Small Manufacturing Guys Getting Squeezed Out
~ by Bob Volpe ~
On the hot, dusty dirt roads and trails of Marin County, on the slopes of Mt Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, a small group of bike riding pioneers scavenged and modified old paper-boy “clunkers” into
what would become today’s mountain bikes.
The need for speed and more importantly, a frame and components that wouldn’t explode under the rigorous bumps and jumps of riding rough mountain terrain, spurred a cottage industry.
The early pioneers of mountain biking began welding and melding better, stronger frames in their garages and shops that could take the punishment those rough roads and trails dished out.
A perfect mix of competition, rapid technology development, and marketing strategy propelled what mountain bike pioneer Charlie Kelly calls a “goofy hobby” into a global phenomenon and a new Olympic sport.
Here in our little slice of paradise, we have a trail system that will challenge the most experienced riders or provide an afternoon of casual rolling along through the pine and aspen groves for the family.
As the sport grew, and technological advances in frame materials and components out-paced the capability of small bike builders to keep up with demand and the cost of dyes and molds to make today’s bikes, large companies like Specialized, Trek, and others pretty much ended the custom mountain bike industry.
According to Paul Magnuson of the Team Telecycle shop in Woodland Park, the small bike makers cannot afford the cost of set ups to make today’s bikes. He said, “The production bikes are so good and they do it for cheaper than one guy building a frame. And with carbon fiber there is so much more of an investment with molds and technology that a single builder could not afford the overhead. The molds are $100,000 a piece.”
Back in the days of small custom mountain bike builders, you could buy a custom bike from builders like, Klein, Richey, Fat Chance, or the innovative titanium frames from Litespeed for about $2,000.
Now, the aluminum, steel, and titanium frames of the past have been replace by space age carbon fiber frames costing upwards of $6,500 for state of the art mountain bikes. Magnuson said, “Entry level high end bikes now start at around $3,000.”
The new rides are also being made with full suspension front and rear with up to 5 3/4” of travel.
Carbon fiber technology, with its incredible light weight to strength ratio has revolutionized the art of mountain bike building. Not only are the frames made of carbon fiber, but handle bars, cranks, and rims are now being made of the space age materials.
The latest incarnation of high end mountain bikes have ditched the traditional 3 chain ring and 7 cog freewheel for a single chain ring and a 12 cog freewheel.
Gone are the old style squeeze the rim brakes in favor of hydraulic disc brakes front and rear.
Even tires have made strides to make riding more comfortable and durable. Early bikes sported tires that were in the 1.5 to 2.0 diameter size. Now the newest thing is FAT fat tires in size 3.0. These new tires provide more cushioning and better traction.
So where can you go to get in the dirt around Teller County? Team Telecyle offers free trail guides to the area and Magnuson said, “We have great places to ride. Rampart Reservoir, Lovell Gulch trail, and North Catamount are the three premier places.”