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Kona Bicycles' co-founders' letter to the industry

Published May 20, 2024

Editor's note: After announcing Monday that they had re-acquired the brand they founded in 1988, Kona's Jake Heilbron and Dan Gerhard shared the following letter with BRAIN readers.

Dear Friends,

As many of you have read by now, Dan Gerhard and I have purchased Kona back from Kent Outdoors.

We founded Kona Bicycles in 1988 as a natural progression of our friendship, our ongoing working relationship, and our shared love of bikes. It was a wild ride, and when we sold Kona three years ago we believed that the new owners would carry our vision forward and continue to build great bikes, employ great people, and deliver on the promise of quality, fun and a little weirdness that had defined Kona for so long.

Unfortunately that plan unfolded quite differently, so now were buying Kona back. Time for a do-over. Why? Well, to reiterate, it started a while back, like so many of the stories we share, in a little bike shop.

I was a freshman in need of employment to help pay my way through the school year at the University of British Columbia when I walked into Fred’s West Point Cycles on the corner of West 10th Avenue and Alma. The year before I’d ridden from Toronto to Guadalajara and back on my Dawes Galaxy, but otherwise had almost no experience working on bikes, so I was offered a part-time job as a junior mechanic. After a full summer of work in the half-dirt, half-concrete basement, I called my Mom to say I was dropping out of college to work year-round in the shop. She was a medical school graduate and not at all impressed that I’d be the head mechanic.

Eight years later I had bought a small share in what became a five-store chain and moved up to store manager. A guy named Dan came into West Point. He was from St. Louis and had been cycle touring in the Rockies, said he’d fallen in love with Vancouver and wanted to work in the service department. Over time, we became the best of friends and he took over the manager’s job at our sister store on the other side of town, Bikes on Broadway.

Those were the pioneering days of cycling in the Lower Mainland. We learned about road and track and cyclo-cross racing from the English and Italian transplants who planted the seeds in a British Columbia that became a cycling hotbed. When my friend John Gadsby came into the store with a Ritchey Mountain Bike after visiting Gary Fisher’s bike shop in Fairfax, the revelation of that new direction in cycling hit us square. I was on a plane with my bike to San Francisco soon after to learn all about that new phenomenon. West Point became one of the first mountain bike stores in Canada, and it led to the founding of Rocky Mountain Bicycles soon afterwards. Dan joined me on that adventure as we explored the world of bicycle manufacturing and introduced the first road and mountain Rockys to the world in 1985.

My search for knowledge about the world of cycling took me to the Bay Area where I learned so much working with Tom Ritchey, and then met Joe Murray at Marin Mountain Bikes. Joe and I headed to Vancouver in 1988 and joined up with Dan. He had started The Bicycle Group in Vancouver, representing Brodie, Marin & Merlin Mountain Bikes in Canada. Kona sprang out of that collaboration, and you probably know most of the rest of the story.

We always believed in nurturing the company, satisfied with making people happy on bikes that were made for long sweet rides and good times. We sparked a competitive legacy that spans from Cindy Devine to Tracey Moseley, Fabien Barel and most recently, 5 time World Champion Cory Wallace. Kona was integral to the freeride movement that exploded out of our backyard, with the Kona Clump riders John Cowan, Robbie Bourdon, Carlin Dunne and Paul Basagoitia pushing the boundaries of mountain biking in a new direction and fostering an evolution that we have been part of ever since. Kona riders have been historic and the stores that presented our bikes to the public have been legendary. Most of all, we celebrated the people instrumental in creating iconic bikes like the Hei Hei and Humu and Stinky and Sutra. They were so deeply dedicated to those principles that shaped into Kona such an iconic, quirky, real, big little bicycle company.

When we stepped away from the business three years ago, we felt the next version of Kona would continue to grow and flourish with time. Recent history proved us wrong, and everyone in the cycling world knows how difficult the past 18 months have become.

So, ring the bell and chime in the third chapter of the Kona Bicycle Company. A little older, and we hope wiser. A little bruised and battered, but still kicking and ready to take on what’s next in our story. The team that kept the flame alive is smaller but stronger, and the bikes that started development before the pandemic are ready to rumble.

We stand here, humbled by the support of you who have cheered on the good name of Kona. We’re ready to meet the challenge of reviving the good times, meeting with our friends old and new, sharing some trails and trading stories, and once again connecting a few more million riders to that long sweet ride. We hope it never ends.

Dan & Jake, and the Crew at Kona

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