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Apr 26, 2022

This week Randall Jacobs sits down with Fort Bragg, CA Sculptor and trail builder Nick Taylor to discuss the intersection of cycling and art. 

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

Nick Taylor

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week, I'm going to kick it back over to my co-host Randall Jacobs for a little something different for ya. Randall's interviewing sculptor trail builder and Mendocino cycling stalwart, Nick Taylor in an exploration on how the bike became interwoven in one artist's life

Before I pass the mic over to Randall. I need to thank this. Week's sponsor the feed. The feed is the largest online marketplace for sports nutrition.

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With that said, I'm going to hand it over to my co-host Randall Jacobs and his interview with Nick Taylor.

[00:02:26] Randall: Nick, I've been looking forward to this conversation for some time welcome to the podcast.

[00:02:31] Nick: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me on Randall.

[00:02:34] Randall: So before we dive in, let's give listeners a bit of background. Who are you, where are you from? What matters to you?

[00:02:40] Nick: My name's Nick Taylor. I'm up here in Fort Bragg, California. That's about 180 miles north of San Francisco along the coast, fairly remote area. I'm a sculptor and a big bike bicycle advocate, as well as running a trail crew building trails out here in the Mendocino coast.

[00:03:00] Randall: Yeah. And as somebody who has been to your workshop, I can say well, one, the area is quite beautiful and to the space in which you create some of the things that we'll be talking about and linking to in the notes. So it's a pretty special place. So tell us a bit about your, relationship to the bicycle.

How did it get started? How has it evolved over time?

[00:03:20] Nick: Well, you know, I think we all probably started riding Pikes when we were kids. And I certainly did that on a gravel road and in rural Ohio. So I had some experience as a kid and there was a big lapse and it wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I picked the bicycle back up and started to use it again.

And that was a. I had, I don't know what really, what the impetus was for getting back on a bike, but I wanted to do some exploring and I guess that just seemed like a good way to go about it. And I bought myself a an old Schwinn Latour for 80 bucks and a. I was staying with my grandmother at that point up in Ohio.

And I started doing some riding in the rides, you know, slowly became longer and longer. And I, I decided, well, you know what, I want to go do some tour. And so that led to a bit, a little, a little bit of touring on that the tour prior to graduate school, back in the early eighties.

[00:04:15] Randall: So tell us about some of the early tours. What was that like?

[00:04:18] Nick: Well, it was prepping to go to graduate school and really wanted to get out in between visiting one school and another, and I bought a gray ham pass. It was good for 30 days and pulled the map of the U S out and closed my eyes. And. Put my finger down on wherever it game.

And, and the first place was I got out in south Kadoka, South Dakota at a midnight at a gas station and you know, road the next day through, you know, from Kadoka through the Badlands and into a rapid city. And I didn't have a particularly good experience in rapid city. So I pulled the map out again, close my eyes and finger another place on the map.

Got out and Shelby Montana and had a great time from there. So, you know, a ride from Shelby across the Rocky mountains and through glacier national park, which was just extraordinary. And then down to Spokane Washington, at which point I had to create my bike up and had had to Davis, California to go look at the school there.

[00:05:23] Randall: Oh, wow. So that was essentially coming off after a month of kind of dirt bagging camping out, or what were your, what were your accommodations along the route?

[00:05:33] Nick: I mean, everything. Everything I needed was on the bike,

[00:05:37] Randall: so, you found a shower before you had your interview.

[00:05:40] Nick: Yup. Knock some of the stink off.

[00:05:43] Randall: So now you're in Davis and this is a program in what area?

[00:05:48] Nick: So it was a MFA program, for a master of fine arts graduate school. It was back in the early eighties and I don't know where it is now, but, it was a leading school for the arts. It rivaled Dal our graduate department.

And so it was, I got there and they had a very open format, which I much enjoyed everything I was looking at on the east coast was a very structured format. And I was done with that. I'd had five years of that at the university of Tennessee. And I was mostly just looking for studio. And that's what I got in Davis.

And I also got to be around people that were pretty well renowned, you know, which was a new experience for me. I mean, I had people like manual Neary and Robert artisan and Wayne Tebow and Roy deforest were all teaching there. So I got exposure to all these professional artists that I had experienced before.

