During our trip to Colorado we had the chance to stop in and visit with Spot Bikes in Golden. Located in a nondescript industrial park on the northern outskirts of town, Spot is flanked at the front and rear by incredible mountain bike trails (North Table Mountain to the east and White Ranch to the west) which clearly seeps into the company’s products from concept to delivery. Spot just relaunched their website last week and has a whole new line of redesigned bikes with a commitment to simple, high quality, handmade bikes.
Before moving to Golden, Spot Bikes started near Vancouver, BC 15 years ago, hand-building high quality hardtail mountain bikes that were as fun to ride as they were to race. Once in Colorado, the company began working with Gates Technology on adapting a carbon belt drive system being used at the time in Ducati motorcycles and snowmobiles. While it might seem trivial to transition technology from motorcycles to mountain bikes, it turns out there were a few engineering challenges to overcome.
First, unlike metal linked chains, carbon belts can’t be separated or cut on installation. Instead, Spot needed to design the drive-side rear triangle with a break where the belt could be passed through without weakening or compromising the frame itself. Once that hurdle was cleared, it became evident that the lower belt tensions associated with mountain bikes (as opposed to motorcycles) meant the belt teeth needed to be raised slightly to prevent slippage.
The latest design iteration refines and improves the breakable rear dropout design even further. While still accommodating the belt pass-through, the new dropouts don’t require tensioners and are even quick release compatible (with adapter) for maximum flexibility.
Handmade vs. Custom vs. Everything Else
Mountain bikers often voice their frustration that it’s becoming nearly impossible to find bikes made in the USA but the fact is there are many advantages to overseas manufacturing. Obviously cost is a major concern and while mountain bikes are expensive, they’d be even more so if they were all manufactured domestically. And for certain frame materials, like carbon fiber, the fact is Taiwanese companies generally have the best technology in the world.
However when it comes to materials like steel and aluminum, things like weld and base stock quality become important and this is where Spot Brand shines. By keeping manufacturing in house, Spot is able to offer tight quality control from start to finish. Bike companies who outsource everything from fabrication to paint aren’t able to properly inspect paint-covered welds and joints before the bikes are sent to consumers. In the photo below you can see “rainbowing” in the steel that’s associated with the heat from welding. A poorly executed weld will show wider rainbow extensions which can weaken the tubing significantly.
Building bikes in the US also leaves a much smaller carbon footprint (no overseas shipping) and lead times are shorter thanks to closer proximity to the end consumer. This means Spot can typically deliver a finished stock bike from the factory within a couple weeks of an order and can execute custom plans in 6 weeks or less. Spot offers customization on everything from paint to geometry, something few (if any) overseas manufacturers can match.
Spec’ing out a custom mountain bike isn’t for everyone since it involves way more decisions than you can imagine so Spot offers a simple menu of hand built bikes in standard sizes. And while the bike building process overseas is still mostly human powered, it’s assembly-line driven and often not quality controlled like Spot’s hand-built process.
The Rocker 29er
New for 2010 (or are we into the 2011 model year now?) is the Rocker 29er from Spot. The Rocker replaces the Longboard 29 and features the single speed carbon drive system and completely redesigned rear dropout. For frame building geeks, the steel tubing is True Temper and all the bikes are powder coated for a more durable, lighter weight finish. A hand built hardtail frame should be priced around $1399 while a nicely appointed single speed build will come in around $3599 (titanium and geared versions are available as well).
Although the Rocker wasn’t available for a test ride during my visit, at a glance I could tell this is a high quality bike. The welds felt butter smooth and flow between tubes as if they aren’t even there. In fact Spot offers a clear powdercoat option that lets you see the naked welds and the craftsmanship that goes into every bike. To me the sweet spot for 29ers is the steel hard tail and Spot has embraced the idea and created a level of purity and quality that will be hard to match.
Spot may be bucking industry trends with the Rocker but often times that’s how the most innovative bikes get built. Clearly these guys are onto something so don’t call your doctor if you start seeing Spots everywhere – it’s completely normal.