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Bicycling Mag: Portland-based Sapa will no longer make bikes

Posted by on December 7th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Frames at the Sapa factory.
(Photo: Sapa)

Bicycling Magazine reports that Portland-based Sapa Extrusions — the largest U.S. bike maker — has decided to “Cease contract bicycle manufacturing operations.”

According to Bicycling’s Chris Lesser, Sapa churned out 75,000 to 90,000 frames at its peak in the year 2000. You likely haven’t heard of Sapa because they made frames for other brands, many of which were secret due to confidentiality agreements.

Apparently, the bike frame business wasn’t going well for Sapa. Here’s more from Bicycling:

“Financially speaking, the bicycle division simply didn’t make sense to continue to run, [Sapa’s Ray] Goody says. “The end consumer doesn’t care one iota whether their product is made in the USA or Asia…Our volume has been going down and down and down, and consumers don’t care. So why should we stay in a market that’s shrinking yearly?”

Sapa’s move could be a boon for one new Portland company. As we reported back in October, Zen Bicycle Manufacturing just set up a 10,000 square foot frame manufacturing facility in North Portland. Zen will almost certainly scoop up some of Sapa’s former clients.

It’s important to understand that Sapa and Zen’s business models are very different. Sapa is a massive conglomerate with $5 billion in annual revenue and work spread over a myriad of different industries. Zen is a small shop focused solely on making bikes.

But even so, as Lesser puts it on Bicycling.com, “Zen finds itself in position to become the next go-to contract frame company for brands who still want their frames produced in America.”

Read the full article at Bicycling.com.

For more insight into U.S. versus overseas bicycle production, read our May 2009 “In-Depth” article: Could Portland become a bike industry hub?

CORRECTION, 7/15/15: This article originally said that Sapa produced 750,000 to 900,000 frames at its peak. That is incorrect. The story has been updated to say 75,000 to 90,000. We regret the error.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Straybike
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Straybike

I would buy an american built frame over an Asia built frame and will do that next year when I buy a new bike/frame.

9watts
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9watts

“The end consumer doesn’t care one iota whether their product is made in the USA or Asia…”

So much for voting with your dollar. Ha.

Buy used, folks.
Aluminum and the energy to produce it is not going to be around forever.

Adam
Guest
Adam

I think there is more to the customers (and bike companies who buy these frames) choice than simply US or Asia made or bottom dollar. Quality, innovation in building and customer service and turn around are all very important. Sapa introduced some very cool technologies that were later copied by the offshore makers and also helped develop 6000 aluminium (Metal Matrix) used in the Stumpjumpers.

Sad to see any local maker exit. Lets hope Zen does it right and grows to fill this void.

Al from PA
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Al from PA

“The end consumer doesn’t care one iota whether their product is made in the USA or Asia…”

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Bjorn
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Bjorn

Too bad, I actually bought my Pivot in part because it was an early frame made by Sapa, unfortunately I think they moved their manufacturing to Asia to save cash.

BikerBoy
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BikerBoy

Pivot was only prototyped out of SAPA. All production frames came out of Asia.

annefi
Guest
annefi

Both my bikes are Canondales and I was delighted to be able to purchase bikes whose frames were made in the USA.

Nathan
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Nathan

I wonder what kind of frames those are, Santa Cruz Blurs maybe? Looks like the BB stick out a few inches past the back of the seat tube.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…”The end consumer doesn’t care one iota whether their product is made in the USA or Asia…Our volume has been going down and down and down, and consumers don’t care. …” Ray Goody/sapa

I guess I understand why Goody might feel that way, but I think he’s wrong that consumers don’t care where their bikes are made. They care that their bikes aren’t made in the U.S., but can’t afford the bikes that are made in the U.S.

Cost of living goes up, so people feel forced to go for the cheap stuff, rather than what they believe in. Do U.S. citizens want to…or can they work at wages Chinese and Taiwanese, Bangladeshi’s and other low wage people work at to build bike frames for the U.S. market to be sold at a price competitive with overseas fabricate frames? Probably not, or just barely.

All those old electroforged Varsity’s and Continental’s that people still ride around today: Built in the U.S.A., put out of production because the production method and manufacture in the U.S. could not compete with the overseas labor prices (just a very thumbnail recollection which I could be incorrect about on many points.).

Skid
Guest
Skid

Are they getting industry insider information from the 90’s? From what I hear at ground level, people would love to buy American if they could. There are people here (especially in Portland) who want to manufacture bike frames. We have a school for it. The only thing that is missing is the marketing aspect of it, and we all know that if you tell people it is cool, then it is cool. So why don’t we tell everyone that buying American-made bikes is cool?

