British team launches are usually a fairly dry, sedate affair. The standard format involves riders parading out awkwardly in their kit often in a bland conference room of a hotel. A presenter might ask them a few questions over a PA system. If you’re lucky there are some awkward jokes. The difference between a ProTour and a WorldTour outfit is often just that between the three-star or five-star hotel it takes place in.
For Tekkerz, however, a team launch is at a bar under the railway arches in London’s hip Bermondsey, with a live band, DJ and their own beer “Post Palace Ale” – named in honour of the Crystal Palace crit races. In many ways the squad, the brainchild of London racer Alec Briggs, are relative minnows but the launch is just one indicator of why the squad, who’s team car is a vintage mini-cooper, are comfortably the coolest in cycling.
That’s not a title CW bestows on them because they’ve dominated cycling’s traditional hierarchy of events. You won’t see Tekkerz contesting the overall at the Tour de France, the Tour of Britain or even the Tour of the Reservoir any time soon. Briggs simply isn’t into that: “Imagine if there was a marathon on every weekend,” he says. “I mean, you’d be like, ‘why would I want to watch this?’ Why would I want to watch a six-hour bike race for 21 days in a row. And let’s do that like seven times a year. I think that’s mental.”
You might not agree with his assessment, that’s a matter of personal taste, but in the course of our conversation Briggs will break down the things he doesn’t like about cycling and how it can be improved and Tekkerz is a vehicle, in part for him achieving that. He’s never moaning, he’s trying to make things better, make it more sustainable, and bring more people into a sport he loves. It’s that fresh, uncompromising but relentlessly upbeat attitude that makes the squad cool. In a sport with over 100 years of rich history, this band of mates centred around Briggs genuinely feels like something new.
So it makes perfect sense that instead of eyeing road race dominance like so many teams do Tekkerz sees riders riding crits, cyclo-cross and track all at elite levels. It also incorporates a series of skills sessions to encourage the sport at the grassroots and even dips its toes into event promotion. Though it’s worth noting that despite Briggs’s own aversion to longer-form races rider Neil Phillips completed the ultra-endurance Trans-Pyrenees race wearing a Tekkerz jersey last year and that points to just another way that the squad is a little unconventional in the best of ways.
“What I’ve always wanted Tekkerz to be is rider first…I take a small number of riders on each year, I’ve got five guys, a couple of girls this year, and I ask them each individually about ‘what do you want to do this year. What do you want to do what you want to achieve? How can I help you do that?’ All right, well, I’m gonna do x, y and z. So let’s work out how we can help you do that. Everyone has a slightly different plan,” he says. Though he explains he does ask the men to commit to the Tour Series as that requires a minimum of five riders to take the start line.
The team’s line-up is as diverse as that philosophy would suggest. Briggs himself races mostly crits; new signing Felix English is trying to get to the Olympics on the track with Ireland; youngster Callum Mcleod is mostly racing road in Belgium, while Phillips is equally at home doing ultra-endurance or a cross race. Then there’s this season’s women’s signings, namely upcoming Londoner Honor Elliot and Olympic team pursuit champion Elinor Barker.
Barker says she had got to know Briggs gradually over recent years and was considering “a number of offers” for teams for 2020 but that “nothing was really a good fit”. “I really wanted to completely focus on the track for Tokyo and not kind of be pulled each way by the track team and the road programme,” she explains. “I was asking his [Briggs’s] advice a little bit like, ‘what do you think we’d be the best fit?’ We were going over the different options. And then he just made a bit of an offhand comment like, ‘When you quit track you can just come and ride for us’ and I was like, ‘Why I do need to actually quit track, why don’t I just come and ride for you. Doesn’t that actually make perfect sense?’”
Almost every rider on the team that CW speaks to has a similar story of how they got to know Briggs and ride with the team. It always just seems to fall into place. Briggs’s own story of how he started the team in the first place has a rather one-thing-led-to-another quality to it.
As a kid he used to ride bikes around the garden “pretending to be a motorbike rider” but struggled to pay attention in school. It knocked his confidence and his mum took him to Herne Hill velodrome, largely as a way of restoring it. He drifted in and out of the sport as a teenager, including spells riding alongside the British Cycling talent team (though he was never signed to the programme) and upon returning from university got into elite-level racing.
It’s around that time that he became frustrated with how the cycling industry was running. He points to the rise of Instagram influencers at that time, “There were a lot of entitled people just grabbing loads of kit and saying they were going to do this and that and stunting [posing]… I couldn’t find anyone that I wanted to rep 100 per cent and back them, so I said ‘why don’t I do my own thing?’ And then whatever I’m putting out is 100 per cent on me.”
