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The Portland connection behind the limited edition ‘Sequoia Merz’ bike from Specialized

Posted by on May 24th, 2017 at 1:36 pm

The Sequoia Merz from Specialized.
(Photo: River City Bicycles)

One of the most well-known bike brands in the world has just released a limited edition model (only 200 will be sold) that has a Portland framebuilder’s name on the downtube.

The new Sequoia adventure road bike from Specialized Bicycles has the name “Merz” emblazoned on the frame in honor of the work of Jim Merz. As you might recall in a story we shared of a bike tour Merz took in 1972, he was one of the first custom framebuilders to set up shop in Portland. After getting his start here in the early 1970s his work caught the attention of Mike Sinyard — the man who started Specialized. It was 1982 and Sinyard needed help building his “Stumpjumper” mountain bike frames which were taking the country by storm.

When “The Big S” wanted to bring back their Sequoia road bike to capitalize on today’s big adventure riding/gravel bike market, they contracted with Merz on the design. Below is an excerpt form an interview with Merz recently posted on the River City Bicycles website. In it, Merz explains how he first met Sinyard:

“So I had started building frames in Portland Oregon in 1972 or so. My then wife Virginia was working for Cycle Craft, one of the best shops in Portland in those days. So I had some connection with the bike industry but tubing and lugs were not easy to find in the USA, no internet!

I somehow found out about a guy in San Jose who was importing impossible to find bike parts, like Cinelli stems and bars. His name was Mike Sinyard and he called his company Specialized Bicycle Imports. So I got on his mailing list and once a month he would send out a flyer written by hand listing all the parts he was selling. In these “Bike Boom” days it was very difficult to find bicycle parts, everything was sold out because of the crazy demand. Mike had a interesting way of selling, he would list a bunch of hard to find parts and the price. You would pay up front and he would order them from Italy or France. When they came he would send them to you. Anyway, I guess he had some other frame builders because he ordered Columbus tubing and frame fittings with this same program. So that is how I met him, I was one of his first customers.

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Around 1981 he started thinking about making bikes. I kept bugging him to hire me but no luck though. He ended up hiring Tim Neenan to be the first bike designer… But Tim decided that he did not want to live in San Jose and Mike was adamant that Tim could not have the job unless he was in the office. So Tim left. Mike called me and asked if I still wanted to work for him. Yes!

… It was an amazing, crazy amount of work and travel. I met and worked with all the major bike companies and people. We got so much done, MTB’s were selling like hot cakes! I designed the Expedition bike, and updated all the other bikes including the Sequoia. So that is how I got to work in one of the most innovative bike companies in the world. And now this Sequoia all these years later, a little bit of Portland to NorCal connectivity.”

The bike itself (which retails for $3,750) is gorgeous and very thoughtfully appointed. It’d be perfect for loops through Forest Park’s roads and trails and could even tackle the singletrack that beckons in places like Stub Stewart off the the paved Banks-Vernonia path. If your curiousity is piqued, River City has a full size run in stock.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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48 Comments
  • Glenn May 24, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    nice to see a steel bike…but why are frames built in USA so darn expensive….

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    • Middle of the Road Guy May 24, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      How much should a limited edition bike cost?

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      • David Hampsten May 24, 2017 at 9:08 pm

        Probably more than a standard bike with the same components and much less than a corresponding American-made custom bike. This bike’s MSRP price is probably “fair”, though it’s also a fair bet that most of the 200 will be purchased by store employees paying the employee discount (somewhere around $2,500), then reselling them for a price that is somewhat less than $3,750. It’s certainly not a bargain, but it does have collector value.

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        • Steve Scarich May 25, 2017 at 8:49 am

          As a former bike shop employee, I would be very surprised if this happens. It would cut the store’s bottom line, and alienate their most important customers; the guys and gals willing to pay full price for a unique bike.

