Bike Builders

Eugene’s bike industry carves out niche after niche

Inside Bike Friday’s production facilityPhoto by Todd Cooper

Bikes are born in Eugene. Eugene’s relatively good riding conditions draw cyclists to the area, where many innovate and stay. These are three bike builders in Eugene committed to building a bike economy.

The Bike in your Suitcase

Bike Friday’s cycles stick out — and fold up. The company specializes in custom small-wheeled, foldable bikes. General Manager Hanna Scholz’s father and uncle founded the company after an unsatisfactory experience traveling with another brand’s folding bike.

“My dad and my uncle decided they would try to make a really high-quality riding bicycle that you could also fold up and fit into a regular airline checkable suitcase,” Scholz says. “It made it possible for people like them, who are racing and training regularly, to have a very nice bike that rides well and they could take anywhere with them.”

Today, Bike Friday has sold more than 40,000 cycles. Within the foldable bike industry, Scholz says, Bike Friday specializes in high-end, custom bicycles. “One thing about folding bikes from most manufacturers is that they’re a one size fits all, which doesn’t actually fit at least half the people,” she says. “When a bike doesn’t fit properly, it hurts to ride it and people don’t ride it as often.”

About 40 percent of Bike Fridays — named for Robinson Crusoe’s sidekick — are shipping outside of the U.S., many to countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, China and Japan. “In those areas in Asia, folding bikes are a lot more common and small-wheeled bikes are a lot more common,” Scholz explains, adding that a lot of customers in Asia live in small quarters. “Having the bike fold up and fit in a small place for storage, as well as on public transportation, or the need to get to work and back and when they’re at work store it in a small place as well — all of those situations are much more common in Asian countries than in the U.S.”

Despite the bikes’ popularity, a lot of people still ask Scholz if the signature small wheels translate to harder pedaling. “You don’t have to pedal more,” she says. “We have the gearing adjusted so that the relationship of the chain rings, the cassette cogs and the wheel size are adjusted so you pedal the same amount to get the same distance.”

Bike Friday’s foldable cycles have inspired riding groups devoted to the bikes as far away as Australia.
Photos by Todd Cooper.

Bike Friday isn’t limited to folding bikes. Now the company is working on solving another problem: making a bike that is the perfect fit for a range of riders. The Osada has been partially released in batches to Safe Routes to School groups. “It adjusts so that a 4-foot-6 person could ride the same bike as a 6-foot-4 person,” Scholz says. Bike Friday is also working on a cargo bike with the same adjustable technology.

Good Clean Design

A perfect fit with a clean design is the primary objective at Co-Motion Cycles. “We always think of the purpose of the bikes,” says co-owner Dwan Shepard, “and if there’s a feature that’s not needed to accomplish the purpose of the bike, then it’s not there.”

Co-Motion Cycles is dedicated to staying in Eugene. Photo by Trask Bedortha.

That philosophy extends from touring bikes to cyclocross to tandems. Shepard says that challenges come with making so many different styles and customizable options. “We have to be better than bikes that are available off the shelf in a bike store, stuff that’s made in China that’s cheap,” he says. “But we don’t really begrudge those bikes because most of our customers come from a background of having owned a cheaper bike, and they’re looking for something that can accomplish the task better that is really designed to do the kind of cycling that they’re doing.”

Shepard says he hopes that when potential customers consider Co-Motion’s bikes, they see the time and energy that goes into both the building of the bicycle and the design and its execution. “When it comes to mounting your racks and your fenders and putting the parts on the bike and supporting all those things in perfect alignment, the experience is something you can touch and feel,” he says.

While Co-Motion has dealers in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, England, Germany, Switzerland and France, its owners and employees are attached to Eugene. “Once you have a business that’s successfully producing bicycles, you are bombarded with solicitations to produce those things elsewhere, primarily in Asia,” Shepard says, “but to me and to [co-owner] Dan [Vrijmoet], the value that we have that’s higher than any other is that we do make our bikes right here, and they are made by people who are part of the community.”

Rob English of English Cycles transitioned to full-time bike creation in 2013 after building his business since 2009. Photo by Trask Bedortha

Perfectly Engineered

Eugene’s bike-building industry has startups, too. English Cycles’ Rob English left Bike Friday in 2013, and now he makes between 25 and 30 bikes a year on his own. Last year, an English Cycles time trial bike won Best in Show at the North American Handmade Bike Show. English fabricated about 80 percent of the bike. “It was kind of nice to do something that was completely unique and integrated and create all of the separate parts myself,” he says.

Most English Cycles bikes are road bikes. “Some people are racers, but it’s mostly just people who really enjoy riding and are looking for something that’s a bit different from cookie-cutter carbon bikes that they see,” English says, “or people who can’t get the fit that they need on production bikes, so they need a custom fit.”

Design philosophy is where English Cycles stands out. English has a degree in mechanical engineering, and he says that people shop for bikes with false beliefs about stiffness and vertical compliance. “When you know what these things are meant to mean and you read the media and the marketing people bandying them about, it’s frustrating,” he says, “but unfortunately not everybody has the education to understand that they’ve been given wrong facts.”

Through a dialogue about what a rider is actually looking for, English guides customers to designs that reflect what they really want.

A car-free, locally focused lifestyle is the other philosophy that English Cycles is committed to. “We’re car-free,” he says, “so everything I do for the business is done by bicycle, from going to pick up gas tanks to delivering bikes to shipping, everything is done with bikes and bike trailers, and then I try to support as many in-town and in-state businesses as I can for my supplies.”

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