Part community, part production company, part creative partner. Ask Gus Morton and Isaac Karsen to define Thereabouts and you’re offered a number of varied responses. What is abundantly clear, however, is a passion for storytelling and the narrative of their collaboration with Crust Bikes is an exemplar of the Thereabouts vision. Rooted in the Australian Outback and culminating in a Utah desert testbed; a tale that encompasses talk of farm tractors, friendships forged on the trail and a belief in the bike as a tool for journeying.
Other Means: Looking back on the genesis of this bike build, where were you in terms of the riding you were doing? What was your mindset at that time?
Gus: I guess the idea has always been there ever since that very first Thereabouts ride to Uluru in 2013. Back then, your only option for endurance or rough-road riding was a cross bike. But they’re very upright and the bottom bracket's quite high. They suit cross, they suit jumping over things, they suit those twitchy kinds of conditions. But there wasn't really a bike with geometry that matched riding on gravel roads in the strictest sense.
Other Means: And this got you thinking along those lines?
Gus: On that trip we wanted to ride on different types of terrain. I just had a basic cross bike but Lachy* knew that his team issue Cervélo S5 wasn't exactly capable of doing that [laughs]. So all credit to his foresight, he called up Mosaic and got them to build him a road geometry bike that could also handle gravel with an Enve fork that could fit a bigger tyre. He kind of created a road bike for dirt.
[*Gus’ brother, Lachlan Morton]
Other Means: And that got you both thinking?
Gus: After that first experience we had riding through the Outback, a whole bunch of product ideas came into our heads. And we’d already been playing around with the idea that there were ways of riding a bike that weren't being serviced. So after Uluru we were thinking how we’d go about making a bike and that it would look like this or this or this. And we'd talk about it and draw up designs. Eventually this led to a bike frame under the name Outlands. I think there's ten of them floating around and I've still got a couple in my garage at home.
Other Means: But the process never went any further?
Gus: It takes a lot of time and experience to do original stuff - whether that's a bike from scratch or even a piece of clothing. We’d been talking to some people in Hong Kong but it was like, fuck, we don't know what we're doing here. And this was back in 2015, 2016 when both Lachy and I were professional athletes and didn't have a huge amount of time to dedicate to going over and spending a couple of months in Hong Kong.
Other Means: So what’s changed since then?
Gus: Those ideas were floating around from the very beginning of Thereabouts and people have always asked when we were going to make stuff. And then when Isaac and I got together, I guess the act of bringing in an outside perspective with all this other world experience kind of opened up our thoughts. That maybe we could do this in collaboration with smaller brands. And it was Isaac that created this impetus and had the technical know-how.
Other Means: You each come at things from your own perspective?
Gus: I've said this to you before, I’m very utility focused. I'll just do whatever I can to make something work. I enjoy that but I'm really only using the tools that I have. Isaac is much more about the right tools for the job and acknowledging that there are people with the expertise to make this stuff. And so, with Isaac on board, we decided to make a bike. Yes, I had connections with people, but it was his knowledge of equipment and his perspective on riding that created the impetus for us to be like, well, who would we want to partner with? What do we want to make?
Other Means: Thinking along those lines, Isaac, when you see a bike leaning against a wall or outside a coffee shop, what do you see as the potential in that collection of tubes and components?
Isaac: I’m not sure whether this will answer your question but in advertising, which is what my full-time job was before coming onboard with Thereabouts, you're basically a commissioner. You make decisions on the director and the film editor, the visual FX and the music. You lead with your team - this collection of collaborators - and I guess my brain just works that way. So when Gus and I first got together and discussed all the possibilities for projects, we began by figuring out all the people Gus knew and had worked with.
Other Means: To build your team.
Isaac: And in a similar way to a collection of ideas and a collaboration of minds, bikes are so exciting because you personally get to choose all the parts. What wheels you want and what tyres will work with the riding you'll be doing. And I guess I really enjoy figuring out how all these separate elements can come together. In a sense, working out the tone and the character. Which is just as true for a film as it is for a bike build.
Gus: And that's what's interesting because we were only talking yesterday about what's changed with Thereabouts since Isaac and I got together. I'm someone that if I see something, I'll ask myself whether I can do that too. And if I can't, I won't do it. Or maybe I can see a way I can learn that skill and take on that task. But I'm not someone who reaches out for help.
Other Means: And Isaac?
Gus: He’s very much no, no, no. We've got to do this properly. Isaac’s more for finding the right person, reaching out to them, engaging with them and bringing them in. And the balance of those two outlooks has really launched Thereabouts massively forward. Whereas before, if it couldn’t just be done in-house then it wasn’t going to happen. And that's where I was blocked.
Other Means: This sounds like quite a profound change in your way of thinking?
Gus: I wanted to do all these things but didn't really know where to start. The bike, the film projects, the podcast. All these new facets of Thereabouts have come about because of Isaac's whole other approach to thinking that balanced out my own in a really powerful way.