And what do you mean manufacturing is leaving the US (forever) ? It left about 30 years ago, when tax breaks started to be given for outsourcing labor. It is just starting to come back to America, with small companies like Zen leading the way. Their business model seems similar to S&M (BMX) Bikes or FBM BMX.

Sapa can go ahead and divest in the bike industry, maybe Zen can pick up their bicycle frame jigs. fixtures, and tooling cheap.

Bill
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Bill

Those arent Blurs in the picture. Santa Cruz is producing all of their frames overseas too. besides, the frames in the pic appear to have a tube coming up from the BB behind the seat tube for a front derailleur, like a Maverick, but Mavericks arent made in the US anymore either.
the crazy thing is how many people pay US-built pricing for Chinese made frames/bikes. Its not so much that many people cant afford the pricing on US made… many people can and do, they just arent concerning themselves with what they can get for the same money made here. I think its the lure of carbon which is all overseas produced.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

The problem continues to be that, unfortunately, 95% of America still sees the bicycle as a child’s toy that shouldn’t cost more than $129 and should be purchased at a mass-market, big-box retailer. I think that here in Portland we lose sight of that.

TonyH
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TonyH

Frankly, this sort of conversation interests me greatly. What manufacturing can we, as Americans, do? We can do high end “one-off” custom stuff, but we don’t do large scale stuff. Is it just the cheaper wages offshore? Certainly a major factor. But I also think of the conflict between our “rugged individualism” (the real American dream) and monotonous factory work. I think that smaller scale, limited production work would work better for us. It would be great if bicycle manufacturing could lead to a useful model for American-Made items. We – as a world, sadly – seem to be stuck between either the individual artisan/craftperson model or the enormous robotic worker mega factory model. Maybe there’s plenty of room in the middle, somewhere …

Canuck
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Canuck

Another aspect of the issue is the market.

You manufacture bikes in the US for the US market. That’s 300 million people. How quickly do you saturate the market? A bike isn’t something that we buy every year.

Now look at the emerging markets, mostly Asia; Japan and China, and Europe to a certain extent. Where are you going top focus your efforts as a manufacturer.

And those markets don’t care one iota about where a bike is manufactured.

spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

the idea that manufacturing left the usa due to a lack of demand is completely fallacious. the USA has been bleeding manufacturing for a generation because our government allows mercantilists states to artificially lower exchange rates (japan and then china). the usa has also provided enormous tax subsidies to american corporations that offshore manufacturing, services, r&d, cap ex, and profits. in particular, the american government purposefully turns a blind eye to accounting gimmicks and shell games that would get a flesh and blood citizen a long prison term for tax fraud.

and there is absolutely no sign that any of this is going to change. in fact, we are increasing indirect and direct subsidies to american corporations to offshore production, capital expenditures, and profits. both major political parties support new unequal “free trade” treaties with mercantilist asian nations (KORUS) and both parties have supported or proposed amnesties that will allow american corporations to repatriate profits they have hidden in overseas subsidiaries and shell companies.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Good for Zen then. Here’s to hoping that they’re perfectly positioned to grow it back to a giant business as the bike market continues its upturn over the next decade.

Barney
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Barney

There are a number of websites that will identify American made products. I think this one is the most complete.

http://madehereinamerica.com/default.aspx

The bicycle section shows a few local businesses but is an incomplete listing. Any business can submit for a listing. Looks like free advertising to me!

Champs
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Champs

For what it’s worth,every one of my bikes has a frame built in the US, if not ANY of the components they’re mated to.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Self-fulfilling prophecy, Sapa. I care! My last two bikes were American made because I’d rather have quality and support my local economy than blow my money on some cheap chinese Huffy.

Mike Meade
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Mike Meade

I bought my cannondale largely because of the Made in America sticker on the frame. I know all the components are from overseas, but until there is an all American component and frame to buy, I will stick with what I have.

annefi
Guest
annefi

Barney, thanks for the informative link. It turns out my second Cannondale must have been one of the last frames C’dale actually built in Pennsylvania. Now I’m twice as glad I bought it when I did.

Disappointed that they moved production to Taiwan. What do the “hand made in …” stickers on new C’dales say now? Anyone?