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          • Middle of the Road Guy May 25, 2017 at 9:17 am

            Agreed. I could see a shop owner doing that but not shop employees. It would not surprise me if RCB’s owner ends up with one. But that bike serves no purpose if it never reaches the customers

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          • pengo May 25, 2017 at 9:40 pm

            Yeah, also can’t see Spec making these available as part of their EP program

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    • RMHampel May 24, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      I imagine paying workers a living wage is a greater cost to an employer here than in Asia… that’s just a wild guess.

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      • Jon May 24, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        As an engineer working for a company that makes things here in the USA and in Asia (not bikes or bike related) I can tell you that the cost of manufacturing things in the USA or Europe is much more expensive than Asia, particularly where there is a lot of hands on labor. A die cast aluminum part, an injection molded plastic part or an extruded piece of aluminum is pretty similar in cost because the process is very automated and much of the cost is due to machine depreciation and raw materials which are the same all over the world. Welding a bunch of frames or laying up sheets of carbon fiber takes a lot of hands on labor which is super cheap in SE Asia. That is why you won’t see a high volume frame made in the USA any time soon. A worker in Vietnam is willing to work for less than $10 per day. Here in the USA someone welding tubes together makes more than that in an hour.

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        • Mossby Pomegranate May 24, 2017 at 5:21 pm

          Hell we want someone flipping a burger to make $15 an hour. A product your life may depend on like a safe, quality bike frame and we complain about what that costs. Wow.

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          • Matt S. May 24, 2017 at 6:27 pm

            I worked for a quality components maker in 2009, entry wage started at far less than $15/hour. Can’t imagine much has changed. Great job and company to work for, best time of my mid twenties.

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            • Pete May 25, 2017 at 9:54 am

              Specialized is in Morgan Hill and the minimum wage there is still the $10/hr California standard. To my knowledge they’re still debating (just like my city, Santa Clara) whether to follow in the footsteps of San Jose and Berkeley and ramp to $15/hr over the next 3 years.

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          • Nodoughnogo May 25, 2017 at 7:49 am

            What would you consider a good living wage in the present moment to be for a service industry employee? Just curious as to your tone here.

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            • Pete May 25, 2017 at 9:49 am

              Calmar Bicycles just went out of business here in Santa Clara. The owner is a very community-conscious individual (who’s also on the Si Valley Bike Coalition board), and he testified at city council that he could bear minimum wage at the proposed $11.75 level (by mostly hiring high school-aged bike mechanics), but at $15 he will likely go under. We’re not approved to phase in the $15 level just yet, but he was spared by losing his lease to condo developers.

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              • Nodoughnogo May 25, 2017 at 2:38 pm

                I made $14.50 an hour in a Portland IBD four or five years ago. Some shops pay less than my former employer to be sure. The substandard wage payed to high schoolers who’s skills are questionable at best could be a factor in the outcome of the shop you mentioned. A grown person living on their own, or with a child could never live on that wage and pay rent anywhere in the U.S., let alone Portland or Santa Clara.

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          • Mark May 25, 2017 at 8:11 am

            Many of the professional mechanics who service your bike make $15 or less. Think about that.

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          • Nodoughnogo May 25, 2017 at 9:00 am

            @ mr. Pomegranate … In your opinion, what is is a good living wage for service industry work in today’s economic climate? Just curious.

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        • dwk May 24, 2017 at 6:49 pm

          Again, read the article, the bike is not made here.
          It is made where all Specialized bikes are made, Asia.
          Do people really think Specialized is making a custom bike?
          They put the guys name on it, that is it.
          As far as the cost, I built up a Surly with Force 1. It cost about the same.

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          • caesar May 25, 2017 at 10:00 am

            Exactly. This ain’t no Made In USA bike. Specialized simply gives it a nice paint job, names it after some historical event or person, and voilà: a “limited edition” machine that can be marketed and sold for more than it’s regular edition bikes with the same components and build. Brilliant!

            Just wondering: can the Cherokee Nation sue Specialized for co-opting and branding the name of one of their ancestors to sell bicycles?

