President and CEO Tim Fry has built a bike-component manufacturing operation with arms in Colorado and Asia, and sees big benefits to the hybrid approach.
Fry created Mountain Racing Products (MRP) as it is today with his wife, Christy, in 2000. “We’re both recovering lawyers,” says Fry. “We got frustrated with the profession.”
So the Ohio-based couple looked for a business to buy and found Bicycle Parts Pacific, a manufacturer and distributor in Grand Junction. It fit the bill — they wanted proprietary products and export potential — so they closed the deal and moved to the Rockies.
MRP soon acquired several other manufacturers, expanding into suspensions, forks, seat posts, and other products. The company took its name from an Oregon-based acquisition, a manufacturer of chainguides for downhill mountain-bike racing.
The company’s catalog has filled out over the years, but those initial acquisitions have guided product development. “Our chainguides . . . are still our number-one product line,” says Fry. “Our suspension is a little more of a niche product.”
Today, the company manufactures high-end mountain biking components in Grand Junction and Taiwan. The latter operation “has grown significantly at a much faster rate than here in the U.S.,” says Fry. “We’ve grown here, but we’ve grown faster over there.”
In Grand Junction, the company operates from a 16,000-square-foot factory with nine CNC machines and an adjacent 3,000-square-foot R&D lab. Many specialized, low-volume parts are manufactured in Colorado, including suspensions, but higher volumes are handled in Taiwan, where MRP works with outside vendors and a third-party assembly facility.
“If it has an OE application and we make it in Taiwan, we generally don’t make it in the U.S.,” says Fry. “We’ll import those products and use them with U.S.-made parts to assemble the products.”
Taiwan being an international hub for bicycle manufacturing makes it a critical location for MRP. “We are doing a lot more original equipment business with bike brands around the world,” says Fry. “It’s become a bigger chunk.”
In the last decade, supplying OEMs from Taiwan has increased from about 25 percent to more than 50 percent of sales. “Most of the high-end bikes are assembled in Taiwan,” says Fry. “Being able to have our parts made and assembled there is kind of key.”
“Through the pandemic, we actually had 100 percent on-time delivery in Taiwan, which was a little unusual in our industry with the supply chain snafus,” he adds. “Part of the thing was our ability to leverage the U.S. and Taiwan both. If we ran into an issue with one of our vendors in Taiwan, we would move that part back to the U.S. and produce the raw part here and ship it back to the facility [in Taiwan] for assembly. It increased some costs — it’s not ideal for us to be shipping like that, but it allowed us to maintain the business and maintain on-time delivery.”
The approach also lends itself to small-batch manufacturing and custom parts. “Our key competitors produce their products on an assembly line in Asia, and we are more hand-built and customizable to the end user,” says Fry. “We’ve really gone back to that leverage point for us of what our large competitors can’t do because of their production and what we can do because it is made in Grand Junction.”
Fry says that he’s seen a “clustering effect” in Grand Junction with outdoor manufacturers. “I think there’s things we can learn from each other, and it’s great to have the support and understanding a little bit more from the local community on the positive impacts that outdoor rec and outdoor rec manufacturing specifically can have,” he says.
After a difficult 2020 that turned positive by year-end, MRP grew by 34 percent in 2021 and 18 percent in 2022. “Even though we had our best years in Taiwan the last couple of years, we still saw order cancellations and order delays because of availability of other component parts,” says Fry. “We could have even done better if some of those suppliers had not had issues.”
The 2023 forecast? “We’re cautiously optimistic,” he says.
Challenges: “It’s been a little challenging getting new products developed through the last two years, just with some of the supply issues and with the demand — our own demand,” says Fry. “Our engineers have been whining for the last year and a half about being able to get prototype parts faster out of our machine shop, because it’s been so consumed with production.”
And beyond MRP’s in-house machine shop, the bicycle supply chain hasn’t completely untangled itself: “We’re constantly looking at pinch points, and it does continue to be certain value-added services that may not be available here locally and we’ve struggled to manage well. Right now, we’re looking at two processes that we outsource to potentially bring in-house.”
He adds, “On one hand, the lack of local resources can be a challenge, but it can also be an opportunity if you look at bringing some of that in-house.”
Opportunities: MRP has four new products coming out in 2023. “That’s been a big push of ours, especially in the last six months,” says Fry. “We knew the surge we saw through the pandemic was going to slow at some point, and our hope is to have a good pacing of new products hitting the market [in 2023].”
MRP has also set the stage for continued growth for its OEM business in Asia. “I think that’s going to continue to be an engine for us,” says Fry.
Needs: Skilled labor for MRP’s machine shop in Grand Junction. Western Colorado Community College is “a Haas machining center now and we have some Haas machines, so we’ve been sending some of our employees over there for training,” says Fry.