Other Means: So the idea for the bike has been there from the early days of Thereabouts and you’ve referenced before, Gus, that you see a bike as a tool for moving and for journeying. And Isaac, I know you share that viewpoint, but you also come at it from a form and function perspective. Do you both feel the project benefited from these different approaches to bringing the process to fruition?
Gus: To be honest, I was always onboard with making a bike but it was Isaac's desire to see it done properly that proved the deciding factor. Left to my own devices, I would just ride what I had and stick a rack on it or tie a bag on. Often things that weren't really meant to be used in that way but I would modify them to just make it work with the shit that I had. And from that regard, the equipment was always an afterthought. But having done that for a long time, all of a sudden someone comes in and tells you, no, there's a product for that. Or the potential to create something to do that particular job. And the Crust bike is a perfect example. When I rode it for the first time I was like, oh shit, that's what it feels like to ride something that's meant to be ridden in those conditions. It's so much easier and so much more enjoyable [laughs].
Other Means: I love the idea that you don't see it purely as a possession. It's all about what you can do with it. Where it can take you.
Gus: Exactly. All of a sudden you're like, holy shit, if we really wanted to, we could hang three gallons of water on this bike and survive in the desert for multiple days without re-supplying. And that's straight where my mind goes. Riding the Crust, all of a sudden this whole new world opens up.
Other Means: Isaac, you mentioned the process and I was wondering whether there were other framebuilders in the mix or was it always going to be Crust?
Isaac: I was still living in Downtown LA at the time and I only had a road bike. Just riding in Griffith Park and wasn't really able to get out any further from a time perspective. But I'd lusted after a Crust bike for ages. And especially the Bombora which was the frame we’ve used on our build. And we have to give massive credit to Cheech and Matt for what they're doing with Crust because they're building just the coolest bikes. Really owning that category of frames and doing it their own way.
Other Means: I like the idea that you’re a fan. How there’s an emotional element to your choice of collaborator.
Isaac: So I mentioned to Gus that it would be cool to do a Crust and we should get in touch somehow. And he was like, oh, I know Matt. And I'm like, we should hit them up now. And Gus just sent him a message.
Other Means: With all these different strands coming together, would you say there's an element of Matt and Cheech in the Thereabouts build?
Gus: Absolutely and it's funny you should say that as I was thinking about my relationship with Matt. Because when you’re riding a bike professionally, you get introduced to all the big names on the race circuit. Just by virtue of you simply being part of that world. But to be honest, for me, I've always been most at home with the dude at the bar that you met out riding. That's where my engagement lies and where my love of this sport is based. Whether that's down to my inability to make it as a bike rider, I’m not exactly sure. But I'm definitely more comfortable with the more anonymous side of things.
Other Means: And you feel this relates to your friendship with Matt?
Gus: A while back, I was invited on a ride in California and Matt was also on it. He's this little Aussie bloke - I immediately clocked the accent - but I didn't know who the fuck he was. And he didn't know me either. But we're riding along and chatting and just through talking, all of a sudden, I realised that this is the guy that makes Crust bikes.
Other Means: And a connection was made.
Gus: Here's this bloke who was a plumber, a surfer, a BMXer. And with Crust he just created his own niche within the cycling world. Really doing it his own way. And there's no pretence with Matt; he's super sarcastic and his sense of humour is really similar to mine. So just over the course of this five day ride, I got to know Matt after gravitating to him. The kind of person that doesn't give a shit about the way that things are or the way that things have been.
Other Means: That sounds a very grounded, down-to-earth approach to business?
Gus: Way back, Lachy and I had talked to 3T about the Exploro bike. That was originally going to be called the Thereabouts bike.
Other Means: No way.
Gus: Yeah, we worked with Gérard Vroomen. Discussions going to and fro about the design and the whole, fucking gigantic legal process of royalties. We both thought it would be sick to have our name on a bike but the project kind of stalled. And we then went through a similar process with a number of other companies. Sitting around the table with all these heads of brand and they'd be talking about incorporating what we were doing with Thereabouts into their shit.
Other Means: I get the feeling this isn’t your preferred way of working?
Gus: There was always this big, impersonal behemoth of a corporate machine with the legal aspects and all the bullshit that goes on around it. So I kinda thought that having a bike was impossible. You've got to jump through so many hoops and then at the eleventh hour the process reaches a point where it stalls. But with Matt, there was none of that [laughs]. We called him and asked about making a bike and he said, 'Yeah, sure.' And it was really that easy. One person, their own brand, doing their own thing and just interested in making stuff that excites them. And that's like, very rare, I think. Just wanting to get it done.
Other Means: In the Thereabouts podcast episode that features Crust, Matt says he doesn't care what the cycling industry thinks.
Gus: That’s right. He doesn’t [laughs].
Other Means: So I wondered where you sit? And whether your self-perception is one of outsiders?
