Rich Hincapie Interview

Rich Hincapie at Interbike. (Photo from NY Velocity)

As the new road cycling season nears, a good bit of attention is rightfully being given to team BMC. With substantial signings like Ballan, Evans and Hincapie, the team has taken the necessary steps to move up in the world of cycling. It's partially for that reason that I contacted Rich Hincapie (George's brother), since his company Hincapie Sportswear will be the lone apparel supplier for BMC next season. I was also interested in speaking with Rich about his (and George's) Colombian heritage. Their father is Colombian, and Hincapie Sportswear has its factory there as well. Although few Americans think of George as being latino –let alone Colombian– think it's interesting that along with Freddy Rodriguez, George is one of two Colombian cyclists (in my book) to become the American road champion. While Freddy was actually born in Bogota (like yours truly), George and his brother were born and raised in Queens, New York. But hey, that counts. Right? I'm sure people in New York see him as a New Yorker, and his new neighbors in Greenville see him as South Carolina native. Well, they're all wrong, at least according to me. His name is all you need to look at. He's got plenty of Colombian blood running through his veins. For the record, George and Rich's last name is supposed to be pronounced "een-kah-pee-eh", with an accent in the "eh". Lastly, note that the "h" at the beginning is silent.

About the interview:
I generally try to keep things funny in this blog (although it may not show), but I've found it difficult to do so when conducting interviews. I don't have the type of personal relationship with the people I interview which would allow me to ask such questions. I'm currently trying to secure an interview with John Tesh (yes, that John Tesh) about his past in broadcasting within the world of cycling. If that interview happens, I'm sure I'll have the same problem. This is particularly true if an interview happens via email. The minute the person sees a question they object to, they'll never answer your questions. Having said all this, I think this is a good interview. I expect to have the Pulitzer Prize sent to my mom's house. You see, my house is already full of awards. I can't possibly fit another in there.

Thanks to Rich for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope George has a great season in 2010.

Why did you want to start Hincapie Sportswear?
George and I have always loved cycling clothing. I was always interested in all the different garment designs and their function. When George got a big pro contract, we used to get together and try on his new kits when he got them. We noticed that there was a shortage of really high quality cycling apparel in the world of custom cycling clothing. I knew we could fill this void, so we started Hincapie Sportswear in 2003. It’s grown well ever since.

I have read that as young men, you and your brother were introduced to cycling by your father. Was he an avid cyclist back in Colombia? Does he still ride?
My father introduced us to cycling at a very young age. He used to take us out riding and he has supported us throughout our careers. We learned the sport from our father and it was a great way for all of us to spend some time together. My dad still rides several hours almost every day. Now that we all live in Greenville, we can still ride together regularly.

George and Rich's dad. Note the small Colombian flag pin on his hat. This is something my dad always did when going to Formula 1 races, and we continue to do at similar events. It's a great way to spot fellow Colombians. At the Tour this year, my brother and I met a Colombian couple this way.

Growing up in Queens, did you feel as though you were Latino? Do you think that experience shaped who you and your brother are today?
We definitely have some Colombian heritage in our lives. We spoke English and Spanish growing up and we still have very strong ties to Colombia. Colombian culture has definitely shaped who we are today.

From your site, I see that Hincapie clothing is made in Medellin, Colombia. Is this true of your entire line, including your high end denim products?
We make all of our Hincapie Sportswear custom clothing and our Hincapie Premium Denim products in Colombia. We source a few of our Hincapie retail products from different countries, but we’re trying to grow our factory in Colombia as much as possible. The factory is run by family members and we have much more control over important factors like quality and production scheduling. The craftsmanship in Colombia is world class.

The Hincapie Sportswear factory in Medellin, Colombia.

How often do you travel back to Medellin? Do you ride when you're in Colombia?
I get back to Medellin several times a year. I like to stay actively involved in the factory and it’s great to see my family that still lives there. I do ride when I go to Colombia. It’s a beautiful country and the riding is great. When I go there I try to do a lot of business, so my rides are shorter. Sometimes I get to ride with others as well.

