people I have shared trips with, been to their events, crashed on their sofa, skated their spots – thank you for sharing these things and more, adding to the amazing journey that is downhill skateboarding. Everyone who has and continues to help us with our UK events, especially Jo Coles, Chris Vanstone and Ross Young, in my eyes they are unsung hero(ine)s of the UK longboard scene and will probably be embarrassed to see their names up. A special thanks needs to go to Darren and Adam, my buddies here at Vandem, they know what’s up and they make this shit happen!!