As Portland’s largest bicycle company, Chris King Precision Components is in a unique position to be an industry leader. With the success of their mini-summit of bike builders and industry movers and shakers that wrapped up with a big open house event Saturday, the 42-year-old company seems to be embracing that role.
The halls of the Chris King factory were jam-packed for the “Open House” show on Saturday. Among massive industrial machines and assembly rooms that put together some of the most respected and sought after bicycle components in the world, hundreds of bicycle lovers got an close-up look at a very special selection of bicycles and the builders who create them.
For the man behind the brand, Chris King, the gathering must have felt bittersweet. A framebuilder himself, King decided to cease production of his Cielo brand just over one year ago so his company could focus more closely on its core business: designing, making, and selling bottom brackets, headsets, and hubs. King, who still spends about three days a week in the shop, is obsessive about quality and his company makes nearly every piece of their products themselves (yes, even the bearings). Manufacturing products in the United States is hard enough without having to constantly react to the whims of product managers and marketers who seem to push a new wheel size, head-tube size or axle configuration every season.
During a conversation with King on Sunday (he was hard to miss, standing near the main entry with a badge on his chest that read, “Hello: My Name is Chris”) he said he thinks product managers need to be more careful when it comes to changing standards, because there could be unintended consequences. “We moved away from 26-inch wheels so fast,” he shared, “That change destroyed the used [bike] market overnight.” “If people can’t sell their old bike, they’re less likely to be able to buy a new one,” he added.
King is far from a luddite. He just wants the industry to be more thoughtful about the changes it pushes out to consumers. Promoting that message was a big part of the reason his company welcomed 18 builders and reps from nine bike brands (including Smith, Quality Bicycle Products, Fox Racing, Santa Cruz Bicycles, and more). There was an industry panel discussion on Thursday, a builder’s summit on Friday (where King hosted the builders at his ranch house off NW Germantown Road), and the bike show capped it all off on Saturday.
While all the bikes were custom, they shared one thing in common: King headsets and hubs in a new matte mango or turquoise color.
Here are a few of the bikes that caught my eye (note that almost everyone brought a drop-bar “all-road/gravel” bike!):
English Cycles: One Off Custom (Frame: $3,200 As shown: $13,100 – website)
Rob English is a builder based in Eugene whose bikes reflect the type of riding he personally enjoys most: Going fast. He brought a gorgeous bike for a customer who wanted to maintain the handling properties of a traditional road bike but have room for wider tires. “If you’re not racing, there’s no reason to have narrow tires,” said English, as he pointed out the bike’s size 35 tires. 35s are big enough for most gravel roads and because English maintained the standard road bike geometry and wheelbase (via a curved seat tube), this bike should have no trouble keeping pace on fast group rides on the pavement. The integrated seat mast is also a nice touch because it creates a convenient place for a third bottle cage — not to mention it looks super cool.
Breadwinner: Find Your Road B-Road Special Edition ($8,620 – website)
Calling it their “most capable and supple 700c gravel bike to date” Tony Pereira and Ira Ryan launched the “Find Your Road” package at the show. Would-be owners have two weeks to order one. Highlights include a Columbus steel frame that can fit up to 45c tires, a custom (strapless!) bag from Andrew the Maker.
Simworks: Doppo (Frame: $1,600 – website)
Simworks is a Japanese brand that now has a full-time office in the Portland (inside Chris King no less). You might recall the profile I did of Simworks president Shinya Tanaka back in 2012. Now I’m happy to report that Simworks has contracted with Portland-based builder Oscar Camarena (Simple Bicycles) to make an all-road “Doppo” frame (Doppo is a Japanese word that means “going alone” or “working on something independently”). The aluminum frame can run 700c or 650b wheels.
Sage: Flow Motion ($9,965 – website)
It’s been over four years since David Rosen launched his Sage Cycles brand and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Rosen launched this gorgeous new titanium mountain bike on Saturday. Named after a popular trail in Sandy Ridge and made in Portland, the Flow Motion is made to “test the limits.” “It’s definitely not a cross-country bike,” Rosen acknowledged, but it can climb just fine. With its tall front end and 150mm fork, this bike was made for fast berms and flowing jump lines.
