Princeton CarbonWorks – reinventing the wheel

Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560
Photo: Princeton CarbonWorks

It’s easy to be dismissive about newcomers to the cycling market. We’ve all seen the woeful pitches on Kickstarter. And the endless articles about new gear, offering the perfect solution to a problem that never existed. But every so often, one comes along that deserves some attention.

It could be a new idea like Strava, or a better take on an old product, like Rapha or Wahoo. Then, before you know it, they’re part of the furniture, as much a fixture as companies who’ve been around for decades.

Princeton CarbonWorks looks like one of those success stories. There are a ton of wheel options out there, sure, but this enthusiastic group of friends have started from a blank page, based their work on a firm foundation of science – actual science, not the stuff that marketing men retrofit to sell us stuff – and travelled the globe looking for the best materials and manufacturing location.

Founded in 2012 by a group of rowers turned elite cyclists, the company’s stated aim was simple and just a tad ambitious: create the most groundbreaking wheels imaginable. Five years later, they believe they’ve done just that.

The Wake 6560 is sinusoidal with a varying depth of 60-65mm, putting it squarely in the aerodynamic-obsessed triathlon market. But with serious aero gains to be made without a weight penalty – it’s a claimed 1480gm for the pair – they’d sit comfortably on any road-bike that isn’t planning an alpine excursion, especially given that PCW are claiming industry-leading performance in crosswinds.

So where did it all begin? We caught up with PCW’s Paul Daniels, a World Champion rower and an eight-time member of the US Rowing National Team, who these days can usually be found clocking up serious mileage on his road bike.

Where did the idea for PCW come from?

It started simply. My friend Marty Crotty had rowed for Princeton, Oxford, and the US team, and he started racing triathlons after hanging up the oars. Most elite rowers struggle with the transition from training to exercising, and Marty was no different. So he kept training, but swim/bike/run instead of rowing and lifting. To call him physiologically gifted would be a bruising understatement, Marty is savage, an absolute animal. His engine, retrained for triathlon, quickly translated to success in 70.3 Half Ironman and three consecutive trips to the World Championships. And while all this was happening, Marty was also Head Coach for Princeton University Rowing, so he had a crazy idea: Leverage carbon manufacturing of the rowing shell industry to create aero wheels. It didn’t pan out, turns out layup of racing boat shells is pretty “dumb” compared to rim profile creation, but Princeton CarbonWorks was born.

Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560
Photo: Princeton CarbonWorks

There are no shortage of wheel options these days, so what did you guys hope to do differently?

Options are abundant, no doubt. But advanced aerospace engineering and next level design and material science uber-nerds from Princeton and Boston University are scarce.

Bradley Werntz and Harrison Macris met while trialling for the U23 United States Rowing Team, and became fast friends, bonding over engineering. In March of 2014, Marty tapped Brad to design a “radically different, undeniable” aerodynamic wheelset. Brad quickly looped in Harrison and PCW’s prototype V1 was delivered in December 2014.

It wasn’t so much “hope,” it was more about the freedom to source design beyond what’s considered possible by the cycling industry. We sourced speed from outside cycling.

What was involved in developing a new wheel from scratch?

Harrison and Brad delivered a killer design. Best-in-class, benchmark, elite, etc. wheel brands are easy to identify from the podium steps at The Tour and Kona. Their three depth approach makes sense in a practical way: shallow to climb, mid to cover distance with control, deep to haul. The three product approach is an easy out, a convenient compromise. They think “light, stable, fast – pick two of the three” and cover the demands of your potential customers with three wheelsets.

Harrison and Brad were just far enough removed from cycling to forego this convenient compromise. They believed they could design an uncompromising wheel profile, optimized across weight, stability and aerodynamics. And the smart kids were right. They utilized aerospace engineering, computational fluid dynamics, material science, finite element analysis, with the elegantly simple trigonometric function “sine” as the special sauce.

