Chris Connor's beautiful, wood-clad bikes blend eye-catching aesthetics and high performance.
Connor has meshed his woodworking skills and his love of biking to create a unique business. By combining laminates of white ash and black walnut with layers of kevlar and carbon fiber, he creates beautiful wood-frame bikes that withstand the rigors of the road and the trail.
Connor's bikes have a $3,500 entry point and his mountain bikes can go for as high as $10,000, depending on component selection and frame. "That's a reasonable price for a high-end production bike," he says. "Any bike shop in town has an $8,000 to $10,000 production bike on the floor."
Connor worked with his brother building classical guitars and boats in Massachusetts for a while before he returned to Colorado. "That cemented my love working on my own and doing things on my and creating functional things," he says. "I always loved tinkering and building things with my hands. After I got out of school, I worked in the professional sphere, but during nights and weekends, I was always building furniture and designing furniture. I enjoyed working with things that are handcrafted and beautiful."
An avid cyclist, Connor realized he could combine his skills and interests to make a wood bicycle. "I thought, 'It's a crazy idea, but if it's viable, there have to be hundreds of other companies doing this.'" He found only a handful, and wasn't particularly impressed. "I thought I could do this and do it better."
Connor chooses wood carefully. Both white ash and black walnut are easy to work with, he says, but they're also resilient. After all, white ash is used for making Louisville Slugger baseball bats (Connor actually built one bike for the famous bat-maker using its blanks, now in the Louisville Slugger museum).
The bikes aren't solely made of wood. "I realized there was a good opportunity to integrate some of these composite materials into the bike, to do two two things, give exceptional strength . . . and tailor the ride quality," Connor says.
The bikes are made to stand up to weather. "We're using essentially aircraft adhesives," Connor explains. "Adhesives that can endure huge temperature range and humidity. I'm also using a marine finish on the bikes and the marine finishes are meant to be exposed to far more grueling conditions than my bikes are meant to."
Connor operates a one-man shop and needs about 40 hours of labor to craft each bike. He made 15 in 2014 and anticipates making more this year. "Realistically, my shop tops out at 24 bikes a year," he says. "Half of my time is spent selling and marketing, tracking down parts, building vendor relations and all this other stuff."
After Connor reaches that production level, he'll hit a spot where he needs to consider hiring staff and consider more overhead costs but he still needs to get to a higher sales level, but for the time being he says he's "trying to create a kick-ass bike."
Challenges: "The challenge is mostly getting people to overcome the stigma that wood bikes can't be done," Connor says. "That and being a small business and trying to have a high-end niche product that takes a lot of time to produce and work that into a business that's able to grow and scale with me."
Opportunities: "Local people that are really into cycling follow what I'm doing, buy my bikes, and do cool things with them. That's one of the biggest opportunities I have," Connor explains.
Transitioning from direct sales to retail is another, he adds. "I think that will be a huge step in the next year."
Needs: Sales and capital for inventory management. "I feel like I can scale my manufacturing up to a reasonable level fairly quickly," Connor says. "Then I need to be where I have support staff and overhead, that's my challenge spot."