Cyclist or not, you will definitely enjoy the sense of humor of the JVA cycling team and its lampoon of pretentious branding.
The Portland-based team recently launched a joke site of sorts for their spoof cycling-goods brand “Jahvahaah Internationale.” The site bears a striking resemblance to high-end cycling brand Rapha’s site, right down to the logo font. But one a look at the copy and you’ll see the difference.
Jahvahaah Internationale pokes fun at the fancy-schmancy seriousness of Rapha’s branding (they have things like “exclusive Yak leather road shoes,” lookbooks and cycling “films”) with slogans on their homepage slider like “Fuck it. Just label the coffee bespoke too,” and “Women, kind of an afterthought.” JVA’s Jason Borum took time with Digiday to talk about the site, the sarcastic fake/real brand and the whole inflated notion of lifestyle brands.
Tell me a bit about JVA Cycling?
We’re just a group of like-minded individuals who came together through a shared love of riding fast but talking faster. We value punchlines over finish lines, though some of us are not slouches when the gauntlet is thrown come race day. If Woody Allen and Prefontaine had a lovechild, that would be, well, biologically impossible. But that would also be us. We are teachers and carpenters, bike industry wonks and technology professionals. Many of us have been riding together for years, but we’ve only had a website and matching outfits for a year and a half. If clothes make the (wo)man, then the same stretchy clothes make the team.
What’s the story behind Jahvahaa Internationale?
Jahvahaah Internationale started as just a joke to entertain ourselves. Our team rides are like rolling quilting bees. We gossip. We try to entertain ourselves. It makes the long, drizzly miles in the Pacific Northwest somewhat bearable. We make up stories and regale each other with short films that will never get made and hilarious ideas that would totally be Internet sensations if we actually had any motivation to put them out there. Luckily, we have a collective skill set that allows some of these ideas come to fruition. We never posted it to social media, never said, “Hey! Look over here!” We just quietly added it as a link on our team site. People found it, the message resonated.
The products you have on there are actually for sale, right?
Almost all of them. The flavored fender flaps were a beta-test nightmare. The kiwi and the strawberry couldn’t work out their differences, despite weeks of couples’ counseling. We’d be willing to create another set of bespoke Flavor Flaps if some brave soul really wanted them. Our chamois creme “Taint Paint” has yet to be “formulated” in the classical sense of the term. We do have real-life collaborations with honest-to-goodness companies, and the results have been extremely rewarding. Coffee-scented bicycle chain lube with Dumonde Tech. Some custom bicycle computers with Cateye. Caffeinated Earl Grey tea embrocation with Northwest Knee Warmers.
What motivated you to make an entire site that rips on Rapha?
There’s a common misconception that we singled out Rapha or that we have some sort of vendetta against them as a company. That’s just not the case. They just happened to be emblematic of many of the quibbles we have with the Cycling Industrial Complex, specifically the colonization of a sport we love by what we see as “lifestyle brands.” These are companies that put the marketing brand before the product horse. Rapha took this approach to its logical conclusion: Market the illusion of hardship and sell it back to the comfortably affluent. They have certainly been successful, and we don’t begrudge them for their success. If anything, it seems other brands with actual histories are still trying to figure out how Rapha managed to package and sell their manufactured history as authentic.
But presenting recreational cycling as a “super serious” activity is so counter to our personal experience. In our minds, cycling should be enjoyable. Rapha has succeeded in making the connection in the mind of the consumer between buying luxury goods and the hardscrabble, subsistence lifestyle of professional cyclists of the past century. Suffering wasn’t glory for those cyclists. It was subsistence. The implication that you can somehow buy that kind of cred is an interesting appropriation. In many respects our critique goes beyond cycling. As a culture, our collective memory is shrinking, our attention span is shortening. In the absence of true history, we feel compelled to manufacture it, to have some sense of connection to the past, however tenuous. Rapha did that. They cobbled together a mythic “history” from long-dead cycling brands and sold that faux history back to us. “Glory through suffering.” We prefer, “glory through not suffering fools gladly.” If anything, we’re just trying to remind people that cycling is fun. You bought an $8k bike, and you’re riding it for recreation. There is no suffering in that.
Do you think most brands try too hard?
That’s a tricky one. We can only speak to what resonates with us. We value authenticity over polish, the occasional misstep over focus-group testing. The brands we think are most compelling are those that have a sense of humor, preferably dusted with some freshly grated hubris. As naive as it sounds, the messages that resonate with us are those that sound like a friend who is so stoked about what they’re doing that they can’t help but share it. We all got to get paid, but life if too short to take yourself too seriously.