This is a bit technical, but sine provided breakthroughs in high frequency vortex shedding for aerodynamics and stability, while simultaneously aligning carbon fibers into optimized tension. All of which yielded a wheelset that’s lighter than the Zipp 303, more stable than the Zipp 454, and faster than the Zipp 858.

The Wake 6560 is tubeless ready, 1480g, and it’s faster and more stable than profiles 25mm deeper. We’re calling it a quiver killer. We think it really is the one wheel that can do it all, but that is actually motivating us to optimize the shallow and deep categories and see what’s possible. So watch this space.

Were there any surprises along the way?

There were a couple! Prior to joining Princeton CarbonWorks, I’d thought manufacturing facility mattered. Now I know manufacturing facility matters. We visited dozens of facilities across China and Taiwan, and simply put, all “carbon manufacturers” are not created equal. In fact, the spectrum is far broader than most cyclists, and even industry people, appreciate.

The second surprise was how industry benchmarks perform in controlled testing environments verses the marketing attached to them. The performance/marketing spin gap is massive – specifically at the top. It has been eye-opening to see the reality, because I think of myself as a discerning cyclist who felt relatively well informed.

Zipp came to market with a similar design just before you launched. Was that frustrating or a vindication of your work?

Zipp launched the NSW 454 while we were roughly 10,000 miles into testing our V2 prototype. It was a double edged sword – we felt they were validating our concept, while simultaneously stealing our thunder. Truth is, they most likely spent 10x our total research and development cost on the NSW 454 media launch. The real vindication came when we tested the Wake 6560 against the Zipp NSW 454 at A2 Wind Tunnel in the heart of NASCAR, Mooresville, North Carolina. And at every single yaw angle the Wake 6560 outperformed the Zipp NSW 454.

You’ve wasted no time in signing up high-profile athletes.

Hamish Bond is the embodiment of Princeton CarbonWorks – former elite rower turned elite cyclist. He podiumed at the New Zealand TT National Championships last year with 10 months on the bike, so he’s living the PCW team dream and applying the legs and lungs engine developed over more than a decade of World Championship/Olympic rowing onto the bike.

He’s racing the Wake 6560 in the NZL National Championship Road Race this year. His team wanted to independently test the wheels against the HED Jet 9+ prior to using it for the TT, which is totally understandable. We know we have a superior product, but it takes time to develop credibility for equipment changes at that level. We look forward to their testing.

What’s next for PCW?

The Wake 6560 is going into the wild. We’re fulfilling Batch 1 end of January and Batch 2 will follow mid February. And custom orders are being accepted for USA hand-builds with Chris King hubsets. Meanwhile, disc testing is complete and production will begin in March, with first retail availability in April. It’s a kick-ass wheelset – you need to ride them!

Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560
Photo: Princeton CarbonWorks








Bice Bicycles – Sexy Steel From Someone Real

I met Bice Bicycles’ founder (and only employee) Dario Colombo a few years back, on a bike-packing trip from Venice to Turin. He showed up with a big smile and an old Pedersen, a peculiar Scandinavian rig with a cantilevered frame and a hammock-style saddle, complete with a set of modern pannier bags. It made a good first impression.

As we rode along the banks of the Po river, he talked enthusiastically about his business building steel frames, getting away from the homogeneity of the modern bike market by making products that would last and that could be tailored to each rider’s ability and needs. This also made a positive impression. When we got home, I promised, we’d talk some more. So this chat is long overdue.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Like a dating profile? My name’s Dario, I’m a nice guy, handsome, hard-working, a generous lover [laughing] … Before becoming a frame-builder, I worked as an electronic engineer for Siemens, and as an environmental engineer, working on the development of cycling in the city of Milan. I also worked at a biomechanics lab specialising in sports, and as a teacher on sustainability and smart cities, when I opened four cycling workshops around Milan to help young people repair their own bikes, have some fun, and maybe discover a future career.

