Cal has been with the MASON tribe since the early days. As MASON's first full-time employee, he has seen the company go from strength to strength. Spending time pedalling around Sussex on his road machine and mountain bike, Cal prefers to keep it real and simple with his riding... although on the morning commute with the rest of the HUNT guys, you wouldn’t be able to tell!
With an eye for detail and now being the first point of contact for many who get in touch with the team at MASON, Cal helps out anyone who passes through MASON's circles. We also have to mention that Cal has the envious task of testing MASON prototypes… jealous? Yep, We are too…
We managed to grab Cal for a quick chat about all things happening at the Mason Barn.
Name: Cal Nicklin
Born and Bred: Boxhill
Ice breaker – describe yourself in three words.
Can you answer this one? (ed. Sorry Cal, the On The Drops Questions are hard for a reason...)
First Bike and Favourite bike?
First: Raleigh Wolf Cub
Finish this sentence: Climbing on my bike is…
Call powering on up a stage during Grinduro Scotland.
You have been a part of the MASON story from quite early on, how have you seen things change and what has this meant for what you do?
I started working with Dom on a part-time basis in late 2015, quite soon after this I went full-time. Before I started, it was still Dom doing everything on his own. I took over the warehouse stuff, which, at that time, meant prepping frames + build kits for build, taking kits in Dom’s Twingo to the LBS, and polishing/packing frames + bikes before sending. At MASON we’re really proud of our packing. Even at this time we were looking ahead: I made a ‘Dummie’s Guide’ PDF to show the correct procedure for packing a bicycle, including bubble-wrap measurements per-tube. (we now use HD pipe lagging, but are looking for a more sustainable and recyclable solution).
Back then we didn’t have a permanent office so when it was quieter we’d be working together at Dom’s dining table. Looking back on it, these times were definitely formative for my work processes now and to learn how to work together (I think we work together quite well), but at the same time they were daunting for me. I moved to Brighton specifically for the job and with no social base at all. I found myself quite intimately connected to a very new, very small business. It was a bit of a pressure cooker in some ways, forcing autonomy and innovation when things weren’t so good….
There was a really tough time in 2016, basically for all of Spring + Summer where we had problems getting enough forks. I won’t go into all the details, but if it wasn’t for the extremely patient and faithful customers things might be different today. At this time we were all SUPER stressed, Dom especially so. I found it hard because I was living on my own, had no one to unload to and had uncertainties about a load of stuff and was generally an unhappy person. But, we had already began working on the fantastic Aperture2 design so we accelerated this process and ended the year on a high. I had taken on the customer service/dispatch roles and had taught myself to use our website/stock CMS, so I guess my role was in CustomerService/Operations.
By contrast the following summer was sweet. The first Bokeh prototypes came through the next summer and we began riding these rad new massive-tyre bicycles. My role became more technical at this point as I specced the build kits on the complete bikes and I had started our OEM ordering for certain parts.
The Bokeh landed its 5-Star review, and things have just got busier since then. In the winter of 2016 we took on employee #2 Alex (now Stores Manager) to help with the Ops. and dispatch. His essential help freed me up to work on other stuff and it was with Alex’s arrival that we began to feel more like a ‘proper’ bike company.
All the while, things in the industrial unit had been getting to us. The company we rented it from had internal growth stresses, at times blood boiled. It just wasn’t big enough for all of us, and it definitely wasn’t MASON. We viewed a handful of ‘interesting’ and ‘quirky’ units around Brighton: an Oast House; a huge damp garage; a mews building in town. Basically they were all shitty and uninspiring. Julie Mason, Financial Director, came across this beautiful barn in a working farm at the base of the South Downs, so we had a look and the rest is history.
Bike of the Year Award Celebrations
I felt like MASON has now found its new home from Dom’s dining table, to the Barn. At the same time, things in my personal life were in sync with this. I was buying a house in Brighton, I was riding a lot again, living with my girlfriend. The summer of 2017 was the best.
Watching from the proverbial barn window, we saw this bloom of riders escaping the roads and pushing themselves to go solo, get lost and to embrace the less-explored parts of the country and in doing so, pushing their boundaries too. Many of these people on were riding Bokehs, but importantly there were still loads of folks who felt truly inspired by people like Mike, Sarah, Lael, Josh who were humbling us all with their ultra-endurance, their cool attitude, and by just being really lovely people. So refreshing in an industry where ‘idols’ are often seen to be tempestuous and inauthentic. The Macro-theme here was that riders, and furthermore people-at-large, wanted new experiences. We had the right product for the experience.
Starting up with the Titanium project was whole new level of challenges and that’s an essay for Dom to write.
Business continued to grow, but crucially for us we pushed hard to consolidate our process to tighten up and do things as well as we could on all fronts. We don’t make mistakes twice and we do things the best way.
We took on our full-time assembler, Matt, in October 2017 and he’s been flat-out with building bicycles ever since. He’s officially the best MASON technician in the world and you’ll get through to him with any technical queries. He’s employee #3.
I’m now Brand/Product/Web Manager, a role which has massively diverse range of responsibilities. Most of the time there’s still just 4 of us working so we do a bit of everything. But, I’m now more focused on the brand + business side of things: forecasting, ordering, pricing, speaking with journos, content etc.. I’ve taken on managing the website stuff to make it more interesting, accessible and usable for our global customers and I’m doing a lot of photography for the brand which is a new challenge + skill that I’m passionate about. MASON itself has grown into THE ‘FastFar’ adventure bicycle brand and we’re all 100% inspired by its journey.