J.M. Jones
Guest
J.M. Jones

If we have the materials, the technology and expertise to build here…then why is it not happening? The experience that I have garnered indicates that (some) manufacturers are able come up with a good product, but fail to see the “entire picture.” A missing factor is the basic “how can we sell this product” issue. If you do not have a detailed plan to market a product, the odds of being profitable are quite small. Some manufacturers end up as a local company, or as a “speciality” builder or close their doors. The product may be fantastic, but that is not the issue. For those of us that believe if we build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to our door, well, uh, perhaps it will happen, but don’t count on it.
Lets say I stroll into the local bike shop looking for a bike. First thing I want to know is what a good solid bike that meets my needs is going to cost, then I want to see the item(s)……….
This is a KEY ISSUE, and I hope that I am able to communicate this well enough (no genius here)….
What the employee/owner of the store that is standing in front of me now is doing (if they have any functioning brain cells left in the case of us older folks) is easily going to influence WHAT I am buying right now and what type of product I may buy in the future! If you can interest me in a product made here, the odds are that I AM GOING TO BUY ONE. Maybe not today…but sometime. If you tell me that a bike made in China is going to work fine for me and they make an excellent product and “everyone” has frames or bikes made offshore then you have justified my buying an import product! Shops need to sell what they have. That’s just business. But these same shops need to understand that they are usually the single most effective sales tool there is! The manufacturer needs to ensure that the sales person is aware of and educated about their product.
Before getting up in arms, experienced cyclists have already educated themselves about the products they use. The sales persons approach is not going to have much effect on these folks. People NEW to biking (at whatever level) or those not yet educated are where the market is. Manufacturers put a lot of effort (time money and love usually) into their product and then hope to “heck” someone will bother to sell it for them. I expect the bike shop to educate me about bikes when I go shopping. I would expect the the manufacturer would educate the salesperson.
Why should I buy USA? Answer that question for me and I will be your customer. I WANT to feel good about the things that I use (buy), it’s like an added value.
If being in business was easy, everyone would do it. We all need to earn a paycheck, even people in any phase of the bike business. Perhaps how you earn the check could make a difference.
I will buy USA, honest. Please show me USA. Don’t mistake thinking that having a product available is selling anything.
Successful manufacturers focus on making products, but their eyes are wide open. Your future as maker of domestic products is too important to let imports dominate because they SELL more products. Selling is not about quality, unless you make so……as you should. Quality is a feature that is sold, but largely ignored.
I have learned that many things made here ARE better. I require quality and I look for USA made first, something I learned in business.

redhippie
Guest
redhippie

Here is something to consider. There is a bias expressed here that the buisness goes to China or Tawain because the labor is cheaper.

I have known a few people in in the bike, outdoor apparel and shoe buisness and my sense is that it is not strictly labor rates. Tawain has set up a complete supply chain where a brand can supply a concept and general dimensions and the Tawainese have all the design, prototype, source material, manufactering and shipping logistics integrated together. In other words, if I want a product manufactered, it can be done really efficently and quickly, and allows me to focus on the marketing, rather than everthing else. That is why you keep seeing small brands blowing up, and then shifting off shore out of necessity. The difficulty is how to build up a whole, fully integrated industry here in the states. Maybe it will take a consortium like QBP (Redline/Surly) and Trek to lead the way, and then make it accessible for everyone else, but they have tended to go the opposite way by buying up the competition.

Nick
Guest
Nick

I was looking for a road bike recently. Something in the $1,000 – $2,000 range. I would have been happy to pay 20-40% more for an American-made product but I was unable to find mass-produced road bikes of the type I was looking for that were also made in America. I suspect that, by caring about where it is made, I am in the minority; otherwise, there would be more options. I would have loved to support a local framebuilder but wasn’t really in the position to drop 4k on a bicycle.

J.M. Jones
Guest
J.M. Jones

I see that I was unable to make my point clearly. Sorry. Many of us do not buy USA because very few attempt to sell USA. There are a host of reasons why this is so. And it is good to discuss all of them. But the fact ids that most business do not attempt to sell USA products. At the Bike Craft this last weekend I saw a fair number of people attempting to make a living at both manufacturing and marketing recycled products for the bike market. At the prices they must charge, it is not an easy task, but instead of crying the blues about how hard it is, they are out there doing anyway.

Some of us are like Rush Limbaugh (and the rest of those idiots)…..We find it easy to find fault and shout it from the rooftops. But putting in the effort to fix things is bit more than we are willing to do…….
I manufacture nothing, but I will buy from those who do. If the chance to do a bit more evolves, find me at the head of the line… For some reason I like to feel good.
Making a profit is not always easy, and doing it well is even harder still. Doing nothing is the easy way. Buying by price is certainly easy.
I’ll still wave when you pass me on the road….