Aside from the work, I suppose people would call me a Xennial, I’m still young, but old enough to remember rewinding my cassette tapes with a pen. I’ll happily drink beer but I prefer wine, in my part of Italy we say “La birra fa pisciar, il vino fa cantar,” – Beer makes you piss and wine makes you sing. I prefer mountain climbing to sunbathing and beaches, and I love music and cycling, obviously. If you made me choose between a concert and a bike, I’d tell you that I was riding to the gig. I actually did it last year when Dub FX played in Sestri Levante, on the Ligurian coast, I think it was more than 2,000 metres of climbing over about 220 kilometres.

When did you get into bikes?

Let’s say that before 2007, I wasn’t a cyclist. I went for a ride every so often, but nothing special. That June I went on a cycling trip to Provence with eight people and it changed my way of seeing the bicycle. From then on I started to bike-pack and to use it constantly for commuting and fun. I never had any grand delusions – if you saw my Strava you’d know what I mean – and I’ve always just seen the bike as something to have fun with and as a means of transport. I’m a committed singlespeeder, but at the same time, I don’t dislike innovations like e-bikes, especially not when you’re talking about something like a cargobike.

Why did you start making frames?

It was a gradual thing. Aside from my professional experiences, it began as an experiment, I just wanted to be a part of the bike world. My previous jobs were all positive experiences, but none of them really felt right for me. And I’ve always enjoyed creating things from scratch – but never to assemble them – and I liked bikes. It seemed like an obvious fit.

I started out modifying an old Leri frame, turning it from road to pursuit, changing the geometry and the rear end. The funny thing was that, even if it was a game to me then, before beginning that frame, I built a rig that I continued to use for three years. That first one was finished on Christmas eve, 2011, it was snowing and as is the tradition around my home town, there was a guy dressed as Santa doing the rounds, handing out presents. Meanwhile, I was flying around on my homemade track bike, it was such a weird beginning that I felt like it could only be a good omen!


What was the hardest thing about starting out?

Learning everything from scratch, self-taught, and above all, learning from my (many) mistakes, without letting them discourage me. In Italy, old frame-builders don’t have the money or the time to invest in young people, to pass on their skills and knowledge – even though a lot of them want to. So I wasn’t able to learn as a proper apprentice, and I could only get the knowledge by asking questions, listening, and watching. I came home several times after a day spent by with a frame-builder, only to completely change the whole workshop and machinery – as well as my mental modus operandi.

Another big difficulty is knowing the value of a firm “NO”. Involving the customer in the building process is an great experience for both parties, but it needs well-defined limitations if I’m to enjoy my work and they’re to get the best possible end product. But it’s a work in progress – I’m always learning!

Have you changed a lot?

So much. Every encounter with a frame-builder corresponded to a lesson in technique and in life. How to point a chassis, what type of welding alloys to use, how to TIG weld, how to set up the workshop to optimise my space, how to approach customers.

Not to mention the type of frames: at the beginning I didn’t even have a real price list, but now I’ve got a series of models that I’ve developed based on my experiences. I started with 29er frames and then moved on to touring, CX and most recently to the gravel and bike-packing scenes. Roughly, that corresponds to my personal cycling life.

One thing hasn’t changed: my desire to adapt and improve. Experimenting with new techniques and new tubing, for example, is an everyday thing for me, but it has nothing to do with market demand or programmed obsolescence. It just reflects my desire to keep moving and getting better.

Who buys a Bice?

The average customer is somewhere between 30 and 45, they generally have a lot of cycling experience, and are fed up with the modern “disposable” world. They don’t mind waiting four months for a truly custom frame. What’s the difference between that and one off the shelf? Well, you know who made it. You know it’s real.

Cycling has changed so much in recent years. Where do you see it going from here?