So now it’s 2018. I love my job, I work hard for it and in many ways, I live for it. With the strength of the team at MASON, I’ve found the time to get my other passions back in line: climbing, yoga, MTB, playing guitar. Being part of MASON has brought a ton of the coolest people into my life and I’m stoked on the big things coming up for 2018.
Dom Mason is well known for his painstaking attention to detail in everything he does. How does it feel to take over the reins on somethings?
In many ways, I think we share a detail ethos and work ethic, so the task at hand always seems like the right thing to do. It can be daunting to take the reins on important things. Not because of getting it wrong, but more because I don’t want to let Dom down.
On the other hand, in doing so these situations can also be opportunities to try out new ideas and approaches.
You seem to have ridden a lot of MASON prototypes. What influence/feedback do you have in their final design?
The Bokeh geometry was pretty much nailed in the first go, coming from the already sorted Res/Def geo. and based on Dom’s experience. But, riding these protos. allowed to me work out the component spec like tyres, ratios etc. The first ‘Bokeh’ prototype we rode was to test our own D.Tube and to check the dropouts. This was actually made in Definition geo and with the D.Tube the wrong way up! But, riding this gave us the firm idea of the tweaks that would make it into the trail-ripper that the Bokeh is. I actually rode the Def. geo with a Bokeh fork for a while. I lost the front end quite a lot and stacked it frequently. Shows the importance that the correct fork geo. has on frame design. Hence why we kept the BB and Stack height low for the Bokeh to generate the front-end grip and better balance.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the upcoming AspectTi model, feeding back to Dom on the tubeset character and geo.
Our next big release is a more collaborative effort from all of us and it’s sick.
All the testing and re-configuring comes down to this.
The launch of the Definition2 marks a point where this is the first update to a Mason frameset. What’s new?
It’s updated to the current standards of flat-mount brakes and 12x142mm thru-axles. The original Definition was SO good that we wouldn’t have changed it unless ‘standards’ called for it. We worked with the makers to develop a unique dropout to our spec. This means that the legendary ride quality is maintained, and we’ve left the geo. unchanged. We did think about shortening the chainstays, but decided that the compromised tyre clearance was not acceptable. We also have a new ElementGrey colourway which is really popular, and we’ve refined the position of the NDS Chain-Stay MultiPort for perfect routing into the latest Flat-Mount calipers.
The MASON x HUNT relationship is built around similar values of 4Season durability and the FastFar concept. What do these mean to you at Mason?
Probably the same thing it means to you…
4Season. It means that it never stops and it just works really well.
FastFar. We’ve come to this through the MASON community take on our bikes. Mason + Hunt share many of the same riders: who want to go fast and tend to ride really, really far. You’ve got to be a bit unhinged for this sort of lifestyle. So I guess that it’s the no BS attitude to take yourself away from the norm and live life fast…
Up to now we’ve been designing and supplying products for experiences, but as humans what we really care about is the experience. So, I’d like to see us looking more towards the idea of experience/education/inspiration first and including our products alongside this.
The Mason Barn is a pretty special place – what is it like to work in a 400-year-old barn? Any massive DIY sessions?
Yeah! We swept a. lot. of. shit. to make it possible to work here. It was basically empty when we found it, so an office and workshop had to be built, and we’ve insulated parts of it because it’s otherwise as cold as outside. We installed a bespoke alarm system and have two sources of internet, because Openreach.
We share the space with hornets and wasps throughout the year, but luckily, they’re cool with us in their home. It’s a blessing to be around the happy dogs, cows, sheep and bats.
With views like this, no wonder the Mason bikes are stunning
We’ve just had to strengthen a ceiling support which had snapped in two directly above Alex’s packing area.
The sense of place is immense. We’re immersed in the change of seasons through the crop cycles, livestock movements and landscape changes. For me, having a beautiful destination makes every day commuting easier. We’ve got a variety of roads and trails that we can take to get from Brighton > Barn and the SDW from our doorstep. Escaping the city life everyday makes living there all the better. My Mac is centred in front of an ancient window through which I can see the South Downs and incredible skies.
Being based at the Barn also benefits our customers, now they have the perfect test-ride experience. They can ride ideal trails and roads to try their future MASON on, they can meet all of us and get a feeling of what we’re all about. It makes trying a new bike a refreshing and wholesome experience.
What grinds your gears?
Laziness. Pollution. Pop music. Bad food. Insularity. Raynaud’s.
Jersey pockets or Saddlebag?
Whichever is most suitable.
Dream place to ride?
In my dreams I’m always pulling sick no-handed manuals, hitting massive hips and going really fast.
Thoughts on Cyclocross?
I like it, but me and Jack (HUNT Customer Service Coordinator) always psyche ourselves out of it.
We know Cal is just trying to be humble about his CX exploits!
Most memorable ride for all of the wrong reasons?
Riding a trail called ‘Numbskull’ on Whitedown. I broke both clavicles. I don’t remember the crash very well, but I do remember my collar bone trying to ‘pop’ when driving home. At the time I had a ‘89 205 GTI with heavy steering and a de-servo’d brake, so it hurt more to drive back than the ‘off did!