I got to know Ronnie a bit a couple of years back, when Digital Gravel helped launch his then-new brand The Shadow Conspiracy. Ronnie B has been a mainstay in the BMX industry for decades, and it seems like everything he touches turns into something far more solid than gold. Gold is for wimps, when compared to the products Ronnie’s stable of brands puts out. And “stable” is no exaggeration either; he helms The Shadow Conspiracy, Subrosa, Sputnic BMX, and Sparky’s Distribution. Read on to find out more about his impressive creative output, what motivates him, and how he manages to get it all done…
Where are you today? I am currently in Taichung, Taiwan for 3 weeks.
What are you working on? We are working on the 2011 product ranges for The Shadow Conspiracy, Sputnic BMX, and Subrosa.
What is your favorite recent design/product/project? I love making things and this is my first passion and my main reason for starting all of this. I have been that way since I was kid, I love dreaming of ideas and then waking and making them happen, this is so gratifying!
Where have you been finding inspiration lately? Old magazines, bygone eras, simpler times, the times that phones were phones, DYI ethos, B movie horror flicks art, and good old fashioned shit-talking with your crew!
How long have you been into BMX? I got into BMX when I was 10 years old, so 29 years and I am still as stoked today on BMX as I was the day I started!
The clothing industry seems to be hurting a bit these days, but from what I can see, BMX seems to be going strong? Well that happens when something is built on hype rather than substance. The one thing about BMX is no matter what happens to the industry, BMX is always going to be around in some form. I have seen BMX in the mid ’80s boom to the mid ’90s bust, and BMX has never been better and or more real than it is today. From the riding, the art, and the people involved, it’s raw, real and that’s why I think it has grown in popularity. Besides all that BMX is fun as fuck, the essence of just jumping a curb will never get old!
Can you give us a bit of history about how the The Shadow Conspiracy started and how is the brand different than others on the market? When we started Shadow it was at a time that most brands in BMX were corporate owned and bland. I felt we had ideas that represented a group of riders world wide and we wanted to share this with them. At the time I was really influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s style of movie-making where you show the knife and then the blood, but never the stabbing. This style always leads you on a journey and never spells out the obvious. This is what brought about the name and the graphic styling.
We wanted to create a brand that either you loved it or hated it. We didn’t want a project that everybody and their brother liked, as once that happens, you are two steps from your grave. We do things we want to and we do it for people that are liked-minded. Meaning we are not trying to take over the world, just do our own thing!
This art concept also lead us into our product design. As I have always believed the simplest path to the function is the correct path. Meaning don’t over do things, always start with the function and figure out how to make it clean and classic with your own twist. Our fans see our details, effort, and attention to quality and at the end of the day that is what matters to us. Overall, we are in our 8th year of Shadow and I believe that no matter what you are looking at from Shadow, being an ad, shirts, and or our hardgoods, you know it is Shadow. That is super important to us that we are always, doing us!
What is your role at The Shadow Conspiracy? I am the creative director.
There seems to be an equal emphasis on the clothing and on the parts, which is unusual…We have always felt that apparel is an important part of our brands, as it helps tell our story. Beyond that we are really into apparel. It’s super fun to make and I like geeking out on all the details with apparel and accessories. I personally really like designing accessories and bags.
How do you go about developing all your great original parts, like the patent pending Interlock chain? Pretty simple, find a need or problem and solve it. I wish it was that easy, ha ha. As for the the Interlock chain, Byron Anderson (our Solid Works designer) had the idea for it and he and I worked on it for almost a year and over the course, we found a way to create a chain with super strong tensile strength, while still maintaining a light weight design. So many people are copying our chain now, but none are nearly as strong as The Shadow Interlock chain. If you like your teeth, you better be running a Shadow chain, ha ha.
But in general, for product development coming up with ideas for parts is a cross between all the knowledge in our office and mix that with an amazing team that knows how they want their bikes to handle. We are pretty lucky to have such an amazing crew behind us that is always wanting to push the boundaries and improve our products!
You also run Subrosa? Can you explain what Subrosa is about and how the two brands are different? Ryan Sher and I started Subrosa 4 years ago. Ryan was and is a pro on Shadow, so when hanging out on road trips, we would always talk about wanting to do a project together. During a trip, in LA I brought up the idea of doing a bike brand. We joked and then the ball started rolling a few months later; we decided to go for it.
Subrosa is a really cool brand that is not afraid to be what and how it wants to be. Ryan Sher is the brand manger of Subrosa and has great taste in design and ideas. Subrosa has amazing quality and details and also it has a no holds barred design ethos. Pretty stoked as Ryan and I work together amazingly well and the Subrosa team is so down for Subrosa that it’s perfect in every way! This is the 4th year, I believe, of Subrosa so its just getting started and just wait till this year’s Interbike and see all the new products about to hit the streets!
And on top of all that you run Sparkys, a distribution company for your three brands and several others, how has this been key? We started Sparky’s back in the mid nineties so we had an outlet for any creative projects we wanted to work on. We joke and call it an opportunity center rather than distribution center as all the brands or projects here pretty much have been born out of our friendships with riders. Currently we are distributing the following brands: The Shadow Conspiracy, Subrosa, Mutiny Bikes, Sputnic BMX, The Make, Banned, Trip, Tempered BMX, and Bone Deth!
Do you play a major role at each of these four brands or have you handed some of the responsibility off to other people? My job is to be the captain of this ship, I have to be involved in every aspect of what goes on here at Sparky’s and our brands. But I have an amazing crew of people behind me taking charge of their part of Sparkys and our brands. It would be impossible to do what we do at this level without each of them!
Big shout outs to Mike Johnson, Greg Lanthorne, Dave Erecitano, Chip Riggs, Ryan Sher, John Paul Rogers, Ben Hucke, Byron Anderson, Mark Folz, Jerrod Fox, Brien Kielb, Billy Richardson, Eddie Osler, Tracie May Miller, Ashley Cunningham, Courtney Bonner, Mrb, Arnaud Mauler, and Austin Bonner!
Being the boss is not something I set out for in life. But as I joke all the time I wanted a custom designed lifestyle, and to have this you have to take charge. So being the boss is really just a means to my ends, which is the love of making stuff and having a crew like this makes it possible for me to live this dream and then share with everyone.
It seems like you’re always traveling for work, is that something you enjoy? Besides being able to make stuff, my second reason for starting all of this is to travel. When I was a kid, I didn’t really have any clue that you could travel and see foreign countries. Once I figured that out, it has been on! I lost count to how many countries I have been to.
Although just managing your four companies seems like a massive undertaking, do you have anything else new on the horizon? Always ha ha, I am a workholic, so there is always some thing new on the horizon. I just can’t speak of it right now…