Isaac: That’s an interesting topic [Gus laughing in background]. I think to a degree we’re outsiders but, in the same breath, we're still kind of part of it all. And going back to my earlier point about collaboration, we still need wheels and a group set to complete the build. So, no matter what, you look to different people to help to bring your vision to life. And we value and really care about our relationships with those individuals or brands that build bikes and I think it's really inspiring what people like Matt and Cheech are doing at Crust.
Other Means: So, after deciding on Crust for the frames, I guess you had a free rein for the componentry?
Gus: Exactly. Isaac was like, let's do this or use this. And that’s sort of how this all works. One of us will come in with an idea - for a film, podcast, whatever - and the other one will either be, that's great, or no mate. There's a sense of checks and balances but when it came to the equipment it was very much what's the sickest thing we could put on the bike. I suppose the best way I can frame it is to ask if you know that much about tractors?
Other Means: Tractors?
Gus: Well, Lamborghini started out making tractors. My Dad used to have a Lamborghini tractor on the farm. And I kind of picture the Crust in the same way. It's got really fucking fast shit on it but it's still a tractor [laughs]. You’re not going to race this in the World Tour but it's specced out like it expects to be. So the thinking went, what's the most do-anything robust frame? And that’s how we arrived at the Crust Bombora. And then we asked ourselves what's the most badass shit we can put on it so we can make this tractor go as fast as possible over any terrain.
Other Means: It sounds like a fun process?
Gus: Just completely unorthodox in much the same way we approach everything we do. And going back to that question of whether we see ourselves as outsiders. From an ideological standpoint, then absolutely, we're outsiders. We're talking about using the bike in very different ways but, at the same time, we have to co-exist inside this industry and we’ve got really great relationships with brands like SRAM, Rapha and Specialized. It's just that we tend to look at ways of using a bike that lie outside the regular realm of riding.
Isaac: In my opinion, our Crust is the perfect bike. And we're lucky to have friends at SRAM as they're constantly pushing the boundaries of what technology can deliver to the ride experience. A good example of a massive company that makes products that can mix and match and work in so many permutations.
Other Means: In the film Sometime Thereafter, you explore the idea of a shared journey experienced through individual perspectives. So when the finished Crust was standing in front of you, how did you both feel seeing your name on the bike?
Gus: I guess I look at it this way. A bike is greater than the sum of its parts and we were lucky enough to know these people who make derailleurs, wheels, tyres. Who make bar tape and saddles. They're all creating these elements and there's all these personalities and characters behind those components. And Isaac was able to pull them all together into an epitome of what we are and what our view of the sport is. And as a result, we put our name on it because it's a physical representation of where we currently see Thereabouts and what we want to use a bike for. That unquantifiable essence of a bike and how it moves you through space. That's us, putting our name on it. Like putting an intention to your day [laughs].
Isaac: The parts arrived as Covid was happening so the bikes were built up during lockdown in Portland. I drove everything over and then, a few days later, you've got a fully-built bike. Which was crazy because they looked way different than I was expecting.
Other Means: And then you got to ride them.
Isaac: It was mine and Gus' first escape from lockdown restrictions on a trip to Southern Utah. I loaded the bikes into my car and we drove all the way south.
Other Means: Was this Utah trip a case of ticking boxes - a testbed for the bikes - or more about asking questions?
Isaac: It was heavenly.
Gus: It was.
Isaac: The riding was pretty out there and our bikes were completely fucked up but they survived.
Other Means: Once again, returning to the theme of a tool for a purpose?
Gus: Exactly. In terms of putting your name on something, we're storytellers and this build fits in a kind of abstract way to that end. A tool that will help us to tell a story and hopefully empower people to make their own journeys.
Other Means: You mentioned how your Crust bikes were built up during the Covid lockdown. Has the pandemic influenced the direction you're going with Thereabouts?
Gus: Looking back on the past year, having everything scratched gave us time to rethink our approach and strategise a bit. Along the lines of what do we want to do and how are we going to do it. So we spent a lot of time reformatting the business plan. How we can make and tell these stories and get them to the widest audience in the most beautiful way. So we’ve got a lot of exciting things in development and a shitload of work to be done over the next six months. But we're getting there [smiles].
Other Means: For many people, the pandemic has been life changing and not always in a positive way. But maybe adversity can sometimes push you to question and reassess how you're living? To explore new directions and appreciate what we might have taken for granted?
Gus: At least from my personal point of view, I've always felt the urgency to do things and get them out. The last two years have really changed that for a number of reasons but as a result I feel we now have a more sound perspective which will hopefully lead to us making a bigger difference in the work that we do. At the heart of Thereabouts, it's about telling stories that inspire people. We want to show the positive impact sport can have on society at whatever level you choose to engage. Sometimes it feels the way we go about this might not be the easiest way to do it. But it's certainly the most rewarding.