The founders of Hustle Bike Labs gathered in a Weatherford, Texas kitchen on Monday, but their sights were set on Gunnison.
Five years after Craig Payne hatched an idea to make a magnetic bike pedal, the startup is sorting out supply chain challenges, expanding into shoes and preparing to pull up roots in Texas to open an office and manufacturing site in Gunnison.
Payne’s nascent company has been held up as an example of the kind of outdoor recreation industry that the Gunnison Valley hopes to attract. In a video aimed at remote workers, the Gunnison County-funded Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) featured Payne riding out of the ICELab’s backdoor and speeding down the jumptrack above Mountaineer Bowl to show how close work and recreation can be in Gunnison. Commissioner Jonathan Houck has mentioned Hustle Bike Labs by name in describing his commitment to keeping TAPP funded so as to foster similar companies.
The momentum behind Hustle Bike Labs comes, in part, from a 2019 business accelerator program at ICELab, the business development and co-working space operated by the TAPP on the campus of Western Colorado University. There, Payne workshopped his concept for Hustle Bike Labs with startup experts, was connected to outdoor industry veterans and and pitched investors on his patented pedal designs.
The ICELab program, said Payne, “changed our direction drastically.”
After the months-long accelerator, Tyler Scott, who lives in Texas but has family in Gunnison, joined Payne’s team.
The pandemic, however, has contributed to delays in bringing Hustle Bike Lab’s magnetic pedal to market. Payne’s guiding idea has been to merge the efficiency and control of a clipless pedal with the easy-toexit attributes of a flat pedal. To make that happen, Payne’s innovation has been to use very strong rare earth magnets.
Early models of the pedals have gone back and forth from rapid prototyping shops to Hustle Bikes for quality testing, to potential manufacturers in preparation for creating the first 2,000-unit batch of pedals for market.
But bike gear manufacturers have swung from one extreme to another. Factories in East Asia shutdown due to the pandemic, shrinking the supply of everything from frames to tubes.
Then came a tsunami of demand as shops across the U.S. sold bikes in huge numbers to satisfy Americans wanting to recreate outdoors. Factories are now months behind with backlogged orders.
“It’s really beyond delay. It stopped the industry in its tracks for the past couple months,” Payne said.
“We are still trying to figure out how far the ripple effect goes,” said J.W. Williams, who joined the Hustle Bike Labs team in October after being one of the early investors in the company.
The supply chain disruption makes “manufacturing in the Gunnison Valley sound pretty good,” Williams said, because Hustle Bike Labs would have control over its production from start to finish.
Building bike pedals and other components in Gunnison has become a main goal for Payne and his team. The relocation from Weatherford, which is in the Fort Worth area, involves first establishing some revenue for the company by selling pedals. Second, there are the issues of finding a place in Gunnison to do the work and to transition employees and their families to a place that has higher living costs compared to North Texas.
“Relocating is still the plan, 100%7 Payne said. “It seems like a no-brainer to us. The support we’ve gotten from the community has just been amazing, and ICELab and TAPP have given us tremendous support. It just made sense to us and seemed like we’d be idiots if we did not jump on it.”
Hustle Bike Labs would also benefit from the marketing itself as a Gunnison Valley company, Scott said.
“It makes you a little more legit when you’re set up somewhere iconic. With it being the birthplace of singletrack, it only seems natural,” he said.
The broader vision of Hustle Bike Labs is to develop everything from components, to brake and shifting levers, to handlebars. Shoes have entered the conversation, too, with a design being prototyped that incorporates innovations from trail running shoes with the magnetic pedal cleat.
But the pedal itself will come first. Deliveries are slated for spring of 2021, meaning that Hustle Bike Labs will weather this Gunnison winter in the warmer climes of Texas.
(Sam Liebl can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)