[00:06:43] Randall: And was the writing community as developed then as it is now, right now, Davis is very much known as having great bike infrastructure. And UC Davis has a top cycling team and so on.

[00:06:54] Nick: It was definitely a big thing there. Vibe culture was big and Davis and. And that was a new thing too. I mean, most people, certainly all the students. And I think back then there were 16,000 students, they were getting around and bikes. And that was very cool. And there was a lot of road biking going on out there too, which I participated in, you know, I got myself a Miata. I forget what model it was. It was there a touring bike, which is a pretty nice bike though. When I was buying it, it was the first new bike I'd ever had. And the guys kept telling me it was too big. A frame is too big, a frame it's like, I, I didn't listen to them. Should have, but you know, I wrote it for a number, number of years Anthony.

Okay. But I realized in hindsight it was, it was too big.

From there. I moved to the east bay and lived in Oakland and point Richmond primarily. I mean, there were the little stints in San Francisco and Berkeley, but primary residents were in point Richmond and Oakland.

[00:07:52] Randall: what was it like back then versus what it's like at this time,

[00:07:56] Nick: Well, there weren't as many people and it was a little cheaper to live, you know, and as an artist, you're always trying to live on the cheap, right. So, I mean, your goal is to, to be in your studio as much as you can and work as you have to, to cover your bills. So it was cheaper, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't as a fluid as it is now. You know, riding, riding, you know, it was entirely different than it was. And in Davis, everything out in Davis is flat land. The only thing you really had to contend with there was the wind which could be quite daunting at times though. Anytime you had the wind at your back If the conditions were just right, you'd be in this little envelope, this little bubble with the windier bath, where there was absolutely no resistance.

And it was a remarkable thing to experience because the only thing you would hear is the pedaling, the chain moving through the cracks and across the cassette. And, and other than that, and there was no, no resistance. It just like you just flew across the landscape. And that was pretty extreme.

didn't get to experience that when you were in Oakland, I mean, you had the Hills contend with and climbing up to, to a skyline drive and running her, riding the Ridge along through there, and certainly more traffic.

[00:09:05] Randall: So, I recall you mentioning like over a decade in the bay area,

[00:09:10] Nick: 20 years. Yeah. Was in the, in the, in the bay area for 20 years, it was a good experience. We had, when I was in point Richmond, we had a wonderful studio out there that was a live works situation. It was a, it was an illegal live in, you know, it. We're it was, it was such a stunning location. I mean, you were a seven acre parcel, surrounded by park on the San Francisco bay.

That it was pretty extraordinary. It's just the kind of place you don't typically see in this day and age, you know, everything's been developed now,

[00:09:44] Randall: Yeah. Hi, high end condos and lofts,

[00:09:47] Nick: Yup. And so, you know, we, we lived there. It was one of my last places to stay. And the property was sold. The park system bought the property that we were living in and they wanted to incorporate it to the rest of the park. So we all got the boot and I didn't want it to be a renter anymore. I wanted to buy something. So threw a bit of searching.

We found this place up here in Fort Bragg and made the move, even though we didn't know anybody. Yeah.

[00:10:12] Randall: And that was just a parcel of land at the time, right?

[00:10:15] Nick: That's true. It's it was small parcel, just over two and a half acres, fully wooded, which is what I really wanted to avoid. I really wanted to buy something I could remodel and at least have utilities in, you know, water and power, but we had nothing. It was a fully wooded property lot. And so amy, my wife and I, we spent a year of weekends coming up to the property from the bay area and logging the property ourself cleared about 200 trees. And some of these are pretty good sized trees. And we did that with an old forklift that I bought in an old international harvester that I had with a big PTO winch on the front.

So we spent a year clearing clearing the land Then it's then it went idle for a little bit of the work. What idle for a little bit, as I was involved in a project down in the bay area that kept me, kept me tied up for a number of years.

[00:11:05] Randall: Well, and that that's not just any project. So maybe give listeners a little bit of a background on that, on what that project was and your involvement with it.

