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Interviews

Chris Mandell Interview – Product Manager at Kona Bikes

From Dirt Issue 119 – January 2012

Words by James McKnight. Photos by Victor Lucas.

Mountain biker, skier, BMX rider and all round good guy, Chris Mandell is one tall dude with some hilarious tales and a whole host of fresh ideas. Having lived in some far out places, from Alaska to Norway and everywhere wild in–between, Chris has certainly developed a strong character, one that recently brought him to be working for Kona as their product manager.

In a short two and a half years with Kona he has played a huge part in the re–vamp of not only their range of bikes but also the brand as a whole…Kona’s re–birth, I hasten to add. I met Chris at the recent 2012 launch where he was making a presentation and shredding the tracks of Crans Montana in Switzerland, so I asked a few questions and found a bit more about the big man himself. Over to Chris:

“I am from ‘the west coast of the USA, born in 1983 in Southern California. I have lived in Alaska, Northern and Southern California, Oregon, Washington, Norway and now Bellingham, WA. Alaska is an amazing place, make a point to visit. Norway is top notch as well (and an easier trip from the UK). Alas, I didn’t ride much in either of those places, only in Alaska to get to the river or friend’s houses, in Norway to get to school/bars. My dad raced road bikes at an amateur level so we always had bikes around. Road, recreational MTB, but it wasn’t really until I went to college that I got into mountainbikes seriously. I started working in a bike shop in my senior year of college (Tommy’s in McMinnville, Oregon) and I also read a bunch of stuff on the internet about bikes (rather than doing school work). Working at FSA for three and a half years was what really gave me ‘knowledge’ of the industry and the products. I worked as an inventory controller/purchaser so I had to be (or at least become) knowledgeable on all of their products.”

Mandell now resides in not–so–sunny Bellingham, which he describes as “a terrible place to visit, rains all the time”…fortunately in typically good humour. Brought to Bellingham by the bike industry and his position as a local prolonged by his latest job, the town serves as the perfect development area for new bikes – the bikes that Chris takes it upon himself to design, prototype and test – even if it is always raining…

Chris on Bellingham:

“Rains so much. Just rains all the time, really brutal. Good for testing bikes as the muck gets in everything! Ha ha ha…yeah, it is a special place. Sweet XC trails on Galbraith just a 15 minute pedal from my house. A quick drive to the Shore to ride DH. I’ve been at Kona for about two and a half years. Working at FSA and riding in the Pacific North West I knew the Kona US sales staff well. When the position opened up I was the first to know and the first to apply. The Operator was my first big project. I helped out on the 2010 Steely and the 2010 Honky Inc. The Entourage and Honzo are the new ones for 2012. I learned a lot on those projects and I’m excited for what we have in the hopper.”

Chris gained his position at Kona with impressive, but justified ease, his CV of industry jobs and his passion for bike riding put him in the right places and as the right person for the job. Product Manager may be his title, yet Chris has already designed a downhill bike almost from the ground up (the Operator) and now a modern–day bike park specific machine (the Entourage). In a mere two and a half years as product manager, I think it is safe to say that he has been one of the key figures in turning the company around (although he certainly wouldn’t tell you that) and bringing Kona back to the forefront of mountain biking.

I asked him about his latest project, the Entourage (the bike that has certainly changed my view of Kona’s bikes), “I do not do much work alone. The best solutions come from collaboration. Graham Agassiz gave me really valuable feedback on the Entourage. At the end of the day I am just a person who enjoys riding bikes. I made it for having fun and pushing boundaries. Dead serious…there are many tracks where 200mm of travel is simply too much (Sea Otter most immediately comes to mind). 170mm of travel, with proper DH angles, will be faster than a 200mm full–on DH bike for certain riders on certain tracks. The Entourage has led to a tremendous amount of personal progression and good times.”

I think Kona should be very happy that they have such a good ambassador – a normal guy “who enjoys riding bikes” – and that has the motivation, knowledge and initiative to create the bikes that have perhaps lacked from the range for several years. With people like Mandell at the helm, I can see Kona’s rise back to ‘the glory days’ being just around the corner – that’s if they aren’t already there.

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