By Chris Meehan | Feb 08, 2021
This one-man bicycle builder manufactures titanium frames in one of the greatest mountain-biking destinations in the world: Moab, Utah.
After a steady but modest first decade, Blaze Bicycles has seen dramatic growth during the pandemic. In 2019, Chastain made about 35 bike frames, each taking up to 50 hours of work to complete. In 2020, he built about 55 bike frames.
In 2021? "I'm shooting for 75," Chastain says.
Chastain builds the bikes out of Bike Fiend, his store in Moab. "I kind of got tired of the off-the-shelf product myself and I wanted something nicer. I wanted something that had the details that I was looking for. I wanted to put out something unique," he says. "I decided to go headfirst into it back in 2008, building some myself some frames, building some for my friends, and then I found more and more demand from customers."
Depending on the time of year, Chastain employs between six and 10 people at the shop, which actually came about after he started building bikes. "We just ended up starting to grow a bike shop really out of nothing," he says. "It's been really tremendously helpful to have a bike shop because it keeps our thumb on the pulse of the bike industry, and working with other companies has given me a great insight into seeing how the industry works."
It also allows him to use the shop as an opportunity to showcase and rent the bikes he's making -- an effective marketing tool for a small manufacturer. "Not everybody that's coming in here is frankly going to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on a bike, so we just decided to give them what they wanted," says Chastain.
Chastain notes the importance of having a shop in Moab to foster business. "We are in a mountain-biking mecca," he says. "So we find that a lot of people come into the shop and say: 'Hey, wow, what's this?' [We] can say, 'Go ride one of our hardtails here' and you're on the trail [out the door]. We've picked up a lot of fans that way."
The pandemic has been good for Chastain's businesses. "It's been a real boost, he says. "We've seen our growth double [in both the store and on the custom frame side]. . . . We see a tremendous opportunity opening up for the kind of product that I'm producing. Because of the increased interest in bicycles in general, and the lack of supply. We've really been able to produce things on demand."
Chastain calls the Blaze Alpha Wulf his bread-and-butter frame. The hardtail frame is designed for 27.5" tires, but can accommodate larger, 29" tires. "It functions as a faster, more cross-country kind of racing bike when it's set up as a 29er," he says.
But Blaze is looking beyond just that frame with "more cycle touring, bike-packing, and mountain-bike frames," he adds. "What's just mega-hot is drop-bar 29ers. . . . It's like more of a monster cross -- I call it an adventure bike. It is basically a gravel bike on steroids."
As Chastain eyes the market, he's thinking about bringing on more help to build frames. "For the bike scene and Blaze, it's going to become more about what we can produce locally. So I'm bringing in people, not to weld -- that is a really specific thing -- but to help with manufacturing, with cutting tubes, and generally running it," he says.
Challenges: The supply chain for bike components has stretched thin during the pandemic, as wheels and other components now have a multi-month backlog. "We're spending two or three times more time finding parts than we do regularly, and we're ordering parts way ahead of time," he says.
Currently rooted in the store and word of mouth, marketing is another challenge for Blaze. "We're going to hold the quality well and we want to connect with more people," says Chastain. "I know the market is much, much bigger than what we've been connecting with."
Opportunities: "I'm actually trying to produce more stock frames that we can sell because we have literally no frames available this spring," says Chastain. "So we feel that there's real room for growth."
Since Blaze doesn't feature a specific component group on any of its frames, it can be more flexible than larger manufacturers, Chastain contends. "We're going to do a combination of transferring components from people's existing bikes onto their new bikes. And I think that's going to be a significant portion of our customers."
He sees another opportunity in vertical integration. "We're looking to purchase CNC equipment," explains Chastain. "We want to expand out and make our own dropouts, our own bits, and pieces for the frames."
Needs: "Funding is always an issue, but we need more space and qualified employees," Chastain says.