For many involved in Indy's cultural scene, our city's reputation as a racing town presents a major question: How can we connect Indy's rich arts and culture to its reputation for sports? Matty Bennett and Brendan Fox, owners of National Moto+Cycle Co., have found an answer.
When this pair of interior and graphic designers transitioned their design business to a bike shop, they created a unique pastiche of ideas by combining chic design sensibility, a love for vintage, a strong connection to Indy's racing heritage and a passion for Indy's bicycle community.
They've redone some of Indy's most fashionable restaurant interiors, including The Ball and Biscuit, the new Milano Inn, Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station, Taste and their current project, The Aristocrat. Now, they build custom vintage re-creation bikes with a kick.
"We are a unique bicycle shop that also crosses over into motorcycle culture," Bennett says after we met at the duo's SoBro location on College Avenue between Luna Music and The Aristocrat.
The gregarious Bennett and the "still-waters-run-deep" Fox seem like an odd business partnership of sorts. But when the pair met by chance at Oranje, an annual music and art festival, they realized their combined skills could create something larger than simply design.
"[At Oranje] we both liked each other's styles and looks and thought that we should collaborate," Fox says. "Matty had his business doing restaurant interiors, Sequences Design. I was doing graphic design as a full-time gig. If we combined forces, it created a larger demographic we could tackle, whether it was creating artwork for the walls or helping with menus or fliers or even logo development, as well as picking the tile and the color and the cool lights that go with it to create an entire environment."
Together they created QuattroLab, which found success under this one-stop-shop interior-design and brand-strategy concept. But Bennett, a self-described dreamer, had a new vision for the business.
"Imagine if QuattroLab designed National Moto," Bennett says. "We kind of threw a stick in our own spokes, going from design to bikes. I wasn't really being fulfilled by the interiors; [it was] a little materialistic for me. We felt like a lot of our designs were being diluted. I feel like bikes — and that community — do more for humans than interiors. [And] we can develop a product that is exactly what's in our mind's eye."
"The concept came about with Matty working in the garage," Fox says, "tinkering with some of the old vintage beach cruisers that he had. He'd take them apart and rebuild a new bike with the parts he already had. And within a week he'd take it down and rebuild another one."
"It was therapy for me," says Bennett, who used to work in bike shops and competed in downhill mountain racing through the '90s. "I got away from bikes because I looked at it as stress, racing the anxiety. But then I looked at it as relaxing. I bought a single-speed bike and started to cruise and feel the wind in my ears."
"The idea was fun and cool," Fox says, "but how can you turn a hobby into a business? If I can do this for fun, and someone else likes it, eventually there is money in that. The concept grew from that approach and the racing heritage in Indy."
The shop takes its name from the National Motor and Vehicle Company, which manufactured automobiles from 1900 to 1924 for individual use and for racing. Its president, Arthur C. Newby, also invested in the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The company built electric vehicles a century before today's current interest in the alternative form of transportation.
"I've devoted a good portion of my life bringing National to the forefront again," Bennett says, "and what was going on there with their electro-bikes, and combustion and racing."
Their idea is to connect the history of the National Motor and Vehicle Company and the creation of the Speedway to Indy's bicycling culture. They specialize in building vintage recreation motor and electric bikes, in addition to selling single- and three-speed bicycles and accessories.
"We aren't selling Trek," Bennett says. "We aren't selling the big car dealership mentality. I'm not trying to become a 90,000 square-foot bicycle facility. We want to be that small boutique bike shop."
It's important to Bennett and Fox that they source products from growing, modern bike companies like theirs. The idea is to offer "a feel that isn't just straight off the shelf," Fox says.
"We're reaching out to like-minded companies — creative, progressive, got their eye on the future," Bennett says. "It's amazing how much our design influences come into play. Especially when we're selecting new manufacturers, or new elements are going in. We pride ourselves on sourcing the uncommon."
The shop has a distinctive yet divergent quality, feeling both new and old. From the vintage Sunoco sign that both once lived in Bennett's grandfather's gas station, to original National Moto advertisements and vintage pictures, chic antique is a way of life for these guys.
"I grew up in [my grandfather's] antique shop," Bennett says. "[Sometimes], I feel like this is my grandpa's shop. It's got a soul to it that means a lot to me. I know Brendan feels the same way. People seem to suck that in through osmosis after spending a little time here."
"One of our most fulfilling compliments," Fox says, "is when we talk to an older person and their first question is 'What year is that bike from? And how did you restore it to that look?' They think that it's an old bike because it looks like an old bike, even though it's brand new."
Whether you're in the market for a new/old bike or not, Fox and Bennett are eager to welcome the community into their National Moto home.
"We want people to be able to walk through the neighborhood and pop into the store and just hang out," Fox says. "Everybody who comes in, we personally greet them, meet them, get their name, talk to them. Maybe they're just coming in to look, but they'll end up staying for 15 or 20 minutes and enjoy their time here. Whether they buy a product or not, at least they can say they had an experience."
The pair plans to expand the National Moto brand, including a line of National Moto brand bikes and other products sold in storefronts across the nation.
"Our motor bikes and our single- and three-speed bikes under the National name, we'd like to see those make it into other markets," Fox says. "Whether they're motorcycle shops, bicycle shops, scooter shops or some kind of lifestyle crossover hybrid, similar to what we're doing."
Ideas for growth don't stop with expanding markets. Bennett and Fox have plenty of fuel for innovation as well.
"We'd love to develop a side-car/factory hack that you could put different elements onto," Bennett says. "We want to develop [and produce] our own actual frame set. It's really about staying ahead of the curve on new technology."
The most gratifying thing for both guys is the chance to build something from the ground up, be it a bicycle or a business.
"The low-level traction that we've got," Fox says, "it's been gratifying to see it move slowly towards its destination. And eventually, the inertia is gonna start going from a pull to a push. It's gratifying to meet the random people who come in and get to enjoy and feel the beginning. They'll say, 'We'll come back. We're into seeing what you guys do.' And they do come back and see our growth."
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