Co-Motion Cycles: Klatch Pinion CTX ($8,990 – website)
This was one of more innovative bikes at the show. Co-Motion’s Billy Truelove built it for himself to see if he could create a fast, gravel-ready bike around the Pinion internal gearbox drivetrain. Another special feature of this bike is that the shifting is via a lever instead of the usual twist-shift Pinion’s typically require. Co-Motion was able to source brand new levers just for this purpose from German company Tout Terrain.
Mosaic: GT1 ($14,500 – website)
Speedvagen: Rugged Road (website)
Argonaut: GR2 ($13,200 – website)
Stinner Frameworks: Steel Refugio ($11,145 – website)
Spooky: Gas Mask Razzle Dazzle ($11,500 – website)
Given the success of this three-day gathering (and the big smile on Chris King’s face while it happened), I have a hunch it will return next year even bigger and better. When it does, there one thing we hope changes: We’d like to see more women and people of color represented in the events. The local bike industry is full of much more than cis-gendered white men. If Chris King wants to be a leader in this space, they should keep in mind that representation matters.
For more photos and insights about bikes on display at the Open House, check out coverage from James Buckroyd over on BuckyRides.com.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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Cool. I thought Sage bicycles were made in Beaverton, Oregon.
The company is based there… but bikes are fabricated in portland.
Great eye candy and I salute all the builders!
That being said, a bit of herd mentality as far as custom is concerned for me.
Gravel bikes are cool, I have one. I still like to ride nice light, purely road bikes, I hope they have not forgot that….
We have nine models in our lineup of custom bicycles, including lightweight pure road bikes. People are generally finding that gravel bikes are more versatile and comfortable to ride, which is fueling growth of that type of bike. About 70% of the bikes we’ve sold this year have been gravel bikes! If you want a straight up road bike we are more than happy to build one for you. Our Lolo is still Ira’s favorite in the lineup.
Thanks so much for this article and pictures, Jonathan.
I’m really intrigued by the Spooky’s front suspension so it’s a bummer I couldn’t make it to the event to see it in person.
It’s a Lauf fork… http://www.laufforks.com. Other builders use and offer them as well.
Lauf fork, I think they look ridiculous but they ride fantastic.
Appears to be the Lauf Grit fork. There’s a good amount of info about them floating around the interwebs.
I got to cruise through a bit, bummed I missed the tour though. The talent under one roof and overall bike nerd factor was awesome. Very friendly vibe as well. Surprisingly big CA contingent of builders. The bikes were insanely beautiful in person. Events like this remind me of how lucky I am to live in PDX.
I really wish there had been some representation from the bike community other than white men at this event. I know a lot of women, POC, etc. spoke up in advance of the event, and Chris King appeared to have brushed them off with vague plans to “do better” next year. As gorgeous as these bikes are, and as great as many of the men showing them off are, I would think the lack of diversity would be notable.
Thank you for pointing this out, I was one of the womxn to ask why the panel was only made up of cisgendered white dudes and got a copy-pasted apology from whoever runs the @chriskingbuzz Instagram account, followed by an apology directly messaged to me. When I responded that the only way forward is to pay a non-white womxn, trans*, femme, or non-binary person to help the brand with this work…I got radio silence.
Feeling pretty bummed, excluded and yet totally not surprised. When will the bike industry start investing in us? In womxn of color, Black, Brown and Indigenous people? In queer and non binary folx? In differently abled riders? I’ve been working in the local bike shop scene for 3 years and have seen no improvement, except from womxn, trans*, femme, and non-binary people led actions and groups (Friends on Bikes, Black Girls Do Bike, WTF Bikexplorers). Remaining hopeful, but also tired.
Maybe you got radio silence because you telling them that the only way forward was to pay you or your friends sounded a little too much like a shakedown.
It was definitely notable Jordan. I noticed it for sure. I regret not pointing it out more directly in the post. I’ll go add something about it now.
Thank you. I was surprised that you didn’t mention it in your original post – usually we can count on you to cover these sorts of issues.
Interested to hear how you suggest the cis-white male dominated bike industry achieve higher standards of inclusivity while repairing the harm it’s done to outsiders…without bringing in outsiders, who should not be asked to work for free?
I am not asking to be paid to do this work, nor am I suggesting that “my friends” be hired; merely that the bike industry employ professional consultants of Color, womxn who are Black and Brown, and folx that have historically been underserved by the cycling community.