The modern bike industry is a child of our times: there is such a huge supply of products and a lot of the history, emotions, and memories, are being annihilated by increasingly heavy marketing campaigns. A year or two on from the presentation of a new model and it’s already “old.” Just one financial mistake, a speculative move made on the other side of the world, and a historic brand disappears. But I think a lot of people want to distance themselves from all that. I certainly do.

Giorgio Andretta continues to bring Italy to the States

Giorgio Andretta. Photo: Stephen Lam/

In 1970 Giorgio Andretta left Italy and, of all places, found himself headed for Canada.

You see back in the 70’s Giorgio Andretta’s high school team was being organize and run by some former Europeans now living in Canada. And in Canada at the time, access to clothing, bicycles and frames was extremely limited.

Giorgio realized that the limited access offered an opportunity. So he went back to northeastern Italy, the place he calls the cradle and the home of the artisanship of the Italian bicycle industry, and started to import cycling gear to Canada under the name Gita.

Compared to today’s offerings, cycling apparel was a much simpler affair then: Wool jerseys, wool shorts, plus jackets with essentially nylon fronts.

“There was nothing technical about it. It was all two pieces and that was it,” said Giorgio, with a laugh.

In search of something better, the clothing import business turned to making their own custom apparel, drawn from years of racing and know-how.

Things progressed to the point where 1979 Giorgio decided he needed name his growing line, so he named it after his firstborn, Giordana. He also added the Sagittarius logo after her zodiac sign.

The Sagittarius logo. Photo: Stephen Lam/

Fast forward to 2017, while many apparel companies outsource manufacturing across the globe, Giorgio and Giordana, who is now the Sales Manager of Giordana, invested in their own factory to keep their manufacturing in Italy. They opened the factory in Montecchio, Italy after realizing they just couldn’t get the technical expertise and attention to detail they wanted, after a substantial search in Italy, Eastern Europe, as well as the Far East.

“All this other product that you can find around the world, they look like, they feel like, but they don’t perform like,” said Giorgio.

With his own factory, however, Giorgio is now empowered more than ever to follow his vision for his garments, using speciality fabrics and techniques. From the one-piece 1-on-1 paneling system on their NX-G bib short, to the ability to offer the same ProTour-level FR-C Pro line from their custom program for your local club (Giordana sponsors Orica-Scott and Astana), you’ll know you’re wearing something of quality.

Intricate print details on the Pegoretti “Ferro” FormaRed-Carbon (FR-C) Pro Bib Shorts. Photo: Stephen Lam/

With that in mind, we sat down with the man himself for a chat.

Where do you see cycling apparel down the road in a few years time? Where do you envision it going?

I think it’s got no ends. As innovation, evolution, new material, and everything that is available to us, it just needs somebody to think about what to do and how to do it. Just go to the manufacturer and tell them exactly what they want.

This what I’m able to do in Italy right now. To go to these small manufacturers to create what we want and what we need for each garment. It’s getting better and better.

In the past, we were never, never able to do that. Because you went to a fabric manufacturer and tell them “I want this. That it does this, this, this, and that.” They’ll say, “You crazy? I got a thousand different materials here, you pick from one of the ones I got.”

We can now make something specific. Before it went from one panel to many panels, different material and everything. Now we can go to one panel with one material and get to be able to achieve more than what we achieved with all the material before.

Perforated dual stretch bib straps found on the NX-G bib short. Photo: Stephen Lam/

Did you have a background in textile before starting Giordana?

No. I learned it all from getting along and working with different people. I’ve been on and off for 46 years.

That’s a long time in the industry.

It is but if you do something that you like, it’s never hard and it’s always rewarding. I love what I do.

The first thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

I would never be a pirate. That would be taking ownership of a property that wasn’t yours.

Up hill or down hill?

(Laughs). That’s a good question. When I was young, I loved to climb a lot. I loved the hard gritty races. But now I like downhill.

Favorite place to ride?

There’s a lot of them. The Dolomites are great – I think they are the greatest mountain you can find. They have got some awesome climbs, passes and descents. You can really test your product and get a feel for what a bike can do.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:

If I could live in Italy and work in the United States, that would be the perfect life.