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            • Nodoughnogo May 25, 2017 at 2:43 pm

              Good question. I’d laugh my butt off if this were ever to happen to them. I lost interest in Specialized so many years ago.

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    • Bjorn May 24, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Do you know how much money it costs to sue companies like Mountain Cycle? Let’s just say it adds up…

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      • colton May 24, 2017 at 3:52 pm

        Funny, I was trying to recall just why I have such negative feelings toward Specialized. I’d forgotten the specifics until now, but the general feeling remaines, what, like 11 years later? I wonder if they have any regrets for their litigious ways of the past.

        Still, I doubt I’d be willing to spend that many Benjamins their way no matter how great the bike.

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        • colton May 24, 2017 at 3:55 pm

          Er, I think I meant romaine, as in the lettuce.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate May 24, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      The cost doesn’t bother me as much as the idea of buying a bike from a litigious bully like Specialized. No thanks.

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      • Pete May 25, 2017 at 10:04 am

        I’ve never been a personal fan of their bikes (mainly fit and ride preferences), but have had great experiences with their clothing, accessories, and some components. Recently I bought my wife a ’17 Roubaix which she absolutely loves, and I’m shopping for a decent price on their CG-R seatpost so we can put it on the tandem for her (well, on my stiff alloy cross bike until then… ;).

        I’m not the biggest fan of Microsoft’s biz practices, but I still reliably use Windows. (Apple is no saint either).

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    • Dave May 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Um, like, cost of living? Many bikes are built under third-world conditions under what I like to call “Dead Kennedy Economics.” Remember the song “Holidays in Cambodia?” The line went “you’ll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day.’

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  • dwk May 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    It is not made in the US.
    The frame is not the expensive part, the Force 1 is.

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    • Art Fuldodger May 24, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      What makes the Force 1 drive train special? I could have google-eyed it, but figured you’d have a better and more succinct take on it. For this amount of dinero, I’d support a local framemaker like CoMotion, who can compete at this price point. maybe no carbon fork…but you’ll be better off without it anyway.

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      • dwk May 24, 2017 at 7:04 pm

        If you go with the 10/42 cassette, you need an expensive derailleur. The chain and cogs are made for the single crank as well so you can run such big range without dropping the chain. You really do use all 11 gears which is plenty.
        The hydraulic brakes are really nice as well and the whole grouppo is as light as Dura Ace.
        I really like it.

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      • dwk May 24, 2017 at 9:04 pm

        CoMotion makes really nice frames..
        They are a lot more expensive than Asian frames like Surly or Specialized, but they do cost a lot more.
        The cost of bikes like the Sequoia is in the parts.
        If you used the same components on a CoMotion, the bike would be $5-6 thousand.

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      • Pete May 25, 2017 at 9:58 am

        “maybe no carbon fork…but you’ll be better off without it anyway.”

        Says who? Have you had carbon fork failures, and if so, what brand?

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        • Art Fuldodger May 25, 2017 at 10:48 am

          Nope, just biased. Nowhere I need to get to in a hurry.

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        • dwk May 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

          I alway wonder why anyone puts a carbon fork on a steel bike.
          It ruins the look for me and the bike rides stiffer (not the point of steel).
          If you want a carbon fork because of weight, just get a carbon bike.

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          • Pete May 25, 2017 at 12:57 pm

            I built my steel fixie up originally with stock steel fork and caliper brake but now run it with a carbon fork and disc-brake wheel and prefer that ride quality; granted I did that to switch to this better wheel, so maybe the fork doesn’t matter. I’ve never had a problem with carbon forks on my alloy and carbon bikes and our tandem, so I was curious if there’s something I need to watch out for.

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          • Dan A May 27, 2017 at 6:02 pm

            There are lots of early 2000-era LeMonds out there with made-in-the-USA Reynolds 853 frames and stealthy carbon forks that don’t look out of place. Good deals on CL.

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  • Todd Boulanger May 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    And what is a “fair” number of hours to build a limited run/ semi production frame set (and paint etc.)…20? 50?