How you phrase a suggestion tends to color the response to it. Telling me that doing something is “the only way forward” sounds to me like an ultimatum to do that something. “Pay” suggests that to remove that blocker to moving forward, I need hand someone some money. “Employ” sounds a little nicer, but, if I’m a business owner, I’m still not going respond to that very well. Now, if you tell me that employing you or whomever will help me expand my business into new markets or increase margin, my ears might perk up a bit.
The bike industry, on a global level, is dominated by Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese companies. It operates on razor-thin margins at the mass market end. They make up for that with more comfortable margins as prices move upwards, but as prices rise, market size dives, and there’s still no room for eating a loss by trying to create a new market and failing. So, cycling companies and retailers are enormously conservative about trying to enter new markets, and will wait until after a trailblazer company does so and proves that there’s a niche that can be built into a large market.
The luxury segment that King is part of is almost entirely comprised of white and Asian men on both sides of the buyer/seller wall, because they are by far the bulk of the people who drop big money on high-end, relatively high-margin bike bling like King’s stuff and almost anything offered by the various framebuilders who were at the open house. A pair of King hubs will push the price of any wheelset into the $1,000 territory. The only people who have a proven track record of buying stuff like that is, well, people like me. The much-derided yet highly desired MAMIL. That’s where the market is, and that’s where the market will continue to be until someone demonstrates otherwise. I’ll be crystal-clear: You’re underrepresented in the luxury market because you don’t buy.
But maybe that’s because nobody knows how to successfully market to you. If you think that your group presents a good opportunity for the industry, and you feel like the industry doesn’t currently address that opportunity, that means there’s a big hole waiting to be filled by an agile and smart startup. Then once you have a proven track record of success, maybe the rest of the industry will start wanting to hire you on as a consultant.
As for being underrepresented in the cycling community, it’s a similar story. The current cycling community didn’t come from out of nowhere. The MTB community (and industry) started in the US as a bunch of hippies messing around in California in the 70s, and in Japan it kind of had its roots in the passhunting community. Right now, there is a really cool (but achingly small) community in Oakland focused around scraper bikes. Who knows, maybe that’s the next big thing?
And I really feel remiss in not mentioning the awesome Georgena Terry, who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that women are a great market for the bike industry, yet until very recently the industry was not addressing that market beyond a few token WSD frames. That meant opportunity for Giant, who are now leading growth in women’s cycling. It’s not a coincidence that the chair of Giant Global Group is a woman, Bonnie Tu. She’s also the head of their women’s specific sub-brand, Liv, which recently grew to almost half of all of Giant’s sales in the US. That’s a lot. She estimates that women will rise to a 30% share of the industry in the next few years, from around 10% now. It would be very interesting to have both her and Terry on a panel.
Millions have been spent on research that has never escaped orbit from the tautology that the only thing that defines a “woman’s bike” is person who’s riding it. Anatomical designs work for some, others benefit from “shrink and pink” even when it’s only half right, and the same thing goes for women (see what I did there?)
All of this perhaps misses the point of WSD: women come first. Attaching female faces to the product, not special engineering sauce, is what’s selling bikes, increasing participation, and consequentially representation for women.
Apparently, Russ from Path Less Pedaled was there as well.
It seemed much better attended than last year.
It was a fun event with lots of women, men, kids and a few dogs. All very good!
Nope, this isn’t about margins and I tune you out as soon as you start with that.
This is about doing the right thing and being decent humans beings. This is about admitting that if a person/company/brand doesn’t know what the next steps are in becoming inclusive, then help is needed and that help shouldn’t be expected for free.
I do not need to “phrase my suggestions” the way you want to hear them, in order to be heard–in order for action to be demanded–you suggesting otherwise is tone policing. We are past the point of kindly asking for basic decency.
Also, Jonathan, why do we have to have anonymous comments again? :-/
Did I miss something? What does bicycling have to do with genetelia? And the pride flag…cool,your proud of yourself…but I don’t care where you put your pee pee. What if straight people wore a shirt around that said “I put my pee pee in the opposite sex”, would it be relevant to anything at all? Bunch of petersmoochers with nothing to do but put their pee pee in everyone’s face!