American-made bikes propel one small business forward, providing an innovative and ultra-light option for riders
October 2012 - Where iconic sleds comb through a snow-covered Alaskan landscape pulled by packs of dogs, lone bicycle enthusiasts use stainless-steel bicycles to push through treacherous terrain on a solitary quest for a finish line crossed by a select few.
At 616 Bicycle Fabrication in Grand Rapids, Mich., a small but capable team brings an American-made innovation to a tried-and-true mode of transportation. Fat bikes allow riders to ride along terrain other than ready-made pavement, no matter what the season. Snowfall or sandy beaches are streamlined under the carefully designed frame which is equipped with thick tires.
Because the majority of bikes sold in America are made in China or Taiwan, 616 Fabrication relishes its American supply chain. “To bring jobs back to the U.S. is one of our goals, especially right here in Michigan,” says John Muenzenmeyer, co-owner of 616 Bicycle Fabrication, a name inspired by Western Michigan’s area code. He runs the shop, along with co-owners Aaron Joppe and Robert Gaddis.
After displaying its fat bikes at the Iceman Cometh Challenge in Traverse City, Mich., the company discovered a growing interest in this niche market. “We’re getting known for our fat bikes. Our Snow Cat wheels are a pound lighter than competitors’,” he adds. “A normal fat bike might weight 32 to 36 pounds total—ours are approximately 27 to 31 pounds—a four pound difference altogether.”
Using stainless steel provided by KVA Stainless in California, a company that works on metals for a number of industries including medical and aerospace, 616 Fabrication’s fat bikes give riders a plush ride. “Stainless doesn’t corrode easily and gives a smoother ride than stiffer aluminum bikes,” Muenzenmeyer says. “An aluminum bike beats you up when you pound through the trails.”
The company’s CNC work is completed by Micro Manufacturing in nearby Dutton, Mich. “There are 20 or so different components that go into our designs,” he explains. “Outsourcing locally to Micro allows us to make running changes and check the quality more often than if we outsourced overseas.”
The tube kits 616 Fabrication uses have a lot of technology behind them. True Temper OX Platinum 4130 chrome moly tubing is pre-hardened and comes in double-and triple-butted tubes specifically designed for high-end bicycles, Muenzenmeyer says.
The tires fat bikes need are unique in that the rims and tires are wider than conventional bicycles. Compared to other fat bikes, with rims measuring 80 millimeters wide, 616 Fabrication’s are 45 millimeters wide. “That’s half as wide but still using the same 4 inch tire,” he explains. “Using our Snow Cat wheels compared to the alternative brands drops the weight of wheel one pound each, making our Rims-Hub combination the lightest on the market.”
The wheels’ rims currently come from Alaska and originally were extruded in Indiana. Going forward, they will be extruded in Florida. The rim originally was designed for the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska. The concept of the fat bike originated when competitors started coupling two bike wheels together to improve traction through the tough, snowy terrain. “That opened the door for people like me to start making these thicker tires for these types of bikes,” Muenzenmeyer says. MM
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