What he’s putting out is a lot. Briggs’s brain seems to crackle constantly with ideas as we speak there are plans for a cyclo-cross-crit series, which are still in the works; he says he’d one day like to break down barriers to entry with a development race series where all the kids are on the same bikes; he’d like to see more readily available info on the basics for getting into racing, such as when to arrive and what to eat before a race, a desire borne of his own experience: “I was just eating Coco-Pops and toast,” he chuckles, “Nothing really changes.”
Even when we ask about the suspension of racing due to Covid-19 he’s upbeat, refusing to be upset that he did his most structured winter training ever to be in good shape for a season that never got started. And he says lockdown has led to conversations about further projects under the Tekkerz banner that he “can’t really talk about”.
It’s not just a race team to him. “I do have a five-year plan I’m not going to lie…I see it as a brand,” he explains. “In terms of the content that’s going to come out and the videos, we’re going to put out, music and all that kind of stuff, all that’s going to be a lot more approachable and enticing to people that are not inside cycling.”
He points to Palace skateboards, a company that grew beyond its roots in the London skate scene to become a worldwide street fashion brand collaborating with sports titans Adidas and Reebok. “Skateboarders naturally had that culture of street wear and fashion, everyone’s always bought skateboards look cool. And Cycling is an extremely uncool sport, let’s face it. To the outsider it’s just like why is that bredda in lycra inside a cafe? I don’t understand.'” While he says there’s plenty of stuff in cycling that does look cool he wants Tekkerz to be a bridge that helps bring people into the sport by having a different vibe.
“That’s kind of why I threw that massive party recently, it was because I wanted to bring those worlds together. And so if you’re a cyclist or not, you come to that and go, I’m actually having a sick time. I’m just drinking beer, I’m with my mates, I’m listening to good music, and there’s my cycling orientated stuff here. So I understand why, what got me here, but now I’m here, I’m just having a good time.”
It’s not surprising then that Briggs is intimately involved in every detail from kit design to video direction. The team’s dinosaur logo one team member tells us is inspired by the “iconic” dinosaur statues at Briggs’s home Crystal Palace crit, though another says Briggs just did it, “because it looks cool and no-one has done it before”.
Though Briggs’ involvement is evolving he says that other members of the team already have projects in the works that were their ideas that they’ll take a greater lead on. Plus, he is hopeful that Elliott will one day run the women’s side of the squad. Briggs is humble saying he doesn’t want to be a man in charge of a women’s team as he’ll likely just make mistakes operating in a side of the sport that is very different in its structure.
They might not be winning the Tour de France any time soon but be prepared to see a lot more of Tekkerz in the coming years, probably where you might least expect it.
Euan Macleod – The young buck
Seventeen year-old Euan Macleod joined Tekkerz this season. He first met Tekkerz founder Alec Briggs at a skills session he was running. “This kid just had so much energy and he’s like, cracking me up and he’s really good at riding a bike,” recalls Briggs. “He was telling me a lot about school and how he was struggling and I empathised a lot with what he was saying…I offered him a ride for Tekkerz on the basis that he stayed in school, and I helped him manage his studies better.”
“I can’t’ sit still,” says Macleod. “I always have to be doing something. And I think that is why me and Alec got on so well in the first place because we’re just pretty similar.” He says he had just finished his GCSEs and was ready to finish school when Briggs helped convinced him to do A-levels, so he had something under his belt.
“I wouldn’t really say I’m a typical road cyclist. I started off racing mountain bikes and I just like the fun the fast stuff rather than looking at your power meter and doing a 10-mile time trial.” It’s surprising then to hear him say he wants to be in the WorldTour but is conscious that the suspension of racing has damaged his chances of stepping up this year.
Felix English – Irish contender, the Olympic hopeful
“I raced with Alec when I was 14,” recalls Felix English. He was on the British Cycling talent team and would race alongside Briggs regularly but they lost touch as he went off in pursuit of his Olympic goals. Now racing for Ireland he says he had an offer from another fixed-gear racing team and contacted Briggs to ask about the scene. In the course of that conversation, he ended up racing for Tekkerz.
“He told me that they do a bit of everything and the riders kind of dictate what they want to do. And I’ve never heard that from someone who has a team before,” he says. “My first priority at the moment is the track, which was a big turn off for road teams but then he was the opposite. It was like, right, ‘I want to do everything I can to support you doing what you want to do’. Which was pretty alien. I didn’t know what to make of it at first.”
English rode for Rapha-Condor and Madison-Genesis in the past and recalls that he wasn’t given any decisions in anything. His track goals were his priority and Briggs said he wanted to do things to support that.
English says he was looking forward to “ripping up” the Tour Series but with that, along with all other racing suspended he’ll hopefully likely extend his stint with Tekkerz into next year.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.