Erik Nohlin – AWOL
Q: Who are you?
A: Stockholm born, grew up in the south of Sweden, some years in Belgium and a stretch in Switzerland. I now reside in The Mission district of San Francisco. 18 different places I’ve called home this far and counting…
Q: At which point in life have you realized that you could make a living with cycling and what brought you there? How did you get a job at Specialized, and what do you do there?
A: I’ve always been into bikes. Went to art school for two years and my mentor, the great HC Ericson, told me I would never become a professional artist, my mind was way too structured. He told me about something called Industrial Design. I listened to his advice and applied to one of the most renowned industrial design schools in the world, The UiD, but hated the narrow minded and car focused mindset, I was a cyclist and had too much sustainability on my mind to stay. I swooped schools, moved back in with my girl Sofia and got back to bikes. My bachelor thesis was a bicycle and from there the focus was on bikes. I got my first big bicycle contract the day after finishing my master’s degree and I started my own bicycle design business called KiD. For two years I supported the Scandinavian domestic markets with industrial, graphic and strategic design. Had a fun time, developed my skills and earned good money working little and rode a lot. The design consultancy LOTS Design hired me and brought my bicycle customers with me and did that for 4 years, built a pretty solid portfolio with sharp successful projects, concepts and awards but I got bored when med-tech projects slowly pushed my bike projects away in the name of profitability. I left LOTS Design and before joining Specialized, me and Sofia made a little bike trip across the US called The Great Escape. I joined Specialized about 2.5 years ago as the lead designer for all urban and core bikes including the AWOL / Team AWOL.
Q: I think that the first time I read about you, or your cycling trips was when John Watson posted something about The Great Escape. Can you tell me more about this project and do you think that your life would have been different right now if you haven’t done it?
A: The Great Escape was a life saver and changer. Both me and my wife quit our jobs, she as a successful but burned out fashion designer, me as that bored design consultant working more and more in the med-tech business and less and less with bikes. My mom had just unexpectedly died of a stroke and that further made us realize that sitting around waiting for better times wasn’t an option knowing we could be dead tomorrow. The Great Escape was both a need for change as an adventure in itself. We planned the escape for six months before we told our bosses that we were leaving. Those decisions were the most difficult once we’ve made until then but we weren’t happy in life. We took off when the Swedish winter was at its darkest, ready for a new chapter in life. The plan was not to have a plan and ride our fully loaded bikes across the USA, following the spring north bound and take everything as it came. Simply to recover from stress and sorrow. As we left John’s house in Austin in March we thought we were going to ride our bikes for a year, maybe more, but after 6000k/3800miles and 6 months, I had a new gig at Specialized. We rode our bikes from Austin to Portland and down to San Francisco and I started working at Specialized. Serendipity took us there. In general I’m a believer that good things come to good people if you have an open mind. The Great Escape could not not have happened, we had to change our lives and find a new chapter, and we did.
Q: Did the AWOL project happen because of the Great Escape, or did Specialized just have a similar idea and they put you up to it?
A: I think that was a combo of serendipity, luck and timing. Specialized had been looking for a lead designer for a while and we found each other while we were on the road riding through Arizona. My crazy big passion for bike travel and living with a bike as my only source of transportation, plus my past as an urban bike designer led to me getting hired a week after we first met. I know they were intrigued by the story of The Great Escape but it wasn’t the only reason. One of my first projects was the AWOL and after seeing it taking off in a wrong direction and some key people leaving the development group, I simply kidnapped the bike together with my colleague Recep Yesil and made it our ride, our baby.
Q: In the series of videos from the 2013 transcontinental race, you tell a lot about AWOL and yourself, so I’m not gonna ask a bunch of questions related to that, but there is one thing that I’m curious about. If I remember correctly, you said something about traveling through all those countries with the goal of just finishing the race and how it makes you feel like you are being rude for not soaking it all in. It’s something I feel when I’m traveling by car too so I can totally understand you. If you had the chance to visit just one of the countries that you passed through at that race, which one would it be and why?
A: I still have a hole in my heart just shredding through Vucovar, Croatia like one of the bullets that not so long ago completely massacred the town. I have strong memories of the news footage from the genocide. I was 14 at the time. Later on in life I got a lot of friends from Serbia and Croatia, hearing their stories, passing through their home countries in a day felt disrespectful. Vucovar is not a place you just pass in a race. I’m going back there one day to pay my respect.
Q: Do you plan on doing something similar in the recent future, or was the purpose of attending the transcontinental race mainly for the promotion of the AWOL bikes?
A: Nothing we do with the AWOL is only a marketing gig. I’m a long distance cyclist and 4 time Super Randonneur heading for my second Paris – Brest – Paris. If we can combine riding our own creations on long rides it really is the best form of RnD and what makes the best stories. I will always stay true to who I am and what I do, including AWOL gigs; you can’t really fake it today. Kids are too smart. There are a lot of good products out there but what most people fail at is the inspirational piece. Showing the kids what they can do on that bike, that’s the magic. A product without a story is dead, just like a person. Team AWOL will continue to be inspirational and do gnarly rides as a part of making the bike better. The Transcontinental Race led to the AWOL TCR Edition and The Oregon Outback was the driver behind the AWOL x POLER collaboration. We have a lot of fun things happening in a near future, just sit tight and watch!
Q: Who inspires you?
A: My wife and best friend Sofia. She has the sharpest and most inspirational brain I know. She’s also a complete fucking mystery most of the times and my favorite girl to hang with, on and off the bike, we’re a great team since 14 years and I never get bored in her company. The combo of Bourbon, coffee, raisins, night time and black metal also makes my brain spin in the most best of ways. It’s not a source of inspiration but it gets me creative.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to and what is your favorite song?
A: I always look for the same kind of structures in music, no matter what genre it is put into. There is always something dark and dangerous in it, whether it’s free jazz, drone, punk or black metal. My favorite song change every day but todays soundtrack has been Watain, The Wild Hunt album is a modern masterpiece of black metal.