In his recent-past life as a PR and advertising guru, Lorenzo Martone represented plenty of big brands. Then he shifted gears and started his own. The longtime cycling enthusiast made a point — and a career — out of creating bikes that brilliantly combine technology and design… and it’s that latter part that made them hit so big. The designs (in monotone silver, black, white, red, and gold, save for a signature red chain on all) quickly stood out above the chrome-y hordes that clog U.S. streets. They’re straight-out lookers that also happen to ride amazingly well. And the media responded in kind: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, and more gave his company, Martone Cycling (which he started last year at the age of 33), some great ink. Also, and most importantly, Karl Lagerfeld has two of them.
We caught up with Martone on his way to the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair, and got a little more scoop on his story:
Your company rose to prominence (and acclaim) fast… to what do you attribute this great success? Thank you for these words, but we’re far from it. Success for me will be the day when cars aren’t allowed in big city centers anymore and the entire population uses bikes, electric bikes or any other green medium of transportation.
Why did you decide this industry to make your mark in, above all others — what’s your personal connection with bikes? (How much, and where, do you ride?) I’ve always biked. It has been a hobby and choice of transportation for years, since I was in school. When I was in Paris for grad school, I learned to use bikes on an everyday basis. Then, two years ago (back in New York), I moved from Chinatown to the West Village in NY — and had no more bike storage. I had to put my bike in my living room – and I hated looking at it. It made no sense with my furniture. It had no design filter. So I wrote down in my to-do list: “Make my own bike.” I shared this idea with my friend (now business partner) David Thomas, and he encouraged me to design and make one. One become five, and when the five bikes arrived in New York and I started showing them around, the reaction was so positive that I decided to make it a business. I fell in love with all the layers around biking: health, sustainability, practicality, functionality, style…. I bike every day if the weather allows. Also, I have a dog [a Shiba Inu named Mia], and she loves coming along in the basket.
What makes your designs different? Proportions. I deliberately choose to make the frame of our bikes a bit bigger than the industry standard (the rims, too). I guess I went the opposite direction to the industry: Bike companies use technologies to make bikes that are almost so thin that they become invisible. At Martone Cycling, we like to play with proportion. That results in a much more durable product — but also in a much more visible, bold bike. In regards to the technology: we’re the only company in the world to use SRAM’s duomatic gear system in all our designs right out of the factory. It’s cool technology: two gears that change automatically based on the speed of your ride (it changes from first gear to second, after 10mph). Clients often tell me they crack a smile when the gear changes. You just feel it — and it’s a very unique moment. A third and last highlight are our baskets. It’s part of the handlebar so it can’t get stolen. It’s large; I designed it thinking of how many people who live in cities are always carrying something.
If you’re talking to a customer who’s new to buying a bike, or just hasn’t bought one since he/she was 19 … what are the key things to look for? Definitely comfort. Size. Design. Oh, and sex appeal. I already took care of quality, durability and all the important parts of the product. The client should only have to connect emotionally to the bikes.
What’s your one favorite bike in the selection you’ve got in this Gilt sale… and why? I like the “Real.” It’s the white bike. It’s a timeless color and so vibrant – when I ride that bike people stop me in the streets. They ask me where I got it, and even take pictures.
What can we expect from you in the near future? (Give us something big: We need something to look forward to, other than that Olympics mac ‘n’ cheese party.) Ha! Lots of surprises. I want to revolutionize the bike industry, populate all streets with color and designs. I want to insert green technologies into transportation. Change the way we think about going from A to B.
We love the idealism! Speaking of which: what’s your dream bike (new or vintage), if you had a blank check to write for one — and why do you love it so much? I’d get the Trek Madone bike that artist Damien Hirst designed using real wings of butterflies. [It was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $500,000 in 2009.] Not sure if I would ride it — but I’d definitely hang it in my bedroom and look at it every day.