[00:11:13] Nick: This was this was a cloud gate. It's more commonly known as the bean. It's a big piece of sculpture in the city of Chicago. Which is now part of, part of their landscape icon to the city. It's a, it's a 60 foot long, roughly 35 foot high, 45 foot wide, perfectly smooth mirror finish sculpture that's in the shape of a bean or something like a beam.

And that's, it's a pretty remarkable thing. So. I was involved with that for four and a half years first working on that on equipment we had to build for fabricating it and then doing some of the prototyping and then a lot of the fabrication of it. And then eventually back in Chicago for almost a year to see its installation and finish.

[00:11:59] Randall: And for anyone who hasn't seen it, I strongly recommend that you use. Look it up. For me, it's just this really surreal thing, just plopped in this park in Chicago, reflecting the skyline. It almost looks like CGI because it's too perfect. Given the scale of the thing. And you and I have talked about the tolerances involved and so on and like, think about just the weight of it and how that dis wants to distort the structure and the material.

What was your role specifically? You were the crew lead or the project lead?

[00:12:27] Nick: Onsite, I would have been the supervisor overseeing all of its installation and it was working in Chicago with the local iron workers ironworker 63, local 63, which is great group of fellows. I very much enjoyed working with them. And you know, this, the bean was, was a prototype. It was like nobody had ever had ever built anything like that.

And it was a combination of old world in hands-on kind of technology and computer generated. Imagery, you know, it's just like, you couldn't do it without being able to work with the hands, but you couldn't have done it without a computer because of all the tolerances that were involved.

I mean, we had to have a computer set up a piece of equipment that would scan each piece and make sure it was. tolerance of what the computer model was and the tolerance for each piece is like a 32nd vintage.

So, you know, and then you have 168 of those to put together and, the tolerances are, are no less stringent.

[00:13:24] Randall: Well, and you have this thing that's mirror polished. So It doesn't just have to look good on its own. This mirror Polish is going to reveal any sort of imperfection in the surface whatsoever and distort the image.

[00:13:35] Nick: It absolutely does, and reflecting the skyline the city scape, you know, with all the structures that are running plumbing, horizontal that grid work shows up shows any sort of mistake in the reflection on the piece.

[00:13:50] Randall: I hope to make it out there in person at some point before, too long to, to check it out, but just seeing the imagery in some videos of it, it's it's quite an achievement, I mean, it's one thing to design such a thing and imagine such a thing, but, this So. much about the execution of that, that is really a wonder, so well done there. And that's not the only large scale sculpture you've been involved with. That is a, probably a pretty well-known there's, there's another one that was outside the mountain bike hall of fame for some time. You know, I talk about that and how that came about.

[00:14:20] Nick: Sure. So that's still there and that's, that's something that's sort of. You know, back in 2011, up here on the coast, we were trying to have a little put together a little fat tire festival to sort of open up the area to people from surrounding areas. Let them know that we have some trail riding up here.

There was some stuff happening in the way of mountain biking and. Someone asked me to build some signage for this, for, you know, to put out there to advertise this. And you know, I'm a sculptor, right. I don't do flat stuff. So I've sort of scratched my head for a few days and wandered around the property.

And, you know, I realized I had these two big tractor tires sitting here off of a John Deere tractor. And I thought, you know what? I'll just make a big bike. I mean, that, that works is advertising as well as anything. And at that point, I was riding, riding, riding Ibis mojo when their carbon full suspension bikes.

And I thought I just modeled well model the big one after that. So, you know, I, I I took a photo of the bike and put it on an opaque projector. Proper scale on the walls here and to lay out of the frame and transferred that to a piece of plywood and cut that out and started building to that frame.

And slowly went at it. So, and it was through working on this thing, you know, and I got to know many of the people over at Ibis and my wife, again, Amy, my wife, she contacted Scott nickel. And send him some photos, which I knew he was like, great. I got some bone heads out here in the woods that think they're making sort of an Ibis bike.

Right. And because a photo shows two big tractor tires will apply with cutout out the frame and it's like, okay, what are these knuckle heads up to? And but she continued to communicate with them and, you know, send them photos as updates and, and you know, as I. Nearing completion in this thing, he thought, okay, maybe this is actually going to turn out to be something kind of cool and tail end of me working on.

