Gearing up: Small-scale cycling manufacturers move into NM - Albuquerque Journal

Gearing up: Small-scale cycling manufacturers move into NM

Dillen Maurer, founder of Baphomet Bicycles, works on a bike in his Valdez cabin. (Photo courtesy of John Watson)

When Dillen Maurer was looking for a new place to live after he lost his job at a bicycle manufacturer in Portland, Oregon last year, he had only one stipulation: he had to be able to ride his mountain bike out his front door and find a trail.

By that metric, the cabin he and his wife identified in Valdez near Taos was a perfect fit.

The pair closed on the cabin last June, and Maurer established his new startup cycling company, Baphomet Bicycles, in his garage shortly thereafter.

A bicycle manufactured by Baphomet Bicycles, a new manufacturing company based in Valdez. (Photo courtesy of John Watson)

“I don’t really have a good reason that we ended up here, other than it just kind of happened that way,” Maurer told the Journal. “And it’s amazing. Like, I couldn’t be happier.”

Northern New Mexico has been a good fit for his company as well. Maurer said he’s been impressed by the state of outdoor recreation community in the region. The company doesn’t have a storefront, but Maurer said New Mexicans are starting to reach out about getting custom bikes made.

A bike frame with Valdez-based Baphomet Bicycles’ insignia. (Photo courtesy of John Watson)

“It’s all moving in a direction that I’m very pleased about,” Maurer said.

Maurer isn’t alone. A number of small manufacturers, making everything from bike frames to cycling packs, have sprung up in New Mexico recently. Axie Navas, director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said she knows of four or five small manufacturers in the cycling industry that had moved to New Mexico or started companies here since the pandemic began. For New Mexico, which lacks a large manufacturing sector and has only recently made a concerted effort to grow its outdoor recreation industry, Navas said the influx more than doubles the number of cycling industry manufacturers based in the state.

“We’re really looking at a sea change, a magnitude more companies than are here now,” Navas said.

Why now?

Axie Navas

Parts of New Mexico, particularly near Santa Fe, have long been popular with local cyclists. However, Navas acknowledged that the state has fewer recognizable cycling brands than some of its western neighbors.

The pandemic has brought about a dramatic shift within the cycling industry, driving up demand for bikes and other outdoor gear while leaving large manufacturers facing supply-chain challenges, creating opportunities for smaller companies.

“The whole cycling industry right now is in this upheaval,” said John Watson, co-founder of cycling industry website The Radavist. “But one of the interesting by-products of this upheaval has been the restructuring of companies both large and small.”

Watson, who is based in Santa Fe, said many bike components are made in Asia, and trade disruptions associated with the pandemic were hard on the industry. He said he’s heard from manufacturers who haven’t received components like brake pads and bike chains back in stock until 2022. Even finding bikes to review has been a challenge, Watson said.

“As you can imagine, those supply issues trickle down to the bike shops,” he said.

That national shortage coincided with a period of time when people, barred from indoor activities by restrictions designed to control the spread of the pandemic, were looking for outdoor gear. Dale Davis, co-owner of 505 Cycles in Farmington, said his sales spiked in 2020 even while getting inventory was a challenge.

While Davis acknowledged that sales won’t reach the height of 2020, 2021 has so far outpaced 2019.

“I foresee the growth continuing for quite some time, Davis said.

Watson added that the pandemic left a lot of people looking for a different lifestyle. For designers who had been working in bigger cities, the pandemic was an opportunity to seek out a new environment.

“They’re looking for a slower change of pace,” Watson said.

A mask Keaton Haire of Doom Bars uses while sanding custom handle bars sits atop hand-written specifications. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Moreover, layoffs and temporary work stoppages gave part-time designers a chance to make a side hustle into something more.

Keaton Haire, founder and owner of Doom Bars, a custom handlebar manufacturer based in Albuquerque, said he launched the company last year while his employer was temporarily closed. Haire is back at work at his day job now and only making handlebars on evenings and weekends, but is looking to scale up his production in the future.

Keaton Haire finishes off a pair of custom handle bars he has named “Legal Drinker” because of the 21 degree back sweep. Haire started the company in his garage last year, when his employer temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Doom Bars has sold to buyers as far away as Australia, but Haire, who moved to Albuquerque 2 1/2 years ago, said he’s pleased that his products are starting to gain a local following.

