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Industry vets target niches in the mitten

Published December 15, 2011

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (BRAIN)—In the CNC’d, anodized, try-anything world of 1990’s mountain biking, Nukeproof hubs and Slingshot frames were among the most-talked about U.S.-made brands.

Now some of the men behind each company have a new venture: 616 Bicycle Fabrications.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan — where the area code is 616 — 616 is focused on local manufacturing of mountain bike frames and hubs. The company is aiming at some niches in the high-end market: steel frames (lugged or TIG welded), built around 650b, 29er or fat-bike wheels. 616 will offer titanium frames next year. Its component line will feature a set of fat-bike hubs that the company expects to be among the lightest on the market for that application.

616’s founders are John Muezenmeyer, the former owner of Nukeproof, and Aaron Joppe, who is still a minority partner in Slingshot. The third partner in 616 is Robert Gaddis, a life-long bike enthusiast.

The company showed some of its line at the Iceman Cometh race this fall and the positive response was immediate, Joppe said. “The orders are piling up; we are working on a lead time eight weeks out.”

616 will sell its frames through a small dealer network and occasionally consumer direct in regions where it does not have dealers. Hubs, available in February or March, will be sold exclusively through dealers, Joppe said.

Joppe said fat bikes — with their four-inch wide tires and 135/170 OLD hubs — are quickly becoming more than a novelty as riders take them on snow, sand, slick rock and other surfaces.

“It reminds me of how 29ers started. It’s really becoming a trend here. Shops can’t keep them in stock,” he said.

Joppe thinks the market for 650b mountain bikes also is on the verge of taking off. The mid-sized wheel fits smaller riders better than 29ers, and is better suited for tight trails. Suspension fork and tire availability is the only thing holding back the category, he said.

“The 26ers are becoming the dinosaurs,” he said.

616 also plans to offer frames built with stainless steel and a lugged-steel cyclocross frameset.

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