And it's called Ibis Maximus tail end of working on IVIS Maximus. Scott asked me one day, it's like, so Nick, what's your day job that, you know, you're able to do this. And at that point I just sent him a photo of the bean and he's like, oh, Okay, carry on. So anyhow, it was through making this big bike that I got to know Scott, and then then many of the other partners down there in Ibis, in Santa Cruz.

So all of which are a great bunch of people. So I've been very fortunate to get to know them.

[00:17:03] Randall: And how did it end up at the mountain bike hall of fame in fairfax, California.

[00:17:07] Nick: were trying to figure out where to put it. It must've been Scott cause IVIS eventually bought it, cause it was sitting up here, not really doing anything. It was sort of lawn art and I believe it was probably Scott that was looking to place it. And, of course he knows all the old guard down there and, and Fairfax and.

Joe breeze who runs the place is, you know, he, I believe he mentored Scott for a little while, early on, so they, they know one another. And so I think Scott set this up and, then segwayed over to Joe breeze.

[00:17:41] Randall: So, as somebody who runs a small bicycle brand, I can just say like what a cool, that must be to actually have one of your bikes, especially something very iconic. Like that's a very distinctive looking frame. If some bozo in the woods, up in Mendocino county ever wants to make a, make a giant version of one of our bikes.

I'd be happy to oblige, wink, wink, nudge, nudge,

[00:18:04] Nick: Okay. I'll keep that mind.

[00:18:06] Randall: So, all right, so now you're, you're in Mendocino. You've come back from doing the bean. You've cleared your lands. What'd you end up doing from there?

[00:18:14] Nick: So back from Chicago foundations in, from the house by then, I mean, it'd been in maybe a couple of years by that point, came back and, and started building our house and studio and earnest. And our house and studio are actually two old temper frame barns that we dismantled back in Ohio. There were a hundred plus years old.

They're all Morrison, tenon, wooden pegs, holding them together. Something we had. Going back in 2000 and dismantled in Ohio.

[00:18:43] Randall: And when you say we, you mean like you and your family? Yeah.

[00:18:46] Nick: yeah, Amy and my kids who were 12 and 14 at that point. And, and then Amy's parents and her brother came out for a week and I had a good friend of mine. That came out with his new girlfriend from Manhattan to kind a hand for a week.

And then I had a buddy that, that we paid to come out there for the three weeks that it actually took us to dismantle this. So that was a great project. I had a lot of fun and for my kids, it was the first time for them being back in the Midwest and it's sort of familiar stomping grounds to me, you know, I'm not from that particular.

We, where we dismantled the Barnes, but I am from Northeast Ohio and the lightening bugs were all off familiar. My kids got to see that sort of stuff and they got to play with fireworks for the first time.

[00:19:29] Randall: And again you know, the space up there is one of the more special spaces I've ever visited. You have me up there, I think three, four years ago. And. The home is beautiful and that's one of the bonds. Right. And then the back section of the workshop it makes me think of Craig Cathy's. South of Santa Cruz or in the Santa Cruz area it's another one of these places where you just have tools and projects everywhere and it has a certain degree of organization, but a sufficient amount of, of, of chaos.

And you can tell it's, it's like a place where a lot of experimentation happens. A lot of creativity happens. And just the number of specialized tools that you have many of which you've made, it's really, really cool to see. And you occasionally hold exhibits up there too, right?

[00:20:10] Nick: Open studio from time to time. And I'm hoping to do that again this year. If COVID actually is settling down, you're going to open the place back up again. So got lots of new work going on and it's good to invite people in, let them see the work that I'm working on, but also let them see the space that it's actually created in too, because I think that that puts a different spin on things and it gives people a little more insight to what's going on.

[00:20:34] Randall: Yeah. And in fact, there's a, you have a video on.

your website now, remind me the URL for your.

[00:20:40] Nick: So website is Instagram is a good place to see what's what's current and it's the same, same J Nick Taylor.