An older pair of unfinished Doom Bars custom handle bars Keaton Haire has named “Legal Drinker” because of the 21-degree back sweep. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

“A lot of people are just really excited about something being made here in Albuquerque,” Haire said.

Why New Mexico?

Navas identified a few factors she believes are driving companies to locate in New Mexico recently, from the state’s topography to its political climate.

“There’s just truly exceptional riding in New Mexico, and you can do it year-round depending on where you live,” Navas said.

The highest-profile new arrival might be Boltcutter Cycles, an Arkansas-based company that announced plans to relocate to Albuquerque in an Instagram post in April. The company cited conservative legislation, including a high-profile ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, as a reason for the move.

“We do this so as to not put ourselves or our customers and supporters in a position of directly or indirectly supporting the backwards political machine of this state,” the post reads.

Boltcutter didn’t respond to multiple Journal inquiries, but Navas said New Mexico’s grassroots cycling community — compared to a more top-down ecosystem in Bentonville — was also a factor in why the company chose Albuquerque in particular.

“He said he saw a lot more of that in New Mexico, and that was one of the things that really resonated,” Navas said.

Even founders who moved to New Mexico for other reasons have been impressed by the supportive ecosystem in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Sam Lutz, founder of Buckhorn Bags, an Albuquerque-based company that makes bike bags, said he’s found no shortage of other makers who are willing to help him get his co mpany off the ground.

Sam Lutz, founder of Buckhorn Bags in Albuquerque, displays a pair of his products. (Courtesy of John Watson)

“There are a number of other small makers here in the state, and it’s really fun just to get to collaborate with one another,” Lutz said.

Eric Puckett, founder of Farewell, which produces bike bags and other products from a facility in Santa Fe, added that the cycling community in The City Different has welcomed him since he started making products in 2019.

“I feel like I was received warmly,” Puckett said.

Easy access to trails isn’t a requirement for cycling companies, but it certainly helps. Watson said the abundance of mountains makes it easier for New Mexico companies to test their products.

A hip bag made by Santa Fe-based Farewell, which makes bags and other gear aimed at cyclists. (Courtesy of John Watson)

“If you’re a bike company … you can get a prototype made and just take it up into the Sangre De Cristos or any of the mountain ranges around here and actually test it,” Watson said. “You don’t have to drive to Colorado to test the bike out.”

Finally, Navas said the presence of outdoor-focused media, including The Radavist, has helped promote the New Mexico’s trails and environment to people who aren’t familiar with the state.

“The Radavist has been a way to introduce these bike companies to that incredible bike culture, to those incredible bike trails,” Navas said.

What’s next?

Despite its newfound popularity, New Mexico’s cycling ecosystem still has challenges, from trail etiquette to unsafe roads.

Maurer said he’s seen plenty of trash adorning New Mexico trail heads since arriving, and said he’d like to see people taking better care of public lands.

“Usually it’s just down to a couple people who don’t care,” he said.

Watson said he’s stopped riding on the road in New Mexico, a consequence of streets that leave cyclists vulnerable. He said wide roads and an abundance of large trucks in Santa Fe can make cyclists feel unsafe and ultimately hurt the biking ecosystem in the city.

“If you make cycling around town easier and less dangerous, you’re just going to see positive growth in all those regards,” he said.

A bike bag made by Farewell, a Santa Fe-based company that makes bike bags and other cycling gear. (Courtesy of John Watson)

While Watson acknowledged the outdoor industry would likely bring more people, he stressed that the state needs to strike a balance between attracting newcomers and keeping communities affordable for those who have lived in New Mexico for generations.

“I don’t want to live in Adobe Disneyland, I don’t want to live in a whitewashed town,” Watson said. “I want to live in the town that I fell in love with when I first visited.”

While many of the companies interviewed by the Journal have started small, making products out of their garages in between the demands of full-time jobs, each of them expressed a desire to grow.

Puckett, of Farewell, said he’d like to find a commercial space with room for a storefront that could display products and offer gear rentals for out-of-town visitors. He said he wants to give back to the community by hosting free or low-cost clinics on bag making, gear repair and other topics.

Lutz, with Buckhorn, said he hopes to emulate a pair of Colorado gear companies — Melanzana Outdoor Clothing in Leadville and Oveja Negra in Salida — that have grown while producing products ethically and domestically.

“In an ideal world, that’s what it would be: domestic manufacturing that’s providing jobs and income to the community, providing space for the foster community and providing meaningful work to folks who have challenges getting work,” Lutz said.

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