What are you most proud about?

I think it’s the achievement that we made. We were able to sponsor athletes from the United States for the Olympics in ’84 where they all won; World championship with Greg LeMond.

Red wine or white wine?

Red. All red. My favorite red wine is Amarone. The next is Tofanelli Charbono.

Favorite music?

I like a little bit of everything.

Favorite bike?

2000 Pinarello Prince LS.

Any hobbies in your free time?

I stay at home with the family when I can. I’m very lucky that both my daughter and son are in the company.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Both. I sleep very little. My sleeping hours are anywhere from four to five hours a night.

What’s your secret for doing this for so long and being so successful?

You have to know how to take and how to give. It’s just like a marriage.

We Love Aluminum Frames, and You Should Too


eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Photo: Stephen Lam/


Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/

A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.

As a kid I drooled over a Klein Quantum Pro with that badass orange paint job, or the flaming red Cannondale CAAD Cipollini rode. There’s a certain beauty to fat tubed, smooth welding frame that just screams come at me bro.

Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.

The Low Down

Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.

Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.

Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.

Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.

The Interview

Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/

Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.

It’s just how you shape the tubes.

Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.

How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.

Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.

Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”

That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.

Uphill or downhill: Downhill.

Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop

Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/

One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.

Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.

What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.

Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/

How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.

Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.

Anything else you’d like to add: Buy my bikes!

Who in Their Right Mind Would Start a Bike Company?

Coatline claims to build the best bike ever. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Coatline claims to build the best bike ever. Go check out the Kickstarter page. Photo: Jim Merithew/

My friend Chad is starting his own bicycle company.

Coastline Cycle to be exact.

He’s not going to try and sell socks or jerseys or tools or toys.

He wants to sell bicycles.

Bicycles he conceived of and designed. Of course he had a little help from years of bike industry and the friendships this fosters.

But good god man, why?

Why would someone seemingly so smart, with years of watching and working in the bicycle industry want to try and sell bicycles.

The One

The One, by Coastline. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Photo: Jim Merithew/

Let’s get this out of the way first: He has a great idea. Actually his idea is actually a bike. A bike I have ridden around a parking lot for five minutes.

So it is not vaporware.

It is a bicycle.

An honest-to-god piece of pedaling transportation spec’d and designed to be a no-nonsense two-wheeled companion.

It is not trendy. It is not flashy. It is not carbon fiber.

It is a bicycle you want to throw you leg over and go places on. To the beach. To the grocery. To your local bike path. To just about anywhere you can think to pedal.

The bike is called the “One” because the folks at Coastline believe you will only need this one bicycle for all the things you love to do on two wheels. They have designed the bike with longish chain stay, a slack head tube angle, 27.5 inches wheels and, of course, the Gates carbon belt drive. All this adds up to a bike which is designed to climb well, descend like a beast, and remain a stable riding companion in all possible situations, while still remaining grin worthy.

And this is what he wants. Chad wants people to ride their bicycle. Not dither about talking about the bike itself, but talking about the ride.

The Campaign

I love Chad. But what crazy talk this is. Trying to sell a bike designed to be ridden without any fireworks or trendy bits or outlandish claims of sub-10 pound weights or amazing shock rebounds.

Come on, who is going to go for such an outlandish idea as buying a bike designed by someone who spent years doing customer service for the bike industry.

Well, the Coastline Cycle Kickstarter campaign is not exactly setting the world on fire. As one would predict is not easy to kick a new bicycle company off.

But you should at least go take a look at Chad’s bicycle. Most of them are being built with Gates Belt Drives, with your choice of tires and components. There is even a dropper post option.

These whips may not be flashy or trendy or even overtly sexy, but they are built by someone who, in the poetic words of Cyndi Lauper, just wants to have fun.

Even if your garage is full of carbon fiber two-wheeled goodness of every variety, this just may be the One bicycle you find yourself pedaling off on.