[00:20:49] Randall: Well, the website does have this really nice video that shows you and your studio working on some of your pieces. And then there's a number of your pieces. Put on a. Pan so that you can get a 3d view of it and you work in different various materials, metal, and wood.

You work on things that can fit. What are your smaller pieces and what are your bigger pieces and talk actually, lets you do that. Talk a bit about like the type of work that you do and the inspiration for it.

[00:21:17] Nick: So I'm working in metal or wood. I rarely combined the two materials. So my studio is kind of divided up in half. One, ended up doing metalwork on the other end. I'm doing woodwork in all the pieces. These days are pretty much inspired by nature. You know, my act or environment, they don't necessarily make reference to any one, given any one given thing.

But probably a lot of different elements of what one might experience if they were out in nature. So the work is pretty organic. The metal work I'm, I'm doing a lot of welding forging grinding to get the shapes. Their scale can range anywhere from about two feet in height to I'm working on something right now it's about seven feet.

So some, you know, some stuff's tabletop and size. So other pieces are certainly floor standing pieces. Larger, you know, largest wood pieces. I mean, what pieces. I'll tend to be a little larger. You know, they stand for, you know, maybe four feet up to about nine feet. They also are very organic, but some of them are carved from single pieces of wood.

And other pieces are a composite of pieces that are glued up and then carved back into. So all of them are very in a hands-on very labor intensive. I'm getting three to four pieces done a year, a larger piece, whether it be metal or wood can take me 10 months to a year alone to work on so that a lot of hand work.

And I've just, haven't figured out a way to expedite that. You know, I keep looking, keep trying to figure out ways to move faster, but it always seems to come back to hand work.

[00:22:56] Randall: Well, And just looking on some of the imagery, I've seen a few of these pieces in person, and there are pieces that are very clearly flowing with the contours of the wood that you're working with, but then there's also some vision that's imposed on it to some degree as well.

Some of your metalwork, there's pieces that for me, looked like, contorted musical instruments and every angle tells a different story and evokes a different set of feelings and images . It's very abstract. And very interesting. Looking at your work, it really draws one in to explore it from different angles.

[00:23:30] Nick: And that's really important. You know, when I was a kid and in school art school, one of the things that was hammered into me was, any given piece of sculpture should invite you to walk all the way around it and explore it. You shouldn't be able to stand on one side of it and know what's happening on the other side.

So it should shift and change and draw you in and draw you around the given piece.

[00:23:53] Randall: So let's bring the bike back into the conversation. How does the bike fit into your process or your day to day or week to week routine?

[00:24:04] Nick: So, these days unfortunate enough to be in the studio four days a week, full time on interrupted. But I can only be in the studio for those four days. And then I'm like maxed out, I can't put any more time in, I've got to put my head in a different space. And so I spent two days on the bike, out in the woods.

So here in Fort Bragg Mendocino area, we've got, we've got really nice trail system. And then we also have unlimited number of gravel roads. I mean, much of our mountain biking is in Jackson demonstration, state forest. If I'm not mistaken, they have a minimum of 300 miles of gravel road in there. Right. And then there are all these entities that bought up against Jackson's demonstration state forest. You have big river state park, you've got conservation fund. And then north of Jackson, you have lime timber now, lime timber and conservation fund land. You have to have permission to be on their property. But I think, conservation fund certainly gives that pretty readily and I've never heard of anybody having an issue on online timber and lime timber is 150,000 acres. Right? Jackson demonstrations state forest is, is just under 50,000 acres, big river state park is like 7,500 acres and conservation fund. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think there are 30 to 40,000 acres. In all of these places have gravel roads running around on them.

Right. I'm sure you could chain this stuff all together and, and get up into use hall, which is about an hour north of here. And, and, you've got unlimited resource up there for variety and gravel roads as well.

[00:25:43] Randall: And you're involved in a lot of the trail building up there as well.

[00:25:46] Nick: That's my, the form of sculpting. Sculpting the landscape since I've been a little kid was a little kid and working out doors it's part of my core as part of what I really love doing. So I it's like I run a trail crew up here work in, and we're building, maintaining and building trails and Jackson demonstration, state forest.