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  • bendite May 25, 2017 at 7:36 am

    Where’s it made?

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  • Nodoughnogo May 25, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Colton… Let’s recall they own the legal rights to the word ” Epic”.

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  • bikeninja May 25, 2017 at 10:00 am

    In my fantasy future world, happy motoring is over, the entire real estate industrial complex has changed to make it easy for people to live near where they work ( this was the standard for 1000’s of years) and each child receives a custom sized steel bike frame from a trusted local builder as a gift from their parents and relatives when they reach physical maturity. At first they can outfit it with used parts , but later they can piece by piece equip it with the ideal components for their transportation needs. Such a frame will last for 50 years of constant use so there is not need for a new one. A true step off the hamster wheel of disposable goods, and planned obsolescence that is now killing the planet.

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    • Pete May 25, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      And what if your local builder can’t weld for shite?

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  • Jim Merz May 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    None of the comments even mention the bike! I have one, it’s great! At least go look at one before you trash it! Bad mouth Specialized? They make the best bikes on the planet, win all the big Pro races, have the best engineers and testing, plus give a dream job to hundreds of bike nuts in the USA.

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    • Dan A May 26, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Welcome to BP, where only elitists buy new bikes.

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      • Dan A May 26, 2017 at 9:24 am

        (Incidentally, I think it looks pretty sweet.)

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        • bendite May 28, 2017 at 12:22 pm

          I guess car owners that routinely drop $6k a year on their car are also elite.

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          • Dan A May 29, 2017 at 6:02 pm

            If you spend $14K on a bike you are Richie Rich, but if you spend $14K on a car you are a poor family provider. Them’s the rules.

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  • Jim Merz May 26, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    By the way, here are photos from a 1974 ride I did with Virginia Church. The Merz Sequoia’s color was inspired by the bike Virginia was riding in this tour. 1,800 miles in 21 days camping every night with all most all the riding in the mountains. I built both bikes, the racks and the large bags. Note the lack of cars! https://goo.gl/photos/s9DLMV8WXn5i6y8s6

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    • Nodoughnogo May 26, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Jim, you are an amazing person. I sure most would agree.
      I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you, but things you created, and the company that was Specialized did much to enhance and inspire my riding in the eighties. I would gladly high five you in a big way!
      With that said, I think many people have grown away from Specialized for a number of reasons. They have become a behemoth in the industry, and many don’t like the litigious nature they seem to exhibit .
      In regards to your comment on racing, it is true they have been sweeping many victories in the competitive world of the recent past.
      I’m sure their R&D is amazing, I’ve had a couple of friends, in the 1990s who were very talented engineers either work, or attempt to work for them too. They were always so excited to even be considered.
      Like all eras of racing, there will be a powerhouse that dominates. This is true in all forms of racing human powered and otherwise.
      For me,( and I want to express that if a Merz Sequoia fell into my lap), I’d ride the crap out of it. I encourage anyone who finds them attractive to get one and do just that.
      On the other hand, what I see in this bike, and I could be so off base…, is Specialized branding your skill and legacy in a romantic notation to sell a “Diverge of a different color”.
      The Sequoia of our day, (I owned two! I still own my original Stumpjumper, and two Rock Combos since new , and I will never part with them) is sadly enough not as desired and marketing need to reflect what is going to sell.
      The growth around All road, Gravel, Adventure, Rando on acid is loaded with craft builders, and Specialized needed to show their history on their sleeve in some manner even though they are so far removed from that arena of cycling now.
      That’s just my take.
      You are a major factor in the rise of a influential and important company, at a time when they were truly amazing.
      That is something to be proud of. I wish I had one eighth of your skill.
      I just don’t see myself as their customer anymore. I wished I felt the love still.
      Peace.
      P.S. Those decals, and that orange were always favorites of mine… Tell Virginia she has great taste.

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  • Rob May 27, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Didn’t Tim Neenan build some Sequoias recently?

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