And I guess I can’t help but want to support this endeavor, even if it is completely nuts.

How Park Tool Keeps the Bike World Running, One Blue Handle at a Time

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/
Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/

Pegboards full of blue-handled tools—nipple drivers, caliper wrenches and the like—cover nearly every inch of wall, and the floor is a kind of obstacle course of repair and truing stands.

It is the showroom and final stop on the tour of Park Tool’s 85,000-square-foot facility in Oakdale, MN and when CEO Eric Hawkins leans against it’s newest repair stand with a hydraulic lift, this seems to be where the tour will end.

But Hawkins likes to end the tour where the story of Park Tool actually begins. He walks over to an odd sculptural piece on caster wheels. It is made with the base of a dining room table, a shell casing filled with cement, a ’37 Ford truck axel and a broken hockey stick.

Hawkins never tires of showing his father’s creation, the very first bicycle repair stand.

The first repair stand made by Park Tool founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/
The first repair stand made by Park Tools founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/

Two Sore Backs

Bicycles, whether in the peloton of the Tour de France or meandering along some state park bike path, are likely on the move because of Park Tool. Bike mechanics in more than 70 countries grab the tools to change break pads, spoke wheels, and adjust front and rear derailleurs.

That Park Tool rose up from a local fix-it shop in the Hazel Park neighborhood of St. Paul to having a 90 percent share of the global market for bicycle maintenance tools is a great American business success story.

“With us,” Hawkins says, “we have been in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”

The story, however, did not start with ambition. It began with two sore backs.

Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. (Courtesy of Park Tool)
Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. Photo: Courtesy of Park Tool

Howard Hawkins had just graduated from a technical college, where he learned welding and blacksmithing, when he bought a repair shop in 1956 with a friend, Art Engstrom. America was in the middle of a post-war housing boom and with it came all sorts of things to repair, like radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Ice skates were in constant need of sharpening during the long Minnesota winters.

The housing boom also meant growing families with children riding bikes. From their shop, Hawkins and Engstrom sold and repaired Schwinn bicycles. The two were growing tired of stooping over bicycles on the ground when they came up with the idea for a contraption that could hold a bike off the ground and rotate 360 degrees.

The Prototype

Even today, the first stand is something to behold. The odd mix of items are smartly arranged to provide a solid, anchored weight in the base, along with a strength to support and balance a bike. Howard Hawkins laid down sure and economical beads in his welds and his first stand still stands ready for any bike triage.

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins repaired bikes with it for a few years before showing it to Schwinn in 1963. At Schwinn’s direction, the two designed a commercial stand that soon took its place wherever Schwinn bikes were repaired.

“He didn’t know anything about bikes, but he learned by putting his hands on things,” the younger Hawkins said of his father. “To him, everything was about common sense.”

Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/
Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/

That Midwest ingenuity began to come up against new challenges in the late 1960s, when the shifting and breaking mechanisms in bikes became more complex. Repairs were difficult because the tools for the new components did not exist.

The Tools

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins began making the tools: wrenches, frame alignment gauges, bracket and cable tools. The tools in the early years were built from scratch with whatever materials were left over in their shop.

Meanwhile, the two were among the nation’s top Schwinn dealers and at one point operated out of three different locations. The demands for tools became so great the two sold the shops in 1981.

Park Tool. Photo: David Pierini/
Photo: David Pierini/

As the tool line expanded, Park Tool have out-grown a couple of other facilities. They make close to 400 different kinds of tools for bikes and hold more than two dozen patents.

Park Tool tracks the cycling industry and seems to have a tool every time something new is released. Because of its standing, companies often share the specs on new components so that Park Tool can make tools to be available at the time of the item’s release. It has enjoyed spikes in growth thanks to mountain biking, BMX and American success in international cycling.

