8 Questions: Steve McCallion, President of Chrome Industries

Steve McCallion took the lead as president of Chrome Industries in San Francisco three years ago after more than two decades working in design. He has a long history of riding bikes before he knew it was a lifestyle. “I took the banana seat off my Schwinn Sting-Ray as a kid to try and convert it to a BMX bike,” he said. “I hit a jump and found the geometry did not work!” Today, McCallion has a fleet of bikes — he races, commutes, and tours, and he said he has not owned a car in 15 years. I met up with McCallion for a quick interview at Chrome’s headquarters, fresh off his morning commute through the city to get to work. —Stephen Regenold

Gear Junkie: What is the state of urban riding in this city?

McCallion: Gnarly! In San Francisco bike commuting is like a sport. It’s all kind of chaotic, with cracks in the roads, cars, busses, and more and more cyclists. It’s tight. It can be intense. The cars are close, you sometimes need to lean into a stopped bus or put out a hand.

Beyond a city rider, where do you bike?

I mountain bike, do cyclocross races, and then big endurance events, too. I rode in the Almanzo 100 gravel race in Minnesota this year. Those rivers crossings were ridiculous! I love all kind of riding.

What’s new at Chrome?

For next year, it’s about forged rubber for footwear. This is for the urban bike and urban utility shoes. We’re making the best vulcanized shoe in the world, the most durable. We’re making them how they used to be made, like Army Boots, with pressure and heat to fuse the sole to the upper.

We also have a line of welded, lightweight packs. They are waterproof and made for adventure biking, bike camping, and touring. We have a front rack duffel, panniers, and packs.

Steve McCallion pulls a Chrome shoe off a shelf at the brand’s San Francisco flagship store

What about moto?

Our focus on urban transportation is going to extend to motor. We’re building bags and packs for motorcyclists that take into account extra wind, extra heat, and they have more abrasion resistance. The fabric is tough. You can touch a hot tailpipe and not melt it.

How big is Chrome? Put it in perspective.

We have four shops around the U.S. We have 15 people at the HQ here, and then there are seven staffers or so at each store. Then each store has a sewer to fix and repair bags. We make our bags in Chico, Calif., too, and there we have about 20 sewers on staff. So I guess around 60 employees total.

What should people think of when the Chrome brand comes up?

Useful stuff that lasts a long time for living in the city. And then Chrome is a culture and attitude, and a way of living. People in cars go through the city, they are not in it. We’re on bikes, we live in the city and are more a part of it.

McCallion strikes a pose

What areas do Chrome products bridge into?

Bike messengers, commuters, moto, urban life, photo, skate, some surf cross over here in San Francisco, and also the urban exploration crowd a little bit. Those are the guys exploring abandoned buildings and such. And now with the new stuff some bike touring or bike camping products.

Where will Chrome be in five years?

Still making great shit that people love! I hope we inspire more people to live in the city in new and compelling ways. We also want to inspire a next generation of “makers,” which are people in this country who know how to use their hands and make things. Bikes are a part of this, but also art, photo, music, and more.

—Stephen Regenold is the founder of GearJunkie.

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.