When John Cobb goes to work in the morning, he is riding his bicycle around the neighborhood instead of commuting with co-workers.
His neighbors tease him because he is wearing a T-shirt and shorts instead of a suit.
But Cobb always is working, trying out the latest bicycle seat or other gear he has designed.
“I'll come up with something and I have to ride it a lot to see if it's good or bad,” he said. “I'm either happy or I've got to work on it some more.”
The cycling sport Cobb got into for fun 40 years ago has turned into a business with customers worldwide — from novices to professionals.
After opening a simple bike shop in Shreveport, La., and tinkering with bikes in his garage more than three decades ago, his business has evolved into manufacturing a line of bicycle seats and other gear. Cobb also helps fit cyclists to their bikes for faster, smoother rides.
“He's kind of into a little bit of everything with bicycling,” longtime customer Jim Exum of Tyler said of Cobb, “He's kind of a genius. … Especially when it comes to aerodynamics, he's worldwide ... John's really a big name guy for us to have in Tyler.”
Cobb, 62, said Cobb Cycling, which opened in Tyler in 2008, produces more than 15,000 saddles, or bike seats, a year and continues to grow. About 13,000 seats are packed in boxes stacked in his warehouse on Capital Drive.
“Our customers range from novice riders to absolute world champions,” he said. “We sell seats everywhere.”
“I decided I'll just start riding them,” Cobb said. He soon grew passionate about the sport and was holding bike rides to Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1981, he opened Racing Research in Shreveport, fixing bikes to make them more comfortable for riders and selling bikes.
Cobb started making bicycle seats out of his garage. He bought, cut and recovered them to make them more comfortable for the rider. It took him three to four months before he started selling them.
“Then it just grew as the bike boom came and went, I was fixing more bikes,” he said. He moved his business into bigger spaces as his business developed.
In 1999, he started traveling oversees to visit factories to see what was involved in having something manufactured. He eventually took one of his products to Taiwan and said, “Here, make this,” he said.
The first seat he created, the VFlow, is still one of the eight or nine seats he sells.
“I've got people who have been riding my seats since the '90s who still buy the same seats,” he said. “I've got people who would kill me if I quit making these,” he added while holding up a VFlow seat.
“Unfortunately for bikes, the seats are a big deal,” he said. “It's just the first thing you notice – wow this hurts.” Riders can spend 20 hours a week on a bike seat, he added.
“I was able to bring technology to cycling that other people couldn't,” Cobb claimed.
“I've always been pretty good at thinking up things … I have an eye that I can see something and build it,” Cobb said of designing bicycle parts. “For a lot of people a blank piece of paper is pretty scary, but I don't have any issues with that.”
In 2002, he sold his Shreveport business to a man in Tyler to get into manufacturing parts. When the business he sold to the Tyler man wasn't working out, Cobb moved here to try to get it going again. After that didn't work, he said he decided to stay here and open Cobb Cycling.
Cobb's clients have included world champion triathletes Caroline Steffen, of Switzerland, and Sam Warner, of New Zealand, he said. In August, Cobb went to California and worked with Siri Lindley, one of the top U.S. coaches for men and women triathletes. She had a 16-person team, and eight of the riders were having trouble. After spending three days working with them, Cobb said they qualified for the world championships.
Cobb said the women's U.S. track team for cycling in the London Olympics called him with problems. He sent them seats to try, and they went on to win silver metals.
He has also worked with supermodel and triathlete Jenny Fletcher in July before she won the Ironman 70.3 in Branson, Mo., on Sept. 23.
“It's listening to your customers and their problems …,” he said.
Exum, 68, who has owned Exum's Gallery in Tyler since 1983, said he rode bicycles a lot in the 1970s and 1980s and started back again in 1998. He has known Cobb for several years.
“People he works with tend to win … he's that kind of level,” Exum said of Cobb.
Although Exum doesn't compete as much as he used to, he is training for the bike leg of a half Ironman in October in Tyler. Exum rides five to six days a week for 150 to 200 miles during daylight savings time of the year.
He said Cobb is instrumental in helping put on triathlons here, helps local bike shops and offers free wind trainer classes during the winters.
“He (Cobb) travels all over the world and he's gone a lot, but when he's here he does a lot for the local cyclists,” Exum said.
“It's cradle to grave here,” he said of his business. “It's kind of a rarity that you can do the whole process all the way through.”
Cobb, who earned an art degree from Texas State Technical Institute in Waco, pretty much designs everything himself, he said.
“I design various products as I think of the path I want to go,” Cobb said.
Although his core business remains designing bicycle seats, he recently came up with his first piece of clothing – men's bike shorts that work with the seats he designs. He also has done helmets, gloves and various bike parts.
“What affects a seat?” Cobb asked. “What kind of shorts you have, how high your handlebars are…” He said he brings riders in and changes the relationship they have to their seat and handlebars to help make them more comfortable.
Although his business has gone global, Cobb Cycling has only four employees.
Mrs. Cobb, 62, is a retired middle school art teacher and works with shipping, handles the bills and does the basic running of the business, she said.
“Her fingers are pretty much in everything here,” Cobb said of his wife. “I'm just the creative guy. I work with the people.”
Mrs. Cobb said she rides as often as she can – at least five times a week — and she also runs and swims and does triathlons with her husband. She has been riding her husband's bicycle seats from the start.
“He's always tweaking,” she said of his designs. “It's pretty comfortable out there so it makes it much nicer to ride.”
She said the business has been a fun journey. “I look forward to this (work) so we're going to continue and hopefully grow,” she said.
Cobb said he tries to ride three or four days a week when he finds the time between traveling for business and training for triathlons.
“I'm not as intense as I used to be, but I go out and have fun,” he said.