With your busy schedule here in the United States, how often do you get to ride? What is your current bike set-up?
I try to do something active every day. I ride most days of the week. Usually it’s a lunch ride on weekdays and some longer efforts on weekends. I’m going to be riding a BMC this season with our Hincapie Development Team. BMC is providing us with some great bikes, so I’m really looking forward to that.

From left to right. Jeff Evanshine (US Jr. National Champion) , Bobby Julich (looking thrilled about having to ride a Performance bike), Lance Armstrong (falling asleep because it took him so long to get his hair ready for the shoot), George Hincapie (with the world's most awesome hairband). One thought about Performance, why did they think it would be a good idea to brand their current house-brand bikes with a name that includes the word "scat" in it? Just saying.

Some cycling attire brands have recently started to make clothing suited for the "urban cyclist", would Hincapie ever produce that type of clothing? Is it necessary?

We are starting to make some clothing that appeals to the urban cyclist. Products like our G-Coat, Barista Knickers, Paris Hoodie and Milano wool jacket are more casual garments that have a cycling design. These are getting us closer to the urban cyclist. We will continue to progress our product offerings in the future.

I'm sure your office is buzzing with activity right now as you prepare for the new season with BMC. What does the sponsorship of the team entail on your end? Will someone at Hincapie design the actual jersey and bibs?
Hincapie Sportswear’s sponsorship of BMC Racing is going to be awesome for everyone. We are super excited about the opportunity to provide apparel and accessories to George and the team. We’re working together with BMC now to get the design done. It’s going to be simple and classy. We should have something to announce shortly. The team is shaping up to be a major powerhouse on the world stage.

Hincapie has provided the leader, KOM, most courageous jerseys and skinsuits for the Tour Of California and Missouri. Does someone from Hincapie travel with the Tour with a sublimation machine? Do you have to have skinsuits in all the sizes for every possible rider?
We are proud sponsors of the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Missouri. We do travel with the race and sublimate the leader jerseys every night. We make blank jerseys with a white box where the sponsor logos go. We travel with a portable sublimation machine. Every night we put the logo of the jersey winner on the front and back of the jersey. It’s a great system because the logo won’t come off the jersey. It’s permanent. The riders and the Tours love it. We do make skinsuits for the TT stages. You have to make enough jerseys and skinsuits to cover all the riders that might win the jersey. We’re getting really good as estimating what we need for each race, so it’s getting a little easier now.

Interior of the Hincapie factory in Medellin.

Would having your entire line used at the Tour (not just base layers, as was done by High Road/HTC) feel like a substantial milestone for you? Was it what you dreamed of when you began the company?
We’re hoping that our entire product line will get used in the Tour de France this year. If BMC gets an invitation, Hincapie Sportswear’s whole custom clothing product line will be worn by the US National Champion, the current World Champion and the entire BMC team in this year’s Tour de France. Keep your fingers crossed.

In an effort to reach a wider audience, team BMC is currently testing braille logos on George's legs. You can see more examples of George's braille-laden legs here. The dude is tough. How many of you can say that you've ridden your bike so much and so hard that your veins are about to pop out of your legs? None of you? That's what I thought.

Where do you fall in the greatest cycling debate of all, that of black or white socks, tall or short?
I wear black and white socks with a 3” cuff. That’s sort of a standard length sock. I don’t wear the super tall ones. If I had to chose I would probably go with white, regular length socks.

I have always admired the beauty and simplicity of the cycling era when wool jerseys were the norm, since that's when I began following the sport. Do you have any appreciation for that older aesthetic in cycling? Do you think there's any room in the marketplace for that styling to really come back, aside from nostalgia inspired lines?
Yes, there is room for the classic wool styling in our modern sport. We have used some of that style with our Hincapie Vintage Jerseys and our wool baselayers. The exciting part is that you can use the old world styling with the newer technical wool fabrics. Our Merino wool products are pretty advanced compared to the itchy wool your grandfather rode in. Modern technology has helped us refine the products and improve the designs so they perform better.