Spooky in 1993 sold hardcore and straight-edge-influenced t-shirts at races up the east coast. Kevin Hopkins, his then-wife Christine, his brother Chris Cotroneo, and a kid named Bill were the owners. They got a lot of crap for their looks, their attitude and their beliefs, and the furor garnered enough sales to build some frames. They wanted a bike for the riding where they lived, in SW Connecticut. That bike was the Darkside, and it was a little steeper, taller and shorter than the 71/73/11.75"/1 Norba-Geometry" hardtails of the day. Nothing radical, but it felt pretty great.
Their progressive punk-rock ideals dictated the frames had to be built in the States. Chris Herting (3D) did the first prototypes, and in '96 the Mothership was added to the lineup. This bike, which Christine raced on the Pro Downhill circuit, used the same geometry as the Darkside and an AMP B3 rear end to get a whopping 85 mm of travel. Then things became a blur: Christine ran off to Europe with Dave Wooten (Tioga Dave), a very shifty marketing guy robbed the company blind, and production ramped up exponentially.
With the spoils of the freshly closed Pro-Flex factory, and the entire factory Frank the Welder carries around with him, the boys set up Metalhead Manufacturing, using their motley brain trust for contract frame building. Metalhead was turning out over 250 BMX frames a month for Kink, FBM, T1, Schwinn, Metal, among others, when they weren’t building Spookys. Sales were starting to blow up in the UK, and Chineese ripoffs flooded the UK market.
We were all in the limelight -- there’s a book full of 90’s press clippings from bike and lifestyle magazines in 4 languages. We sold 10,000 t-shirts a month to Japan for a while. We were the most influential brand in UK mountain biking in ‘98-00. Our Metalhead frame is exactly what the UK scene had wanted since the days of stealing Raleigh Trackers from the garage to launch out of bombholes. Brits jump bikes- we made it possible to ride a frame that was strong enough for jumping and still could be ridden like a mountain bike. One picture of the Metalhead in Dirt from the last Anaheim Interbike started a revolution on the other side of the Atlantic that transformed the face of mountain biking worldwide.
For reasons with which I am getting more familiar every day (overextension leading to constant debt and poverty), Chris and Kevin decided to walk away from the company in 2000. Spooky was gone.
When Spooky ended, it left a few dozen people across the globe disoriented and directionless. It was a belief system, a religion, even a cult. We were a family of teenagers and 20-somethings for whom Spooky represented the punk ideals of strong community and self reliance. Most of us were Straight Edge, and we truly believed that Revolution was possible. The brand was our band, and throwing a wrench in the corporate and conservative world of bike making and MTB racing was our way of fighting the corrosive messages of consumer capitalism and the resulting social inequality and intolerance.
From the age of 12, I expected to be a pro mtb racer. From the age of 14 I wanted to do it for Spooky. I finished in the top 10 of big races, but my performance peaked early and I never made the leap from top 10 to the podium. I think now that I was too driven by results and unknown demons. I trained too hard, too young. I got too nervous. I’ve puked on some pretty impressive shoes, from Jeremy Horgan Kobelski to Cadel Evans. The circuit was another family to me. Another comfortable brand to exist within and define myself by. I had more friends in this traveling circus than I did in school. I skipped graduation to go to some 2-bit bike race.
I was drawn to racing by angst: when I was 13, my dad was unable to find employment in New England, and we moved to Hilton Head Island, SC. I missed my old friends and was quick to alienate my new peers to distance them from me. There was a shitty little race through a shitty little swamp in one of the only undeveloped parts of the shitty little Island. My first race was on my 13th birthday. I got lost. My shoelaces wrapped around my crankarm. I finished dead fucking last.
Bike racing was my way off the island. I was amazingly lucky that the local shop guys were supportive and knowledgeable about the industry. They were Cat1’s from UVA who had done their time on the circuit, lifers from all over, and a few Red Meat Ex-Moto guys who just wanted to shred. Shop guys from our sandbar went on to work at Shimano, Adidas, King and Oakley and other less depressing places. I was lucky to be surrounded by professionals from a young age. A few months after that, I met the guys from Spooky at a race in Helen, GA, and that was it.
