:Chattanooga; :Sep 20, 2009; :Business; :25

Technology pedals American Bicycle’s future

By Brian Lazenby blazenby@timesfreepress.com

Online: Watch Brad DeVaney talk about the Quintana Roo CD01 and Litespeed Archon. Comment.

Officials at Ooltewah-based American Bicycle Group recently returned from the Eurobike trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, where the bicycle manufacturer took the top prize in the specialty bike category.

    Peter Hurley, chief executive, said the award bestowed on American Bicycle’s Quintana Roo CD01 triathlon bike should give the highend manufacturer a boost in a market that has been hit hard by the economic recession.

    “This is the third year in a row we have (received an award), but it is the first time we have won,” Mr. Hurley said. “It gives us considerable bragging rights for the rest of the year against some very tough competition.”

    American Bicycle Group manufactures bikes under the brand names Litespeed, Quintana Roo and Merlin.

    The high-end bicycle market, where American Bicycle focuses and which Mr. Hurley describes as bikes priced at more than $3,000, is off 20 percent to 40 percent while sales of lesser priced bikes are up.

    “We really were hit with the same problems that the auto industry went through,” he said.

    Ronald Driver, owner of River City Bicycles, a local dealer for American Bicycle products, said the award the company received will generate conversation about the company and its products.

    “It’s not going to be driving customers in that are new to the sport, but within the cycling community, I would imagine people will be coming in asking questions about it,” Mr. Driver said. “Getting people in the store is what is going to sell the bike.”

    At its peak, American Bicycle had about 150 employees. There are about 45 today.

    Mr. Hurley said the company already has begun hiring back
some workers, but it is doubtful that it will ever be near the employment figures it once had.

    “It will probably settle in around 50 once the hire-back is complete,” he said.

    American Bicycle, which produced bikes for two Olympic riders during the Beijing games, is working out plans to open its own manufacturing plant in Asia, where some of the products are already produced through partnerships with other companies. In Chattanooga, job creation will be focused on design, engineering, quality control, sales and marketing, Mr. Hurley said.

    The company spent $500,000 developing its award-winning bike and took about a year testing before calling it ready and submitting it in the contest, he said.

    The company has as much time and money invested in its new Litespeed Archon, a road racing bike that it will premier next year.

    Those are just two examples of products in American Bicycle’s pipeline that have enabled it to reinvent itself since Mr. Hurley purchased the company in January 2007.

    “They hadn’t come out with any new products in a while, and there were some serious problems with a couple brands,” Mr. Hurley said. “We seemed to have turned that corner with regard to manufacturing, and on the design side, we have definitely turned that corner.”

    Mr. Driver praised American Bicycle’s chief designer, Brad DeVaney, as well as the company’s new manufacturing team that has corrected past problems.

    The changes have resulted in some impressive technology used in the Quintana Roo CD01 and the Litespeed Archon, he said.

    “We are really excited and hope things really take off for them,” Mr. Driver said. “They look great.”

Staff Photo by Lesley Onstott D.J. Williams welds a part of a Litespeed Pisgah at the American Bicycle Group factory in Ooltewah. The company manufactures high-end road racing bikes.

Peter Hurley

Staff Photo by Lesley Onstott Damon Talley, a rear end miterer, prepares a bike part before trimming it at American Bicycle Group’s Ooltewah factory.