Jan Derksen - Changing the concept of possibilities
Let me pose a couple of questions for you. Bear with me, it’s important that you understand the reasoning for this - especially if you’re a keen a cyclist. Here at Lake, we like development and innovation. It’s what drives us to produce the very best cycling shoes in the world. Anyway, here are the questions.
Have you heard of the Giant TCR road bike? Undoubtably, you have. It’s possibly one of the best-selling and most popular road bike frames over the past 20 years, and it was a game changer for cycling when it came out. Next question: have you heard of Jan Derksen, because you should have, and if not, then please read on and learn a little about probably one of the most influential people in modern cycling and, it’s fair to say, one key reason why so many cyclists around the world are now enjoying our sport.
Jan has been involved in cycling and cycle sport at a high level, since the 1980s, always working to push boundaries and to develop the idea of what we’re riding and why we ought to be riding it. Yes, I know that the humble bicycle frame is at its core level, a front triangle and a rear triangle, designed to hold two wheels and to go fast and to be efficient. However, you and I know that there’s far more to that simple frame, and how we change the size of the triangles, the angles, the materials used and the connecting parts. There are so many variables and so many possibilities, and Jan has always been the type of person who likes to look at these possibilities and to bring them to life. He’s a thinker who likes to put those ideas into action, working with engineers to get the best possible solution. It’s this personality trait and his drive that ultimately brought about what can only be described as the VW Golf of bicycles - the Giant TCR, which is why we thought that you’d like to know more about Jan; but first, let’s look at his part in the TCR story, alongside the legendary Mike Burrows.
The Journey towards the TCR
Jan started his career at Ti Raleigh, when the Nottingham based brand was still the leading cycle manufacturer in the world. Based at their Ilkeston plant, working on their racing department, alongside pro teams, he spent 14 years at Raleigh before he saw, quite correctly, that the U.K. manufacturing scene was holding things back. A call from a then small Taiwanese manufacturing firm called Giant, and two very insightful engineers led to a change of direction, and he set about creating Giant in Europe. At the time, there was still a degree of snobbishness and yes, arrogance around frame production; when you consider today that many of the best frames in the world are made in Taiwan, thankfully Jan was right in making the move, and yes, he thrived alongside the more dynamic company, where people were not afraid to try to redefine the possible in terms of road bike design.
On joining Giant, Jan worked tirelessly with their lead engineers, developing the brand and bringing a new vibrance to the cycle frame industry. As time progressed with Giant, and the confidence grew – both personally and within the company, he had, alongside Mike Burrows, been watching the early mountain bike frames and noted how they were all being designed differently. Being intrigued, and taking this as a starting point, the team at Giant took a mtb frame, added some road forks and made a few more adjustments, before riding the test bike for a few months. Their goal, with Jan leading and Mike Burrows in charge of engineering design, was simply to develop a more usable and defined road bike for how people wanted to cycle - not how they were forced to ride, due to the constraints of the frames at the time. Along with the two Taiwanese engineers at Giant, the development process and test rides led to the first ever Giant TCR frame… and the rest they say is part of cycling folklore. Yes, his vision in bringing together a team, including the legendary Mike Burrows, ultimately led to the bikes that we all ride today.
Heading to the Top
Giant, and indeed Jan wanted from the outset to be seen as a leading company, and so innovation was always at their heart - something that we at Lake appreciate and strive for ourselves. Jan and the team at Giant worked with leading pro teams and others to develop all the new cycle tech that helped to drive Giant to the forefront of our industry, producing a multitude of innovative bikes, and creating a bond within the workforce that brought confidence and trust to the brand and the company. Where they’d initially thought that they maybe weren’t as good as the top European frame brands, after the launch of the TCR in 1994/95, all eyes globally were on Giant, and Jan was on the way to becoming a legend within the cycling industry for his foresight and leadership.
It was quite a change from the early days of his move to Giant, where people had questioned his reasoning, and indeed questioned the validity of the then somewhat unknown Taiwanese brand. Yes, it was a big challenge for him, but Jan clearly loves a challenge. Speaking with this fascinating man, he recalls an international bike show with Giant, attending at Harrogate and only having a small booth, and then having to watch as executives from then leading brands walked by and mocked. However, only a few years later it would be different, as the new TCR with its radical design and angles hit the roads and cyclists everywhere wanted to ride it.
Being an innovator isn’t always easy, as it often takes time for those around you to catch up - but eventually they do catch up, or its they who fall by the wayside, because ultimately ‘the past is a foreign country,’ and the future is whatever we want it to be. Drive and passion go hand in hand with innovation, and it’s these traits run through Jan’s veins and continue to move him forward - in business and on the bike itself.
Jan the Cyclist
Part of what drives Jan’s passion for creating great bikes has to be his passion for cycling as a sporting activity. Coming from Holland, he loves both speed skating and cycling, and thankfully the two activities go hand in hand, as the muscle groups used complement each sport. He’ll ride every day, and if it’s raining, then it’s simply an opportunity to get on the indoor trainer and continue to turn the cranks - and yes, he still rides a Giant TCR, and why not. Thankfully, Spain and Italy are also cycling favourites for Jan, and he lists his favourite cycling road as being “the mystical Stelvio climb,” which I have to agree with. For Jan, it has that magical feel to it, and the area itself adds to the occasion and to the ride.
Choice of Shoe - Lake CX 403
Along with helping to produce the very bikes for cycling consumers around the world, Jan also appreciates the very best cycling shoes in the world - Lake, and our CX 403 road cycling shoe. In his own words, “it’s actually too good a shoe, as it will never wear out! The sole is super stiff and strong, made from such an excellent composite, that it’ll give years of high-performance comfort.
Thankfully, it’s also customisable, meaning that as Jan says, “you can change the shoe design to match your latest bike of gear.” Yes, cycling has in Jan’s words, also become a style related sport, and having great performing kit that also looks superb is important to riders - and the Lake CX 403 fits the bill on all counts. It features a slightly narrower toe box & tighter heel than the Competition last and less overall volume than the Sport last. It’s a shoe designed for very high-cadence riding & higher pressure and a slimmer fit, and is fully customisable, with a moulded heel too, ensuring that it fits like a second skin, allowing the super stiff sole to transfer all that cadence into power, whilst the dual BOA closure wraps the leather upper around your foot.
Innovation & Technology Drive Performance
When we consider the dramatic and game-changing developments that Jan has led, and the wealth of people that he’s met through his position leading the Giant brand to become the central figure in bicycle develop and production globally, it’s obvious why he’s so fond of the Lake CX 403 road cycling shoe. We like to think that we’ve put years of refinement and knowledge into this superb performance cycling shoe, and like Alan, we’ll continue with this passion for excellence. As a Lake Cycling ambassador, Jan, along with the rest of our ambassadors, help us to understand why we should never be complacent and always strive for more. It’s like our favourite bike ride I guess - we may not succeed on the climb the first time, and if we do, there’ll always be that burning desire inside of us to do more. By sharing these traits, Jan Derksen has fundamentally helped to drive our sport to new peaks, from grassroots to world tour level, and we’ll be talking more with him in 2023 and sharing his stories and accounts of world cycling with you, here at Lake.