Spooky took over from there. Throughout my teenage years, I won a bunch of state championships in road, cx and mtb. SC had a pretty pathetic bike scene then. I won the Jr DH, XC, Trials and TT championships over one weekend in Clemson. I was the fastest XC racer in the state for a while. I felt good about that, but not good enough. When it was time to escape to college, I chose the Pioneer Valley region of Western Massachusetts for its kickass bike scene.
When Spooky 1.0 fizzled in 2000, I had just started at Hampshire College. I’d been urged to go to school by Kevin, instead of moving to Europe to live the ultimate sufferfest, racing in the gutters of Belgium on the kermese circuit in hopes of learning how to suffer enough to return to the U.S. as a competent mid-pack MTB pro. Hanging out and learning from blue-collar full-time pros helped me understand what it takes to be a pro: sacrifice.
Instead, I chose to study and encourage that sacrifice in others. Because I was able to create my own course of study at Hampshire, I majored in bike racing. Because I knew I would end up designing bikes and products, I got heavily involved with adaptive design and ergonomics, with a sprinkling of industrial design. I went to design collective meetings and helped people to develop their ideas into viable products. I never learned Solidworks. I never machined anything. I was into the psychology, human factors and ergonomics of stuff, an idea guy.
My focus turned more and more to coaching- inspired a hell of a lot by Myerson and John Verheul as well as my ongoing association with John Howard, personal experience and my fairly rigorous analysis of the scientific literature and ongoing discourse about training with power that was happening on the Internet at that time. I started my own coaching business, Fast-Times, and used it to help support my sorry ass until I started Spooky. I focused on research and development of training modalities for downhill and bmx racing, at the time an under-researched field. In my mid-20’s I was working with some pretty good athletes, but I hated working with clients that had the means to pay. Then Kevin gave me the go ahead to turn the Spooky machine back on.
Within two weeks, I had a purchase order for 260 frames from a UK distro for Metalhead frames that hadn’t even been designed yet. I spent the next two years trying to get credit to have the bikes made. My entire business plan was based around outsourcing the mass-production of these bikes. We burnt through tons and tons of money and a chunk of marketing momentum sitting idle, but it did give us some time to decide what we wanted Spooky 2.0 to be.
We needed to build durable US made aluminum road frames. My friends and I were all pretty damn good road racers, and no one could afford all the fancy wunderbikes that explode on impact. We needed to build a Metalhead for the road.
Spooky’s road presence had started to gain momentum as our Skeletor frame gained more exposure. There was a local rider who threw down the money for the second batch of bikes; I’m grateful to that dude in a big way. Our old customers who stayed in bikes “grew up” and are into skinny tires now too. Other people who grew up in the postpunk/hardcore scene were hip to our act too, and soon we had a new and growing family. We’ve been lucky to have some fast riders on our bikes and a supportive family to help us weather the bad times. We are winning more races a year now than we were winning in the ‘90s. I’m damn proud of that, even though we’re still fucking broke.
Restarting the company created intense flurries of darkness and brilliance, which have made for some amazing chunks of creativity catapulting around lost opportunities and stalled momentum. Now we’re trying to scale the brand down to something we can handle; building custom bikes is key. Spooky is now my girlfriend Laura (the responsible one) me and Frank The Welder cutting and welding shit to the right specs.
I’m pretty good at designing and marketing shit, Laura has a brain for details and Frank is damn good at making custom bicycles. From his early days welding forks at Mongoose, to being one of the founders of Yeti, to running a 25,000 frame a year contract shop, he’s done it all. Now Frank just wants to work with his hands one bike at a time, adding little tweaks and creative touches to each one. After years of sitting in front of the CNC machine programming in parts to be made in the hundreds, he’s excited to just cut and squish tubes and stick them together with badass tig welds.
Over the years, FTW has built pretty special race bikes for fast people- John Tomac, Juli Furtado, Dave Cullinan, Brian Lopes, Missy Giove, Leigh Donovan, Myles Rockwell, Jimmy Deaton, Greg Oravetz, Davis Phinney, the Stockton brothers and lord knows who else have won big races on the national and world stage on his Works bikes. It’s rad.
Here at Spooky we just want to create a stable little company that’s a whole mess of influences, references, ideas and situations, and one ever-growing family.