Transition Bicycle Co. – Industry Hands

Article of the Week:

Taxonomy upgrade extras

Rider Owned for Life
Words and Photos by Brad Walton

Quitting a stable job to pursue the dream of creating mountain bikes is the big move that very few of even the most accomplished riders would ever have the balls to do. For Transition Bikes owners Kevin Menard and Kyle Young, they didn’t just want to escape their 9-5 corporate grind, they felt the necessity to fill a void in the most important market in the bike industry:  their own.

For a few years before they became entrepreneurs, then twenty-somethings Menard and Young worked for a major telecommunications company in the metropolis of Seattle, making good money.  Life was good, but something was missing. Both avid cyclists, they shared a common passion for biking with a ‘ride everything’ mentality that fit well with the blooming freeride movement. Tired of paying too much for complex novelty bikes with weird hybrid geometries that worked great until ridden hard in foul conditions, the boys saw a niche in creating versatile, affordable, rugged frames with their own preferred riding style incorporated into the design.  It had to go uphill, it had to go downhill, and it had to handle everything in between, because that’s the way they ride.

As enthusiastic as they were, the boys were hardly qualified for starting a bike company in the midst of an already oversaturated market. Menard was a weekend mountaineer—going so far as to scale peaks in Nepal—a bike commuter who rode 17 miles to work each way regardless of the weather, and a general lover of the great outdoors, especially if he was on a bike. Young grew up a BMX flatland trickster, practicing hours on end, honing his skills in driveways and parking lots before moving to dirt jumping and eventually, mountain biking the North Shore of British Columbia in the 1990’s. The passion was there, and both combined the little knowledge they had from family businesses to split the tasks for the company right down the middle. Menard would handle the marketing and domestic sales, while Young would handle logistics and international sales.

Together they learned design software and shared the role of creating their virtual product.  As the plans formed on paper and the designs were honed into three distinct models, Menard and Young traveled to Asia to find a manufacturer that could supply quality hand-made frames at an affordable end price. Using money they had saved during the telecom years, Transition Bikes was born in 2001 in Menard’s basement in Seattle.

Starting from scratch definitely wasn’t easy for the two, but with lots of support from friends as test-dummies and showing off the bikes to other riders who quested for such capable steeds, the first production run made enough money to continue to round two. Transition Bikes chugged along in this fashion for a couple of years, making revisions and updates to the frames until the basement was overcrowded (and a very unpleasant plumbing “situation” made it clear that some true office space was in order). It was time to get official. Seeing an opportunity to expand their business as well as their riding, the boys decided to move out of the city and get closer to better testing grounds. Ferndale, Washington—also home of Kona USA—seemed like a good place to go: close to the Canadian border and just minutes away from Bellingham, an area which continues to grow rapidly in the style and variety of mountain biking terrain they love.

The new location proved worthy and Transition Bikes soon began hiring employees as the company grew. Within three years, the company was bursting at its seams yet again; it was time for a larger warehouse. The first order of business would be to find a location that could offer its own testing grounds, by means of a dirt jump park. Early in 2008, Transition Bikes moved into a 7,500 square foot facility on two acres of land; no time was wasted in prepping the backyard test park. Lunch breaks, stress relief, and visits from sponsored riders all warrant product testing out behind the warehouse. Away from the office, Menard and Young routinely host trail building and maintenance parties on the local trails that they love to ride at Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham.

Simplicity has always been a key ingredient within the company, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation. With the advent of the Bottlerocket, Transition Bikes realized an almost overnight success. This 5.5” travel ultra-versatile rig is capable of handling nearly anything thrown at it. It was designed right about the time the word ‘slopestyle’ hit the lips of mountain bike tricksters across the industry, and is now copied as a staple of nearly every company’s quiver. With the pioneers of the company having realized the struggle to find bikes to fit emerging riding styles, Transition Bikes continues to adapt as smaller niches develop within the aggressive riding community, responding with immediate product offerings to support these riders.

Creating solutions to real world problems has become a mainstay of the design process at Transition, and recently they realized a need for a new way of sizing low-slung trail, downhill, and dirt jump bikes.  Working in partnership with Turner Bikes and borrowing some terminology and measurement technique from elite road cyclists, Transition has determined that the geometric relationship between the handlebar and pedals of a bike offers the most accurate comparison for the fit and feel between different frames, making traditional seat tube and top tube measurements mostly irrelevant. Reach and stack measurements have now been added to all of Transition’s frames to guide riders to a fit that’s closer to what they are looking for.

Being riders, Menard and Young see their product on a customer’s level, and that means finding ways to keep costs down and the stoke high. Instead of exhibiting at the annual Interbike trade show in Las Vegas a few years ago, Transition hosted the controversial, yet far from impersonal, Vegas Resistance. Along with a few other core companies, they hosted a casual and informal session in their hotel room, where dealers could touch, feel, and ride the bikes during appointed times with no distractions. On top of that, the Transition crew got in several days of solid testing in a drier environment in Utah and California while the rest of the industry was time traveling back home from Vegas.

In an attempt to eliminate the barrier to entry for traditionally budget-conscious core riders, Transition offers their own in-house brand of components built for the rigors of abusive riding. And product support doesn’t end at the checkout stand. There are no auto-generated email responses here.  Customer support is a priority, with lifetime crash replacement offered on all frames because riders know things happen and eventually something’s got to give. To keep things zesty, Transition offers multiple paint options and a decal kit with each frame to customize the look of the bike and offer a sense of individuality.  Original themes like a Pabst Blue Ribbon paint job pumps up the fun.

Transition now employs a team of eight seasoned riders from all facets of the sport to handle the various chores of running the business. While there’s no company documentation requiring employees to ride, it’s pretty much impossible not to, with the encouragement of such a tight crew. A quick background check would reveal multiple types of riding experience within the company, from cross-country and road riding, to dirt jumping, street sessions, downhill racing, and big mountain hucking. It’s the ultimate in product testing to have such an assortment of enthusiastic talent actually running the company. There’s an impressive sponsor roster complimenting the in-house team of riders as well. In fact, the company’s original sponsored rider, Mike Metzger, is now one of its full-time employees and manages sponsorship for the company, while pro racer Lars Sternberg helms their newly minted race team. All of this helps to amp up the passion in the company for progression in riding and in designing the ultimate bikes.

While a Transition bike may not be the best fit for every rider out there, it’s good to know that there are rider-owned companies like Transition deeply rooted in, and dedicated to, the advancement of the sport. These guys are in it for the long haul and want to share the stoke of mountain biking with anyone who wants to ride.