Not content with owning just one high-performance titanium bike frame manufacturing company, Gunbarrel-based Dean Bikes and founder John Siegrist recently have absorbed an additional brand.
Under the umbrella of , Siegrist and his partners are building bikes for Dean and the iconic brand Merlin Metal Works, as well as operating the company‘s retail and distribution arm Velosport Imports.
Siegrist, a former competitive bike racer and Washington native, came to the Boulder area in the 1980s to race and to attend the University of Colorado. He‘s been involved with the local bike industry since.
We chatted with Siegrist to learn more about cycling and about Dean Bikes.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. You were a competitive cyclist when you were younger. How often you currently ride?
I ride every day.
At Dean, we take a ride at around 12:30 p.m. We pretty much cut out for an hour-long ride every day. Whoever wants to participate can. Sometimes we get a big crowd, sometimes we get a smaller crowd.
It‘s usually one of a couple different routes that we do — usually off of the roads. We are doing more gravel-type riding.
It can get pretty loud in the shop during the day, so it‘s nice to get out for a ride and clear your head a little bit and get some exercise.
2. How did Dean start and what has the company‘s life cycle looked like since it was founded?
When I wrapped up school around 1988, I was done racing. I managed a bike shop here in Boulder, then started Dean in 1989.
Myself and two partners have reformed the company under the banner of Janus Cycle Group. That umbrella, which makes up a multitude of brands, including our distribution company Velosport Imports.
About three months ago we purchased Merlin Metal Works. Merlin, which has been around since 1986 and has had a few different owners, is all about uniqueness — unique finishes, unique options.
I had been following the brand and noticed that it had kind of stagnated. I picked up the phone — and it definitely took some navigating — and was eventually able to make a deal.
Merlin has great brand awareness, but the brand just needs some love. The website needed to be updated, the products and offerings needed to be updated. Those are the things that we are able to do. We can build in-house, we can offer custom options.
As we have added the Merlin brand, we‘ve ramped up our production and added builders to accommodate that. We‘re in a growth phase. We‘re growing in phases, setting higher goals for the number of frames we can build each month.
3. What goes into the process of building a bike frame?
Every frame is going to require a different number of man-hours because they are unique. Certain types of frames like road frames tend to be easier to build than mountain frames. For road frames — without any interruptions — we could get road frame built in a day or two.
But it can take six to eight weeks to get a custom bike out because there are only so many we can build at a time. Every fixture has to be set up differently, and that takes time. But that‘s what our customers want — they want something that you can‘t just pick up at any old bike shop. There are so many different components and options.
We‘ve had some pretty unusual orders and requests over the years that weren‘t about bikes. We built a sprint car chassis once, and once was enough. We‘ve done work on titanium motorcycle exhausts and things like that.
But as we are increasing out production of bikes, we are trying to simplify our manufacturing operations. So we just don‘t have the capacity to do any of these crazier type of projects right now. It throws off our entire production calendar.
4. Both Dean and Merlin are known for titanium frames. How do those differ from frames built with aluminum or steel?
It‘s a third of the density of steel. So it‘s much lighter than steel, but has similar tensile strength. To get the weight down on a steel frame, you start having to take off material, which reduces the durability. With aluminum, it‘s light, but it isn‘t as strong as titanium.
Having a lighter bike is important, because if you want to ride down a hill, you‘ve got to ride up. Having something lighter is easier to take up. To me, the sweet spot is right around 15 to 17 pounds — you‘ve got enough mass there but it‘s not too heavy.
5. Where do you see the business heading?
The idea is to bring in another brand into Janus. We are working on it, but we‘ve got a little bit of a way to go.
Both Dean and Merlin have their own unique attributes, although they‘re using the similar materials. The brand we are working on now is something totally different, which will allow us to have a multitude of market penetrations. That‘s the direction we are moving toward.
We want to grow, but we have to pick our battles. We aren‘t trying to be like the really big brands like Trek. To compete on that level you have to essentially be a bank — it‘s more about financing than products in some of those cases.