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by Dan Empfield August 18, 2018

Rummaging through the garage, preparing for a trip to the landfill, I came across some old pics. I started Quintana Roo as a wetsuit company in early 1987. It was the first popular wetsuit in triathlon. We had a lot of immediate success.

I moved to bikes the following year, and my first bike wasn’t a tri bike, but a women’s proportional bike.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

This image above is of Alicia Steinhardt, maybe the first person I ever sponsored aboard a bike.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

I was at the Chicago Triathlon, this was in 1987 or 88 I think, where I met Liz Downing. She wasn’t well known at the time; “biathlon” as it was called back then was just beginning to stand up. I believe she had a Klein bike she was racing, if memory serves, but shortly thereafter she moved over to Quintana Roo, and rode our bikes for her entire stellar duathlon career.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

Liz was among the women what Kenny Souza was in the men’s field: virtually unable to lose a race for several years in a row. The photo highest above is a studio shot we took of Liz, I believe this race photo was sent to me by John Lillie, then owner of 220 Magazine in the UK.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

Above is Emilio De Soto behind a fairly rare 1x that we made. This would’ve been around 1990, right after Emilio founded his eponymous clothing company. I was very lucky to have Emilio and Monty (Mark Montgomery) available as first class models for our shoots. Our first sponsored pro male was Ray Browning, and his spectacular ride at Ironman New Zealand in 1989, the first ever male on a QR in a triathlon, put our new tri bike design on the map. Shortly thereafter we added to our roster a fellow who’d go on to win either 7, or 0, Tours de France depending on how you look at it, and a future triathlon star Greg Welch, just coming up in triathlon.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

We were known for our – literally – splashy paint jobs. Until it just became untenable, we promised every customer a paint scheme unique to him or her. I don’t ever remember anyone painting wheels to match the bike before we did it. This was a very early QR tri bike, the Zero Gravity, probably 1991 or so, built just after the bike Emilio is behind above. I know this because right around 1990 or 91 I saw a dropped horizontal (rather than funny bike style downward sloping) top tube on a Davidson and thought, “I like that better than what I’m building”. So I appropriated the idea from Bill Davidson and the ZG was the result. I believe this is the bike we were making when we picked up Jurgen Zack as an athlete, and Jurgen sits right there with Ray Browning in importance to the QR brand in its formative years. This bike above, the Zero Gravity, same frame, same components, same wheels and tires, in my opinion were you to take that onto the Queen K today you’d give up very little time on any of today’s bikes over the 112 miles of the Hawaiian Ironman. From memory, I do believe Jurgen rode that bike to something like a 4:27 in Kona in 1993, a Kona bike course record at the time.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

I believe I met Bill Smith on an airplane. His son, Spencer, was a rising star in triathlon. Like his arch rival Simon Lessing (they were both from the UK), and Lance Armstrong, and Australia’s Miles Stewart, Spencer was a phenomenon at 15 years old. All these athletes were racing and winning pro triathlons in their mid-teens. Bill, Spencer and I subsequently got together and formed a relationship, Spencer on our bikes and in our wetsuits. Bill Smith was an athlete manager par excellence for his son, and he made us provide 2 identical bikes for Spencer. Bill was suspicious of steep seat angles, bar-end shifting, all sorts of ideas we had. We’d set a bike up with one change, and give it Spencer to ride, while the second unchanged bike was in Spencer’s garage – if Spencer didn’t like the change he could U-turn the bike, bring it back, take out the other bike, and not miss a workout. Our ideas always overcame Bill’s reticence, but I had to admire the way he took care of his son’s career. Spencer went on to win a World Championship or two using our equipment.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Wetsuits

Above is Spencer and Julieanne White. They were both originally from the UK, got on famously, and had some epic training runs together.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Wetsuits

Here’s Julieanne again, this time with Mark Montgomery.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

When we got Liz aboard our bikes, and were building our womens bikes for no-draft racing, it appeared to us that Gripshifts would be an excellent bar-end shifting solution. This would’ve been in the late 80s, when Gripshifts (SRAM’s first product) were supposed to go on the ends of road bars, like road bar thumb shifters. I don’t think very many people bought Gripshifts (a twist shifter) for that purpose. But we loved them for bar end shifters, and became an original equipment purchaser of Gripshifts. Here’s a bike so-outfitted.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes

It took us a while to land Tinley. He played hard to get. But we did finally get him. If you find yourself in the position to ask, inquire of him someday about his Raleigh sponsorship deal. Great story! We got him after that deal had expired.

Quintana Roo Triathlon Bikes and Wetsuits

Here’s Paul Huddle, married some decades now to Paula Newby-Fraser. If you ever had a truly memorable positive experience at an Ironman, the production likely bore Huddle’s fingerprints.

I’m due to clean out the garage again next month. Maybe I’ll find some more.

Dan Empfield
Dan Empfield



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