Your Shopping Cart

So far it’s a solo ride.

Los Escarabajos: Talking Scarab Cycles With Founder Santiago Toro

Peter Harrington |

"I started Scarab in 2018," explains Santiago Toro, the earnest, chatty and immensely likeable founder of the South American brand Scarab Cycles. Over Zoom, his smile takes up almost the whole screen. Santiago is a ball of energy that his seat can't quite contain. Today, he's at home with his wife in Bogota, but Scarab operates out of Medellin. "This country is crazy," he laughs. "Can you believe it's a 25-minute flight to Medellin from Bogota, but to drive seven to eight hours??" Santiago is referring to the slight problem of navigating around the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world with some of the highest peaks. Bogota, the cultural heart of Colombia, sits pretty at over 8660 ft above sea level in the Cordillera Oriental of the Northern Andes Mountains. Medellin, to the northwest, stands at almost 5000ft, surrounded by no less than 49 named mountains, few of which dip below 9000ft. The scale of the place is dizzying.


With my head still in the clouds, Santiago explains that the origin of what is known today as Scarab Cycles goes back to 2014 when he partnered up with a local frame builder. However, their relationship didn't last past 2018 when a few disagreements over direction came to the fore, at which point, Scarab Cycles proper came to fruition, with Santiago taking over all operations, finally setting up shop in January 2019, ready to begin the next chapter of the brand. I'm interested to know where the name Scarab comes from. "In the 50s and 60s, Colombian cyclists were starting to get pretty well known in the pro peloton," Santiago says. "Naturally, they were all exceptional climbers. Anyway, one day, there was a race, I think the Vuelta in Spain, and the commentator said that one of the riders was climbing like an 'escarabajo', a beetle, beaten up but relentlessly focused on getting to the summit of the climb. From that moment, the term became closely associated with Colombian climbers, that they can crawl and climb through anything!"

I ask Santiago how he would describe the feeling of Scarab. For want of better words, what the brand is all about. "I think the essence of Scarab goes way back to my time as a kid building radio-controlled planes and cars, then later at university studying industrial engineering," he says. "I've always been very interested in tactile things and product design." But, as he is quick to point out, unlike most kids who bought their radio-controlled planes as kits, he built his from scratch, including the absolute devil, the wings. Memories of balsa wood bonded not to other pieces of wood but to sticky hands, a bewildered face, and most distressingly of all, the cat's feet flood my mind, painful remembrances of my own misadventures with radio-controlled planes and super glue. My respect for the man hits Andean levels.

"All my savings went into balsa wood!" he laughs. "Although I was more interested in the balance of the planes than flying them, and later, remote-controlled cars, how they handled, the steering, what would happen if I changed one thing or another." Then came university and, as Santiago explains, he found bikes and "went a bit nuts." Why did he fall so hard? "It was magical. I'd always been sporty and loved tennis, but cycling, unlike tennis, is a battle against yourself, not an opponent. The bike brought my passion for engineering and sport together in a way nothing ever had. It became all-encompassing. I couldn't wait for the weekend to come so I could go for a long ride."

Before long, Santiago began to cast a critical eye over his bike and how it worked. "I could get a bit of the sense of it because of my background building things and my growing knowledge of engineering," he says. "But so much was hidden. For example, I swapped my stem from 90 to 120mm, and everything felt better. Why? What was the change of stem length doing? I had a lot of questions!" At his dad's suggestion, Santiago started to see the bike as a possible career, melding his engineering chops with a passion the elder Toro recognized as potent enough to survive the ups and downs of business and the rigors of starting a brand.

A few months of figuring out his direction followed until one day, two riders on Santiago's regular group ride arrived with new bikes. "One was a Pegoretti and the other a Bertoletti," he says. "And the next week, another rider pulled up with a new Firefly! Of course, I knew about those brands, but somehow, seeing these unbelievable bikes on my group ride made them seem real in a way they hadn't before. Of course, I couldn't afford one, but examining them up close and admiring how beautifully they were made gave me the spark to start my own brand, but one with a uniquely Colombian feel." Fortuitously, one of the riders in Santiago's group pointed him toward a local frame builder, who quickly became a source of education for Santiago and the final piece of the Scarab origin story.

I ask Santiago what he loves about handmade, custom bikes, and why he formed Scarab to cater to the individual, not the mass market. "More than anything, it's the fact you can change so much," he says. "Tweaking the tubes, the geometry, and the finer details of a build is immensely satisfying. And making everything in Medellin, with unique artwork that speaks to Colombia's culture, vitality and rich colors is a source of immense pride to our team. It's our truth, our identity, not a riff on what someone else does."

Given Scarab Cycles' popularity, it seems Santiago has hit upon a winning formula. Added to which, is the sense of community he brings to the brand, with local events welcoming riders from afar to see Colombia from the saddle. "There's a lot of good stress in our business," he says. "Our customers want the best, and they want their bikes completed and delivered promptly. But I love the challenges, particularly when they intersect with engineering. And I love seeing Scarab extend beyond Colombia, carrying some of the joy we hope to infuse into every bike to other parts of the world."

And now Scarab Cycles has found a home at Above Category. What does that mean to Santiago? "It's an honor! When I started Scarab, I couldn't imagine we'd ever join the incredible lineup of brands that Chad and Kalara have curated over the years. It's a dream come true, and I'm super excited that riders will get to know Scarab at AC."

Start your Build Since 2006, we've been creating the world's finest dream bikes with our signature approach to custom builds and customer service. Our Custom Program
AC Everywhere You can find us just over Golden Gate Bridge in California's Marin County. Can’t come to us? We can bring the bike to you. We craft custom bikes for clients all across the U.S. and the world. Contact us