And we're doing that in conjunction with Cal fire and Cal fire are the Stewart's the managers of the forest. So we've got a 10 year relationship that we've developed with them and And it's going strong. You know, we've currently got some projects going. Everything these days is being hand dug though.

Two years ago we had had a new experience with getting some trails machine belt and we got to two and a quarter mile trail machine built that we were able to lay out and, and. Through a sponsor, a one track mind, better known as OTM who funded it. We were able to build this new trail that connected a bunch of other stuff together and made for a better trail system.

[00:26:46] Randall: So, for listeners, you want to explore this area, want to learn more about it and get a toe in the water, what resources are available, what clubs are available to get a handle on what you're describing, which is this massive amount of space that you could very easily get lost in and not necessarily find the best trails

[00:27:05] Nick: So the trail work that I'm doing is, is under or with Mendocino coast, cyclists, where the local cycle group. I could be contacted through them or the club president, Dan sweet could be contacted and we can set you up, we can be found on Facebook under Mendocino coast, cyclists.

That's probably the easiest way. I'm sort of thinking this through. I'm thinking out loud. And we have group rides, so that have been closed during COVID, but I think they're beginning to open those back up and people can join these group rides and they typically are happening three times a week, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. But we also, there's a list serve if you're a club member, this is probably the best way to get any sort of information is if you join the club you can get on a listserv and you can get all the chatter that's going on and you get notifications of rides.

You can ask questions if you're trying to find, find your way around for the first time.

[00:27:58] Randall: Very cool. so before we finish up, you've mentioned your wife, Amy and, you know, sounds like a pretty extraordinary woman to have supported, everything from buying a plot of land in the middle of nowhere, well, not the middle of nowhere in a very beautiful area, but, a good distance from the city to going out with you and the kids and, tearing down some barns and so on. Tell us about that dynamic.

[00:28:21] Nick: Well, Amy's a pretty extraordinary person and she's been game to go on a lot of adventures, and are adventures that we've developed together. She's a brilliant person. She's very capable. She tolerates me. She has her own business, a land use permit agent up here on the coast. She's the go-to person. If you wanted to develop anything in the coastal zone

[00:28:43] Randall: Clearly cares about the work that you do in doing things like, reaching out to people like Scott Nichols over at IBUs to get attention on your projects and so on.

[00:28:51] Nick: Yep.

[00:28:52] Randall: Well, is there anything else that you'd like to discuss while we're on the pod today?

[00:28:55] Nick: I think that pretty well, does it, I mean, please, please visit the website and Instagram and let me know what you think. And if you happen to be up this way and Mendocino Fort Bragg area, give a shout out. So we love showing people around and the riding up here is pretty extraordinary. And if you want to, you know, if you like being out in the woods, doing mountain biking, you can, you can go for all day rides and not see anybody up here at all.

You know, if you're riding during the week, which is pretty extraordinary to have the woods to yourself.

[00:29:25] Randall: Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. Well, we will be sure to get some links in the show notes for this episode, for anyone looking to connect with you or to learn more about the Mendocino trail network. Nick, it's been great catching up with you. It's been some time and as I mentioned, I had been looking forward to it for quite a while and really appreciate you joining us.

[00:29:45] Nick: Well, thank you very much for having me on Randall. And it says really nice and it's good to spend a little time with you as well. Don't see you often enough these days.

[00:29:54] Randall: we'll try to rectify that later on this year, make a trip up the coast.

[00:29:58] Nick: Alrighty you take care of man.

[00:30:00] Randall: Be well be well

[00:30:01] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Thank you for joining us. I hope you enjoyed that interview. Between Randall and Nick Taylor. Be sure to check out Nick's extraordinary Or on Instagram at Jane, Nick Taylor.

We'll have links for these as well as the IVIS Maximus and cloud gate in the show notes. If you're interested in connecting with myself or Randall, please visit That's Join our global cycling community. Everything's free. And I'm sure you'll get a lot out of the interactions with your fellow gravel athletes and also your hosts here at the gravel ride podcast. If you're interested in supporting the podcast, you can visit slash the gravel ride.

Additionally ratings and reviews are hugely helpful. And with that until next time here's to finding some dirt onto your wheels