(Photos © J. Maus)
Carbon fiber has been the darling of the bike industry for years now. Lance Armstrong’s dominance aboard Trek’s OCLV model in the early part of this decade, and an industry-wide obsession for lightweight performance (and a need to sell new bikes), turned carbon fiber into the Next Big Thing.
With Portland’s burgeoning bike industry, it was only a matter of time before the magical material ended up here.
Shawn Small, 25, is the man behind Ruckus Components, a fledgling company he founded in early 2009 that operates from a non-descript warehouse (which he shares with another bike company, Portland Design Works) in Southeast Portland’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
Small has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin (his senior thesis was on residential wind turbines, one of which he has tattooed on his calf) and he worked in a variety of related industries before moving to Portland one year ago. “I was ready to move and I loved the bike scene here. I figured it would be a perfect place to start my company.” (The only downside to being in Portland, he says, is a lack of complementary heavy industry.)
Ruckus’ first fully-developed product was a carbon fiber chainguard. A chainguard protects the chain and chainrings from being damaged by rocks and crashes. Small created his first prototype on a computer in his attic three years ago and now has several bike dealers (in both Milwaukee and Portland) placing orders.
Small has come a long way since those days in his attic. He currently works out of a 1,200 square-foot, three-room warehouse space and spends much of his time piloting his new machine — a CNC router he controls from a nearby laptop. The router allows Small to quickly cut intricate designs into carbon fiber and aluminum.
During a recent shop visit, Small shared his passion for carbon fiber. Quite unlike any other material used in the bike component world, carbon is a textile that comes in strands that are then woven and molded to desired effect. Standing over swatches of various types of fiber, Small’s enthusiasm for his work was obvious. Working with carbon fiber “can be intense” he said. “If you really want to maximize something, you’ve got to go crazy with it.”
With his chainguards finding a place in the market, Small is already ‘crazy’ at work on other products. Next up will be carbon fiber fenders, a rarity in the bike industry. “I’m trying to bridge that gap between performance and transportation-minded products.” Small said he was tired of going through a set of plastic fenders each season, and thinks others will want a durable set that are also light and strong.
Another product that sets Ruckus apart in the carbon fiber field is his new “Porteur” front rack. Small teamed up with local rack maker Tad Bamford of TCB Racks and added a platform built from carbon fiber and wood (good for vibration dampening he says). Small then cuts away the carbon fiber, exposing a design on the wood.
Small makes the platform. The rack is made by TCB Racks.
Final version of rack will have a back stop and a rail in front.
Looking to someday become a full-fledged component company, Small is also working on stems (due by next year), seatposts, and his most ambitious project to date — a “fully custom” carbon fiber frame.
Holding the cyclocross frame (which he hopes to race this season) in one hand, Small explained what makes his “fully custom”. “I make my own tubing [versus buying and then joining pre-made carbon fiber tubing]… I can fine-tune every part of the frame.”
Like any small business owner in the start-up phase, Small puts in long hours in his shop. 70-hour weeks are normal these days, but he hopes to have two part-time employees by next spring. To keep things fun, Small started the Ruckus Test Team over the summer, with the idea that members will help him test products in the future (they also won “Best Jersey” at the recent MS150 ride).
As his business blossoms, Small says his drive to succeed come from a frustration with the bike industry. Citing what he calls “a lot of copying and not a lot of real engineering”, he takes his company name to heart. “It’s not just the name of the company, it’s my motto as well. I want to create a disturbance in the bike industry by using carbon differently.”
Small’s dream projects are a carbon fiber penny-farthing and a 14 pound, folding travel bike. With ideas like that, he’s well on his way.