Nom de Plume
Guest
Nom de Plume

Chris I
I think that an American frame maker could find success in a lower cost “right to work” state, like South Carolina, for example. The problem is that these are the very states that are so culturally opposed to cycling. Any company doing this would have trouble bringing in good engineers with the proper experience.

Thomson is in Georgia, they are incredibly well respected and world-renown.

Shozo
Guest
Shozo

Bicycles are basically 1890s technology, and it’s appropriate that the manufacture of them would pass out of an advanced country like the USA.

With that understanding, you should know the USA is by far the world’s #1 manufacturing nation. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the USA manufactures over 20% of the world’s goods. Measured in constant dollars, the USA’s manufacturing output in 2010 was 2.5X what it was in the late 1970s. US workers are competitive and skilled, working more hours per year than Japanese workers and working more productively than German workers.

Yes, I’m aware this isn’t what your politicians and media sound bites have been telling you.

To be sure, a smaller percentage of the US population works in manufacturing today than in times past. A smaller percentage of the US population works in agriculture today, too.

redhippie
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redhippie

Oregon is a “right to work state”

PorterStout
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PorterStout

I had no idea we had a bike frame manufacturer in the Portland area with that kind of capacity. 750,000 to 900,00 frames in a single year, holy cow! That’s going to be difficult to replace. They must have employed a few folks too. FWIW, I think you can still find American-made frames without spending a “bundle” (it’s all relative, isn’t it). But you’re not going to find them at Walmart.

joe
Guest
joe

Pardon me but I chose my bike BECAUSE it was nade in the USA. I am a US worker and I support US workers. I would pay a little more for the same quality to get a US made product. The main problem I detect is that the companies don’t make as much money so they pay a slightly smaller dividend and a few million less to the CEO but they make a product I believe it. They make US jobs.

John S
Guest
John S

Well sapa, et al, certainly didn’t advertise or make it known that their bicycles were made in the USA.

As far as manufacturing. We are losing a lot of manufacturing and machining welding etc know-how to pacific rim countries. As our population ages these people are certainly not valued near enough for their almost indiscernable skills, that were learned through apprenticeships and hands on work.

Instead we value lawyers and such.. and everyone thinks they need to go to college..

It really comes down to the middle school shop class. If that goes away our society is screwed. Oh please don’t tell me Portland did away with shop class in public schools?

Well maybe the few handymen that are left in 20-30 years will be rich.

Slammy
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Slammy

Sapa assembled a lot of bikes that were 90% made overseas… they just brought the two triangles over, tacked and welded them together at Sapa… Presto “Assembled in the US” I think it was Specialized for the most part. to further the conspiracy theory, Kinesis folded in part to the Stumptown/Stumpjumper fiasco. Sapa was making the Stumpjumper… kooky politics all around…

the fact is, Sapa also makes lawn furniture. i don’t think the welders cared that they were crafting a bicycle.

Skid
Guest
Skid

Take away the tax incentives for outsourcing and impose higher import tariffs and watch how quickly manufacturing will come back to the US. The tax incentives and the lifting/reducing of import tariffs is what killed US manufacturing in the first place back in the mid-70’s and through the 80’s.

BikerBoy
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BikerBoy

Slammy – the welders took pride in all of the product the welded, and loved seeing bikes they made in magazines and things like that. And every bike that came out of Sapa was welded there….the carbon bits such as Titus stays, did come from Taiwan.

Wsbob – 100% hand welded…they did machine work (bb’s, head tubes, ect), coping (forming,butting, cutting) tubes, final alignment and machining. And at points even painted and anodized frames. Also, a lot of the customers (bicycle companies) did talk about their frames being made in Portland by Sapa. Sapa was not selling to end users, so they never advertised about it…but bikeportland and othe bike news outlets have covered Sapa and who they built for.

Skid
Guest
Skid

I will say that I thought that on a bike blog with bike people the reaction would be more positive about the concept of bringing frame manufacturing to Portland on a big scale. Especially with unemployment being so high.

On the subject of High School shop programs I know most of them have been cut, I think Franklin High still has theirs. I went to a Vocational/Technical High School back east, and it is still going strong. Portland does have something unique as far as bike-specific education goes, we have United Bicycle Institute. That more than anything is the reason why I think Portland can become a hub for bicycle manufacture.

basketlover
Guest
basketlover

Mr. Mahr built Franklins metal shop into the second best run program besides Bensons single focus technical programs. PCC used to have a night class that allowed access to the shop for personal projects, hope that’s still is available.