The company also recognized that cyclists began to learn how to take care of their bikes and has a robust line of consumer products, from folding allen wrench sets to tire patch kits.The Park Tool website is also a repository for informational articles and video tutorials.

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. (David Pierini)

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. Photo: David Pierini/

Bottom bracket tools (David Pierini)

Bottom bracket tools. Photo: David Pierini/

Chain whips ready for shipment. (David Pierini)

Chain whips ready for shipment. Photo: David Pierini/


Some of the employees commute to work by bike and factory floor fans are a good way to dry off clip shoes on a rainy day. Photo: David Pierini/

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. (David Pierini)

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. Photo: David Pierini/

“I think its important for us to take the mystery out of the bike,” Eric Hawkins said. “If you can show someone it’s easy to fix a flat tire, they’re likely to go for a ride. For a lot of people, being able to work on the bike is an ultimate goal. We are happy to give them that education.”

The Heir

Eric Hawkins grew up in his father’s bike shops and learned the business just from watching. He went off to college and came back to work for Park Tool for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

The younger Hawkins started making suggestions from what he learned from college marketing classes. He suggested having a presence at trade shows and other cycling events and his father agreed.

An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/
An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/

It was Eric Hawkins idea to patent the Park Tool shade of blue, Pantone 2935, which in cycling has become as recognizable as the green of the John Deere tractor.

“What better childhood than to hang out in a bike shop,” he said. “I learned a lot about assembling bikes and without knowing it, common sense. My dad did have any great ambitions, he was content making a living with the bike shops, but to his credit, he let me try some things.”

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/
Photo: David Pierini/

Even after both Engstrom and the elder Hawkins retired, Howard popped into the factory a couple of times a week just to check on things. He even helped assemble display boards for the industry’s two biggest events, Interbike and Eurobike.

Hawkins and Engstrom were able to revel in the company’s 50 anniversary celebration in 2013. This past January, Howard Hawkins died in Arizona from a heart attack. He was 82.

Eric Hawkins has done much to modernize the company, but is a careful steward of his father’s legacy. There are pictures and newspaper clipping throughout the Park Tool office and one of every color and model of Schwinn Stingray ever made is lined up along an office, much like it looked in the old Hazel Park shop.

One way Eric Hawkins enjoys honoring his father is with a joke he always told people when asked how many people work for him. When I asked Eric how many work at Park Tool (between 50 and 60), he repeated his father’s line, “About half.”

Part of Park Tool's 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/
Part of Park Tool’s 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/

Donkey Label’s Boutique Bike Kit Is Built With Local Love

Founder and product designer Paul Krumrich, right, and James Tainter are the team behind Minneapolis-based Donkey Label cycling apparel. (Photo: David Pierini)
Founder and product designer Paul Krumrich, right, and James Tainter are the team behind Minneapolis-based Donkey Label cycling apparel. Photo: David Pierini/

Update: Donkey Label is offering readers 20% off with the code “onthedl”.

When you think of Minnesota, donkeys are not the first thing which come to mind. But tucked away in a warehouse in Minnesota’s tree-lined residential neighborhood of Longfellow there are a pack of donkeys hard at work.

Not the actual animals, but there’s definitely some real-ass work going on. Donkey Label, makers of beautiful and unique bicycle kit, have set up shop in this midwest neighborhood.

“Minneapolis was a choice early in my life as I attended college here,” says Paul Krumrich, lead donkey. “Minneapolis is a great city for cycling: QBP, HED, Twin Six, Park Tool, Art Crank, Curt Goodrich, Appleman, Peacock Groove, One on One, Hollywood Cycles, Cars r Coffins are all located here.”

A Donkey Label speed suit. (Photo: David Pierini)
A Donkey Label speed suit. Photo: David Pierini/

Donkey Label is the bicycle company version of the locavore, sourcing as much material locally as makes sense and stitching their cycling gear right inside the Twin Cities. They still turn to Italy for much of their actual technical fabrics, as it is still where the best materials are being created, but if there’s a local alternative they embrace it.

