For Gil Lavi, it all started with a red bicycle. A graphic designer who started his career in Israel, he’s a visual person. And this bike looked amazing. The red bike helped open the door on the world of cycling that in 2020, culminated in starting NYC cycling retailer Rubber N Road with his business partner, life-long New Yorker and mad road rider Max Davis.
We missed the whole middle bit, where Gil and Max worked for years in the cycling industry, either directly or as consultants. Where they learned about the business, and the industry and collected knowledge about independent brands (like say...MAAP) and put their plans together, waiting for the right moment to make it happen.
So with the critical mass of cyclists – often younger, cooler cyclists – came the opportunity to start their business. But don’t go looking for Rubber N Road on the Upper West Side or NoLiTa or Alphabet City or whatever. Because Rubber N Road is as much an idea as it is a store. That idea is a curated cycling concierge service, with same day delivery by bike. “It didn’t make sense to start during COVID in bricks and mortar,” says Gil. “It wasn’t about being a store, even online. It was about, there’s a lot of people who are getting into the sport for the first time during COVID, there’s a lot of people who never heard about MAAP or the other brands we’re selling. Even today, we’re getting a phone call like, “Hey, I was on your website. I saw this brand MAAP. I don’t know MAAP. Can you tell me about it?”
When Max and Gil talk about a personalised concierge service, they actually mean it. You’re more likely than not to be chatting directly with them. Even at 10pm when you need an Ascend Pro rain jacket for the next morning’s ride, you’ll be talking to Gil or Max, and they’ll be the ones dropping them off at your door 10 minutes later. Usually by bike (although in that specific example, Max admits he got an Uber.) It’s this level of service that gives them their point of difference, and brings them closer to the community. “We want to meet the people. We want to talk to the people. We want to understand what they like, what they don’t like, be able to really educate them about the product,” says Max. And it means they spot their gear (and ours) out in the wild. “People stop us and be like, “Hey, you’re the guy from Rubber N Road,” Max laughs.
Which is why we say Rubber N Road is as much an idea as anything. To them, it’s irrelevant if there’s a physical store, or a website, or a cafe. It’s about the service. So less than a year old, they’ve already taken in a number of forms. In October 2020, they opened a pop-up at a Manhattan Volvo dealership and drew 300 people a day to talk bikes, eat Swedish pastries and smash short blacks. They’ve got another pop-up happening in 2021 and are even in the process of opening a small footprint cafe and showroom. Whatever form it takes, it’ll be imbued with Max and Gil’s enthusiasm and love of riding.
And, like a lot of things, COVID was the moment. As Max explains, COVID hit NYC hard. Like hard hard. “For the first time ever, people are just stuck in their apartments. There’s no restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, theaters. There’s nothing. Everybody was kind of isolated from each other.” So without all of the things that made New York “New York”, people started to look for an escape on two wheels. “We really saw cycling start to be a vessel for people to get outside and get out of the city and explore and feel a sense of they’re in control. More so here than almost anywhere else in the US,” Max explains.