“I think Minneapolis has some cache in the cycling scene,” says Krumrich. “We are not Boulder or London or Italy. I think if I were in one of those locations DL would not exist as it is. It works because it is authentic. I might view the world differently if I was sipping cucumber water on the beach instead of sticking hand warmers down my shorts to get a ride in when it’s 14 degrees.”

James Tainter folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. (Photo: David Pierini)
James Tainter folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/

Their warehouse is packed with containers of jerseys, exotic materials, zip pulls and sundry other items. The Donkey crew have a distinct laidback internet startup vibe. On top of their own bicycle apparel they also have socks, wallets made by a local guy and massage oils, natural soaps and embrocation made by a woman from Viroqua, Wisconsin.

The Donkey Label does things one way. Their way. The jerseys are admittedly in the neighborhood of pricey.

“Our stuff is not for everyone, and we are ok with that,” says Krumrich. “If we tried to hit the sweet spot in the market we would be forced into making decisions based solely on money. Our jerseys are worth every penny. And part of what makes them worth every penny is the knowledge of where those pennies go. Kit is printed and stitched right here in Minneapolis and our socks are made in North Carolina.”

Donkey Label. Photo: David Pierini/
Photo: David Pierini/

As the good folks at Donkey Label like to say “you vote with your money,” and we are voting for one of those sweet Artist Collaboration Miami Cycling Jerseys.

Krumrich was also nice enough to answer a few more of our silly questions here:

What thing in your life are you most proud of: My two boys.

Do you believe in love at first site: I believe in being overtaken by someone or something in a single instant. I’m just not sure that meets the definition of love.

Form or function: Function (by a nats’ ass).

Founder and product designer Paul Krumich, foreground, with team member James Tainter run Donkey Label out of small space in Minneapolis. (Photo:David Pierini)
Founder and product designer Paul Krumich, foreground, with team member James Tainter run Donkey Label out of small space in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/

Toilet paper, over or under: Now that I have kids there is no question—UNDER. When Torbdog spins it like a wheel, it does not unravel all over the damn floor.

What is your spirit animal: I just had a flashback to interviews I had out of engineering school. Donkey.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Designing, riding, relaxing and repeating. Maybe in a different location with mountains, or oceans close by. My ADD doesn’t let me stay focused on any single thing for too long so five years is a lifetime.

Donkey Label
Photo: David Pierini/

What is the last album you listened to in its entirety: Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boys. I listened to High Plains Drifter three times in a row, and then just let it go.

Yellow or Pink: Pink.

If you could be someone else for one day who would it be: Jeffrey Lebowski.

What is one thing about you almost no one knows: I have no belly button.

Boxers or briefs: Boxer briefs.

Founder and designer Paul Krumrich folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. (Photo: David Pierini)
Founder and designer Paul Krumrich folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/

Are the stereotypes of the midwest accurate: Yes, we are overly nice, fatter than most and drink more than we should.

If you were thrown in jail for a bad habit, what would that habit be: Saying yes to everything.

What would be your chosen superpower: Mind control.

Merckx or someone else: Steve HED.

Describe your perfect vacation: I have been to 2 World Cups and it has been the perfect mix of exploring the country, meeting cool people from the reaches of the globe, and watching an unbelievable sport. I will repeat that as many times as I can in my life.

Donkey Label
Photo: David Pierini/

What was the most embarrassing event in your life: Got a serious grundie in fifth grade that ripped my whitey tighties off, in front of the entire class. And/or the day my dad pulled over the captain of the football team for speeding. Half the football team was waiting at my locker when I got to school. My dad is not a police officer.

Favorite food: Dark chocolate.

Glass, half full or half empty: The Dude Abides.

Road bike or mtb: Yes.

Hardtail or full suspension: Hardtail.

Update: Donkey Label is offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who wants to try their kit for the first time. Code: onthedl